Halloween and Day of the Dead in Mexico in the year 2020

Since what is posted on the internet lasts forever, those of you reading this in the future might not remember the year 2020. For those of us living in the present, this year will forever be remembered as the year of the COVID-19 (“19” because it began in the year 2019) pandemic. So many people infected and died, untold numbers with effects that will last for a long time, businesses shuttered, etc. And day by day scientists and doctors are continuing to learn more about this virus than we originally knew.

Here in Mexico our normal holiday activities have been disrupted – Easter, Independence Day (September 15-16 —– NOT Cinco de Mayo), and so it will be with Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and almost certainly Christmas.

Normally for this time of year, graves in the cemeteries are cleaned, altars to the dead are constructed and decorated, but now the cemeteries are closed to this holiday and funerals are very restricted. To see how we normally celebrate, here are links to previous posts, one of our celebration in Colima, and one in Guadalajara/Tlaquepaque:



So this year it will be a very quiet period of time with a few decorative reminders of the season. I have planted marigolds, which provide a pathway for the spirits to join the living.

I’ve also put out a few decorations .

Meanwhile, in the creepy spirit of Halloween, I will devote the majority of this post to spiders, and there are a greater variety of them than I have ever seen.

First, something cute – this tiny, furry white little creature that I found on a leaf stem of my lemon tree. I’ve never seen one before or since, so I really don’t know anything about it.

Here I classify spiders as “indoor spiders” and “outdoor spiders.” The outdoor ones begin spinning their webs at the end of the rainy season, which is where we are right now. You can’t always see the webs, and they are everywhere, so when I leave my house to go into my garden, I look like a crazy woman, waving a stick in front of me to catch any unseen webs. A few times, I have gotten a face full of web after inadvertently walking into it.

Most of the webs are spun by these large scary ones. I’ve seen them strung between trees with no idea how these creatures construct them with such a great distance between the points of contact. As long as they are high enough for me to pass underneath without contact, I am fine with that.

One spider here is very unusual – it seems to have a little triangular house on its back. Perhaps that is where the silk is created, I don’t know. In any case, I have taken videos of it moving incredibly fast, plus spinning the web as well as eating an unfortunate bug.

Finally, there is what I call the “house spider,” which does not spin a web, but waits on the walls inside the house. Less scary in appearance and quite timid. When I blow on one, it scurries rapidly away.

It really is amazing to witness the checks and balances of nature. All the creatures that one would normally not notice I can observe since I am living in their world on my property. My cats keeping the property free of rodents and snakes, spiders controlling insects and the sapo (toad) which eats insects, but will soon disappear when the dry season is in full swing, only to reappear with the next rainy season.

The sapo. At least the cats know enough to stay away from them. They secrete poison in their skin.

In the meantime, we humans of Colima will celebrate the season in a more subdued manner, while keeping the spirit of the season alive, many with altars inside their homes, with decorations and maybe just a skull-shaped glass will do.

My famous apple pies.
Enjoying a milkshake when the baking is finished.

Hoping you all stay safe and healthy. Until next time…………………..

Technology – Keeping in Touch when Far Away

June 20, 1969 View of the moon in the sky over the Wright Brothers’ memorial on the day astronauts first walked on the moon

Fifty one years ago today, the crew of the Apollo 11 first stepped on the moon, just 65 years and 7 months from December 17, 1903 when the Wright brothers made the first ever powered flight from Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, USA.

My grandparents were born before that first powered flight and lived to see men walk on the moon. Just thinking about that three pounds of wet cells that are our brains can contemplate, conceive and create out of raw materials heavier-than-air creations that can perform actual flight and in the span of less than a lifetime escape our planet and land on the moon.

Of course, in 1903, those who created these machines and the technology were standing on the shoulders of those who came before them in millenia past. Going WAY back, as in harnessing fire, to extracting and using metal, mythologies of men flying like birds as in the tale of Icarus, the invention of radio, radar, the discovery of oxygen and learning to contain it so humans could breathe under water or up in the atmosphere. And let’s not forget mathematics and the women of NASA – especially the black women who were the brains behind sending men to the moon and bringing them back safely.

So many discoveries that probably began as curiosities, things that no one could even imagine would lead to or become part of our life today. And this leads me to think about many of the ways technology has changed the way we live just in my lifetime.

I was born 4 years after the end of World War II. In primary school, we had a little newspaper made just for us youngsters called The Weekly Reader. I don’t remember much of what was in it, but I do remember news of a new thing called a computer that took up an entire room and could do calculations. Many telephones were party lines and I remember picking up the phone, telling the operator the number of my grandmother so we could be connected.

Typewriters were not electric yet and they had ribbons. Mimeograph machines were used in schools to make copies and for us folks at home there was carbon paper. As school progressed, the teachers at times requested that we type our papers instead of turning in handwritten homework.

In 1964, the World’s Fair was held in Flushing Meadow Park in Queens, New York. There were so many wonders to behold, and one of them was in the Bell Telephone exhibit – a phone of the future where you could actually see with whom you were talking. I remember the anxiety some of us had as to whether or not this was a good thing. We imagined receiving a call when we were not looking our best – horrors !!!

Western Electric Products - Picturephone

As time marched on, we saw progression in technology. In the original Star Trek television series, the crew of the Enterprise had communicators that could flip open and you could communicate with each other on the ground or even with your crew up in space. What fantastic science fiction that was !!! Now we have cell phones. What was once science fiction is now such a part of everyday life that we hardly think about it. And for people who say, “Why do we go up THERE when we have problems DOWN HERE,” well, without going “up there” you would not have the worldwide communications networks that we have now, nor would we have our GPS capabilities, thanks to the Global Positioning Satellites that are “up there.” And we have life-saving telemedicine, where we can consult with physicians thousands of miles away from a disaster or remote area.

In the meantime, other forms of communication have evolved greatly over time. In the 1960’s, I had a pen pal in Japan. Extra postage on the letter to make it go by airmail. Air mail envelopes were of thinner paper and so was the writing paper so it would weigh less. It took 4 days to go from Long Island to Kyoto and vice versa. And a PS here – if any of my readers is in Japan, or has connections with people there, I had an unsuccessful search for my former pen pal. Perhaps there is someone out there who can help.

I continued to be an avid letter-writer but the events of September 18, 2001 forced me into the age of the internet as far as personal communications were concerned. That was the start of the anthrax scare – people receiving envelopes in the mail with a white powder that turned out to be anthrax, with people becoming ill. A friend with whom I was corresponding in Vienna said they were concerned and we should communicate with email – and so, I finally came into the modern world and got myself an email address.

In 1998, when my son was 10 years old, I was part of a nursing delegation that visited two hospitals in Nepal to discuss our respective countries’ methods of treating neurosurgical and neurological conditions. During that time, I received a message from the cyber café near the hotel to call home. I panicked, thinking something had happened to my son. I placed a phone call and discovered he only wanted to hear my voice. That 20-minute call cost $100 USD, payable immediately to the hotel clerk.

Now, we can instantly talk with and even see one another by directly calling someone with our cell phones, Face Time, and send emails instantly instead of waiting days or weeks for mail to go each way. And in some cases, snail mail has not improved over time. More than 50 years ago, my letter took 4 days to go from New York to Kyoto. Currently, a paper letter going from my home in Colima to the United States takes anywhere from one month to three months, with an average of 6 weeks – IF it eventually gets delivered. God Bless DHL and FedEx, which costs a fortune, but the mail or package does reach its destination in a timely manner.

Since I am a retired nurse, I will also briefly touch on how technology has changed the medical field. When I entered nursing school in 1967, there was no such thing as CT scans, etc. To detect something such as a brain tumor, there was a test called a pneumoencephalogram (PEG for short). You’d sit in a chair, the doctor would do a spinal tap and extract a bit of spinal fluid. Then they would inject an air bubble, which would rise up to your ventricles in your brain and they would take x-rays. If your brain was atrophied, you wouldn’t feel a thing. If your brain was intact, it felt as if your head exploded, the most agonizing pain I had ever experienced, much worse than childbirth and kidney stones combined.

Gratefully with CT scans, PET scans, MRI’s and other forms of imaging, that barbaric test is no longer in use. You can see inside the body without having to cut it open to find or treat a problem.

Likewise, telemedicine is a blessing. In the past, x-rays were taken, the film was then developed and a radiologist would interpret it. The phrase “wet reading” comes from reading the film before it is completely dry. Now, x-rays can be transmitted digitally halfway around the world for consultations, when the patient is in a remote area, such as after a disaster, or a radiologist is not available at the time he is needed.

The final change that I will touch on is managing diabetes. In 1967, we did not test blood sugar. We would take a fresh specimen of urine, put a few drops in a test tube, add a few drops of Benedict’s Solution then hold it over an open flame. When the liquid changed color, we would compare it to a chart to see how much sugar was there and then calculate how much insulin to give. Over time, there were tablets to add (Clinitest and Acetest) instead of Benedict’s Solution, and more changes over time until we have the hand-held instant glucometer of today.

I could write a whole book solely on the changes that have occurred during my lifetime, but I am only writing a blog post for now. And so, I will leave each of you, whatever your age, to contemplate the wonders of the human brain and how it is possible to manipulate our world to bring us closer together and improve our lives and widen our horizons when it is used for the benefit of all persons everywhere. Teamwork and sharing knowledge and ideas will help make this a better world.

The Global Educator: Case Study 2.3: Ed Gragert - Global Connections
And I hope to live to 100. I can’t wait to see all the changes made in the next 30 years after all I have witnessed in the previous 70.

Mexican Easter in the time of Corona – viral version, not the beer

Since my last post, Easter has come and gone here in our little state of Colima. Normally my village is very quiet, but around holidays it is transformed. It becomes a village bursting with color, music, dancing, singing, parades and processions.

This year, however, it was very somber. Normally, when it is not a holiday, there are children running around and playing in the village square, women congregating in front of their houses or inside their houses and men congregating in the square. Now it is like a ghost town.

The kiosko – bandstand

The tianguis – farmers’ market – was held on a smaller scale than usual. when the pandemic began. Now, it is not held in the square, but scattered throughout the village; vegetable and fruit vendors in one place, people selling clothing in another, people selling dry goods, food and drink in tins and bottles, soap, etc. in another place, those selling other products such as sponges, pots and pans, children’s toys in another place.

Mexico is a very religious and Catholic country, and all the churches have been closed for a while. My neighbors will “attend” the Mass either broadcast from Mexico City or from the Vatican. Schools have been closed, restaurants that are still open serve takeout only.

Our Catholic Church

The governor of our state has been very diligent about the public taking precautions to stay safe. Those precautions, possibly in addition to the fact that we are a small agricultural state, has led to our good fortune to only have had 7 positive cases and no deaths from the pandemic. Cities like Mexico City and Guadalajara have been harder hit, but they are more urban and crowded – sometimes reminding me of New York City.

Children are receiving their homework assignments from the teachers, given a due date, and then their families return the homework to the teachers and receive their next assignments. We will have to wait and see when the schools might open again.

I have been somewhat busy with gardening – replacing my almost-dead, dried up rosemary plants with 5 new ones, discovering a still-alive cherry tree sapling that I had forgotten about as it was “buried” in an overgrowth of weeds and ground cover. I also planted 10 bell pepper plants, and my chayotes are starting to produce more than I can eat by myself.

Bees pollinating the banana flowers

Also, there’s my banana trees. Three of them are producing at once. When they are ripe, there will be a total of somewhere between 150 and close to 300 lbs of bananas.

The area which our literacy project, Project Amigo, serves has a lot of poverty, so I will be donating my excess fruits and vegetables to them to distribute to those who need it.

It’s also Sugar Cane Time !!!!! Recently, our ground was covered with black ash which resembles strips of burnt paper. That lets us know that the owners are burning the sugar cane fields and soon the cañeros – the sugar cane cutters – will be in the fields cutting the stalks of cane that are left after the leaves, etc. are burned away. Once the cane is dried in the fields, it is loaded onto huge trucks and taken to the refineries. A few days ago, I started to see these cane trucks on the road. As the season progresses, we will be seeing many trucks driving by every day.

As you might be able to tell, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in spite of the pandemic Cows still need to be milked, farms still need to be tended, and then there’s construction. Road repairs, work on houses, all those people are still working, but there are only a few men at a time, not large crowds of people.

And then there was Palm Sunday and Easter. For Palm Sunday, the people in the village were told they could attach any kind of branches they wished above their doors, and so they did. For Easter, there were Masses broadcast on television or the internet.

For me, thanks to modern technology, I was able to attend the Easter service of my old church in New York, the First Presbyterian Church of Goshen. It was nice to see familiar faces, first the pre-recorded service and then attend “Coffee Hour” live via ZOOM (?). For this special occasion, I actually got dressed up, even though I was alone in my livingroom.

Checking myself out before attending Easter church service and Coffee Hour

And I would like to take a few minutes to share some thoughts with you about being a foreigner, no matter during extraordinary times or normal times. I have lived here for 4 years, and been a permanent resident for almost 3 of those years. I do not live in an expat community and therefore speak Spanish probably 90% of the time. I can manage with daily conversations, though my grammar and vocabulary are still lacking in many ways. I am trying to improve my grammar so that I sound more like an adult, rather than a foreigner.

Anyway, I can tell you that what others might perceive about foreigners is not what we feel inside. Inside, I know that I am a professional, I have a degree and worked as a professional for 45 years. Outwardly, it is often hard to express myself in a second language which I only began to learn as an adult, and this might make me seem “less than” to native speakers. There are many nuances to languages which are not taught in school, or local dialects and expressions which you will not automatically know or understand.

Here in Mexico, I have found nothing but acceptance in my community, but I know that the foreign-born living in some other countries are not accepted or not considered intelligent if they do not have total command of the language of the country in which they reside. So I am asking that if you know or see someone for whom your native language is THEIR second language, that you take this into consideration, and maybe say something if you see them being mistreated or made fun of, compliment them on their efforts to speak your language or ask them how they are doing and learn something about their life.

Anyway, I’ll get down from my soapbox for now and wish you and your loved ones safety and well-being and hope that for whatever holiday you may have celebrated, it brought you some comfort.

Until next time, remember that we are all in this together.

Peace to all of you.

Colima and the Corona Virus

With the Corona Virus (COVID-19) spreading around the globe, I have been asked to address this in my next post. I hope that wherever you are, that you are safe, taking precautions, have adequate supplies on which to live and have adequate resources in the form of income, savings, childcare and understanding bosses.

We are a small rural village here in western, central Mexico. Our nearest airport is an hour away, and it is tiny – one story tall and about the size of a large restaurant. Mexico City Airport is 12 hours away by bus and Guadalajara airport is 3 hours north of here. Colima City is an hour away by bus or about 30-40 minutes away by car.

We have no bank, no post office, no big hospital – although we do have a small clinic, no supermarket or big box stores like Home Depot or Sears. What we do have is small grocery stores plus specialty stores, such as the butcher, vegetable market and bakery. So we really don’t have to travel out of the village very often. We have a preschool and a primary school in the village, and students in secondary and high school need to travel outside of the village to attend.

We have a farmer’s market which comes to the village every Tuesday. Except for big holidays, such as Christmas, Easter, the feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, or when someone get married or has a Quinceañera celebration, it’s pretty quiet around here. Most of the noise, outside of the firecrackers and bands for every celebration, will be dogs barking and roosters crowing (roosters don’t only crow in the mornings, they crow all day long).

We also have the main office of Project Amigo here – a literacy project that gives scholarships to local children here in Cofradía de Suchitlán and surrounding villages. Several times per year, we welcome volunteers from many countries, but mostly from the United States and Canada.

With the virus spreading throughout the world, Project Amigo felt it was wise to cancel the next few volunteer work weeks, so as to limit the possibility of spreading the virus further – especially since you could have the virus but show no symptoms for 2-14 days.

Schools here are closed for a month and Catholic churches are not celebrating Masses. I heard the Masses will be broadcast on TV or on the internet for those who want to attend. Teachers are giving their students assignments to study and homework to do until school begins again.

My New Year’s resolution was to become more physically fit, and so in January, my neighbor Lourdes and I began going to the gym in the nearby town of Comala. Now we have decided that it would be a good idea to just exercise as best we can at home, since with all the sweaty people exercising, everyone touching the same equipment, and it being hard to avoid touching your face as you want to wipe the sweat away, it’s probably a good idea to avoid the gym for now.

As of today, March 18th, there have been 118 confirmed cases throughout our entire country. And as of today, it is almost impossible to find hand gel and many other supplies, though the other day I went into Colima City and found shelves fully stocked.

For those of us who are expats, travel to visit the U.S. is on hold right now. I thought I had read that Aeromexico had cancelled all international flights, but now I just read that they are scaling back their flights, not cancelling them altogether. It is sometimes very confusing to get up-to-date information, and it seems to be changing frequently.

If I had been planning to go to the U.S. now, I most probably would be cancelling, as we see videos of U.S. airports screening passengers after they disembark. The people are packed like sardines in a tin and are like that for hours as they wait to be processed. In my mind, if even one of those passengers is infected, they have now infected many more people simply by having them in close quarters for so long.

So I am very lucky to be living here as opposed to a large, crowded city. Everyone here is either related to many others or are close like family. Generations live under the same roof, and if anyone should need help, there are plenty of people willing to help.

Meanwhile, the governor of our state has set up a WhatsApp account that we can join to receive information directly from our government, which helps to avoid false or misleading information.

So we are living our quiet lives here, avoiding crowds, homeschooling the children, helping each other out and hopefully by our actions minimizing the risk of more people becoming infected.

And, again, my hope for all of you is that you stay safe and well and that with caring for ourselves and others, the curve will flatten and the worst will pass before very long.

Yes, expats can vote

Did you know that even if you live in a foreign country, as long as you are a U.S. citizen who would be able to vote if you still lived in the United States, you can vote from wherever you are living now – and that includes the primaries. This primary ends on March 10th at midnight Pacific time, so if you want to vote and haven’t done so yet, the time is NOW.

I had been aware that I could vote in the presidential election, but mistakenly thought the primaries were off limits. Recently, I found out that is not true. Another question was how delegates are counted if voting from abroad, since we are not voting within the states. Well, expats around the world are like the 51st state – we have 21 delegates.

At the end of this month, I will be attending a conference where I will learn more about voting in the general election for president, so I will save that thought for a future post, when I have that information. For right now, I will focus on the primaries.

For a non-partisan site with information and help to register and to vote, you can click on https://www.fvap.gov/ and you will find instructions for military members, their families and U.S. citizens living outside the country. For Republicans, there is also the organization Republicans Overseas and for Democrats there is Democrats Abroad. Another site is http://www.votefromabroad.org for anyone who wants to register and vote.

According to the government website, this is required for absentee voting:

  1. Each year, submit a completed Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) to your local election officials. They will:
    1. Confirm your eligibility to vote and put your name on a list to receive absentee ballots for any elections held that calendar year.
    2. Send you a blank absentee ballot electronically or by mail.
  2.  Complete and return the ballot so it arrives before your state’s ballot return deadline. OR
    1. If you have not received your blank ballot 30 days before an election, use the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot to vote.

IMPORTANT: U.S. citizens abroad must submit a new FPCA each year to vote in U.S. elections. Submit your FPCA at the beginning of the calendar year, or at least 45 days before an election, to allow ample time to process your request and resolve any problems. Once approved, your name will be put on a list of voters to receive absentee ballots.

Since there are only two more days (UNTIL MARCH 10th) to submit an absentee ballot for the primary, I have been busy this week, finding American citizens in my area and helping them to register to vote, or giving them all the information they need in order to vote. So 4 of us submitted our ballots by email and two other people have been given all the information and instructions they need to submit them from home.

There are polling places in your countries of residence where Americans can cast their primary ballots in person, but the closest one to me is three hours away, and I decided I would rather stay here, do mine via the internet and encourage my fellow expats to vote, while assisting those who needed information and help.

With my laptop, I am able to download and print documents, but am unable to scan. I asked around and found a friend who has that capability with her equipment, so we had ourselves a little “Get Out the Vote” party and scanned the ballots in on her equipment.

The battle for the right to vote was hard-fought and hard-won, with African Americans and women suffering imprisonment, physical brutality and worse fighting for this basic right. Black men were granted the right to vote by the 15th Amendment ratified in 1870. Women were granted the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

In 1965 the Voting Rights Act was passed, but in 2013 the Supreme Court struck down a provision of this Act that required states with a history of voter discrimination to seek federal approval before changing their election laws. The ink was barely dry before new restrictions on voting were put into place by these states, and interference in the right to vote continues to this day.

This is why we must make every voice count and not be complacent. So – active in this process, make your voice heard and VOTE !!!!!


Life Among the Geckos

Living here in western, central Mexico in a small rural village means that I live with several roommates, as well as their counterparts in my garden. There are spiders that spin webs in the garden and house spiders that do not spin webs, but sit on the walls waiting for their prey. The house version is shy and just blowing on them will cause them to scurry away.

But by far, the cutest and my favorite are the geckos. There used to be so many in my garden until my two cats began living with me. Their names are Ginger and Peach and they are working cats, keeping my property and house free of pests, and they are excellent hunters. So far they have left me “gifts” of 3 dead rats, 2 dead snakes and I have even seen them eat a few roaches. They also managed to catch a baby chick that somehow wandered into my garden and made quick work of the poor things before I could rescue it.

And, they seem to love to catch and kill my lovely geckos, and now I rarely see any of them any more. Unfortunately, it is a cat’s nature to hunt and I cannot tell them, “It’s ok to catch this, but not that.”

There are two types of geckos here. The first is a gecko, such as what you see on the Geico commercials – solid body with a long thin tail and their toes are long and skinny like sticks. They live outside in the garden and their color is brown.

The other type is called a besucona. They have a waterlogged appearance, with pale, translucent skin and shorter, rounded toes. They live inside the house and eat roaches, spiders, scorpions and other insects. They usually keep pretty well hidden, but occasionally I see them scurry on my wall and hide behind my bamboo curtains. However, you can tell they are there by their very distinctive sound.


sound of the besucona

In my house, they get into trouble when they apparently are looking for water. I found one in my shower and have found several in my stainless steel sink. They could not climb out, and so I have to help them. One time, one poor thing somehow fell into the water chamber of my coffee maker and drowned, so I now only add water when I am ready to brew coffee.

I also was able to observe a very distinct method by which they try to escape predators. With the latest one I found in the sink, I took a paper towel and wrapped it around its body to lift it out of the sink. Next thing I knew, the tail popped off and was thrashing around in the sink like a wounded animal. The tail, no longer attached to the body, kept up the thrashing for several minutes. In the meantime, I put the besucona on the counter so it could climb up the wall and escape to safety.

Curious about this, I looked it up on the internet, and, sure enough, when they are stressed or trying to escape a predator, the blood vessels at the base of the tail constrict to prevent bleeding and the tail drops off and flops around. After a certain amount of time, the tail and spinal cord grow back. However, the tail may be a slightly different shape and color. Scientists have been studying this for clues in order to possibly discover a way to help humans with spinal cord injuries.

Here is more information about tail regeneration:


Meanwhile, one of my other “roommates” has not been so welcome. In the U.S. there is the general term “scorpion,” but here they are differentiated. There is the scorpion, which is large and black and less venomous than its counterpart, the alacrán. The alacrán is smaller, usually a yellowish color, and much more venomous, though my gardener claims he has been stung many times and is immune to it.

Both of these creatures make their appearance during the dry season. As the weather changes from chilly to hot, they may look for a place to hide to keep warm. One such time, I lifted up a garbage bag in my kitchen and one started to run away before I stepped on it. Two other times, I found them on my bedroom floor – so tiny I thought they were specks of dirt until I got a closer look. One never forgets that silhouette !

A few nights ago, I was lying in bed getting ready to go to sleep and looked up at the ceiling. I was shocked to see that silhouette – on the ceiling ! I had never seen one up there, but there it was. My ceilings are about 12 feet high. I grabbed a can of Raid and started spraying for all it was worth, over and over again. Normally Raid will kill an insect or spider within a few seconds, but this little bugger would just straighten its tail and then curl it back up. Eventually, it fell to the floor and started running away !!!!! I couldn’t believe it was still alive! Normally, I would examine any creatures I find, but with the alacrán or scorpion – nope, nope, nope. Just stamp on it with my shoe or sandal and end it quickly.

This is what was on my bedroom ceiling. I took this photo before I started spraying it with Raid.

And this is why I always wear shoes or hard-sole slippers or sandals in the house and on the property. Before taking a shower, I check the floor, walls and ceiling. And shake out my shoes before putting them on.

Well, anyway, I didn’t get hysterical, but I definitely was creeped out – a few inches to one side, it would have been directly over my bed. I’ve slept with the lights on the past few nights and inquired about fumigation.

But then, I was talking with some people and thought about it some more. In the 3½ years since I’ve lived in this house, I have seen less than 2 alacráns per year inside the house. Outside is another story, since they love the heat outdoors. Since the besuconas eat alacráns, either there have not been more than the 4 that I have seen in all that time, or the besuconas are doing their job by making a meal of them.

So I have decided NOT to fumigate, as the chemicals would also kill the besuconas. If in the future I see many more of those nasty little creatures, then I might consider fumigation, but until then, I will let my little house guests happily chow down on whatever pest they find.

So, until next time, I hope you have enjoyed this little biology class. And I would also like to add that even with the uninvited venomous guests, I still prefer to live here instead of ever living in snow country again. You may not agree with me, but to each his own.

Adios, and hasta luego !

Gecko similar to those in my garden

Are you saying what you think you are saying? A guide to hand signals in Mexico

First, I want to say Happy New Year to all my readers. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas, Hanukkah, Three Kings Day or whichever holiday you follow. Wishing everyone a wonderful 2020.

This post will be different in that I will be posting three videos. Everyone talks with their hands to some extent and I just want you all to be aware that some hand signals mean something quite different than what they mean in your home country. This could lead to someone not understanding you right up to you having just insulted them, their family or their children.

These videos are by no means thorough and exhaustive. Rather, they are small examples of how you can be misinterpreted without verbally saying anything improper.

First, a general introduction:

The next video is about counting numbers with your fingers

Next I will discuss height. This is where you could really get into trouble, and I still occasionally indicate it wrong when talking about children. I quickly correct myself and my friends understand – because I’m a gringa and still learning.

And here is my final video – my very first lesson that illustrated that hand signals did not necessarily mean what I thought they meant.

So there you have it. I hope you have enjoyed these videos and perhaps I will include more of them in future posts. Even after four years living here and having my permanent residency, I still am not aware of the many ins and outs of social interaction. Old habits die hard. You can take the girl out of New York, but you can’t take New York out of the girl and fortunately I haven’t done anything seriously offensive.

I just wanted to illustrate that when you visit another country, or even different parts of your own country, be prepared to find out through experience that all the book learning and classroom time might not have prepared you for real-life experiences. But then, that’s part of the joy of exploring the world and meeting people from walks of life different from yours.

So – have a wonderful day, and see you next time.

Creating La Catrina

Living in Mexico, I have fallen in love with the art of the Calaveras and Catrinas, and have several in my home of wax, ceramic, papier-maché and clay. So when my friend Anilu told me about a class in which we could learn to make them, I signed up right away.

My papier-maché Catrinas
My black clay Catrina, wooden Don Quixote, ceramic skulls and wax skull

The Catrinas we would be making in class were of papier-maché and were much larger than expected, but would still be a welcome addition to my collection.

First, we began with construction paper cones with the tips cut off. A small cone is then inserted into a large cone and four sticks tied together in the shape of a cross were then inserted into the cones.

Maestra Yazmín with paper cones and wooden sticks

The cones were placed on a square block of wood and with masking tape, the pieces were secured to each other. A plastic skull was placed on the “neck” and wires attached to the “shoulders.” “Hands” were then attached to the wrists of the wires which were the arms of La Catrina.

Then comes the messy part – making the papier-maché. After the first session, I realized bringing an apron was a good idea. We mixed a solution of glue and water, then cut up newspapers, then coated each piece of newspaper with the glue and covered the Catrina.

Because the wires for the arms are so thin, we needed to wrap several layers of folded newspaper around them, and tape them in place with masking tape before applying the papier-maché, and do the same with the “fingers.”

Covering the wire arms
Wire fingers
Covered fingers

Everything was covered with paper and glue, including the skull. Because of time constraints, we dried the whole thing with hair dryers, and then applied a second coat of paper and glue. This was a bit difficult, since everything looked the same; it was not like applying a coat of paint in one color and then a second coat in a different color.

I was not able to finish the two coats in one class, and so brought my Catrina home to do the second coat, which I allowed to air-dry. I was a bit disheartened regarding placing two coats of paper, but Yazmín informed us that some of her creations require six coats of paper.

Oh, I almost forgot – we also created her chest and bum. Squishing two pieces of paper into balls, we then taped them to her chest. It took three larger balls of squished paper to create the bum – one on each hip and one larger one behind. Tape it all in place and cover with papier-maché.

Catrina riding home in the back seat of my car.
Catrina having her second coat of papier-maché applied in my livingroom.

When that was done, some of the other students commented that her voluptuous body reminded them of the famous Mexican singer Maria Felix. I had not decided what type of female my Catrina would be before that point – an indigenous woman, an artist, etc. – but hearing those comments, I decided that Maria Felix she would be. And so, when I got home, I looked up photos of her to use as a reference.

Maria Felix

Then it was time to transport her to the next class for her transformation. First, create the hem of her skirt. For this we needed more construction paper cut into a semi-circle, tape it to her “skirt” and cover with papier-maché. Dry it, then coat the entire Catrina with a base coat of white paint. Now she was a blank canvas which we could transform into Maria.

Creating the base of the skirt

Base coat of white pain applied

First I painted her skin, and then decided on a blue dress, so the dress was painted next. The wooden base was painted the same color as the dress. Once again, she was dried with a hair dryer and re-painted.

Skin painted
Blue dress – check

Then it was time to paint her face – with a fine brush to paint her eye sockets, her nostrils and her teeth. For the hair, Newspaper was crumpled up and placed on a separate skull to be papier-machéd, then painted black. Then glue was placed inside and the hair was placed on the skull of Catrina.

Painting the eye sockets, nostrils and teeth
Forming the hair

Painting and drying the hair

Applying the trim
Peacock feathers, face paint and trim in place
Finished !

After that, the finishing touches of makeup were painted on her face and trim on the dress. Finally, I decided that I wanted feathers in her hair, so two peacock feathers were glued to the back of her hair.

The whole process took me three days, but it was a very nice learning experience. My Catrina is not as elegant as many of the finished ones I have seen in shops, and I know where the imperfections are, so I can now see why many of the Catrinas for sale have the price tags that they do.

And so, until next time, have a wonderful day wherever you are……

Adios amigos !

La Catrina home at last.

Medical Emergencies Abroad – Being Prepared

In the almost 4 years that I have been living in Mexico, I have become familiar with the Mexican healthcare system. You know – the normal intestinal problems, falling and twisting my ankle or falling and getting cuts and abrasions. That sort of thing.

This past week I ended up in the hospital and realized I didn’t know what I didn’t know, so I will share this experience with you in general and if you plan on traveling or living abroad, you can apply this information to the specific country which you plan to visit.

This past Tuesday, I found myself in a hospital bed with no idea how I got there. It turns out, I had had a TIA – transient ischemic attack – a decrease of blood flow to the brain.

Before going any further, I will assure you that all is well except for remembering anything about that day, and I am taking medication and will follow up with a neurologist. Anyway, I had enough functioning brain cells when the attack began to call a neighbor to say come and get me. So, without further ado, here are some thoughts about being prepared.

First, make sure you have medical insurance and know what is covered. Investigate travelers’ medical insurance. Learn something about the healthcare system in the country to which you are traveling. When I was in Wales, I had a terrible ear infection in addition to severe back pain resulting from taking a tiny, cramped airplane that was not well pressurized and exacerbated a chronic back problem. Their system is part of the NHS, the national healthcare system of the UK. They apologized when I went to their urgent care and said I would have to pay because I was not a member of their system. Fortunately, it was only 40 pounds for the doctor and clinic and 10 pounds for the medication, so everything worked out.

If you are living in a foreign country, please invest in a good health insurance policy. I have one that covers me not only in Mexico, but also when I am abroad, whether it is in the United States or other countries. I chose this plan rather than the Mexican national plan because this one policy does cover the world. So keep that in mind as you are investigating.

Next, make sure whoever is traveling with you, or your friends or neighbors, have contact information regarding who to notify in case you are unable to communicate. My neighbor had the contact information of my son, and called him that day.

Health care proxies – who will make decisions for you if you are unable to make your own decisions/ are confused or unconscious? I have a healthcare proxy document in the United States, but that is not helpful here. Even if they accepted the document, it is in English and pertinent documents here would need to be in Spanish. My proxies in the U.S. do not speak Spanish, so it wouldn’t do much good anyway.

This is one thing I still need to do, but with more urgency now. I need to find out where I can get such a document and who can legally prepare it and make it official, and select two Mexican friends as my proxies. I have been trying to find out this information for quite a while, but now time is of the essence.

And for your family members or those close to you – they should make sure their passports are current. If they need to come to the country in which you are hospitalized (or worse), there will be no time to renew or obtain a passport. It’s also a good idea to know the visa requirements, if any, for that country.

And next, the medical charges. I needed cash for the ambulance to take me to the MRI, and the doctors would only take cash. Fortunately, one of my friends was with me and provided some of the cash, as I did not have enough for all of it. With other charges, credit cards were accepted.

Also, make sure you get receipts for what you pay. In the hospital bill, the doctors’ charges were listed, but the ambulance crew did not give my friend a receipt, so now we have to question the hospital regarding which ambulance service was used and then I need to contact them and try to get a receipt.

For those wondering how the medical care is here, I received excellent care. In addition, my deductible is around $1800 USD, and my exams, the doctors, three days and two nights in a private room in a private hospital – with all that, I still did not reach my deductible.

I am grateful for the wonderful care I received and the care of all my friends here. However, I don’t know when I will be permitted to drive again, as I don’t want another attack to occur, especially not when I am doing an activity where I could harm others.

One last bit of advice. It would be a good thing if you have at least one friend who is a nurse. When I was studying for my heart failure certification, I was taking an online course as well as my regular study group. I remember the Med Ed instructor named Martha saying to make sure if you are a patient to always have a friend who is “a smart nurse with a big mouth on speed dial.” and that is priceless advice. A knowledgeable nurse who can be a forceful advocate is invaluable, especially when you are sick, distracted and/or confused.

The nurses know how the system works, they are knowledgeable in the medical field and can ask the questions you are too distracted or unknowledgeable to ask. They can also help you navigate the insurance red tape, and let you know when demands for cash instead of the insurance card is not permitted.

I will be forever grateful for my nurse friend for being my advocate and for all my friends here. It is wonderful to live in such a village where everyone takes care of each other.

Fortunately, I am better now. I even baked my pies for the Casita del Cafe yesterday and took one of the new moto taxis to deliver them, since I am not permitted to drive at this time.

Had to cancel my weekend in Guadalajara for the Japanese festival, but at least I wasn’t on an airplane heading overseas when this happened. I’ll be seeing a specialist and we will figure this all out.

So, until next time – Nos vemos!

Delivering my pies in the moto taxi

Learning Japanese in Mexico

Greetings once again. I just want to begin by saying I would like to receive comments, helpful hints, commiseration, inspiration, advice regarding what I am about to say, especially for those who began learning another language whether or not that language learning included a different writing system.

I am not really whining, just venting a bit and detailing my experience so far. Sometimes I feel as if I am drowning, probably going to fail, but enjoying the experience of being a student again learning something new, and even if I do fail the course, I will still have learned a thing or two which will be useful in the future.

As some of you know, I am a member of Rotary Internation and currently in an e-club, which means we hold our meetings online, as my current club has members all over the world. One of our members lives in Tokyo and invited me to visit his family. Next year, our Rotary International convention will be held in Hawaii, and since Hawaii is roughly halfway to Japan, I will visit my friend and his family, then head off to Hawaii.

Since I like to learn at least a little bit about the native language when I am visiting a foreign, non-English-speaking country, I signed up for classes at the Language Institute of the University of Colima. The first class was held on August 3rd and will continue every Saturday until December 21st.

Before signing up, I had bought some Japanese study guides and tried to study on my own, but realized after a while that it would progress better in a more organized fashion by attending regular classes. As a result, I am now attending classes in the Japanese language in Mexico with a Spanish-speaking teacher, as the only student who is not a native Spanish-speaker.

Initially, my thought was that learning Japanese would be easier than learning another Romance language, since learning a language with the same root as Spanish would lead to confusion, as it sometimes did for me with French. Japanese is SO different from Spanish that there would be no way for my brain to confuse the two languages – that seems to be the way my brain is wired, anyway.

Problem is, there are three different writing methods in Japanese – Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji, so a student needs to start learning a whole new way of writing as well as vocabulary, sentence structure, etc. and that has turned out to be a big stumbling block.

Add to the fact that my teacher speaks VERY RAPID Spanish, so it is difficult to follow her sometimes and I need to speak with her after each class to clarify what I did not understand in English, which she also speaks. And so, I am in reality taking two language classes – Japanese as well as Spanish, as vocabulary in the lessons, instructions in the lessons and classes as well as our official two textbooks which are written in Spanish and Japanese.

It’s certainly giving my brain a workout, but improving my vocabulary in both languages. One trick I use to bypass using English and while thinking of a concept go directly to the Japanese is using Post Its, just as I did when first learning Spanish. As an example, I hung a Post-It from my wall clock with the Japanese characters for clock, printed drawings of the human body and labeled the parts with the Japanese characters that we have learned so far.

Besides learning the language, we are also learning about culture in our course. For our next class we are required to give a brief talk (3 minutes) about some aspect of Japanese culture. My friend in Tokyo told me about the Obon festival, which mirrors our Day of the Dead here in Mexico, so I am researching it, then will have to give my talk in Spanish during class.

In the past, I would beat myself up if I didn’t get an “A” in all of my classes. I have tried very hard to relax, especially since this class is not part of a degree program, but only for my own desire for education. I am putting in a lot of effort to learn all that is required, and it is more difficult than I imagined it would be. I started learning Ukrainian when I was about 8 years old, including the Cyrillic alphabet (only remember one or two words in Ukrainian, but I can still read Cyrillic out loud without understanding most of what I am reading), so there is some experience of learning a new writing system, but many decades in the past – I will be 70 years old in two months (and can hardly believe I am saying that). I studied Latin and German in high school, but, again, that was many decades ago. Started studying Spanish in my 50’s, but being in the medical field and having studied Latin for 4 years helped with the learning.

Anyway, I just figured that I would share my experience so far, and would really appreciate commentary and shared experiences, especially from other adult learners of foreign languages, whether you learned a second language in your own country, a third language in your non-native country and/or also had to learn a different writing system.

Thanks for listening, thanks in advance for sharing, and now I’ve got to get back to my homework… Until next time, stay safe and have a great rest of your week, wherever you are…..