Being an Amateur Naturalist and Experimental Gardener

 

The Oxford Dictionary states that a naturalist is someone who studies plants and animals.  I have been doing both since moving to Mexico, but my first love was more on the side of animals. When I was young, we would go to the beach in the summer and catch flounder and dig clams. When we got home, I would go into the basement and scale and gut the fish, but many times I would do little dissections on them. Perhaps that is one of the reasons I became a nurse.

My strong stomach for things that might turn other people green was and continues to be a plus for my career and my continuing interest in these all types of creatures, with a whole new collections of critters to investigate here, south of the border. However, in deference to those with weaker constitutions, I am posting only photos from the plant kingdom here.  I actually think I made a visitor from the U.S. a little sick when I found a half-eaten gecko (courtesy of one of my cats) on my patio and collected it for examination.  I did hide it from him out of courtesy.

The Animal Kingdom

If you get queasy even reading about dissections, you can skip this part.

You have now been warned – continue at your own peril

OR

You can safely skip down to the Plant Kingdom section

     Anyway, first the animal kingdom. As I stated, there are many animals here, as well as birds, that were not to be found in the often frigid climate of New York State. Cane toads that come out during the rainy season, and different types of spiders. Some spin webs, and I have seen at least two types of those, and spiders that do not spin webs (those are larger and with the legs extended are a rounded shape. They sit on the walls and are fast so I guess that is how they catch their prey. They also are skittish, and if you blow on them they scurry away).

There are also iguanas and my favorite – the geckos. I have seen different types of these little guys, some a little more stocky than others and slightly different colors. I used to see a lot of them before I got the cats, but now they are just about hunted to extinction, at least as far as my property goes. I get a little upset each time they kill one, as the geckos eat insects, but the cats are working cats, keeping my property free of pests and I don’t want to diminish their hunting instincts.

So – a few times, I saw dead geckos that my cats – named Durazna (Peach) and Ginger (Jengibre) by the way – had killed. I noticed what looked like little white balloons sticking out of their trunk. I had no idea what they were, and went on You Tube to see videos of dissections of geckos, but still didn’t see anything resembling what I was looking at.  So, of course, I did dissections of two of them on my own. Still no answers, with the white rubbery spheres filling up their entire abdominal/thoracic cavity and when I opened them  a liquid came out which resembled egg yolk.

I had recently visited my sister and brother-in-law in Chicago, and during that visit we went to the Field Museum. I figured that the museum must have a herpetologist on staff. Actually, I had to look up the professional title of a person that studies lizards, and then I searched the museum’s web site for that department.

I sent off an email to the museum describing what I had seen and my attempts to figure out what the facts were about these geckos. The museum connected me to a very nice herpetologist named Alan Resetar. We exchanged several emails, and I was quite pleased when he said I was “an excellent observer and natural historian.”  I’m hoping he wasn’t just being nice to this strange woman who does little autopsies and dissections on little mangled creatures.

Anyway, turns out they were gecko eggs. The eggs are soft and very pliable and can take up almost the whole of their abdomen/thorax. After they are passed, they harden in the air.  Depending on where they live, the geckos might also cover them with sand. According to Alan, “Depending on the species, geckos will lay eggs which can be adhered to walls once the eggs dry or placed in a more natural surrounding and even buried underground.”

If anyone cares to view the laying of the eggs, there are a bunch of videos on YouTube.

The Plant Kingdom

Rated G – Safe for everyone to read

     OK – so now onto the plants and trees, although there is still interaction with the animal kingdom, mainly in the form of ants. My neighbor recently came to my house to gather some basil to make a medicinal tea, and I found that the ants had eaten all the leaves on all my basil plants. Every last one. They left all the other herbs intact, and I noticed they especially avoided the rosemary.  So I bought three more basil plants at the local Green Market – two green and one dark purplish color – and for their health and well-being put them on a shelf at the back of the house. If the ants REALLY want them, they will have to climb up 5 layers of plastic shelving. Just to be safe, I check on them every day.

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The ants also like peach tree leaves, and I also fear for my new cherry trees. Apparently, according to my gardener Angel, they don’t like the estafiate, which is blooming like nobody’s business, including around two of my cherry trees. So I will just let them be and now that it is the rainy season, I am sure my saplings will grow by leaps and bounds.  But just to be safe, I’ve also put the Trompa pellets around them to attract any ants that might be tempted to indulge.

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My sapling cherry tree with healthy leaves poking out from the estafiate.

     Not all my plants were already here, nor purchased from a nursery. A while back I bought a few camotes – kind of like a sweet potato. I didn’t end up cooking them, and before very long, they were sprouting stems and leaves, so I just planted them in large flower pots. I noticed that even though they looked the same when I bought them, the leaves were quite different. I never would have known  just by looking at them in the store, nor by the taste. Very strange, though Angel knew the names of the two varieties.

Both camote amarillo, but with different leaves.

     And now there’s the issue of my banana trees. Heavy with fruit, but still green. So heavy that it now takes one metal rod and two heavy branches propped up against the trunk so the tree doesn’t fall over.

image_123923953 (9)      You can’t see it from this photo, but there are little daughter trees growing at the base. I lived here for over a year before the bananas started to form, and it is taking forever for them to ripen, even after putting lots of rich compost and organic fertilizer into the soil. So, obviously, for whatever reason, this is not a great spot for banana trees. Maybe they need more sunlight, I don’t know.

     Because of this, we will be taking out a tree on another side of the property which is more sunny and planting the daughters there.  Definitely won’t miss the tree that will be uprooted.

Maybe because the climate zone in which I live is great for all types of voracious creatures, many plants seem to protect themselves with a great natural defense – spines of various sizes – from thin, small, almost invisible one on tiny cactuses to the really large ones on this tree. Even when they are green and fresh, they are quite rigid, and when they harden into wood – watch out!

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Hmmm – so what is left? My coffee saplings are doing fine – they should really be starting to grow with the rainy season now upon us.

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And, my yaca tree..  I have three new fruits growing. I have been told that when the fruit starts to turn brown, it is ready to be picked. According to what I have found on the internet, when it is less ripe, it tastes like fruit, and when it is more ripe, it can be used as a meat substitute. Guess I will have to wait to find out, though from the size of one of them, maybe not much longer. I have to let you know about the taste when I try it.

Hand visible to demonstrate the size of the fruit

   And last but definitely not least, my chayote vines. They are growing like wildfire and the tendrils on the vines are reaching outward as well as upwards looking for anything on which to grab and extend their reach. Angel suggested rope or boards from the current frame to my roof. This will save me from having to wait for the chayotes to drop from the trees when they are too high for me to reach even with a tall ladder and my basket on a pole, which would extend my reach to about 13 or 14 feet in total. It will also provide some more shade and a nice look to the area with a living green roof, so to speak.

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The frame isn’t finished, but you get the idea of what it will look like

 So that’s all the latest news coming purely from inside my property. Hope I didn’t bore you all too much, but after all the stress of my former profession and the hustle and bustle of living in New York, I am very happy living on my little patch of God’s green Earth, exploring the wonders and variety of life right here.

When I decide to stop procrastinating, I really have to photograph and catalog all my medicinal plants. When that happens, there will be a new post with photos, names and their medicinal use, according to the women here who have the knowledge which has been passed down to them.

Until them, to all my readers, have a great day, wherever you are…. Hasta luego!

Mi Tercer Edad – My Third Age One Chapter Closes, The Final One Begins

Just as I did when my mother died, I am making this post a little more personal than usual. When you live in a foreign country, especially if English is not the official language, certain life events can affect you slightly differently than if you were back home in your own state. This is one of those times, though don’t get me wrong. I am not melting in a puddle of despair, but rather something has given me pause because of my current circumstances.

The title of this post references the three stated ages here in Mexico. The second age is adulthood. The first age refers to those not yet adults. The third age is where I’m at – those over 65. I even have my Tarjeta de Tercer Edad – my I.D. card for the third age, or, as I jokingly refer to it, my “Old Lady’s Card.”

Well, moving on from that explanation…..Yesterday, I made my professional license “inactive.” Registered professional nurses renew their registrations every three years, and mine was due to expire in October this year. The choices were to renew or make it inactive which meant that to reactivate it, I would have to pay a fee, take review courses and I’m not sure exactly what else, but you get the idea.

First, a little background.  I entered nursing school in 1967 and graduated in 1970.

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It had been three years of blood, sweat and tears and medicine was quite different from today. No CT scans, MRI’s or PET scans. Bird respirators – not the fancy ventilators we have today. No antibiotic resistant organisms, and the list goes on.

For diabetics, we did not check their blood sugar. Instead, we collected a certain number of drops of urine, added a few drops of Benedict’s Solution, held the test tube over an open flame and when it changed color, compared it to a color chart to determine how much insulin to give. And the choices of insulin were pork or beef, U-40 or U-80 (indicating how many units of insulin per milliliter). And the syringes – glass with metal needles that had to be checked for burrs, and sterilized in an autoclave after each use.

So the changes I’ve seen over time can be compared to the changes my grandmother witnessed in her lifetime, having been born before the Wright brothers invented the airplane and witnessing men walking on the moon before she died.

Over the course of 45 years as a bedside nurse, my specialties were neurosurgery, vascular surgery and finally heart failure, and at the age of 61, finally earning my BSN – Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Also during this time, I became a certified Medical-Surgical nurse as well as a Certified Heart Failure nurse.

As the years wore on, I also volunteered and most of my volunteer work involved nursing. I was also becoming more and more sick and tired of the ice and snow of New York. Perhaps if I had had a job where I had snow days, I might have felt differently, but 45 years of having to travel to work no matter what the weather surely contributed to my desire to leave everything behind and find a place where I would never have to see snow again.  And so, my mind began to focus on moving to Mexico after retirement, a place where I had volunteered for several years. Figuring that it was on the same continent, I spoke a little Spanish, I knew a lot of the people by then and I would NEVER have to see snow again, I took that leap.

To say I was overjoyed when my final shift was over would be an understatement.

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My final shift before retirement. My son told me that he had never seen a photo of me where I looked so happy…..

     Retirement was exhilarating, but still felt a little strange. However, it didn’t take much effort to get into the swing of things. I had always been active in volunteering, and people would laugh when I would talk about retirement, saying I wasn’t REALLY retiring. My answer was always, “I am retiring from THIS job, but will still be very active.”

     Well, little by little my Spanish improved and I became very involved in community life, continued to help Project Amigo (the literacy project where I had been volunteering for many years) and through this newfangled concept of eClubs was able to continue to be a member of Rotary International by joining the Rotary eClub of the Southwest USA.

     Still, in the back of my mind, was the nagging desire to continue my life as a nurse, in whatever form could be managed. My friend Magda, a Mexican nurse, had introduced me to the head of the nursing department at the University of Colima years prior to this. While I could not work as a nurse in Mexico unless I took my boards again – in Spanish – I could still teach with a work permit. I became a CPR instructor before retirement, thinking perhaps I could do that.

     As time went on, I decided I did not want an official job again and felt guilty. If I had stayed in the U.S. I could have tried it per diem or part time and if it didn’t work out, it would have at least been a learning experience. However, Spanish which is passable during everyday conversations is not enough for professional duties and truthfully, I was and still am enjoying being in charge of my daily life without the bother of having to punch a time clock.

     However, once a nurse, always a nurse, and I am still active in the field, but not in the usual way. I was going to say traditional, but tradition has several meanings. Traditional can mean the village health worker, or the healer, or the dispenser of herbal medicines. And here I have found myself between those two worlds. A person can go into Colima, or Guadalajara or Mexico City and get first class medical care. Here in my village, you also have people like my friend Lourdes who can tell you the medicinal uses for any plant that you see.

I don’t know how scientifically accurate their beliefs are or if some of it is just a placebo effect, but supposedly my pasiflora fruit from my tree is calming and helps you to sleep when the pulp is mixed with water as a drink. The leaves from my chayote vines supposedly help lower high blood pressure when mixed with hot water as a tea. Just about everything I grow on my property supposedly has medicinal uses.

When you think about it, many of today’s medicines are plant-based My pharmacology textbook from 1967 included pictures of plants, and dried purple foxglove leaves were still chewed for heart conditions. The purple foxglove is the plant from which Digitalis is derived.

Fun fact – I went to a lecture by Dr. Andrew Weil years ago. The topic was medicinal plants and one anecdote was about Digitalis. He said in medical school, instructors would say the first sign of Digitalis toxicity was nausea, but nobody ever became nauseated. He wondered why. Turns out, in the old days, people would chew on the leaf and the first sign of toxicity was nausea. Once the drug companies extracted and concentrated the drug into pills, it became so concentrated that the minor symptoms were often bypassed making the more severe effects the first ones witnessed or experienced.

Anyway, I digress. In village life, I guess my life has become more like the village healer of ancient times in some small way. If someone needs an injection, the doctor gives them a prescription, the patient and their family fill it and then must find someone to give it. I swear the entire village knows I am a nurse, so I have become the Injection Queen of Cofradia.  When someone is not feeling well, they call me and I am not shy about telling them they must go to their doctor.

My heart failure training came in handy with another woman, as I explained to her and her family about low sodium diet, the importance of taking their meds as prescribed and bought them a scale, teaching them about daily weights and when to call the doctor. So while I am not practicing as a nurse, I am doing what any family member would ordinarily be taught to do (such as checking blood pressure) and explaining to them what they do not understand.

On the professional side, I am a member of the International Fellowship of Rotarian Doctors  (a fellowship for healthcare professionals and medical allied professionals worldwide – it is not a requirement that you be a physician).  This has kept me in contact with healthcare professionals around the world to promote education and projects to medically benefit diverse populations. I also continue to read journals and study guides in an attempt to stay as current as possible.

I had seen online a video of a 90 year old nurse who was still working and how her colleagues celebrated her. I felt twinges of guilt for joyously embracing retirement after seeing that and hearing similar stories of nurses who worked well past retirement or after retirement came back to work part time or per diem.  I have the impression that they are being celebrated for their dedication – so what does that make me?

I struggle from time to time with that thought and have come to the conclusion, which sometimes I need to consciously make an effort to remind myself, that this choice that I have made to live in this village is just as worthy as the lives of those who work into their 80’s and 90’s.  I am living in one world and attempting to make a difference in those lives with which I come into contact. At the same time, through the wonders of modern technology, I can interact with the greater world, stay in touch with a host of other healthcare practitioners, and also make a difference there without leaving my new home.

While this post might be overly long and maybe a bit boring, my thought is that there are sure to be many other people, both still in the United States as well as in the ex-pat communities, who have also experienced these feelings. Perhaps they grieve the loss of their professional life. Perhaps they grieve that they are in their own Tercer Edad. These people may have experienced this for quite some time, or have just entered it or are fast approaching this stage of life.

While it will not be exactly the same for everyone,  I just wanted to share my personal experience, my thoughts and actions, to let people know that this is not unusual and they are not alone.  Hopefully this also gives a small indication of what might happen when retired in a different culture or a country where English is not the spoken language.

So, in the meantime, whether you decide to remain in familiar surroundings after retirement or go out to explore the world, please remember to find joy in all the little things in life. That is my motto and my wish for you.  Please feel free to submit any thoughts you have, and questions or sharing of experiences. I would be more than happy to hold a conversation with anyone who wants or needs to talk.

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The Third Annual Volcano Festival

The third annual Volcano Festival in Colima just ended and with one thing and another, I did make it there for two days at the tail end. There were various forms of entertainment during the day, but the main events/shows didn’t start until 9pm. For me that is a bit late, unless I am going with someone who is doing the driving. However, I understand some of the reasoning. I think even in The States, many shows start in the evening, and in Colima you also need to take into account the searing heat. Living here, I can understand why many places close down around 2pm and don’t open again until around 4 or 5pm – and even I have started resting or napping at that time. It’s just too hot to do anything else, though, fortunately, Cofradía de Suchitlán is at a higher elevation, so we are cooler, relative to Colima.

Anyway, the Volcano Festival is much like other festivals, with vendors selling food, clothing and crafts, rides for the children and musicians plus dancers from local schools or dance troupes performing.

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Of course, we had a large plastic volcano…

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And this year there was a 5, 10 and 15 k walk. They began at 7am and finished at 10am.

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And then, there was a exhibition of dancers on the stage. I was surprised that, in addition to the traditional dances, they had other forms, such as modern dance and Middle Eastern dances.

The stage was next to the fountain, and at first, I thought the drops we felt were from that fountain, but as it continued, with more and more drops I said to myself, “No, this is definitely rain.” Fortunately I was carrying an umbrella, and fortunately for the performers, it didn’t last long.

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Before the performances, we were wandering around the booths and came upon one that was selling “International” food. The menu had two rows of flags of different countries, and the food they were serving from that country.

Next to the Canadian flag, “poutine” was written. Now when my sister and I visited Quebec, she couldn’t wait to have poutine. When it arrived, it looked like french fries with some white stuff on it and brown gravy. To me, it was very bland, and while it was ok, I would not have gone out of my way to seek it out. My sister said it was a special kind of cheese that is made in Quebec.

The listed ingredients at the festival booth were the fries, mozzarella and beef gravy. I was tempted to try them, but the heat of the day was so fierce that I didn’t think my stomach would tolerate it well, so we had ice cream instead.

After a while, when the dance performances were finished, the mariachis appeared. I had never seen outfits in green before, but they were very good. A girl was handing out leaflets about the restaurant where they perform, so I think when my granddaughter visits in July, we will go there one night.

Their outfits DID match the clothing of a little boy who checked them out, then stood in front of them to dance.

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And so that is all for now. Until next time, have a wonderful week…..

A Weekend in Guadalajara

When I still lived in New York, I belonged to the Monroe-Woodbury Rotary Club. Each week we would have a guest speaker, and a wide variety of topics would be discussed, with a different subject every week.

One of our guest speakers was a representative of the Shen Yun performance troupe, which performs dances and some singing to illustrate 5000 years of Chinese history over two hours. I had wanted to see their show when I still lived in New York, but for one reason or another, that never happened.

So imagine my surprise when I was browsing the internet one day and discovered that they would be performing in 5 cities here in Mexico – including Guadalajara, which is only 3 hours away. I immediately called my friend Claudia who lives there and suggested a girls’ weekend, which would include taking in the show. She thought it was a great idea, so I purchased the tickets.

Since things sometimes work a little different here than they did back in The States, the web site would not accept my credit card, so after ordering the tickets and picking out our seats, I had two hours to get into my car, go to Comala to an OXXO store and pay for the tickets before my order was canceled. And with that, I had the tickets.

Saturday, I took the bus to Guadalajara, then a taxi to my hotel. We met up and decided to do some exploring. But before we did too much exploring, we decided to have lunch, and stopped at a nice Japanese restaurant called Little Tokyo. I have seen quite a few Japanese restaurants in Colima, and apparently there are quite a few in Guadalajara. Two years ago I spent St. Patrick’s Day here in Mexico at a Japanese restaurant in Manzanillo.  Claudia also told me that quite a number of Mexican students are also studying the Japanese language – it is becoming quite popular.

The next stop on Saturday was a Gothic cathedral in Jardín Cuauhtémoc. The church was huge and very ornate, and we noticed that there was a wedding going on inside. Claudia told me that on the hour, music would play and figurines would rotate in a circle in one of the towers. Sure enough, it started while we were there, and I was able to record one minute of it:

 

We decided to stop in a little shop for coffee, and looking over the extensive collection of different types, I wondered what the Café Carlos V was. Turns out there is a chocolate bar here called Carlos V (Carlos Quinto – or Charles the 5th), so we figured it must have chocolate in it. Being the chocoholic that I am, I had to try it, and was not disappointed.

Here are two photos of the street scene at night:

Quite nice, but after a long day, I was ready to call it a night and went back to my hotel.

So – Sunday was to be the big day, attending the performance of Shen Yun – and I received a pleasant surprise. I had read a while back that a local library was going to have an exhibition of artifacts from Tutankhamen’s tomb, and Claudia said the exhibition was still going on and it was walking distance from the theater!

Well, this still being the dry season, there is a lot of construction going on, and with multiple detours, barriers and excavated roads, it took us an hour to get to the theater. While driving around, we noticed what looked like Japanese cherry trees. Claudia informed me that the Japanese government had given cherry trees to Mexico, but they had died due to the hot climate, and so they were replaced with a hardier variety that closely resembled the original cherry trees. A very beautiful sight indeed.

And so we finally arrived. Turns out that the venue was at a large plaza, with the theater on one side and the library on the opposite side – not even a two-minute walk apart. Unfortunately, the building was unadorned – not even a banner to advertise the show that was being performed, and so I will simply place a link here:

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entrance to the theater

The performance reminded me of the Mexican Ballet Folklorico, which, through dance, illustrates the history of the country. The dance company is now based in New York, as it is banned in the People’s Republic of China. Many of the dancers and their families are practitioners of Falun Gong, which is banned there, and in fact, the father of one of the principal dancers was imprisoned and tortured, and his mother is now in prison because they are practitioners.

Many of the dances were quite beautiful, as was the scenery – a skillful blending of the background with the live dancers. I couldn’t quite believe that a human body could do the flips and other acrobatics that they performed. In parts of the storytelling that depicted some of the brutality that people suffered with the 20th century government, I actually started to cry.

After the theater, we walked across the plaza to the library. On the way, there was a mini-amphitheater, which had a coffee shop under the stairs

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     The library was quite impressive, and could easily be mistaken for a museum. I couldn’t even fit the whole building into one photo

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left side and entrance to the library

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 right side

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     Once inside, there was an artist’s rendering of what the finished plaza would eventually look like. You can see where the theater and library are located on the drawing.

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     library visible in the top left corner with the amphitheater in front of it

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entrance ticket

“Tutankhamen, the tomb, the gold and the curse”

     The exhibits were amazing, including the outermost container for the multiple coffins of the Pharaoh – Tutankhamen. It was a cube, about 18 feet high. I had no idea that there were so many layers, like Slavic nesting dolls, before the final one in which his body lay.

     So many artifacts, photos of the expedition that found his tomb, and a history of the curse that beset the excavation team. There was also a video demonstrating how the mummification process works.

     Now, I’d been a nurse for 45 years before retirement, so very little phases me, but it was a bit stomach-churning to see re-enacted the process of sticking a long, thin instrument up a mannequin’s nose in order to scramble the brains. There were 4 jars which held the deceased’s internal organs, but nothing for the brain.

     It was amazing to me to be in the presence of items crafted by humans thousands of years ago. I looked at the throne and just kept thinking, “a real person actually sat on that thousands of years ago.” We were not allowed to touch anything, and flash photography was forbidden, so I will need to post photographs of the signage instead:

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not sure what might have been reproductions and which the actual objects, but there was a display of this throne. 

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“Mummy of a cat” Bastet was the goddess of the cats. These animals were considered sacred and honored, and as a consequence, the practice of mummification was also extended to them.

I had heard once that cats were considered to be gods to the ancient Egyptians, and they never forgot it. Hence, their personalities.

     Wandering around the ground floor and outside was a man dressed as King Tut. It was so hot out, I imagine he was extremely uncomfortable with the clothing and mask. His job was to allow photos to be taken with him in exchange for a donation, and so, of course, Claudia and I just had to take advantage of the opportunity.

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     In front of the other side of the library was a giant statue of Anubis, the ancient Egyptian god of the dead.

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And so, that ended our exploration of Ancient Egyptian and Chinese culture for now.  After a delicious seafood dinner, I retired back to my hotel, and Monday afternoon, I was back home.  And so, I bid a fond farewell to Guadalajara, but I will be back in the Autumn to explore the archaeological sites when the weather is slightly cooler just after the rainy season ends.

 

(Hu)man versus Ant – The Neverending Battle

Ever since humans have been living on Mother Earth, there has been a battle amongst all living creatures for survival. It doesn’t matter if you are awake and aware of your surroundings, since even trees and plants, unable to move from the spot in which they are rooted, have become predators (such as the Venus fly trap) or developed defenses against predators or other life forms encroaching on their territory, such as the creosote trees in the Western United States which secrete poison into the soil to keep other trees from growing too close to them.

So here I am in what I consider the tropics, and I would gladly share my abode with nature, but nature has a way of encroaching on my space. I would see tiny little ants – hormiguitas – in my kitchen. I would conscientiously make sure there were no stray crumbs lying around and keep my food in containers, jars or in the refrigerator. Yet every day I would see these tiny creatures. Ant traps didn’t seem to be doing any good, so I went to the store and found a gel, which I decided to use and observe what happened.

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I opened up one of the gel packs and put it on the kitchen counter next to the sink. Over the next few hours, I couldn’t even count the number of ants that came to the trap to feed. But having them fill their tiny stomachs with Borax wasn’t enough. I needed to find out where they were coming from.

I didn’t have to wait very long. The ones that didn’t die before returning to their port of entry formed a line and marched right out of my house through an invisible crack in the mortar of my backsplash tiles. Once they were all gone, a little silicone paste sealed the opening, and that was the end of that – for now, I presume.

So that was inside my house, but as of last weekend, another battleground arose in our shared space of my property, specifically, my peach trees.  I usually don’t root around in my garden after dark, but last weekend I went to see a movie and returned home around 10-10:30pm.

I noticed a lot of movement on my cobblestone driveway and upon shining a flashlight onto the ground, discovered an army of ants carrying pieces of leaves and marching in a line towards my gate, while a line without leaves was marching into my garden. There were literally thousands of them.

I went to my peach tree and what I saw was a tree literally covered in ants – thousands of them, climbing up the branches, cutting leaves, marching back down with those leaves.  All I could think of was my can of Raid and my bottle of Trompa pellets, so first I grabbed the can of Raid and sprayed the _________ out of the ants on the ground. Then I got my bottle of pellets and sprinkled them at the base of the trees.

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I was hoping this would do them all in, and so I gathered my two cats and kept them inside with me that night, afraid maybe the Raid, or maybe eating some of the poisoned ants, would harm them.

The next morning, I went out to observe the damage. Most of the leaves of my peach tree were gone, yet other trees were untouched. I knew from past experience that they seem to have a taste for peach leaves, while others like my basil leaves.

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Peach tree pretty much stripped bare

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Trees in the foreground and surrounding the peach tree untouched.

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One lone peach untouched – the ants only wanted the leaves.

     Surveying the ground, I saw many dead ants, but surprisingly there were many that seemed to have nervous system damage, but were still alive. Some were just waving their legs wildly, while others tried to pick up their leaves and continue their march to their nest

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One thing I WAS able to do was find their point of entry. I noticed them carrying their bounty under my gate to go out into the street. So I went down the street to the hardware store and explained my problem. I came away with a bag of white powder called Hier – still don’t know what chemicals are in it – and sprinkled a line at the bottom of my gate and around the peach tree. Also sprinkled a good amount onto the trunk of the tree, and waited until nightfall to see what would happen.

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After sunset, I went out with my trusty flashlight. I observed some of the ants coming in from under the gate, checking out the white powder, and then turning around to go back out. Mission accomplished – or so I thought.

The next day, my gardener found that there was an opening between some of the cobblestones on my driveway. There was a tunnel through which they were coming onto my property once again, bypassing the gate. So we took some of the powder and poured it into the opening.

One day last year I noticed what looked like a wave on the sidewalk across the street. Upon closer inspection it was hundreds of thousand of ants covering the sidewalk – an unbelievable sight. So I imagine we must be on top of a massive underground city of ants with maybe miles of tunnels covering who-knows-how-much territory and therefore I am concluding that the battle will continue with no clear winner in sight, only temporary victories followed by continued vigilance.

As an addendum, the former owner told me that I should only use one form of insecticide, that the pellets would be carried to the nest and take care of things, but I was bothered so much by seeing my beloved peach tree covered in ants, that I wanted to throw everything at them that I could. For now, I will stick with the Hier powder and hopefully, they have carried enough pellets back to the nest to do some damage – again, for now.

Spanish Immersion – Cooking Class Version

I have been living in Mexico for two years now – and I cannot believe it has been that long.  There are only about 6 people here besides me who are fluent in English and I do not see them on a daily basis. Many people back in the U.S. have said to me, “Well, I guess you are fluent in Spanish now,” and I always answer, “No, not really.” I can pretty much handle the normal everyday conversations, sometimes by pantomiming or describing something when I do not know the exact word.

I believe my grammar is improving, my vocabulary is expanding little by little, and I am still horrible on the telephone because I lack the visual cues I need to understand spoken Spanish.

One of my Mexican friends is married to an American. She told me that she depended on him to translate for her until one day he refused to do it anymore. He said that she would never learn English until she was forced to. She told me that at first she was very angry, but then realized that he was right, and so one of the things she did was to take a class that was given in English. All the rest of the students in the class were Chinese, so she said to me, “What was I going to do? I either had to learn Chinese or learn English.”  And that helped me to go to one seminar and two classes, all given in Spanish.

The first was a nursing seminar last year. I was able to follow all but two speakers because all but those two had really good PowerPoint presentations along with their talks, so I could listen and also read, and in that way have an almost complete understanding of what was being said. (When I came to Mexico, I could read and write very well – it was the verbal communication with which I was having a problem, and more difficulty speaking than understanding the spoken word. I think this was due to remembering vocabulary once I heard it, but with speaking, you have to pull the words out of your memory, not just recognize it once you hear it.)

The second was a class regarding sanitation for culinary workers. This included washing your hands, safe handling of food, proper temperatures, cleanliness of the work area, etc.  This was easily understandable to me, as I already knew most of the spoken vocabulary.

When my friend Lourdes told me about a pastry and presentation class, at first I was hesitant, but then decided it was time to jump right in and sink or swim, so I signed up along with her.  The one classmate who did speak some English spoke very little, but I was not going to completely drown as I have come to depend on Lourdes to slowly repeat the Spanish that I don’t catch or understand, and I could also copy her notes. And so we arrived at our first day of class on February 21st.

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Me with our instructor, Chef Santiago Rico

     I had the notebook that was provided for the course, and a separate notebook where I wrote my new vocabulary words. Through the wonder of modern technology, my Google dictionary was able to provide accurate translations for me, and sometimes I would make a drawing to help me remember.

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Our recipe book/workbook

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My vocabulary notes. Some things still had to be explained, in spite of Google Dictionary. For example, betún translates as bitumin or shoe polish, which didn’t make any sense in a cooking class. What it meant in this case was a decoration for a pastry. The Frida and Diego at the bottom refers to some event where certain types of pastries will be prepared reminiscent of Frida Kahlo and other types to signify her husband Diego Rivera and it will be held this month – February.

     So class began with ingredients lined up in rows of two, one row for each of the tables of students. I was able to follow the general idea of the lectures and instructions, and I was even able to ask a few questions. I did learn quite a few new things, too. Vainilla molina is clear vanilla extract with a stronger vanilla flavor. Cocoa negra is black cocoa baking powder with a more intense chocolate flavor.

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     It was educational and also a lot of fun and camaraderie in the all-female class. Many discussions among the students I couldn’t follow but many I could and was able to join in the conversations at some points.

     The classes were held over three days. The first day we made the basic cakes which would become cream puffs or the cakes of layer cakes, etc. when we created the frostings and fillings on successive days.

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Day One – The Basics

Brownies, cakes, eclairs and cream puffs without the frostings or fillings

     The second day we worked on the frostings and fillings, using creams, different types of sugars and fresh fruits. And here I also learned some new things, such as glucosa (glucose) and azúcar (sugar) are two different things when cooking.

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Lourdes (in pink) busy mixing. 

     And finally, on the third day, Chef did most of the work decorating and mixing, with some help from us under his direction.

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Putting on the finishing touches.

 

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Dividing up the pastries so we can all share the results of our hard work.

As an aside, I should also mention the use of titles here in Mexico. If you are a teacher, you are addressed – even if you should meet someone in the street – as Maestra or Maestro.  Our chef was addressed as “Chef.”  You are addressed according to your profession, which I find very respectful.

And at the end of the final class, the pastries were divided up and we all got to take some of each home. Yuuummm!!!

We students took up a collection and gave our dear Chef a parting gift – a statue of Los Perritos – the dancing Colima dogs.

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This isn’t two photos – there is a mirror over his head so we students can see the work table.

     Diplomas were handed out along with our share of the fruit of our labors and we were on our way. I survived my latest adventure in immersion Spanish with new knowledge and new acquaintances and I am definitely looking forward to any more classes that will be held here.

My personal favorites

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“Postres Gourmet”  Class Photo 

Mexican Time – Frustrations and Acclimation

There are always adjustments to make whenever you venture outside your comfort zone.  You may be trying new activities, learning a new language or any one of a number of things.  The adjustments required are even greater, progressively, when interacting with a different culture, a foreign country where they speak your language and the ultimate challenge to your comfort is when you are in a foreign country where the culture and language are not your own.

During the past few decades, I have traveled across the United States and traveled to Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. The English language varies greatly across the United States – for example that fizzy drink can be called soda or pop, depending on which part of the country you happen to be. In England, we were often separated by our common language, either by our accents or different words to describe the same thing – lift for elevator, boot for the trunk of a car, or Flat White American for a cup of “regular coffee.”

I’ve lived in villages with no electricity or plumbing, which included pit toilets and no running water in the dwellings (no tap in the kitchen, no shower, etc.). So I consider myself pretty adaptable.

Being a Professional Registered Nurse AND being from New York, I was used to a fast-paced life. Everything needed to be on time, if not a few minutes ahead of time. Days, hours, minutes and sometimes even seconds mattered. And this was my mindset when I arrived in Mexico.

The first thing I had to learn was Mexican Time. I guess many cultures have different names for this. There is Island Time, African Time, or an African Week, and all signify the same thing; time is much more fluid in these places.  If I am invited to a party here in Mexico, and they say it starts at 8pm, then it might start at 9pm or 9:30.

Another thing is driving habits. I almost never see a driver use a turn signal, and stop signs are more of a suggestion than a requirement. When crossing the street to get to the Equum ballet yesterday, there was a stop sign and we thought we had plenty of time to cross. A driver sped through the sign and never slowed down, honking his horn as he passed by and almost hit me.

For the first Equum performance we attended, the posters said the ballet started at 8pm. So we arrived a little early, and what we saw was an exhibition of horses that lasted an hour. So the ballet actually began at 9pm.

Last night’s performance was also supposed to start at 8pm. Judging from the previous week, my friend Magda and I figured we had at least an hour to go, so we had a nice leisurely dinner at a nearby restaurant, and brought our pillows (because the metal bleachers were painful to our bottoms after a while) and took our seats at 9pm.

We were assured by the people sitting behind us that we had not missed the ballet. And for an hour we watched as riders took their horses through their paces and were given scores. I have never been around horses in the past, so to me it was just people riding in circles with their horses. I did learn a lot, as Magda explained what the judges were looking for in the riders and horses.

However, as the hour dragged on, we were getting anxious about seeing the ballet. There were little children becoming restless, and Magda had to be at work at 7:30 the next morning, after having worked since 7:30 the  morning of the ballet.

Suddenly we heard a lot of whistling from the crowd. Now you may have noticed that when there is Mexican music and singing being performed, there will be whistling and loud cries which add joy and energy to the performance. People are smiling while they are either doing this or listening to it.

The whistles we heard last night were whistles of displeasure and frustration. It was quite different. The announcer heard it and responded that we should be patient and show respect to the performer and that the ballet would start in 20-25 minutes.

If that was accurate, then the ballet would start 2½ hours after it was supposed to. We decided to get out of our seats and walk around to see the tents. We saw beautiful paintings for sale, belt buckles, bags, hats, etc. for sale. Saddles for sale and a food tent that we had not noticed before.

On the opposite side from our bleachers, we saw some of the performers waiting until they were able to enter the arena. Many beautiful costumes which appeared to be Spanish from Spain, some men with hats specific to Colima, a woman in a beautiful Spanish dress,  all trying to cope with the long wait.

At 10:30p it still wasn’t time for them to start, so Magda and I reluctantly left and we noticed quite a few other people leaving also. Sometimes Mexican Time is too fluid and relaxed even for the Mexicans.

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So, yes, there are some cross-cultural frustrations. And you are a guest in their country so it is up to you to adapt, but with time and observation you can gain insight into what is acceptable and when even the locals get frustrated.

Eso es así (that is how it is), but I am still grateful for the way my life unfolded that led me to my new life here.

Until next time, adiós !

 

Cabalgata de Cofradía de Suchitlán

The cabalgata is a procession of horses. Each town and village here has at least one per year, and while it is exciting, I would not recommend having to drive through or conduct any business during this time unless you are going for the sole purpose of seeing this event. Roads into town are blocked out of necessity as the procession of horses will proceed down the highway and into the town for the festivities.

The night began with a procession of people bringing images of the Virgin of Guadalupe through the streets. You can see one large banner, and on a truck is being transported a large heart with a crown and a picture of the Virgin under the crown.

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Behind this part of the procession are the Danza Azteca de Cofradía, the Aztec Dancers of Cofradía. They are so amazing to me for several reasons. They dance vigorously in the street with sandals on their feet, and they are dancing on cobblestones and it is not a flat surface. It is a very bumpy road. In addition, it is dark, so normally I walk carefully so as not to slip on the rounded surface of these stones, and they are keeping step with each other in the dark.

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Then we see a car bearing the Queen of Cofradía – la Reina de Cofradía. Every year there is a new queen, and this year it is Jessi. It seems like just about every town and village has these royals. A neighbor joked to me that even though I am a foreigner, there is one election in which I can vote, and that is for our queen.

And oops! Shame on me. I did not vote in this election…..

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In addition, before we see the horses, there are very large mannequins (for lack of a better word), this night of a man and a woman dancing in the street.

And as you can see, the horses are about to arrive. Children start at a very young age to become accustomed to being around the horses. I saw a grandpa up the road at various stages of training his grandson. First, at least the first time I saw them, the boy was not alone on the horse. Then one day, I saw the boy on the horse, but grandpa was in a truck, driving slowly and holding the reins beside the horse. Finally, the boy could ride alone.

I’ve seen a photo of my friend’s grandson – all of 4 years old – alone on an adult horse. Here, this little boy has a pint-sized one to ride on.  Well, actually, it looks like he might be riding a burro.

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And finally, the men and their horses arrive.

This cabalgata is very small compared to other towns, but we are a very small village. When I was stuck in the event in Comala, the horses were about 4 or 5 deep and you couldn’t see from one end of the line to the other end.  Comala’s event was held during the day and it was like Times Square for New Year’s. You could barely move, there were so many people.

But I was happy that this was taking place in my village. I could walk a couple of blocks to attend, didn’t have to worry about where to park. And when I got tired, I could be home in 5 minutes. I guess with age, convenience means an awful lot.

So that wraps up the January 2018 Cabalgata de Cofradía de Suchitlán.

Adiós until next time.

 

Tamale Night in Colima

Today is February 2nd, which means it is Tamale Night, at least here in Colima State. Let me explain.  On January 6th, it is Three Kings Day – the day of the 3 Magi who visited Baby Jesus. On this day it is customary to eat the Rosca, a wreath-shaped pastry that has a plastic baby Jesus cooked inside. Whoever gets the piece with the Baby Jesus is supposed to provide tamales on February 2nd. When I was visiting the family of a friend in Mexico City years ago, I was told that whoever got that piece was supposed to throw a party, so I don’t know if the customs vary slightly in different parts of Mexico.

So, anyway, this year Lourdes’ 4-year-old grandson got the piece, but obviously he was not going to cook tamales. I asked Lourdes if she was going to cook them, but she decided to have other people provide them.

Now, there are several different type of tamales, all prepared within the corn husk. There are tamales de ceniza (ash tamales) prepared in singed husks, tamales de carne (meat) and tamales de elote (corn). We walked through the village to the woman who was preparing the corn tamales, and she delivered them to the Casita.

Once we arrived at the Casita, I had my usual cappuccino along with the corn tamale. It is close to Valentine’s Day, so there are decorations of hearts, etc., everywhere and the very artistic Nadia decorated my cappuccino with hearts and little silver edibles.

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Nadia’s artwork

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plain tamale of mashed corn

     After a while, Lourdes’ friends arrived from Tecoman with a bucket of different ones. I decided to try the tamales de ceniza first. I have learned to ask about any food when it is my first time to try it – Está enchiloso? Tiene chiles?  Is it spicy? Does it have chilies?  The answer was, no it was not spicy. So I tried it – and it was a bit spicy.  From experience I have learned that “not too spicy” for Mexicans is very spicy for me.

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Lourdes holding tamale de ceniza

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inside the tamale de ceniza

     So now I moved on to the tamale de carne. Not spicy at all and very tasty. The meat in this one, I believe, was pork.

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tamale de carne

     So after an evening of good food and good conversation, I headed home and am off to sleep now. There will be a few posts over the next few days, as I finally (with much help, thank you, Juanis) am now able to access my photos and place them in my posts.

And so, good night one and all and see you tomorrow!

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bucket of tamales

from Tecoman

EQUUM Ballet Ecuestre de México

     This past Sunday I attended the first of three different performances of the ballet, which combined the performances of horses and human dancers. This first performance was entitled “MÉXICO LINDO” – Beautiful Mexico.  The next performance will be “Dos Culturas” – two cultures, and the final one will be Fantasía – fantasy.

     So all the advertisements said the show would start at 8pm. We arrived a little early so we could walk around a bit. There was a hot air balloon that stayed tethered to the ground even after it was inflated. There were numerous tents for selling food as well as equipment for horses such as saddles, etc., as well as clothing for the riders.

As we took our places on the metal bleachers, we expected the ballet to start on time, either Mexican or hopefully Gringo Time. To our surprise, they first had an exhibition of the horses and 1st, 2nd and 3rd prize ribbons being awarded.

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This horse had the longest mane and tail I had ever seen.

     It was about 9pm when the ballet actually started. It had been advertised as free, but only the judging part was free. A woman and a girl came around to all of us in the bleachers selling tickets at 50 pesos apiece.  It was a cheap price (about $2.50 USD) but it would have been nice if we had known ahead of time.

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In the meantime, I guess some of the younger attendees were getting a bit restless…

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After we all paid for our tickets, it was time to start the show. First, the ladies and gentlemen paraded in on their horses.

 

 

 

 

And then there was the ballet, with the dancers and horses performing to one of my favorite songs Camino Real Colima

 

There were more performances to come, but by this time it was 10pm and we were tired, so we headed home. My plans are to attend the Fantasía performance on Sunday, February 4th, and we will know to dress warmly and bring pillows to sit on, as the metal bleachers were pretty hard on our butts.

We’ll also be more aware of the time frame, so hopefully we will stay longer. I hear the Fantasía reminds people who have seen it of Cirque de Soleil.  We’ll just have to wait and see.