Celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe – post-pandemic 2022

Covid is still making its presence known, and some offices still require masks and distancing, but after 2 vaccine doses and 2 booster shots have been available, life is somewhat back to normal. December 12th is the Celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and we here in Cofradía were able to go out and have our traditional festival.

It was held for our village and several other villages in the surrounding area in a large open area owned by a local restaurant. In this area is what is called a plazuela – on one side are cement stadium-style seats across from a platform. While the festivities did not last as long as in previous years, it was still a great day.

Women and children dressed in traditional red-and-white clothing and pilgrims and traditional dancers marched into the venue from the road. Police cars protected the pilgrims and dancers from oncoming traffic. After entering, a painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe along with roses was placed at the bottom of the platform.

Of course, no celebration is complete here without firecrackers (cohetitos). Like clockwork, in anticipation of every event that needs a “bang” the vendor sets up shop on the highway at the entrance to Cofradía.

Singing “La Guadalupana”
Playing “La Mañanita” which is the Mexican birthday song as they enter.

According to tradition, Mary, described in the history as a young woman with black hair and dark skin, appeared to Juan Diego, an Aztec convert to Christianity on December 9th and December 12th, 1531. She requested that a shrine be built at Tepeyac Hill, where she appeared to him. He told the bishop after he had his first vision. The bishop didn’t believe him and asked for proof. Mary told Juan Diego to collect flowers at the top of the hill and bring them to the bishop wrapped in his cloak. Since it was December, it was a miracle that flowers were there. He wrapped them in his cloak and when he opened the cloak in front of the bishop, there was imprinted on the material the image of the virgin. Upon seeing this, the bishop ordered the building of the Basilica in what is now Mexico City. There is a frame that is said to contain the cloak of Juan Diego in the new Basilica in Mexico City.

Image on the cloak of Juan Diego in the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City

The traditional dancers in our area are called the Danza Azteca, and their headdresses reflect a combination of traditional clothing and Christianity – it is a headdress of feathers with a picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe in the center.

Banner of the Aztec Dancers

And so I’ve come to the end of this post, with more to follow. I wish you all the blessings of the season for whichever holidays you celebrate. Until next time – ¡ Nos vemos !

Learning Spanish/Teaching English

There’s nothing like practicing conversations with a native speaker when you are learning a foreign language. For many years, I took Spanish classes and came to the realization that, while I could read and write just fine, I still had trouble speaking the language. I had been practicing my Spanish with a neighbor who was originally from Mexico City, but that still wasn’t enough.

I realized that I had to be surrounded by people who didn’t speak any English for me to be forced to learn to converse in that language. I explained this to my friend, who suggested that I spend time with her family, as none of them spoke English – so I did just that. I spent two weeks with her family in Mexico City. My mini dictionary was glued to my hands, and I managed to get by.

Since I moved here in January 2016, my Spanish has greatly improved and aids to speaking have also improved. Google translate is so much better now than it was then. I can look up words and phrases that I do not know, which eliminates having to carry around a bulky paper dictionary. And – I am still taking Spanish lessons, but my needs have changed. Rather than rote classroom learning, I have online conversations with a friend in Puebla, and she can then see from our conversations where my needs are. Sometimes I need to learn more vocabulary and sometimes I need to work on sentence structure. Other times I need to learn colloquial expressions. There are so many areas where there might be a need to improve, and these are detected through normal conversations.

Meanwhile, just by looking at me you can see that I am a gringa, and there are many people who want to practice their English with me. In addition, the students in my village are also studying English in school. So now, three days per week, I am helping 3 primary school students and two adults learn and practice English.

But before this happened – I was using my printer to print out their homework during the pandemic. During the pandemic, teachers would send lessons and homework to the families electronically, and one of the families didn’t have a printer. Sometimes, upon realizing there were words and phrases in these papers that I wasn’t familiar with, I would make extra copies for myself. Here is one example:

The Teacher Shulte was sitting in a seat when suddenly a skull arrived and poked him in his butt.

So now I am learning about several things from this boy’s homework:

1 – A literary style called Calaverita literaria corta (literally “short literary skull”), similar to limericks.

2 – Learning new words specific to this geographical area – “petacas” for buttocks, which would also be called pompis or nalgas, butaca for seat and calaca for skull.

Now it has progressed from the families wanting me to help their children with their English to two adults also wanting to learn. With the children, I use their textbooks and homework as a guide, but with the adults, it became apparent that first they would need to learn the alphabet in English, as the pronunciation is so very different that they would have great difficulty pronouncing the written words correctly. So, I got out my white board, wrote out the alphabet and one of the women wrote how to sound out the letters as Mexicans would pronounce them:

There is no “W” sound, nor a sound for “Z” in Mexican Spanish, nor is there normally the “th” sound and words don’t normally begin with an “s” sound (school, student) but rather with an “es” sound (escuela, estudiante). So, there is a lot of work to be done with pronunciation, which is why I need to begin with the alphabet for the adults.

One thing I do let them know is that they will be learning to speak English with a New York accent as they are learning from me. My accent is not as strong as it used to be, but I still pronounce walk, talk and coffee with my NY accent (as in “wawk” “tawk” and “kawfee” with a strong “W”). As far as accents, there is more – Tuesday can be pronounced “tooz-day” or as the Canadians and some British pronounce it “chooz-day”, so I think that there might still be problems for the students when it comes to completely understanding English. Hopefully with time, it will all work out.

Meanwhile, the two brothers that I am helping have a baby sister, and the girl I am helping has a baby brother, so I am only speaking English to the babies, which hopefully will help them to be bilingual once they begin talking. I also try to make the lessons fun, using various methods – songs, etc. At first, the children were hesitant and somewhat withdrawn, but have gotten used to me now. They are more relaxed, realizing that I am not their teacher in school, not going to give them grades, and they are having individual attention.

So, all in all, this has become a wonderful new chapter in my life, bringing me closer to my neighbors, helping me with my Spanish as I help them with their English, and keeping my mind active and improving life in general.

Another word I learned from one of the children – Tazon for bowl. Normally, I would just hear them called platos, for plates.

Day of the Dead – 2022

It is now towards the end of 2022, and while some restrictions are still in place – masking in some areas and stores, for example – village life has basically returned to normal. It has been time to celebrate the Day of the Dead/ AKA Día de los Muertos, and for this year I have decided to stay in the village to celebrate.

The week before, many of us went to the cemetery to clean the graves and then place flowers and wreaths there. Some of the larger tombs have been re-painted or broken tiles replaced. The cemetery is also becoming very crowded, and I imagine that before very long will run out of space. I heard that they will be building a columbarium with niches for cremated remains to deal with this lack of space.

Halloween comes a few days before Day of the Dead, and that even has not really caught on here. There were a few children who did Trick-or-Treating, but not many. I heard from a neighbor that some of the children had come to my property, but I didn’t hear them, as my house is at the back of my garden, far from my gate. This is the opposite of most properties here, where you first enter the house from the street and the garden begins at the back of the house.

Anyway, a few days before November 2nd, some college students set up a nice display of Catrinas in our village square and fortunately my neighbor took photos, since the display was taken down the next day.

Enjoying a cappucino and toasted bread during this season

On November 2nd, we all went to the cemetery, where the priest said Mass, people placed more flowers and wreaths on the newly cleaned graves and in general, people gathered with each other to remember their loved ones who have passed on.

Catrinas on display as you enter the cemetery, called the Panteón

Outside the cemetery gates, vendors were selling beverages and snacks. The weather cooperated, and so it was a very nice afternoon and evening honoring our loved ones and acquaintances. As the papel picado says: “Recordarlos es darles vida” – Remembering them is giving them life.

The Death Café – Advance Care Directives

In previous posts, I have described my journey through the Mexican legal system in my hunt to discover the documents needed if someone should die while in Mexico. This included obtaining an official replacement for my birth certificate, obtaining an apostille, presenting those two documents along with my marriage and divorce decrees and then having all of them translated into Spanish by a certified legal translator.

Following that, taking all of the documents to a justice and having a certificate drawn up and witnessed. The certificate states that the person listed on the birth certificate, and the person (me) holding my current legal name are the same person.

All of these efforts are required to ensure that my death certificate will be valid in both Mexico and the United States, saving my family and beneficiaries a mountain of grief when dealing with the insurance and other companies in order to obtain their benefits.

Only one document remained, and after much time investigating, along with many false leads, I finally have my Mexican Advance Care Directive, also known here as my Voluntad Anticipada.

Various states in Mexico have their own forms, just as it is in the United States of America. I was finding forms for other states, but not for Colima. Eventually, a friend found one for Colima, yet there was not much space for me to clarify my wishes. First, I filled out the Colima form in addition to a form from the U.S., thinking that the lawyer would combine the two into one form. What resulted was a translation of both stapled together which was totally inadequate, confusing and cost a lot of pesos for their trouble.

At that point, the lawyer explained that it would be best if I just created my own document, which I did with the help of a bilingual friend. We then took it back to the lawyer, along with my passport and another form of ID, which she photocopied to prove that I am who I said I was.

Now comes another twist to the story – specific to Colima State, where I live. With the final document prepared, the lawyer signed it to make it a legal document. However, no witnesses were needed. While it is a legal document, designating who can legally make healthcare decisions for me if I become mentally unable to do so, the document is not entered into the nationwide system, which is why no witnesses were required.

For other documents, such as my Mexican will, they are entered into a nationwide database. So, if I should die in another state, authorities would be able to enter my information into the system, and they can access my will. For a Voluntad Anticipada, that is not true. While Colima State has a document, the health department of Colima was supposed to also have a document prepared to be a part of the V.A. However, the health department has not yet created this document, so my V.A., while legal, cannot be registered with the government.

So for those of you living outside the U.S., or visiting other countries, please be aware that your documents such as Last Will and Testament and Advance Care Directive (also known as Healthcare Proxy) will probably not be valid outside of your home country. It is important to make sure you have accurate information and correct documents for your country of residence, so that there will be no problems for you or your loved ones if those unfortunate events come to pass.

If you wish to see a copy of my Directive (minus my personal information, of course) to use as a template, please write a comment with your request. My next post will be general education about Advance Care Directives, what they are, why they are important, and points to consider when creating one for yourself. I and some colleagues have created a presentation, which I can give on ZOOM, to educate the public on this topic, with possible modifications depending on your country of residence.

Or maybe way too much more than you want. If you don’t make your own decisions and put those decisions in the hands of someone you trust, those decisions will be put in the hands of an arbitrary person who may not share your values.

Until then, stay safe and have a great day……

The Season of Lent in Mexico

Greetings once again from Colima, Mexico. My subscribers have probably noticed that there are longer and longer stretches between each post. When I first moved here 6 years ago, everything was new and I had so much to talk about and many experiences to share. Now there are fewer and fewer new experiences, so fewer things I can think of to share. Therefore, if any of you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to send me a message.

Meanwhile, the season of Lent (called Cuaresma here) has started. The activities leading up to Ash Wednesday is called Paspaque. It is an ancient custom in this area of Mexico which began as an agricultural festival among the Nahuat indigenous people, but in modern times it lasts for nine days ending on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Men walk the streets singing a song welcoming people to Cuaresma. Here in Cofradía de Suchitlán they carry an effigy of a bull and throw flour at the people they pass. This year I either saw them down the street or I was in my house when they passed by, so I avoided receiving a face full of flour.

Paspaque from 2017

The day after Paspaque was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. There were 4 Masses held in the village Catholic church and distribution of ashes. Mass was said several times in each village, with a notice going out ahead of time with the necessary information regarding all the villages.

Different cultures have different foods they prepare for special occasions and here it is no different. During Cuaresma, there is a dish called Capirotada – a type of bread pudding. Lourdes taught me how to make it, and now I will teach you, so get ready for this wonderful cooking lesson.

The first thing to do is gather the ingredients, which are:

4 bolillos – you can use a hero or sub sandwich bread –

A bag of bolillos

1.5 liters (6 cups) of milk

1 can of Nestle Lechera (condensed milk) – 14 oz

4 whole cloves

2 TBS vanilla

1 handful of raisins

1 large stick of cinnamon

1/2 cup of sugar

almonds and walnuts to taste – chopped

Queso seco – a type of dry cheese – optional

Tortillas – enough to cover the bottom and sides of the cooking pot

Note that the capirotada will be in layers, as if you were making lasagna. Okay, now first line the bottom and sides of the cooking bowl with the tortillas. Cut up the bolillos into thick slices.

Toast them and line the bottom of the cooking pot.

In a separate large pot on the stove, boil the milk, Lechera, cloves, vanilla, raisins, cinnamon stick and sugar. While it is boiling, chop up almonds and walnuts. After boiling for a while, the raisins should be more plump than when you put them in. Pour some of the milk mixture over the bread through a strainer, then pick out the raisins and also put them on the bread. The slices of bread should be saturated with the milk.

Straining the milk mixture over the bread. Make sure you only add the strained milk and the raisins to the pot – not the cloves or cinnamon.

Sprinkle some of the almonds and walnuts over the layer, and also sprinkle the crumbled cheese if you desire.

Sprinkling nuts and cheese over the layer of bread, milk and raisins

Repeat the process until the baking pot is almost full and you are ready for the final layer at the top.

Lightly fry the remaining pieces of bread in some oil in a frying pan, and then layer them at the top.

Pour the remainder of the strained milk on top and sprinkle the raisins, almonds, walnuts and cheese. Cover with aluminum foil and bake in a pre-heated oven at 200 degrees Centigrade (392 F.) for 10 minutes, then 180-160 C. (356 – 320 F.) for about 30 minutes.

And then – enjoy !!!!!

Capirotada – ready to eat !

Don’t forget you can modify this to meet your dietary needs or flavor preferences. Instead of white or morena sugar, you can add a delightful, different cane sugar called piloncillo – brown compressed cones of sugar that melt easily when heated. It is made by compressing the sugar cane, then heating the liquid until it is brown with a thick consistency, then putting it in molds to dry.

Here is a photo of small cones of piloncillo, and they also come already granulated or in large cones.

Here is a short video you might enjoy showing how it is made, beginning with squeezing out the cane juice. Don’t forget, Colima is an agricultural state, with, among other produce, many miles of sugar cane fields.

Unfortunately, the best video I could find is in Spanish, but you can understand what they are doing even if you don’t speak Spanish – from cutting the cane, putting it into a mill to squeeze out the juice, boiling the juice, putting it into a mold, and finally wrapping the finished cones.

Well, this is a curious thing that just happened. I wanted to link a Facebook video about making the piloncillo, and it said they cannot play this video in my country (Mexico). Perhaps if you are watching this in another country, you can see it. Otherwise, you will still be able to see the Mexican Kitchen video about it. Please let me know if you can see the Facebook video – I’d appreciate it.

And last but not least, I would like to add a few thoughts. This blog was never meant to be political, and I am not about to begin doing so. It has always been meant to introduce people to life in Mexico and anticipate situations in which visitors might find themselves and how I handled those situations. You don’t always know what you don’t know.

With the war in Ukraine and many other horrible things going on in the world, I’ve been hesitant to write cheery posts about what has been a normal life, so I am doing my best to strike a balance. I would just like to end this post with the same suggestion at the end of the previous one – be kind. There are all kinds of situations happening in the world far away, but also in our communities.

Even if you can’t physically help, investigate organizations to which you can donate – Charity Navigator and Global Giving are two examples which vet charities. Visit a neighbor who might need some help, or might only need some company. Remember, we can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.

So, until next time, stay safe and remember to take care of yourselves….

Speaking Spanish in Mexico

Pop quiz – This is a:

a) sub

b) hoagie

c) grinder

d) hero

e) all of the above

This is:

a) soda

b) pop

c) both a and b

The correct answers are “e) all of the above” and “c) both a and b.” For English-speakers in the United States, all the answers are correct, but which term you use depends on where in the country you live. If you live near Canada and ask for a soda, you might end up with sodium bicarbonate. If you live in a state where that sandwich is called a hero and you ask for a hoagie, you might be on the receiving end of a blank stare. And yet, you are all speaking English. The same can be said for any language in any country – German, French, Spanish, Swedish – words, pronunciation and expressions change depending on your location, but I will focus on Mexican Spanish because I live in Mexico.

In high school I studied languages – 4 years of Latin and 2 years of German, plus my mother brought a teacher into our home to teach us girls some Ukrainian, since her parents emigrated from Ukraine. When I reached my 50’s, I decided to begin studying Spanish. At least in New York, general Latin American Spanish is taught, and I have had native speakers from different Latin American countries as teachers.

After moving to Mexico, I realized that I would have to unlearn some of what I had been taught. The first example that comes to mind is the word for beans. I was taught habichuelas, but here they are called frijoles. For a long time, I had to stop and think and pull that word out of my brain when I wanted to say something about beans. Part of the difference between Mexican Spanish and other Latin American countries is that we have 63 indigenous languages here and many of our words descend from Nahuatl, the indigenous language of the region in which I live. A few of the multitude of examples are:

Spanish — Nahuatl — English

Chapulín – chapolin – grasshopper

Aguacate – ahuacatl – avocado

Cacahuate – cacáhuatl – peanut

Chile – chilli – chili pepper

When I first arrived in Mexico, I was able to read and write quite well, and could understand speakers if they spoke slowly, simply and added some visual cues. My spoken language was not very adequate. For reading and writing, you can recognize words from memory and use a dictionary with plenty of time to make sure what you are writing has exactly the meaning you wish to convey.

However, with spoken language, time is of the essence and you have to pull the words and sentence structure out of your memory bank – not to mention correct pronunciation, which can mean the difference between a normal conversation and an embarrassment or insult.

So what was I to do????? First thing, I hired a university student named Tatiana to help me improve my spoken Spanish. Then, once I bought and moved into my house, I had my neighbor Lourdes help me with Spanish grammar. She is a retired primary school teacher, so I was back in a classroom, except the classroom was her house.

I can tell you from experience that being surrounded by native speakers, most of whom speak little or no English, forces you to learn to speak their language. Keep a little notebook with you to write down new phrases or words. If they can’t explain sufficiently to you the meaning, there is always Google dictionary which has improved its accuracy 1000% since I started using it 6 years ago. But keep in mind that dictionaries, whatever their form, still have their limitations. And when translating letters from English to Spanish, I need to use several dictionaries and a thesaurus to get the exact meaning. When translating our students’ letters to their English-speaking sponsors, I sometimes have to ask for help from the directors of the literacy project here.

One example of the latter was being unable to translate “que padre” in my student’s letter. Literally it means “what father” which made absolutely no sense in any context and paper and online dictionaries were no help. I asked one of the directors and he told me it means “cool” as in “wow, that’s cool.” That also illustrates that wherever you live, young people make up expressions of their own (and then change them again when adults start to take over the expression).

Same thing happened when my son was 19. I said something to him and he said, “Mom, that’s sick.” I replied that I thought it was a nice thing and he told me “sick” means “nice.” Some behaviors are universal, I guess…..

Another tip is to describe what you want to say if you can’t think of the word. In the beginning, I still remembered a lot of my German and when I couldn’t think of the Spanish word for something, I would automatically say it in German. Now I force myself to simply describe the object or activity, many times using hand gestures.

Slightly veering off the subject, one of my sisters and I took German in high school from the same teacher. He was originally from Czechoslovakia. It wasn’t until one of my sister’s classmates went to Germany that we discovered we were speaking German with a Czech accent.

Anyway, currently I have weekly conversations with a young lady who lives in the village to improve my spoken Spanish – I say it’s to make my Spanish sound more like that of an adult and less like a child. I continue to write in my little book, and am also reading a children’s book (for age 8 and up) that has more advanced vocabulary, tenses, etc. Some of you may know the Judy Moody books – well, I’m reading Judy Moody is in a Bad Mood (Judy Moody está de Mal Humor). I’ve underlined the more advanced grammar and written in pencil translations of words I don’t know.

I am also practicing what I did when first learning Spanish – making use of Post-It sticky notes. Putting them up in places to commit words to memory. For instance:

As you see from the third photo, pronunciation is very important, plus awareness that different countries use different words for the same thing. Lourdes had never heard of the word “cojones” and had no idea what I was talking about until I explained it to her in detail. So perhaps that word is used in other Latin countries, but not here.

So, to begin to wrap this all up, learning a language is as fun an activity as you make it. Post-Its are great, because you go directly from seeing the object to the word in the desired language without going through English first. Before I ever took my first Spanish class, I bought DVD’s from “Standard Deviants” to get a head start (DVD’s – definitely showing my age). The company still sells instruction in a variety of topics, and for the Spanish, I refer to them as a cross between Monty Python and Sesame Street for adults. If this tells you anything about my philosophy, it is that even if something seems childish to others, as long as it helps you learn, it works, so you should at least try it.

So – Post-Its, children’s books, educational entertainment, and definitely speak with native speakers. Visit the country where the language is spoken if you get the chance (keeping in mind health and safety – Covid, etc.). When I was living in New York, I realized that I would never begin to speak well until I was surrounded by people who didn’t speak English. One of my friends was from Mexico City. She told her family about me, and I stayed with them for two weeks. It was a really good experience, staying with a family, having to learn normal daily conversations, and learn about life in that country.

And lastly, always be kind. If you come into contact with a non-native English-speaker, and they make grammatical errors or don’t know a word, maybe you can repeat what they are saying, but say it correctly. It is a nice way of helping them out. I am grateful that here, I have never – not a single time – had someone be nasty to me for my imperfect Spanish. The people I am close to will simply repeat something I have said with proper Spanish, or fill in the blank with the correct word or phrase if I am unable to think of the correct word or phrase.

So, please, be kind, and if you only speak one language, consider learning another, even just for fun. It opens a whole new world once you begin.

Change of seasons, Creatures changing places

While many countries have 4 seasons – Summer, Autumn (or Fall), Winter and Spring, we here in Colima have two official seasons; we have the rainy season, which lasts from the middle of June through October, and the dry season, which lasts from November through the middle of June. This year, the rainy season fought the good fight, raining for a day or two, followed by several days with no rain, followed by another few days of rain and so on. Eventually the final rains were very light and brief, and now we are definitely into the dry season.

With the change of seasons and various plants alternately blooming and remaining relatively dormant, you can see various little creatures coming and going if you know where to look. During the rainy season, the sapos/cane toads come out at night. Especially when it is raining, they sit outside, not moving, apparently enjoying the rain as if taking a shower. During the day, they sit among the foliage waiting for a tasty insect to pass by. The dry season has now begun, yet I did see one lone sapo the other night sitting on my cobblestones. I wonder why he didn’t follow his fellow toads to wherever they go when the ground dries up.

They also seem to like cat food, or even just sitting in the cats’ food dish, whether there is food in there or not, so I have learned to take the dishes in at night. And, for the first time in the 5 years that I have lived in my house, I saw a baby sapo. It was so tiny, I wasn’t sure what I was looking at, but a close look told me it was a baby toad sitting by my cats’ food dish.

For scale, each tile is roughly one square foot.

Also for the very first time, I saw a little green frog on my patio. I know the cats avoid the sapos because they secrete poison through their skin, and if the cats should ingest any of it, they will get sick and probably die. However, I didn’t know what they would do with the frog, so I tried to shoo it away to safety. When I approached, it jumped up onto my 8-foot ladder. I managed to snap a photo of it before it jumped in spurts all the way to the top and settled in on a brush that was lying against the top of the ladder. The cats didn’t seem to notice, so I assume it got away with its life.

The frog isn’t in the photo. I just wanted to show where it hid the night before.

Speaking of cats, they are really good hunters and when they seem to be staring intently at something, I have learned to investigate. One day I found one of them staring intently behind a small table in my living room. I found she was staring at a gecko that had entered my house, so I shooed her away, got a paper towel and brought the gecko to safety.

Another day, I saw one of them staring at an oregano leaf in the garden. I looked under the leaf and saw a praying mantis eating a dragonfly.

Originally, I had not thought of having pets on my property, but a neighbor’s cat had just had kittens and her brother did not want to keep them, so I adopted two of the kittens and am glad I did. In the beginning, they killed 3 rats and 2 snakes, and I have not had that problem since.

The end of the rainy season also brings spiders and butterflies, though not the monarchs that travel between Canada, U.S. and Mexico migrating back and forth. As I said in a previous post, when I leave my house, I bring a stick and wave it up and down, so I don’t get a face full of spider web since you can’t always see the web.

Still during the rainy season, I saw a creature on my coffee plants that I had not seen before. At first glance, I thought it was flowering again, but looking closer I thought I was looking at a caterpillar. I asked around and was told it was a mealy bug. My gardener said to spray soapy water on it. A neighbor whose parents grow coffee came over with some kind of spray and sprayed my plants. Haven’t seen the creature since. And yes, I hired a gardener. Living my whole life in New York, I had no idea about caring for a garden here in the middle of Mexico. There is so much I did not know, but I am learning little by little.

One thing I also never saw before was this 4″ caterpillar in my ficus tree. There were two of them actually, and I didn’t know if they were good or bad, so I called a local farmer. She told me they were bad and to kill them, so I did.

To diverge a little bit, I love to experiment with all varieties of plants, trees and herbs that I would never have a chance with in New York, such as banana trees. About a year or two ago, I bought pitted dates and decided to plant the seeds. Out of all the seeds I planted, one sprouted, so now I have the beginning of a date palm tree in a flower pot on my porch. I read that it takes about 8-10 years for it to grow and bear fruit, or maybe it won’t. It might be a case of planting something under whose shade I will never sit, but it is fun to live among nature and imagine people in the future owning my house and enjoying what I have planted. Anyway……….

Currently it is cool enough at night and early morning for a sweater, but sunny, hot and dry during the day. And that means I am now watching out for scorpions. And wasps. I opened my mailbox yesterday, and out flew a wasp. It had not begun to build a nest yet, fortunately, so I got out my can of Raid and sprayed the inside of my mailbox. I get mail maybe once per year, but still diligently check the mailbox to see what might have decided to build a home there.

As for the alacránes – a tiny but more venemous type of scorpion – they like to hide to keep warm when the temperatures vacillate between hot and cool. My friend from whom I bought my house told me that the hollow in my gate, where you grab to close it, had an alacrán hiding inside one day and she got stung when she went to close the gate, so I usually grab the edge of the door and just quickly slam it shut now.

So that’s about all I have to say for now. To those of you in the United States and fellow U.S. expats, have a great Thanksgiving, and for everyone, have a great week !

Nos vemos……….

Halloween and Day of the Dead in Mexico – 2nd year of the Pandemic

Greetings once again from Colima, Mexico. Autumn is upon us here in the Northern Hemisphere, the nights and early morning hours are cooler, though we are still very hot during the day. It should have been the end of the rainy season, but it isn’t ready to quit just yet – we’ll have a few days of rain, a few hot and dry days, and then a light rain again. As of today, it’s been 7 days since the last rain, but we have had several nights of heavy mist. It reminds me of scary movies, with waves of heavy mist visible in the night resembling waves such as you see in the ocean.

In the northeast of the United States and in Canada, the leaves on the trees are turning many colors – red, orange, yellow, brown – before they fall onto the ground making a brown carpet covering lawns and forest floors. Here in Colima, everything is staying green, and honestly, I don’t miss the changing of the colors. Before the end of October, before it was Halloween and Day of the Dead, stores here, like stores in the United States, were already displaying their Christmas merchandise – shelves full of toys, artificial Christmas trees, Christmas lights, etc., etc. Unbelievable………..

Because the SARS-Cov-2 (Covid-19) pandemic is still with us, our yearly celebrations have once again been muted. I had heard that some children would be in the street Trick-or-Treating, so I went into Colima and bought a bag of candy to be prepared – and not a single child showed up. So – I donated the candy to Project Amigo, our local literacy project and told them they could use the candy for their Christmas Fiesta in December. The candy was composed of “Pop” (caramel popcorn), “Takis” and “Runners.” I was tempted and did eat one mini-bag of the popcorn, but the Takis and Runners were definitely safe from me – they are treats which are Enchiloso, HOT and SPICY…..

Regarding Enchiloso, there are some Mexicans who don’t eat hot and spicy, but I was amazed at even young children who like it. When I began volunteering with Project Amigo, one of the things we did was have a beach day with the primary school kids. For many of them, it was their first time visiting the ocean. At lunch time, I would see these little, little boys and girls opening their bags of chips and pouring on Valentina Sauce – a hot sauce popular here.

I couldn’t believe it, and wondered if they became accustomed to it by exposure before birth or through their mothers’ milk – just a wild guess….. I DO keep a bottle of Valentina sauce in my kitchen for guests and I tell them I won’t be upset if they want to put it on their food, since my cooking seems bland to some of my visitors.

Anyway, as I said, a very muted holiday this year. My only contribution via decorations are these two skulls hanging from my porch ceiling and the marigolds I have planted. My cat Ginger seems to feel that I have made her a nice bed, and loves to nap in the marigolds, and a spider has decided to add to the season with a spider web near the skulls.

Yes, it is also spider season here, as it is every year at the end of the rainy season. When I go out of my house into my garden every morning, or even other times of the day, I take my walking stick and wave it up and down in front of me to move aside any spider webs. You can’t always see them if the sunlight is in the wrong position or if there is no spider immediately visible. It would look to others like I am a crazy person waving a stick at nothing, but a few times I have walked into a face-full of spider web when I did not proceed with caution.

So, Halloween was a bust, and Day of the Dead was celebrated in a muted way. Houses still had altars inside, and a Mass was held at the Catholic church, with people social distancing and wearing masks, and fewer people attending than would normally be there. Some people decided to decorate the gazebo in the village square, and I’m glad I snapped a photo when I did, as the Catrinas were all gone the next morning.

Mexico uses the stoplight system to let the public know the severity of Covid and therefore which precautions will be in place. Currently, there are 29 states in the green (least restrictive), 2 states yellow and one state orange. No red states – YAAAAAYYYYY!!!!! S0 – we still wear masks when out in public, and when entering businesses we get a temperature check, step on a mat with disinfectant and get a squirt of hand gel to disinfect our hands. Three days ago, in-person school began in my village of Cofradía. Eight students per classroom for two hours every day. Every two hours, those students leave and are replaced by eight more students per classroom.
Meanwhile, nature carries on. One of my banana tress is now producing bananas.

My chayote vines are producing so many chayotes that I can’t give them away fast enough and still have plenty for myself. And it’s a good thing that when I plant something new, I spread it around my property to see where the new plant is happiest.. My latest experiment was blue corn, which I planted in 4 different spots around the property. You can see that they didn’t care for being planted along the wall at the side of my house and died

but LOVE the sunny spot next to my car port, where they must be about 10 feet tall at the moment.

When all the ears are harvested, I’m going to buy a molcajete (mortar and pestle) and grind the corn to make blue tortillas from scratch.

Well, I have run out of things to say at the moment, so I wish all my readers a safe and healthy weekend, and until next time –

¡Adios! and ¡Nos vemos!

27 de Septiembre – the actual Independence Day

On January 10, 2016, I landed in Mexico not sure of my future. Eighteen months later, I became a permanent legal resident. Even having lived here for almost 6 years, I am still learning new things about the country, one of which is the meaning of September 27th. There is a street in Colima named “27 de Septiembre” and I occasionally wondered what had happened on that day, and this year I finally found out.

On my neighbor’s TV, we watched the celebrations in Mexico City, and my neighbor explained to me that this was Independence Day. I was a bit confused, as we had just celebrated Independence Day on September 15-16th. Turns out that, just as July 4, 1776 was actually the beginning of the War for Independence of the United States of America, the night of September 15th was the beginning of the War of Independence for the country of Mexico – officially named Estados Unidos Mexicanos, or The United States of Mexico – the second country named United States on the continent of North America.

In the U.S., the Declaration of Independence was just that, a signed document stating that the 13 original colonies were declaring themselves independent from Great Britain. However, the British did not agree and independence was not achieved until the signing of the 1783 Treaty of Paris in which Great Britain officially acknowledged the United States as a sovereign and independent nation.

Meanwhile, in Mexico on the night of September 15, 1810 the Mexican war of independence began, led by the Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. It wasn’t until September 27, 1821 that conservatives and royalists (led by Augustín de Iturbide) of Mexico City joined forces with the guerrilla fighters and rode into the capital, ending the war. Independence from Spain was finally achieved. So this year 2021 was very special in that it marked the 200th year – the Bicentennial – of Mexico’s independence from Spain. Here it is called La Consumación de la Independencia.

I am pasting a link to the celebration here:

The video is more than 2 hours long, with almost the first hour in Spanish and consisting of speeches by President Lopez Obrador and other world leaders. If you start at the 58 minute 40 second mark, there is an explanation in Spanish of the events about to take place and beginning at the 1 hour 3 minute mark will be performances illustrating the history of the people of Mexico beginning with the Mayans. At the 1 hour 54 minute mark the fireworks and dancing begin. It is all in Spanish, but if you don’t speak the language, it is still awesome to watch.

So until next time, stay safe and Nos Vemos !

Independence Days – and a painful lesson learned

Greetings everyone and I hope you are all safe and healthy wherever you are. This post is actually about two Independence Days that I was fortunate to be able to experience this year – one with my family in the United States and one here in Mexico.

For the U.S. July 4th holiday, I visited my son in Colorado. After having a very bad experience with an online travel agency, I opted to schedule my trip with a live human being – a travel agent here in Colima. I figured that if there were any problems, there would be a person I could easily contact directly.

For those of you who are not experienced in air travel internationally, you need to go through customs and immigration at the port of entry in the country in which you land. That means if you have one or two stops (or more – YIKES!) before you are at your destination, your first stop upon entering the country is where you must collect your luggage and go through customs and immigration and then bring your luggage to be checked in again for your connecting flight.

If this is how you will be traveling, please make sure you have enough time between flights to accomplish this. I would rather have too much time instead of not enough time to catch that connecting flight. You never know if there will be delays in your initial flight or very long lines at your port of entry, etc. Because of this, I wanted a direct flight to Denver, and so chose an early morning flight from Guadalajara to Denver, which meant taking an overnight bus to the airport.

Of course, because of Covid, I had to have a negative Covid exam in order to board the plane. Because my flight was at 7:30 in the morning, I did not take the test at the airport, as I was not going to walk alone with suitcases to the top floor of the parking garage just to get tested. There are plenty of clinics in Colima for the test – with varying prices which seem to indicate a longer wait time for results for the less expensive ones. So I opted for a moderately-priced one and just hung out in the city until it was ready.

So the night before my flight, suitcases and exam results in hand, I had a one-hour car ride to the bus station, a 3 hour bus ride to the international airport, a 3-hour wait before I could check in, then check-in started 3 hours before take-off time, and finally got on my flight. As a nice surprise, I had baked chocolate cream cheese brownies and my neighbor had prepared a mole sauce to bring with me.

One thing you need to investigate regarding international flights, is what you can bring in with you besides personal items. I checked online and figured the brownies and sauce were ok. I put them in an insulated bag with a frozen thermo pack and they were still cold when I arrived in Denver more than 12 hours after I left my house. The bag and thermo pack were also great for bringing back something I can’t get in Mexico – boxes of frozen Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese, my comfort food when recovering from a bad migraine headache.

Oh, I just remembered something else. Restricted items might not only apply to international flights. A few years ago, I was visiting people in Puebla, Mexico, and taking a flight back to Colima, Mexico. My friends had given me a bouquet of flowers and the agents at the airport would not allow me to take them on the plane, even though the flight was not leaving the country – it was a completely domestic flight.

Anyway, I had a great visit with my son and his future family. Enjoyed the hot and dry weather, visited Breckenridge where I got a great view of the snow-covered Rocky Mountains, where I also didn’t remember how cold it would be at that elevation and didn’t bring enough outerwear. We also drove through the Continental Divide. A continental divide separates river systems that flow to opposite sides of a continent. In North America, the line of summits of the Rocky Mountains separate streams flowing toward the Gulf of California and the Pacific from those flowing toward the Gulf of Mexico, Hudson Bay and the Arctic Ocean.

The 4th of July was spent with my son and his fiancé’s extended family, just enjoying being together and watching the fireworks at night. I finally went to bed at 10:30pm, but heard that the fireworks continued until about 2:30am. Everyone in the neighborhood was out in the street, sidewalks and in front of their houses, and it was a really nice time for everyone.

Eventually, it was time to return home with my macaroni and cheese, a box of Cream of Wheat (my other comfort food, which I can’t find in Mexico) and gifts for Lourdes and her family for taking care of my house and feeding my cats while I was gone. She had asked me to bring her back some Skechers shoes and told me the U.S. size. I saw different styles and through the wonder of WhatsApp, was able to take a photo of them, send the photos to her, and she could then tell me which pair she preferred.

Independence Day for Mexico is September 16th, but the celebrations start the night of the 15th with the Grito de Dolores, the cry of freedom. Tradition states that the priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla called the people of the town of Dolores to begin the war of independence and rang the church bells and his call to arms is the Grito.

Normally, there are celebrations everywhere in Mexico and the plaza at the presidential palace in Mexico City are packed with people. However, since this is still the rainy season and we are still experiencing the pandemic, there were no festivities held in our village square and the speech by President Lopez Obrador was broadcast on TV and the internet, as well as fireworks with no crowds in attendance. On the 16th, there were more speeches and a parade broadcast, once again with no crowds in attendance.

Around 5pm on the 15th, Lourdes’ restaurant La Casita del Café was serving sopes and enchiladas to celebrate. So – I went down there and had enchiladas with mole sauce and my favorite drink – a cappuccino.

Little did I know what I was in for. About 90 minutes after returning home, I experienced horrible abdominal pains – extremely severe. So bad that when they finally abated, I went straight to bed, figuring I could watch the festivities on You Tube the next day.

When I spoke with Lourdes the next morning, we tried to figure out what had caused the pain. There wasn’t enough chile in the mole to cause it, and I use cumin at times in my cooking, so that wasn’t it. When I said that I had had a cappuccino to drink with it, it clicked. Several people have since told me that you cannot mix dairy with enchiladas/mole. I guess it creates a volatile chemical reaction in the stomach or intestines. Never heard of it before, but that was a painful lesson that I will never forget. I guess that just demonstrates that not everything that doesn’t agree with you is from food poisoning.

So, I hope that this post wasn’t too boring and I hope that some of my “pearls of wisdom” about travel were helpful to some of you. Go online to find out what you can and cannot bring into a foreign country. Check your travel itinerary carefully. And if you have any food sensitivities, ask before you order (though I had no idea about enchiladas and dairy products so there was nothing to ask about). I almost always ask if the food is “enchiloso” or “picante” – both words for spicy hot. If they say it’s not too spicy, the English version of my standard reply is, “When it’s not too spicy for you, it is very spicy for me.”

So, for now, stay safe and healthy and see you next time !