Interview With A Mexican: Liliana

Interview With A Mexican: Liliana

We are now eight months into our Mexican life.  Sometimes it feels like the time has gone by really fast and just yesterday we were unpacking our dishes.  Other times I feel like time is standing still and we’ve been here for-freaking-ever.  I will say that the “winter” here is amazing, especially to us transplanted Chicagoans.  Low humidity, cool breezes and temperature ranges between 60s to the 70s.  Being stuck in Latino-limbo isn’t so bad while we enjoy the warm sunshine and fresh air coming through the open windows.

Meeting and getting to know some of the people here continues to be one of our favorite items about our current expat life, and I’m going to start interviewing some of my favorites – they all are very fascinating (some quirky), come from interesting and different backgrounds (Mexicans and fellow expats) – and I’d like to introduce a few of them to you, via my blog.

I’m starting out my series of interviews with our Spanish teacher, Liliana (for you English speakers, it’s pronounced Lee-lee-ana).  She’s Mexican, born and bred, but also lived in San Fransisco for 5 years in her late 20s.  She studied ballet from age 8 until 21, has one sister and is an amazing cook.  She’s been our maestra for 7 months – coming to our casa twice weekly (our daughters have a separate teacher, who is on my interview list so you’ll meet her later).  Liliana seemed tickled that I wanted to interview her for my blog and immediately agreed (also providing me an opportunity to speak español as I tried asking all my questions in Spanish, although it’s probably a very good thing that she speaks English so well…)  Here are my questions and her answers as well as my comments (because it’s my blog):

What’s your name, age and occupation?
Liliana, age 53 – Lic. en Lengua Inglesa (English professor at the local University, as well as private tutoring to folks like us)

How long have you been an English professor?
23 years

What is your favorite thing about your country?
Las artistas (the artists) – I admire the talent of the Mexican people and the art they can make with wood, glass, fabrics, leather and weavings.  Besides that, my favorite thing would also be la comida mexicana (Mexican food – and we wholeheartedly agree with that!)

What is your least favorite thing about your country?
The corruption of the government.  (my blog will never become political, so we won’t go into further details, except I will share that although Liliana shared with us her disappointment and concern about her country’s reputation [deserved and exaggerated], especially how it’s portrayed in the media and in movies, during this point of the interview she repeated several times of how much she loves her country, and that was really beautiful.  It also makes us miss the U.S. and feel very grateful at the freedoms and safety we enjoy there, that isn’t necessarily available to the wonderful people here.)

(as I already mentioned, Liliana lived in San Fransisco for 5 years) Was it hard adjusting to living in the United States? Yes, at the beginning everything was difficult: the language, the culture, the meal schedule as well as adjusting to not being near any family or friends.  (Gee, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?)

What was your favorite thing about living in the United States?
The shopping! (Amen to that, Liliana!) The shopping in the United States was great – better variety of goods and the prices were better.

What was your least favorite thing about living in the United States?
The people – compared to the Mexican people, the U.S. people weren’t as friendly, outgoing, social or as neighborly as they are in my country – I missed that interaction very much.  Everyone in the U.S. was nice but mostly just kept to themselves.

Why should someone visit Mexico?
Mexico’s people are warm and friendly, the food is delicious, and it has lots of beautiful places to visit near its beaches, in its mountains and lots of historical views at its archeological sites; quaint colonial towns to visit, including Mexico City, one of the larges cities in the world! (we TOTALLY agree, Liliana!  We’ve only been here 8 months and have already seen some amazing places and can’t wait to see more!  In fact we’re visiting Mexico City ourselves soon and are very excited).

What are some places in Mexico that you would suggest people see and why?
Queretaro, Mexico City, Guadalajara, Zacatecas, Chihuahua, Oaxaca.  As to why:  these places, like many, many other places here in Mexico are beautiful and rich with cultural history.  (This reminds me to get hubby to try and obtain more vacation time – we’ve got many places to see while we are here!)

What’s easier?  Learning English yourself or trying to teach others Spanish?
Learning English myself is easier – learning Spanish is hard!  Spanish is a tough language to master with lots of words and verb conjugations and needing to know the forms of past, present, preterite, skipping subject pronouns, having to remember to stick the NOUN first and THEN the adjective afterwards and needing to know if words are masculine or feminine and whether you are speaking in formal or informal or rollings your r’s correctly or remembering that you never pronounce the “h” in any Spanish word (then why does the Spanish alphabet have a letter “h”?!?!)… (sorry, I think I may have hijacked most of this answer myself, but honestly Liliana did admit that learning English, as a Spanish speaking person, is much easier than teaching Spanish to an English speaking person)

Speaking of the yummy Mexican food, what are a few traditional dishes you would recommend for a newcomer to try?  Chicken mole (el mole con arroz) (don’t let the brown sauce put you off – try it – it’s amazing, especially when Liliana cooks it for you!)

What’s your favorite thing about teaching languages?
Meeting new and interesting people – from different places.

(and last, but not least, and probably the most important question I had for her…):

Who is your favorite student – me or my hubby?
(we were laughing too hard for Liliana to actually answer this, but I will say I’m pretty sure she winked at me)


¡Let’s Get Ready To Retumbo!

¡Let’s Get Ready To Retumbo!

Any professional wrestling fans out there?  I ask because our family recently went to a lucha libre event with some friends, and boy-oh-boy was it a show!

What is “lucha libre” you ask?  Lucha libre translates to “free wrestling” and is characterized by colorful masks, rapid sequences of holds and maneuvers, as well as “high-flying” maneuvers.  The wearing of masks has developed special significance, and historically matches were sometimes contested in which the loser must permanently remove his mask, which is a wager with a high degree of weight attached.  Tag team wrestling is especially prevalent in lucha libre, particularly matches with three-member teams, called trios.

Now, I grew up watching WWF wrestling with my grandfather, who sadly is no longer with us.  I have hours and hours of memories of laughing with him and cheering on Hulk Hogan (against the Sheik!) and Junkyard Dog and Macho Man Randy Savage (with the beautiful Elizabeth at his side), Jessie the Body Ventura, Roddy Roddy Piper (and I’m all out of chewing gum!) etc., etc.  I remember the crazy costumes and the flying moves and the spitting and yelling at the crowds and waving of the arms – and that was just my grandfather (I’m kidding…)  It was always hysterical and drama filled and my grandpa loved it – it was a soap opera for men.  In my early 20s I even went to a live event, but the seats were so far away from the ring I don’t remember seeing much.  Anyway, when the opportunity presented itself to go to a lucha libre we decided to check it out – and brought along the kids.

The event was held in a local auditorium, which when filled I would guess could hold probably about 200 people.  Our event was probably half full, and after some interesting mix-up on our seats (although we purchased IMG_7685certain seats, they were sold again so we had to move), we still ended up sitting front row in plastic chairs right next to the ring.  I’ll add a photo here we took as we walked into the building.

Just like the old WWF wrestling I used to watch with grandpa, here we had loud music, scantily-clothed wrestlers (luchadores) – some in shape, some not (although I’m certainly not one to judge another’s shape in spandex) and of course a shady referee (who, in typical historical fashion was in on the action and traded sides repeatedly).  There was a lot of crowd participation, which for us was interesting since we were so close to the action (in fact, our 10 year old daughter flatly REFUSED to sit in the front row, and funnily enough our 7 yeIMG_7770ar old donned-her own mask which we had to buy for her on the way in, of course – and pink, no less) and probably would have joined in on the wrestling action if they would have let her (actually, more on that in a moment – in the meantime, I’ll treat you to a photo of her in her mask posing with a few of the luchadores).

Lots of yelling, thumping chests, finger pointing – all in good fun (it was all in Spanish, and some of it might have been a little inappropriate for little ears as one of our Spanish-speaking friends flatly refused to translate some of it for the kids).

Lots of running and bouncing off the ropes, lots of clothes-lines and full-body slams and those smacks that, just as their hand makes contact they stomp their foot for the noise effect.  These guys (and gals – there were a few ladies, called luchadoras) were all very athletic as they wrestled around, picked each other up and threw them around – jumping down from the top ropes into and out of the ring.  Speaking of out of the ring, there was a good amount of action on our side of the square, too.  Just ask our friends in the front row, one of which who had the pleasure of having a big-sweaty thonged-keister on her lap (yes, I said thong – the other wrestlers pulled down his spandex, turned and aimed him then strategically pushed him towards our seats).  I was laughing too hard at this point to get pictures and I really, really wish I had caught a couple because this might have been one of the funniest things I have ever seen in my entire life (I can say that because I didn’t have to come into contact with this sweaty object – maybe if I had it might not have been as funny, but I was huddled behind our friends with my 10-year old, who was laughing as hard as the rest of us).

Yes, there were a few inappropriate moments that hubby and I cringed at that our kids were witnessing (a few offensive slurs, hand gestures and one sweaty bare-man keister in a thong).  But fortunately our girls didn’t understand a lot and frankly they haven’t seen many sweaty bare-man keisters in thongs – and so apparently seeing one hasn’t seemed to scar them too much, so I guess we’re OK.

The professional action notwithstanding, I have to share that the before-show might have been the best entertainment of the entire night.  Before all the action started several children (in their own masks) had jumped into the ring and were running around, showing off their own wrestling moves (it was obviously some of these little guys had been to these shows before).  Not to be left out, our 7-year old daughter (the one in the pink mask), challenged her library director, who then donned his own mask and valiantly joined her in the ring for a before-show one-on-one, mano a mano bout, so to speak. IMG_7806-2 I have to share a photo of our little princess putting him in an arm bar and taking him down.  Just such a proud mommy-moment for me, let me tell you.  We were laughing so hard that my face actually started to hurt, and a quick shout-out to her library director, who was a very good sport about the entire thing, pretending to do a few flips of his own and taking up our daughter’s challenge, because her 10-year old sister refused to get out of her chair.

Lucha libre has a long and interesting history in Mexico – dating back to 1860s.  It’s known for its aerial maneuvers – more so than in traditional U.S. wrestling.  But its most obvious difference are the masks, although like I said, a few of the participants we saw didn’t wear them.  According to Wikipedia, virtually all wrestlers in Mexico will start their careers wearing masks, but over the span of their careers, a large number of them will be unmasked. Sometimes, a wrestler slated for retirement will be unmasked in his final bout or at the beginning of a final tour, signifying loss of identity as that character. Sometimes, losing the mask signifies the end of a gimmick with the wrestler  WP_20150228_194moving on to a new gimmick and mask. The mask is considered “sacred” to a degree, so much so that fully removing an opponent’s mask during a match is grounds for disqualification.  Two of the most famous Mexican wrestlers include The Saint, a wrestler in the 1940s who wore a silver mask and whose wrestling career spanned nearly five decades, during which he became a folk hero while the sport received a degree of mainstream attention; and The Blue Demon, who also starred in many films featuring lucha libre.

Our entire family thoroughly enjoyed the evening at the lucha libre and would highly recommend such an event to anyone.  It was certainly different from anything we had ever experienced and a sight to see.  I only wish that somehow I could have taken my grandpa – he would have loved it.

And it’s also nice to know that we don’t need to worry about our littlest daughter’s grades anymore, as she so clearly has a very bright career ahead of her as a luchadora, especially considering she’s already got the mask.

10 Tips On Driving In Mexico

10 Tips On Driving In Mexico

First of all, I’m not guaranteeing you’ll survive driving in Mexico if you follow my tips, and in fact at the end of this blog you’ll find a waiver that you should print out and sign before reading further (take your time, I’ll wait – you can email it to me later).

Secondly, I’m not complaining speaking about the driving conditions in the ENTIRE country of Mexico.  My tips and opinions are from what I’ve learned driving about in my small area of it.  So there’s another disclaimer for you.  But scary driving conditions are scary no matter where you live and no matter what language the other drivers are screaming at you in.

Thirdly,  I am becoming more comfortable driving here (it’s a little disconcerting) but that also means that I now have some good advice to bestow.  I’m now getting criticism from passengers in my car (for example, a recent friend complained to my hubby that I drive with a “lead” foot.  I find that ironically hysterical and I’ll explain why in Tip #7).  Here’s my first response to that:  you either learn to swim or you get eaten by the sharks.  I’m tired of treading water, so rather than being scared all the time behind the wheel of my car, I’m putting my energy into something else: keeping calm and trying to set a good example.  That’s my new motto. And while I’m hoping that as I’m setting a gold standard in vehicular manners: the other cars won’t rear end me [again] when I actually stop at red lights; won’t honk at me when I stop and allow little-old-ladies to cross the road; and maybe I can bring an understanding as to just what those blinking lights on the corners of cars are really for.

So, let’s get to my 10 Tips Of Driving In Mexico: for safety, for freedom and for sanity:

Tip #1:  Don’t Take It Personally That other car that just ran you off the road?  They aren’t trying to hurt you, personally.  That taxi that just almost side-swiped you to simply make it to the red light one car-length ahead of you:  He’s not out to get you.  In fact, I’m pretty sure 90% of the people who have put me and my passengers in mortal danger are very nice people (in fact, the guy who rear-ended me a few months ago was super-friendly – we stay in touch).  My first couple of weeks of driving here – my feelings were constantly hurt – but you just can’t take it personally.  In our area there are basically no traffic police to enforce any laws – so human nature being what it is, it’s mayhem sometimes.  We’ve all got places to go, and in the cases of taxis and buses, a living to make involving getting to places quickly.  So don’t take any of it personally.

Tip #2:  Rubberneck Constantly Be hyper-aware of the cars around you – at all times.  Don’t look at your dashboard – it doesn’t matter what your speed is and you should have checked your gas level before you put the car into drive.  Don’t look at anyone in your car – there’s no need to look at any passengers while you are talking – if they are in your car, good chances are you already know what they look like – no eye contact is necessary.  You need to see and know where the cars are around you – in front, behind and to the left and right – and all four corners.    When you turn (and it doesn’t matter if you are turning right or left, onto a side street or going through a major intersection) look ALL AROUND you before doing so.  Chances are someone is trying to pass you, even if they have to cross over into oncoming traffic to do so, or risk t-boning you in the process.  Cars will come at you where you don’t expect them to, so do some neck stretches before any drive so you’ll be limber enough, like an owl, to turn every which way to stay alert.

Tip #3: DO NOT Get Attached To Your Vehicle If you are one of those people who are concerned about the outside appearance of their car, who is always washing and waxing the paint to a shine, who parks way-out in parking lots so as not to park next to other cars:  then you are doomed to a miserable existence here.  I don’t know why, but the the roads around us are dusty and dirty, and I can tell you that for the first couple of weeks I didn’t even know what color our rental car was (they washed it when we renewed the contract – and it turned out to be white).  The car that rear-ended me put a big black dent in the back, and the pole I hit in a parking lot added a splash of  amarillo – so the added color notwithstanding, the dents also add some personality to the car (thank goodness for insurance).  Here’s my point:  don’t care what your car looks like, you will not be able to keep it pretty and undamaged, so don’t stress yourself out by even trying.

Tip #4: Stay Loose It’s a scientific fact that the looser your body is in an accident, the less likely you are to incur injuries – so just keep things loose and light and relaxed – all the time.  Find whatever type of music that you like and calms you, and have that blaring the entire trip.  Maybe put a scented candle on the dashboard – I don’t care what you need to do to zen it out – but stay cool and collected the entire ride.

Tip #5:  Learn Your Car’s Physical Limitations Quickly learn the limitations of your car, and by that I mean learn to maneuver in very tight spaces.  I’ve had taxis and buses pass me with probably only millimeters between our cars – in fact I think sometimes their flaking paint scrapes off onto my car.  Understand the exact physical perimeter of your car so you can  maneuver with razor-thin precision in and around all the other cars and obstacles.  If you don’t yet have these types of driving skills, consider setting up a driving course in which to practice (think of the course set up by Mark Walhberg and Jason Statham in the Italian Job).  This precision driving will also help you avoid the many pits and crevices in the poorly maintained roads (I refuse to call these holes “potholes” because that word doesn’t describe just how big and deep some of these holes are).  Ironically even though I’m getting more comfortable driving here I still seem to steer directly into those suckers.

Tip 6:  Regardless Of The Immediate Horn Honking, NEVER Proceed Immediately When a Light Changes Green You will notice immediately that if you are the first in line at a red light, and the light turns green that if you don’t start moving that MILLISECOND – you will have several cars behind you honking.  Ignore the honking and take a moment before you move because nine times out of ten there are at least 2 taxes and 1 bus that will completely blow through their red light.  Stay vigilant going through intersections because many cars and most taxis/buses will not even slow down for a red light. Even if you have had a green light for some time, cars at the red light still to blow through it – be extra careful.

Tip #7: Drive With A Lead Foot Usually I’m the first car in line waiting at red lights – because I frankly refuse to run them (in fact the reason I was rear ended was because I was coming to a stop at newly-turned red).  When the light goes green, and you see it’s safe to cross – slam on the gas.  I mean stomp it like you’ve got the green flag in a NASCAR race – go Go GO.  The point of this speed is simple:  get away from the other cars.  Put on some speed and get away, and hopefully you can create some free space around yourself and travel some distance without any other cars around you.  Once you are free – ease up a bit, but maintain a really good distance from any other moving vehicles on the road, if possible.  That’s probably your #1 priority in driving here:  try to stay away from the other vehicles as much as possible.

Tip #8:  Be Careful Yielding To Emergency Vehicles Because No One Else Does Unfortunately, you don’t need to worry about getting out of the way of ambulances or other emergency vehicles (like firetrucks).  I can honestly say I haven’t seen a firetruck here with its lights flashing, but I’ve seen several ambulances, and those vans with their lights flashing apparently have to fight through traffic like the rest of us.  I recently asked and was told that it’s a law here (like in the U.S.), that you need to get out of the way – but no one does.  I do – which sometimes creates it’s own hazard because I’m the only one and the other cars around don’t seem to understand what I’m doing, or want to provide any type of courtesy in allowing me to move over.  Pick your battles here.

Tip #9:  What’s With Those Blinking Lights On The Back Of That Car? It is a rare sight to see someone actually utilize their turn signal – and in fact, back lights on many cars don’t work – so don’t wait for brake lights to inform you the car in front of you is coming to an abrupt stop.  I’ve even seen a car going forward, with their reverse lights activated.  You will not be afforded any type of signal from the other cars around you, so stay vigilant.  I worry I’m causing a distraction to my fellow drivers by actually using my turning signals (hey?  what’s that blinking light on that car?  what’s that crazy gringo lady doing?)  Funny:  people not using turn signals used to drive me crazy back in the U.S. (get it, get it:  “drive” me crazy…?!).

Tip #10: Speed Bumps They are EVERYWHERE here:  small bumps camouflaged into the road so you don’t even see them until you are air-borne; long grooved bumps that no matter how slow I go over them I still scrape something; double lines of metal-dots that everyone tries to navigate their tires exactly between to try and skip them entirely: – every speed bump I’ve ever imagined of is here and they are all over the place.  You’ll need to quickly learn the lay-of-the-land, especially for those that are hard to spot.  You just have to remember the location of the worst ones and ignore any passengers’ complaints that their heads are hitting the roof of the car.

* * * * *

Well, there you have it, my tips for driving in Mexico.  I wish someone had told me all of this before I came here, I might not have spent so much time being appalled and more time accepting it.  All kidding aside, be careful no matter where in this world you drive – wear seat belts, please follow the guidelines and use proper child-safety gear, and if you ever find yourself driving in Mexico:  keep calm and drive carefully and please don’t rear-end me while you are here.

Showing Respect – Chuck E. Cheese Style

I’m writing this blog from a just-built Chuck E. Cheese establishment that has recently popped up in our area – I believe it’s the first of it’s kind here, and rather disappointingly it’s just like all the Chuck E. Cheese’s I’ve been to back home in the U.S.  I’m not sure what I had expected:  maybe a mariachi band to play in the background while the kids played, tacos instead of tokens?  But I feel like I could be sitting anywhere in the U.S. right now:  the same nasty confetti-carpet to hide the stains and pizza toppings littered everywhere.  The same annoying kiddie-music playing on a relatively short loop – although also interesting is that all the music, videos and games are in English.  It just makes me wonder how many of the kids, and their folks, understand the tunes and animated puppeteer-videos.  I’ve been here ten minutes already and I wish I didn’t understand English all that much.  I can almost see the germs jumping from table to table – just like back home – dirty, grubby little hands are the same no matter where you are.

Different here, however (at least in my experience), are all the nannies following and playing with the kids.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure mixed in with the little people are actual moms and dads, following along and being directed about by their tiny little drill sergeants.  But also mixed in are lots of nannies and “help” that are very common with families in our part of Mexico.  Although I guess I shouldn’t be complaining too much – rather than hang out with my own little dictator I’m hiding in a corner booth typing this blog, so who am I to judge?

I’m not going to touch the pizza so I won’t be able to report back whether that’s the same as the U.S. fare or not, although I don’t seem to remember the Chuck E. Cheese pizza back home being all that great so it probably couldn’t get much worse; although I will say we’ve been disappointed with the pizza options here (it’s a tad dry as they use very little sauce).  The authentic Mexican food is so good that it doesn’t concern us all that much, but a few times we had a hankering for a good ole’ slice of pepperoni pie and have been dissatisfied.

Anyway, back to my incarceration at Chuck E. Cheese.  So apparently daughter #2 received an invite to today’s party well over a week ago, but never gave me the invite, or even told us about it.  I happened to see a mention of the event when trying to translate my WhatsApp messages today (always a frustrating chore) – so I had about 4 hours notice.  When picking up daughter #2 from school, upon entering the car she immediately confirmed that yes, the party was in 2 hours, and she really wanted to go because she really liked the birthday girl and “wanted to show respect”.  I’m not sure where she gets this “respect” part, and I’m not sure how going to Chuck E. Cheese displays respect, but I did comment that a way to show respect would be not losing the girl’s birthday invitation, and then actually being a part of the process of shopping and picking out a gift for said girl (as opposed to me running to Walmart rather frantically trying to pick out a generic gift for either a boy or girl – I didn’t even know the gender of the birthday kid).  My reward for pulling all of this together for daughter #2 (who, as I write this is having fun, eating some sort of pizza-shaped object and laughing, so I guess it was worth it) is to be sitting here, by myself, in this Chuck E. Cheese, typing this blog post.  There are some nice moms from our classroom sitting at some tables close by, but I guess I don’t feel like subjecting them to my dismal attempts at speaking Spanish, and don’t feel like forcing some of them to speak English – so here I am, typing away.

Not to let this blog become a Chuck E. Cheese-bash, I’m trying to think of all the other things here in Mexico that are basically the same as in the U.S., like this Chuck E. Cheese establishment.  So often I think we adjust in terms of all the things that are different – because there’s a lot.  The differences far outweigh the similarities.  But rather than focus on that at the present moment, let me think of all the things that are the same…  wait a minute, sorry, I’ve got to cut back into the Chuck E. Cheese-bashing really quickly:  turns out a person dressed up in a giant mouse costume going around hugging all the scared and crying children is just as creepy in Mexico as it is in the U.S.  I can’t even look – hold up a minute – I have to change booths….

OK, I’m back, and back on subject of similarities.  I’m trying to think of things that are the same here in Mexico, as in the U.S.: like getting freaked out by giant mouse costumes coming in to grab at you – seriously, if that giant mouse even looks in my direction – we’re going to have problems.  Other things that are the same:  electrical outlets are the same here, and having to annoyingly pop the little grounding button in every time I want to use my hair dryer hasn’t changed;  kids menus at restaurants are the same (chicken fingers are universal, apparently); here we’ve still got those irritating department store attendants waiting to spray you as soon as you walk near them with their Obsession By Calvin Klein product (why are those departments ALWAYS at the front of the store?); Dominos delivers here; and you can never find Home Depot employees to assist you when you are looking for something specific, but when you aren’t those guys in orange are EVERYWHERE.

That’s about all I can come up with on such short notice of items that are the same.  My list of things that are different is much, much longer:  like how last weekend we spent the day on the beach, and walking down by the water’s edge was this  cowboy leading a beautiful, and fully saddled, mare down the beach (this scene was just missing Fabio posing on the horse, his long hair flowing behind him in the wind).  The missing-Fabio notwithstanding, it was really neat to see.  I believe that if you gave the cowboy money he would allow you to ride the horse (take it for a spin?)  I didn’t give him any money, but for free I was able to pet the mare, tell her how pretty she was and feed her my apple.

The Super Bowl was a couple of weeks ago, for those of you who aren’t football fans (what a game, right?!) – we were able to get the game, but no Super Bowl commercials!  No movie trailers!  It was very strange not to be able to enjoy those – although we were grateful to at least be able to watch the game – so there’s that.  Interestingly the local Mexican channel we were watching only had a few of it’s own commercials to subject us to – the cameras were still on the field but with no microphone for other stoppages of play.  It was weird – it would just get quiet and we’d be watching shots of the players on the sidelines, some fans in the stands, etc.  From what I’ve been able to gather after the fact online, however, is that we didn’t miss much this year on commercials (did we?).

A few other items here that are different:  the legal drinking age is 18; children get their very own holiday on April 30th – Dia del Niño and it is customary to give children presents on this day (sigh – as if our spoiled American children need another excuse to pester us for more Legos); and often times you have to pay to use a public restroom.  Here you do not pump your own gasoline – you don’t even get out of the car (and I bet my peeps back in Chicago are really wishing they had this service right now – as I remember how cold and uncomfortable that 30 seconds was at the gas station in the winter time where you had to leave your heated car to put in your payment, try to punch in the numbers through your gloves and pick your product and engage the automatic gas pump holder so you could scramble back into the heat.)

I will admit there are some differences here that are hard to swallow, so to speak.  My blog isn’t intended to offend or upset anyone, so I won’t go into any specifics – but there are some differences here that I just cannot accept, and at times simply witnessing them is hard.  But does that make me right and them wrong?  Is it even fair of me to even think in those terms of rightness and wrongness?  Maybe I just need to come to terms with the fact that it’s not “right” or “wrong” – it’s just “different” – and I need to respect that concept.  And frankly, maybe I’m now completely over-thinking this entire concept way too hard, considering I’m sitting in the middle of a Chuck E. Cheese.

Speaking of my reality back in Chuck E. Cheese, daughter #2 now needs assistance trying to figure out how to feed those little tickets she’s won so proudly into the ticket counter, so she can see just how little all those hard-earned tickets will get her.   And of course those ticket counting machines are just as annoying here as back home (hey!  another similarity!), so I guess I actually need to get up and help her, because picking out those ticket trinkets is some Serious Business (yes, the words here are capitalized for a reason – and anyone who has taken their kids to these kiddie-gaming-establishments know what I’m talking about…)

So I guess I’ll wrap this up.  So many things are different here for us.  Some days those differences go a long way to spice up our lives a bit, and I’m hoping that all four of us are learning things about ourselves and how we’re living our lives to deal with those differences.  Other days, it’s very overwhelming, and then being in a different country and culture gets lonely and isolating (more so than dealing with dry pizza and overzealous perfume retailers).  But you know, if everything was so similar the adventure wouldn’t be as great, the challenges so rewarding, and the benefits so gratifying.

Some days we just need to remind ourselves of that.  Oh, great:  now my “respectful” daughter is starting to show signs of a fit at the ticket counter unless I don’t get a move on pronto, so I’ll really finish this.  But… much more importantly… I see the giant mouse making its way toward us again through the sea of pizza covered niños – so respect or no respect – we’re out of here.

Get Out Of Town! (we did!)

Get Out Of Town! (we did!)

We finally got into our cars this past weekend and drove away – to see some sights, get out of town and explore (mostly courtesy of some local friends with lots of Mexico-exploration experience via car).  We would not have had the courage to try this just ourselves.  Not only that, but we also found that sharing adventures such as these adds to the fun, including meeting new people.  Two new friends, in particular, are Mexican-travel guide books in and of themselves, one of which is fluent in Spanish.  So we were excited to travel with them, and more than comfortable to do so.

We left town on a Friday afternoon and got on the local highway (with tolls just like back home).  I especially enjoyed the highway driving for several reasons, the main one of which being this was our first drive out of our daily area so I was excited to see some new views (we pretty much have our same routes to school and work – nothing new to see there).  Also, unlike IMG_6037back home, our highway drive was not inundated with annoying billboard advertisements every couple of feet – and I’m happy to share that I didn’t see a single sign for McDonald’s.  No Dairy Queens at the exits, no hillbilly fireworks sales, no creepy Christmas stores (you totally know the ones I’m talking about).  What we did see was pretty cool:  lots of farms (horses, cows, chickens), small stands selling fresh fruit, hand-made furniture, tropical plants and colorful chotskies (yes, we are from Chicago),   No store signs, no hours of operation, no “open 24 hours” establishments – just some folks on the side of the road selling their wares (or approaching our car offering cheese – which we never bought).  Small quaint villages with a center square for congregations, churches, stores.  Some of them seemed poor to our standards, but the people I saw in them were all smiling, holding hands, the kids were pedaling down the dirt roads on tricycles, so honestly, it’s not for me to say if these places were poor or IMG_6172not.  The land itself we traveled through was beautiful, called a “tropical savannah” (thanks for the term, Aleisha!)  It was a very lush landscape filled with every shade and texture of green imaginable, and since we were traveling inland and away from the coast, it always had a beautiful mountain backdrop in most directions.

The only thing I can complain about the drive were the potholes.  They are everywhere here (be it in the cities or the country) and I thought I was getting pretty good at avoiding and maneuvering safely around them here in our city, so much so that I’ve been seriously considering trying-out to be a stunt-driver in the Fast and the Furious franchise when we go back home.

I’m thinking now I’m not going to get that job.

Hitting potholes driving around town around 30 MPH is one thing – accurately hitting them going 50 to 60 MPH is violently jarring, and I think I may have hit every single one on the particular highways we were on this past weekend.  Besides my own discomfort and concern that these camouflaged, bottomless crevices to the underworld were going to take out a tire or two (and I’m pretty positive AAA Roadside Assistance doesn’t include Mexican roadsides) I also had to contend with my 10-year old’s complaints from the backseat that our brief moments airborne were messing with her Nintendo game (but honestly she shouldn’t have been playing anyway – she should have been looking out the window, which we kept reminding her the entire drive).

We initially drove west and spent the night in Ciudad Valles – at the Taninul Hotel, a colonial-style building with lots of charm.  The rooms were rather bare but comfortable – our room having strange artworkIMG_6084 (is the dude flying on a Popsicle, over a forest of other Popsicles?)  Anyway, the food was fabulous, authentic Mexican cuisine and the seIMG_6049rvice very quick and friendly.  Mostly having the restaurant just about exclusively to ourselves, we were all able to play a fun game of charades (a reference here to the fun of sharing adventures – coupled with the fact that it was fun to learn just how good at charades our 7 year old is – we had no idea).  Our favorite part about this hotel, however, was its hot springs for swimming, and doing so at night with minimal lighting to highlight the steam coming off the water is a tad magical.  For anIMG_6102 extra fee we could have had our bodies covered in mud for some sort of treatment, and then rinsed off in the hot springs – but we declined this service.  That night was pretty chilly, so unless you were in the hot water you were pretty cold, and none of us figured this mud-treatment was worth it.  But it was a little strange that the folks who apparently are a lot braver than us that did partake in this service rinsed their mud off in the same springs the rest of us were swimming in, so that was slightly yucky (although in their defense they all rinsed near the pool’s drain – but still).  Also enjoyable was exploring the hotel’s grounds, which were filled with huge vine-covered trees with exposed roots, rock-paved paths, horses and a cave to explore (although I’ll admit we didn’t go spelunking – we just walked in a bit before the smell, the droppings and the small scurrying sounds made us all scurry out back into the light).  I would recommend Taninul Hotel and we would stay there again.

After Taninul Hotel, on Saturday, we drove a bit more Southwest to the weekend’s main destination:  Xilitla.

Xilitla was magical.  Before we came to Mexico I envisioned visiting quaint, rustic Mexican villages filled with color and culture and mariachi bands and dancing in the streets and… well, I’ll stop there, except that Xilitla was pretty much what I had hoped for and had all of those things (no mariachi band but we did pass an open bar where the performer was playing some sort of interesting horn that had a deep-twang I would associate with The Down Under… but it was late, and it was a bar so we passed by with the kids).  We stayed at the Posado El Castillo, which was small with only eight rooms, the caretaker being a really nice lady named Luisa whose grandfather had lived at the hotel at one point.  This hotel was easily like anWP_20150117_290 adult’s jungle-gym / fun house:  spiral staircases, wobbly ladders, balconies, open rooms, a pool on the roof, a wooden swing near the garden area, lots of doors and places to explore, several different levels with access to all the rooftops, colorful tropical birds in cages (one of which bit a hole in my shirt but that was my fault as I got too close to his cage), and a pretty friendly little cat who would let you pet her for awhile before she bit you.  We all (kids and adults alike) had fun just running around like a bunch of hamsters in a new-tunnel enclosure.  The rooms were all very quaint, huge windows that offered beautiful views of the town and mountains around us, and included fresh cut flowers, candles for us to burn; were quirky and filled with lots of charm and personality (although it was missing art work featuring frozen treats).

Now as enjoyable as our travels had been to this point – it was soon to get even more amazing as we went to the location that was the main reason for these travels:  Las Pozas.   It will be hard to describe Las Pozas but I’ll do my best: IMG_6288

Imagine a tropical forest filled with waterfalls and streams.  Make sure to add the sounds of the water, all the different birds and the breeze through the leaves.  Now imagine in this forest a huge garden that flows through and between the waterfalls, up and down the hills and throughout the foliage – now imagine large structures and concrete art haphazardly strewn about the entire area:  concrete structures and art that look like a cross between artwork from M.C. Escher, a Dr. Seuss book and a Lord of the Rings movie set.  You walked on, climbed up and maneuvered through all of this art.  Some looked like buildings, some gates or doorways, some window frames, some that looked like giant flowers; but mostly they had no particulate shape so each viewer drew their own conclusion at the builder’s intention.  Winding paths that take you nowhere, staircases that go up and up and then simply end, enchanting doorways and windows that do not lead to any buildings.  We got lost pretty quickly but that was part of why it was so enchanting:  do we climb the stairs and see what’s up there?  Do we go straight and crawl through the doorway to see what’s beyond?  Or do we venture downwards along that path to find the waterfall we can so clearly hear through the trees?  If you are having trouble imagining the charm and beauty of Las Pozas (or I’m just not describing it well enough) – check out these images.   Las Pozas was built by Edward James, an “eccentric English poet and artist”, who in the 1960s and 1970s spent millions of dollars and employed hundreds of masons, artisans, and local craftsmen to create his sculpted gardens. “By the time James died in 1984, he had built 36 surrealist inspired concrete sculptures, spread out over more than 20 acres of lush tropical jungle.”

In my opinion Las Pozas should be added to the “Wonders of the World” list.

We had a wonderful time at this wonder and look forward to visiting it again (hopefully in warmer climate so we can swim in the streams and slide down the waterfalls – which is allowed – can you believe that?).  As an American coming from a very litigious culture, coupled with my own years of experience working for personal injury lawyers, I had a hard time believing how open, free and hazardous Las Pozas was.IMG_6337  There were no caution signs anywhere indicating you had to climb at your own risk, no yellow signs which depicted stick-figures falling down the mountainside, we didn’t even have to sign any waivers to enter; none of the edges of the steps had florescent painted edges to draw your attention; no handrails or guard rails existed anywhere; just art and beauty and nature and these fabulous designs that drew you in to explore around every corner, up every step, through every gate.  I found that to be very freeing (and a tad nerve racking – we did have our two kids with us, the younger of which being very accident prone herself even when she has the caution signs and the bright yellows lines and handrails to keep her safe).  But you know she did very well, which maybe was also a lesson to us not to worry so much.

We ended our Xilitla trip with a great dinner that night in a restaurant within walking distance of our hotel in the city center, on the restaurant’s back balcony, filled with candles and breathing in a beautiful view of the mountainside village at night, dotted here and there with small, twinkling lights.  It was very quite but we could still hear roosters in the distance, cars laboring up the steep streets occasionally and the soft hum of insects.  And thanks to very little light pollution, we’ve never seen the stars so bright.

So, to recap our weekend:  we highly recommend the Taninul Hotel in Ciudad Valles, swimming in hot springs (day or night), exploring caves (make sure you know how to access your cell’s flashlight app), the Posada El Castillo (don’t get too close to the birdcages and only pet the cat for about 10 seconds), Xilitla (watch out for pot holes if you are driving) and visiting Las Pozas (of which I promise you don’t need to be a Dr. Seuss or a LOTR fan to be enchanted with… you clicked on the images link, right?).

In fact, if you are planning on going to any of those places – let us know.  We’ll meet you there.

A Gringo’s A Thru Z Guide to Mexico

A Gringo’s A Thru Z Guide to Mexico

Including moving there, adjusting to it’s lifestyle and losing a piece of your heart to it’s culture, by an expat from the United States, that’s only been here for six months, so surely that makes them an expert:

A:  Adaptable: moving from one culture to another, quickly learn to be adaptable (or at least fake it – whichever is easier for you).  If you can’t or don’t – then get comfortable being unhappy – or maybe consider staying where you are.

B: Buy clothes and your favorite beauty products from home and bring them with you: clothes are expensive and you may not be able to find some of your favorite organic, sulfate-free, protein packed, keratin infused, mint shampoo (which would be a disaster in any country, right ladies?).

C: Cockroaches: fear them and before you even come, make sure you bulk-up your quads and practice your stomp-and-run technique so you’ll be prepared to take them on.

D:  Drastically different driving conditions; coming from the U.S. I was, and still am, completely amazed at the subpar driving conditions.  Prepare to ALWAYS wear your seat belt, stop caring if your car is dirty, dented or scratched, and if you have small children make sure to bring a booster-seat with you.  Also, in many parking lots you will need to stop and get a ticket as you drive in, which you will need to make the gate-bar rise up so you can exit.  This doesn’t cost any money so I’m not really sure the point, but unless you’ve got a battering ram on the front of your car, don’t lose that ticket.

E:  Engage – get out and meet people; I’ve found that Mexicans are very friendly and helpful, and have been a great resource for us foreigners.  Don’t obsess on how much you miss your friends and family and start stalking them on Facebook and bugging them on Skype – take that time and energy and get out and meet some locals and make some new friends.  So far this subject has been my favorite aspect of being an expat (meeting new people, not missing our peeps back home).

F:  Food – it’s amazing and totally worth Montezuma’s Revenge.  Be prepared to try authentic Mexican food that has nothing to do with burritos and chimichangas (but stay away from dishes featuring “lengua”).  FYI:  Taco Bell is NOT Mexican food.

G: Gringo – non-derogatory term used to refer to US citizens. Mostly because the term “American” does not make sense to the rest of the Americans (all those people who live in the two continents named “America”, which is every body from Canada to Argentina), and the word “Estadounidense” (United Statesian) is too long. Folklore says it was generated when the US invaded Mexico, wearing green uniforms, and the people shouted at them “Green Go Home”.  With time it lost all derogatory status and was turned into the most common word to refer to any US citizen.   Cite:  Urban Dictionary

H: Horchata – traditional Mexican drink that I would describe as liquid heaven in a glass.

I:  Inglés – Spanish for “English”, as in “hablo inglés“: “I speak English” (assuming you speak English – if you don’t then I doubt you are reading this so let’s move on).

J: Jump Roping – very popular past-time and the school even offers a very popular extracurricular class solely devoted to jumping rope (single bounce, double bounce, double-rope, criss cross, something that looks like that low Russian-like-kicking squat-dance – it’s pretty intense).

K: – The letter “k” is an oddity in Spanish as there are no original Spanish words starting with this letter.  Words that begin with k in Spanish and even words that contain the letter k have their origins outside the Spanish-speaking world. Cite Keep this handy info in mind the next time your opponent tries to sneak in a Spanish “k” word into your game of Scrabble – or you ever get on Jeopardy.

L:  Lizards – or more scientifically, hemidactylus frenatus – common house geckos.  Florida has them too – tiny little lizards that cling to walls and ceilings, are fast and cause no harm to anyone but they are all over the place.  They eat insects and are our cats favorite snacks, playthings and squishy sacrificial offerings.

M: Microdyn – everyone knows not to drink the water, but you also have to be careful using it to wash your produce (unless all you eat is processed foods – then you don’t need this, but then again you’ve got much bigger problems).  Microdyn is one of many products available that you should use to save yourself from spending a lot of uncomfortable time in the baño.

N:  “No hablo español” – and practice saying this with your friendliest, sparkly-whitest smile and widest, twinkly eyes, and  raise your voice a little and maybe wring your hands together – trust me, it all helps until you get a better handle on the language.

O:  OHHHH [@#%*!@ – insert preferred profanity here]! – and get comfortable yelling it out loud as you will do so constantly while behind a wheel of a car – with or without children present.

P:  Patience – you’ll need loads of that to adjust and live here – and I’m not only referencing your need of patience to deal with the world around you – make sure you have patience with yourself.  But while you are zen-ing out, be prepared to deal with a much slower-paced way of life.

Q: Querétaro – Querétaro is a small state located about 2.5 hours out of Mexico City – and apparently it’s a nice place to visit in Mexico.  See this Eat Live Mexico blog post for more details on this quaint little Mexican town.  We’ve never been there, but I was having a really hard time coming up with something for “q” – so there you go.

R: Roll with the punches – understand moving and living in a new culture is very challenging – the good and the bad.  You will spend a good amount of time out of your comfort zone while adapting.  Learn to roll with the punches or you’ll just get knocked out repeatedly.  Take this from someone who has already been K.O’d a few times herself already.

S:  Spanish – learn it, at least enough to be respectful (good morning, how are you, please and thank you…) – people are forgiving if you are struggling to communicate in Spanish – but rude is rude in any language.  At the very minimum, at least see “N” above.

T:  Tequila – forget what you tried in college – Mexico has the best selection of tequila, especially considering it’s exclusively made here (there’s another Jeopardy-tryout tidbit for you).  Only buy “100% de agave” tequila, and if you purchase correctly you don’t need to mix it with a bunch of fruit juices – simply sip it with some fresh limes slices.  I’ve found it also helps in the aforementioned adaption process…   

U:  Umbrellas – umbrellas are used here more to block the sun than to block the rain, which freaked me out for awhile at the beginning as I was always thinking there was a imminent storm brewing on the horizon I wasn’t aware of and couldn’t see.

V:  Viva Mexico! – phrase shouted during Mexican Independence Day celebrations – September 16th is considered a patriotic holiday, or fiesta patria (literally, Patriot Festival or Civic Festival). This day is marked by parades, patriotic programs, drum and bugle and marching band competitions, and special programs on the national and local media outlets, even concerts.

W:  Weather – if you are like us and moving internationally, there’s a very good chance you are moving far away into a totally different climate.  Try to think ahead a little and don’t be like me, who shortly have moving here was frantically unpacking box after box of winter coats, wool beanies and mittens (that we’ll never use), looking for our bathing suits and flip flops.  Oh, and one last tip about weather conditions here in Mexico:  learn how to read the temperature in Celsius, if you don’t already know it.  Only five countries in the world use Fahrenheit measurement – and Mexico is not one of them.  Electricity is VERY expensive here so you’ll want to learn to use the thermostat in your casa with NASA-like precision.

X: Taxis – stay out of their way, and don’t be alarmed by their constant horn honking – they most likely aren’t honking at you, but to prospective passengers walking on the roads (I’m guessing, I’ve never actually inquired about the honking…I could be wrong – but regardless of the noise, I do know you need to stay out of their way).

Y:  Yucatán is a state in the north western part of the Yucatán Peninsula, with its coastline facing the Gulf of Mexico.  It’s filled with sandy beaches, underground rivers and cenotes, and is also near a city called Cancun (maybe you’ve heard of it).  It’s an amazing place to visit, and if you go we would highly recommend visiting Mayan archaeological site Chichen Itza and the Ik Kil cenote.

Z: Zero – after six months, still have to say that we have seen zero aliens – but hey, that doesn’t mean we don’t keep an eye out for them – keep an open mind no matter where in this world you live. 

A Few Words About International Flying

A Few Words About International Flying

Our first Christmas in Mexico is now past.  I’ll admit that being from Chicago, celebrating this holiday without the bitter cold and snow is rather strange and different – and our family found it a little hard to get into the holiday spirit not so much because of the weather, but being so far away from family and friends during this time of year – where being with people we care about is typically one of the ways we celebrate.  It also didn’t help that we realized just how badly we had packed away all of our Christmas decorations for our move.  So with the normal untangling of strings of lights which then wouldn’t work, we had a hard time locating some of these seasonal items and boxes, and then after finding them (in an outdoor storage area), not only did we bring those items into the house but we brought some extra critters that had decided to take up residence in our moving boxes.  I dare any of you to be in the holiday spirit after unraveling damaged lights, sorting through broken tree accessories, kids complaining that their hand-made ornaments from pre-school didn’t make the move all while simultaneously fighting off crazed-cats and creepy crawlers.

To help us get into the holiday spirit our family flew into Orlando, Florida for a few days to see my parents and to visit Epcot Center and Legoland.  First and foremost it was great to see and spend time with my parents.  But I won’t go into any more mushy details than that because my mom reads all my blogs and I don’t want to make her cry – but even without all the exciting magic kingdom events – it was great to see them.  I highly recommend Epcot, although the “rides” weren’t exciting enough for our 10 year old.  I also recommend Florida’s Legoland (which is about 10 times bigger than the Legoland in Schaumburg, Illinois), especially for younger kids (it was perfect for our girls, the youngest of which is 7).

To get to Orlando we first had to fly to Houston, Texas for a layover, and then hopped onto another plane from Houston to Orlando.  Flying anywhere, in my opinion, is stressful and a lot of work.  Flying internationally compounds all that work and stress.

I will say that I really didn’t realize how stressful it is being in a surrounding where it’s a struggle to communicate.  It has become a way of life for us in Mexico – we are making the best of it and learning Spanish as quickly as we can.  Arriving in Houston I felt like a weight had lifted off my shoulders.  I could understand the people around me – if I had a question, it was easy to speak and ask and understand the answer in reply.  Likewise, while driving around in Orlando – I was amazed at how relaxing it was to move from one place to another in a vehicle.  Most of the time I felt like we were driving on clouds – it was so smooth compared to what we drive on in our local area in Mexico.  And it goes without saying how relaxing it was to be among other courteous drivers who were obeying the traffic laws.  Compared to driving in our local area, driving around in Orlando I felt like one of those fussy babies who will only fall asleep in a moving car (especially as while driving around in Mexico I’m usually crying and yelling) but back in the U.S. I was so relaxed and soothed I could have closed my eyes and taken a peaceful power nap.

Back to international flying – most likely depending on your destination, you will have to change flights multiple times – and it seemed to me all the gates for international flights were on the complete opposite side of the airport from our next domestic departure.  I’m not opposed to walking, and people-watching at airports is fun (quick tip:  if you see someone walking through an airport with sunglasses on they might be a celebrity… you should run ahead of them while getting your cellphone out to snap a selfie with them behind you – you never know…) but I found that walking long distances at the airports just gave our two children more chances to trip us with their roller-luggage.  A little girl walking through the airport dragging her own bright pink Hello Kitty luggage with light-up wheels behind them might be cute to a typical onlooker, but honestly, it’s a very deadly weapon and I strongly suggest you make a very wide berth around them.  Getting tired of risking a broken ankle, or worse from these parent-seeking missiles of ours, we ended up carrying our own luggage as well as the kids – which probably was their strategy to begin with, and made all the walking seem that much longer.  They should add “walking through airports with children and their luggage” an obstacle in the Tough Mudder courses – I guarantee that would be the hardest part of that entire race.

For any international flying you’ll have to factor in extra time to deal with the immigration process.  And, if you are like us and your immigration paperwork hasn’t been completed yet (even though we were assured it would be), that can add a little spice to the entire process.   Luckily our trip to and from Mexico went smoothly – but I’ll admit I lost a little sleep beforehand worrying about that process.  I also have to share how awesome our rental guy is at the airport.  I’ve said it before and will say it again about living in Mexico – things are slower and a bit looser than what we are accustomed to in the U.S.  So I will be the first to admit that when the rental guy assured us weeks ago that he would wait for us on Christmas Eve to return and give us our rental car back, I didn’t believe him.  I’m sure at the time he meant it – but I figured: 1)  this is Mexico; and 2) it’s Christmas Eve… all the rental places will be closed and we’ll have to figure out an alternative method of getting home from the airport.  But sure enough, on Christmas Eve, after going through immigration and thankfully getting the green light with our luggage, we entered the main airport to see all rental car companies closed:  their gates down, lights off, etc.  But the last rental company in the hallway, the one we needed, was open and our rental guy was sitting there by himself, waiting for us – just like he said he would.  I can honestly say that his “gift” to our family that night is easily one of my favorite gifts from this season – and a good lesson for me as next time I promise to have a little more faith in people.

The rest of our actual travel journey is basically the same as any other domestic flying (although I’ll add a note to look out for international roaming charges… yikes!  and even though most airports now offer “free” WiFi – the connection is so bad that you shouldn’t bother):  if your family is anything like ours, then you have an addiction for electric outlets to frantically charge those little devices we depend on so much; trying to eat healthy in an airport is really challenging – and should you come across a Shipley Do-Nuts – do yourself a favor and get a treat – they are all amazing; talking on speakerphone while on your cellphone is really annoying no matter what language you are speaking so please do the world a favor and just don’t do it (unless you are speaking French, and are a dude… in which case, come have your conversation near me).

At the end of our holiday travels, it was strange to me to be leaving the U.S. to “return home”.  Being in Orlando with my folks:  I was already home.  But even missing the U.S. and our family and friends, while in Orlando we also missed our new home in Mexico, too.  As the saying goes: “home is where the heart is”, and I’m learning now that I’ve left pieces of my heart with my parents in Florida, with family and friends back in the Chicagoland area, and now in Mexico.  We’ve been here now for five months, and I guess that’s long enough for this country to grab a small piece of our hearts.

So our first Christmas in Mexico is now past.  If you observe Christmas, then where ever your heart lives I hope your holiday was wonderful and filled with stress-free travels with people you care about, bright critter-free trees covered in hand-made pre-school memorabilia and an opportunity to restore your faith in people.

Just keep an eye out for those kids and their roller-luggage.