Archive | November, 2015

Thanksgiving Enchiladas

29 Nov

Mexican style Thanksgiving means it is a Thursday in November and we are in Mexico. That is all.
Or I guess I could say, My mama and her partner Dee are in town, just to share Thanksgiving with us. Not! (Remember when saying “Not!” after everything was a thing? That was my childhood. Explains a lot, right?)
My mom, on Facebook, made it sound like this, though- like they were down here celebrating Turkey Day with us, perhaps with a Mexican guajalote instead of our factory-produced bird. She said she was, “enjoying Mexican style Thanksgiving” with us. So I wanted to give you a little picture of what that looks like.
No stores close. Nobody is off work. Nobody eats turkey. Nothing special happens. There aren’t even any special Mexican dishes for the day- no Thanksgiving enchiladas, no special Thanksgiving salsas, nada. Let me add, too, that if there was a holiday happening on a Thursday, it would be celebrated on a Monday anyway so that people could have a three day weekend. Nobody here in my town would be mauling people to buy crap the next day, either, because there aren’t enough people with lots of expendable income for them to fight over the goods at our two department stores.
Maybe you were led to believe that because some of my family are down here we’d have our own little Thanksgiving celebration. You’d be wrong. Sounds good, in theory, but in reality not one of us is that committed to Thanksgiving as a holiday. Honestly, I completely forgot that it was Thanksgiving until late that night. (This is what happens when you don’t have constant access to Facebook.) And did I mention that no one is off of work or school? So on my ever-rushed lunch break, we had some pasta with canned cream of mushroom soup and stir-fried vegetables. For dinner we had take out pizza. We were almost all seated at the same table for 10 minutes for dinner, if that counts for anything. Except Lucia seated herself at her own private kid table and Khalil’s need to crawl prevented him from remaining seated. Alas and alack. Maybe next year.
Seriously, let me be clear about what Thanksgiving, the holiday, is here in Mexico. It is nothing, at least here in Oaxaca. Yes, Mexico was also inhabited by advanced civilizations when invading colonizers from Europe arrived. But Mexico doesn’t have a holiday to celebrate the invasion and attempted genocide of their first peoples. Well, okay, there’s Columbus Day, which here is called Dia de la Raza (Day of the Race), and is about the blending of cultures that resulted after colonization. Somehow that is slightly more palatable to me than a feast that happened with two cultures sharing nicely before a near-total genocide of one of them.
I know, I know, you’re thinking we must be super anti-Thanksgiving grinches. That’s not totally true, either. I am all about the ideas behind Thanksgiving- celebrating with family and the act of giving thanks. I miss my family in Kentucky on a daily basis. I intentionally acknowledge my gratitude for what I have, daily. And my nuclear family is already its own daily celebration of the intermingling and sharing of cultures. So I think I’m all about Thanksgiving. Minus the turkey, the over-stuffing myself (unless someone gives me access to unlimited chocolate), and the rabid consumerism that appears to be part of the whole shebang these days.
So there you have it, folks. The true story of our Mexican style Thanksgiving this year. This year, this glorious visit from Dee and my mom, I am extra grateful. I am extra grateful to still have one living parent. I’m grateful to have two “bonus” parents, in my mom’s partner and my dad’s wife. I’m grateful for my fabulous in-laws. I am grateful for my two children and their relative health (meaning they’re sick all the damn time since my three year old started preschool, but they keep getting better, too, so we’re all good). I am grateful for my husband. I’m grateful for all my Kentucky family, including my wild traveling Aunt Julia and Uncle Terry.
I’m grateful that this visit, I am learning more than ever to appreciate each moment and accept it for what it is. To accept that, for large portions of the visit, I am going to feel like a zombie, because I have two small children and a full-time job. That I’m going to have to still do chores and take kids to the doctor and pat baby backs and find a moment to write. That I can’t “take advantage of each moment” the way I dreamed about, because I still have a crazy daily life to deal with. But my family knows this. We know the time’s going to go too fast no matter what, so we’ll just do the best we can, and give thanks that we have this moment, now, whatever it is. We can give thanks for the hope that there will be more time to share in the future. That is my Mexican Thanksgiving. So keep your turkey, thanks.

Every meal together is thanksgiving in my world.

Every meal together is thanksgiving in my world.

Toilet Talk

16 Nov

There’s one thing the US does oh-so-right as a nation, and yet nobody is talking about it. Unlike our health policies, this is something that all other countries should be copying, and yet it’s never on the news. My country has the best, most generous public restroom policy in the world.

Being from the U.S., the one thing I consistently dread and loathe about international travel / living abroad is the peeing while-out-and-about situation. I’ve been leaving my country of comfy commodes on and off for 13 years now, and I still refuse to accept the status quo abroad.

God bless the U.S. and the constant, easy, free access to a toilet! It might not always be the cleanest toilet. Maybe they’re out of toilet paper. But there’s sure to be a toilet everywhere you go, and even private businesses rarely deny you the use of their potty, whether you are a paying customer or not in that moment. If a business does deny you for some odd reason, there’s sure to be a gas station or fast food restaurant close by where no one could care less about you peeing in their restroom.

Tragically, this is not so in the rest of the world. At least thus far in my travels to Europe, South America, and Mexico, this is not the case. When I go out, I’m always in a dilemma between staying hydrated or wasting long periods of my day looking for an appropriate place to relieve myself. And that’s just finding a bathroom in general, before taking into account the ickiness or the how-do-you-use-that?! factor. That’s on top of worrying about toilet paper and soap, both of which are resolvable with my ever-ready backpack filled with kleenex and hand sanitizer.


{Here’s a particularly clean-looking squat toilet.}

Here in Puerto, I don’t worry about those scary hole toilets. The toilets are mostly standard. At least I never see those holes in the floor you just squat over like I saw in Italy (so not my thing). In people’s homes and in many non-touristy businesses here, the toilet is likely lacking a seat, which conveniently eliminates the whole argument about leaving the seat down or up. It’s not quite as comfortable to sit on as a toilet with a seat, but it’s not bad once you get used to it. The only other tricky thing you’re likely to see here is the flush system. Some people don’t have the plumbing hooked up to their toilet, especially when they have a separate outdoor bathroom (very common here on the coast), so you have to pour water into the toilet bowl to flush it. It’s not quite as convenient as flushing, but it’s not too difficult, either.

But the access to toilets of any kind or quality when one is out and about is sad, sad, sad. If you’re in very public areas, like the market or the big park, you’re likely to find a restroom that charges a few pesos to enter. It annoys me to have to pay for it, but it’s better than the alternative of not using the restroom. The worst is when you’re just out and about, walking or running errands, or at some event even, and there’s NO pay restroom around. There may or may not be restaurants that will let you enter nearby, so it becomes a mission to stop what you’re doing and go hunting for a restroom- children in tow, in many cases. Arg!

It happened just yesterday. Nobody wanted to let me into their restroom in the supposedly magical town- aka a hippy dippy peace/love/potsmoke town- of Mazunte. We went to the beach, but my friend needed to change into his swim trunks, and I, as usual, needed to pee. There were no pay restrooms around, so we went to 5 different establishments in search of a bathroom. We even offered to pay, and none of them allowed us to use their restroom. “Do you prefer I go use the bathroom in the ocean where everyone is swimming!?” I asked belligerently at one place.


{Where’s Mommy? Out hunting a restroom, as usual.}

How can you deny people access to a bathroom and sleep at night? I wonder. I understand that it costs money to maintain the bathroom with toilet paper and soap (hopefully soap), so I understand charging someone. But how can you deny them if they’re willing to pay? Is it somehow going to damage your bathroom to let me take a piss? Is that not what it’s made for? Is relieving yourself not a basic human right? What is wrong with people?!

I was furious (more than usual, perhaps, because of Mazunte’s reputation for being wonderful or whatever). Granted, I should have just gone in to one where the bathroom location was obvious and let them get mad about it later. But I was trying to be nice and polite. Don’t ask me why. I got denied bathrooms when I was pregnant a couple of times, so you’d think I’d have learned then, it’s a survival-of-the-fittest situation. And I’m pretty sure my bladder’s wear and tear is more important than their toilet’s. Polite Kentucky woman though I may be, I refuse to acquire any more urinary tract infections on behalf of people’s stingy toilet ownership.

Furthermore, I’d like to officially state that denial of this basic human right disproportionately affects women. Not only do we typically need to pee more than men, but we’re also usually in charge of taking the kiddos to the potty. And most importantly, it’s much harder for us to take a leak in the middle of the street without serious consequences. I remember taxi drivers in Chile just opening the door of their taxi to cover themselves and peeing right there on the side of a busy street. Men are always just whipping it out and expecting everyone to look away, while folks with vulvas are doomed to spend 20 minutes searching for facilities.

This is total injustice and I demand we change the system! Toilets are for using, not for hoarding! Let us into the restrooms! Be like USA, share the potty today! Women deserve to pee in public, too! (These are going to be my protest signs and chants.) Meanwhile, folks, do everyone a favor and act like a human being; share the commode!

Kentucky State Fair versus November Fiestas in Puerto

8 Nov

I started to feel sad about not being able to go to the jazz festival in neighboring Mazunte next weekend, but then I remembered I don’t even like jazz. I realized that really I just miss fairs and festivals. My heart aches with longing every year that I miss WorldFest, my city’s giant festival of cultures. And especially now that I have kids, I miss the Kentucky State Fair, with all its silly attractions.

The Kentucky State Fair is a serious family tradition with my mama. And it’s that way for a reason; it’s awesome. I mean, you can watch baby chicks hatch! Pet pot-bellied piglets! See border collie performances! Talk to the giant Freddy the Farmer puppet/statue/whatever you call him! See acrobats! Watch people dive into ridiculously small amounts of water! Eat gross fried food and corn on the cob! Ride a roller coaster and make out on the Ferris Wheel (okay, so it’s been a lot of years since I’ve done that, and this is not part of my mama’s tradition- but what’s wrong with including this on my list of things I miss?) Marvel over rows of livestock that secretly all look the same to you! Sample the fudge and buy roasted pecans! Hurry through the quilt exposition to humor interested family members! Dawdle in the photo expo because there are surprising amounts of moving images to see! Count the endless streams of mullets, all day and all night! Walk and point and ooh and aah from morning till after nightfall!

There’s a lot to miss, obviously. But all is not lost here in my tropical paradise. This year we are taking advantage of the Festival of November. Last year was the first year we lived here for the Festival, but I was too knee-deep in pregnancy and full-time-job exhaustion to attend much of anything, especially since so many things start in the late evening. But this year exhaustion be damned! Grumpy tired kids be damned! We’ll be arranging longer nap times and going out- some, anyway.

We went to the our first festival event last night. It was supposed to be a coffee/tostada/peanut exposition followed by a concert. I’m not sure who organized the expo but they forgot to include the coffee, tostadas and peanuts. Oops. And okay, so we left at 9ish when the concert was about to start because the baby was practically begging to be put to bed. But we had fun, dammit!

Really it was just the same sort of carnaval-esque business that always gets set up at city hall for events. But it doesn’t really get old, especially when you’re a three year old. Lucia was in hog heaven, between all the food and rides, and enjoying it all with my co-worker’s little boy who just turned five. Thanks to Darian, Lucia was suddenly fearless, even on the fast-moving little Ferris Wheel which she cried on when she’d rode it with Papi a few months ago. They “drove” a Batman car and a semi truck, and jumped around in that bouncy-house thing. We nixed the bumper cars, although I have every intention of returning sans children to drive them myself. There’s also a real adult ride among the maybe 12 total rides- a circular one where you stand up and it spins you around and tilts you up high. There are definite possibilities there for a grown up date night!

Lucia and her friend drive their first semi truck.

Lucia and her friend drive their first semi truck.

Of course the other main attraction is the food galore (as I mentioned, though, no promised peanuts, coffee, or tostadas.) There’s all the typical street food for Oaxaca: tacos first and foremost- a soft tortilla filled with your choice of beef, chorizo, tripa, pork al pastor, you know, the usual. Don’t forget the classic requisite Oaxaca food, the tlayuda. Think of it like a giant (whole-meal-sized) semi-hard taco with black beans, Oaxaca cheese called quesillo, shredded cabbage. a smearing of some pork fat product similar to lard, salsa, and an optional meat. There are other classics from the Oaxaca region, and then there are things that almost make it look like home. There’s pizza and cotton candy, for example. There’s corn on the cob, although here it’s served with mayonnaise, queso fresco (texture like crumbled parmesan but not as distinctive in flavor), lime and chile powder. There’s ice cream, although nieves are really more like snow cones served in an ice cream cone. There are churros and their fried bread cousins, donuts- called donas, sorta like chocolate milk is called chocomil, last syllable pronounced meal more than mil from milk). I have to say, too, that the donuts in Oaxaca are actually way yummier than donuts in the US (sorry, guys, but it’s true- they took your food and greatly improved it). No one could go hungry at any event like this, that’s for sure.

half of a tlayuda

For a space that’s perhaps not-quite-a-city-block long, there’s a lot going on! Besides the rides, the food, and the stage set up for the concert (with like 2 rows of bleachers), there are also some carnival-style games, like that one where you fish for some plastic thing and win a prize. It’s not bad for our quiet little coastal town. Besides, who needs the State Fair when I already live in a neighborhood with goats, sheep, cows, chickens, and turkeys running around every day of the week. (And we’re not even in a rural area!) Take that, Kentucky festivals! We’re rocking it down here this year!

Other events we’ll be attending include- contemporary Mexican cinema, a mezcal festival, a physical activity fair, some kind of gymnastics events, and a promising final concert on the beach! Look out, Puerto, here we come!

For a full calendar of events:

The Plot Thickens, As Usual

2 Nov

We were supposed to go to Juquila for Day of the Dead, but the baby got dengue instead. Granted, the odds were already stacked against us because our car broke down two weeks ago and still isn’t fixed. Welcome to Oaxaca, land of twists and turns and surprises, where the only thing you can count on is the unpredictability of it all.

My little pumpkin suffering his first mosquito-bourne illness. Watching your kid suffer is nooooo fun.

My little pumpkin suffering his first mosquito-bourne illness. Watching your kid suffer is nooooo fun.

If this were me three years ago, I’d be anxiously shoveling sweet bread into my mouth, wringing my hands and longing wistfully for the days when I could have a drink and smoke a cigarette to make it all better. Nowadays, though, it mostly reminds me of that Chinese parable about what’s “good” and “bad”- see here for a version of this: Don’t get me wrong- I was still bummed on Friday, when we were scheduled to be packing for Juquila and instead I was consoling the baby with cuddles and pacifier-style nursing and Conan was off fighting the good fight with mechanics. We were 90% sure we weren’t going to make it to Juquila.

I had been really looking forward to our trip, because I love celebrating Day of the Dead. I cherish the idea that our loved ones come to visit. I love that there’s a special day to honor and appreciate family who have passed away- and that it’s a joyous occasion, not a sad one. (you can see my first post on the holiday here: This year in particular, I was desperately needing the time to celebrate and commune with my dad, who just passed in April. Conan’s favorite uncle passed in July, so it’s an important year for him as well. And for Paulina, this is always her big, important family holiday. It was important to her that we be there. Plus, when we visit Juquila, I am pretty much on vacation; I don’t have to do much cooking or cleaning or even quite as much parenting. I always get some me-time, and I figured that was the only way I’d get time to “talk to” and reflect about my dad.

Conan made a stellar effort to get the car fixed, wasting his entire day on Saturday going back and forth and waiting around for the electrical mechanic. Like I said, we’d already been 2 weeks carless. Our car had started making a weird noise 2 weeks before, and when it turned out to be something that required taking the engine out to fix, our mechanic suggested we bite the bullet and go ahead and do some much-needed engine repair work. It took him over a week, because there were some complicated procedures, AND he is the slowest mechanic I’ve ever met. But he’s cheap and he agreed to our payment plan, and supposedly he knew what he was doing on this one.

Really, though, here in Puerto, there aren’t good mechanics. There are especially no good mechanics for our (foolishly purchased) automatic, made-in-the-USA car. Plus, mechanics and electrical mechanics are completely separate jobs, so sometimes you need two different people to fix your car, or you don’t know which kind of problem it is, so you double the money and the time it takes to fix your transportation. Then they come and tell you, “It’s this piece,” and you have to go out and buy the piece. Half the time they’re wrong; I can’t tell you how many times we’ve replaced something that was not broken. And that’s when the mechanic actually shows up, which is iffy even when they promise that they will.

“Our” mechanic (who often doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing and is slower than molasses in January- but did I mention that he’s cheap? And more reliable than most?) had had our car for 10 days when he finally finished. And then the car wouldn’t start. “I knew it! He put it back together wrong, didn’t he?” I asked Conan, but with zero satisfaction in having been right in my dismal prediction. About 6 different electrical mechanics were called in, but only 3 of them went to see the car. None of them knew what was wrong (business as usual down here). On Saturday, the best electrico we know was supposed to go see the car at 8:30 AM. So Conan sat around at the mechanic’s house (where our car is parked) all morning. Eight thirty turned out to mean 11:30. Then there was lots more waiting and back and forth until finally Conan had wasted his entire day only to be told that it’s a mechanical not an electrical problem- something that our mechanic, who’s now out of town until Monday, will have to fix. Welcome to Oaxaca, pues.

We almost went to Juquila anyway, discussing different possible people who could give us rides, and the pros and cons of public transport. But Khalil kept on with his fever and his pain symptoms. I suspected, but until Saturday afternoon we hadn’t yet confirmed, that his problem was dengue (well, I was guessing that or Chikungunya). I knew my poor 7 month old had had a fever since Wednesday evening and was in a lot of pain. He didn’t want to crawl. He wasn’t even trying to break dishes (aka grab everything out of my hand and throw it on the floor)! He was whining and crying and lethargic like I’d never seen my happy little baby. A few days before, we’d had a babysitter out and she’d sat in the doorway to let Lucia play outside, opening up our mosquito-netted little haven of a house to all the insects. It’s our fault- we’d neglected to tell her to put repellant on the kids before going outside, and to keep the door closed at all costs. Lucia got about 6 mosquito bites which instantly turned into giant, itchy red welts on her body. Khalil didn’t have any obvious bites, but “just because his skin doesn’t react like Lucia’s doesn’t mean he’s immune to mosquitos,” I told Conan. And here’s the sad proof. Once again, with zero satisfaction in being right.

But here’s the thing: I’m neither bluesed out nor anxious about these turns of events right now. I’m thrilled to know for sure what’s wrong with my baby. For one, this is by far NOT the worst thing he could contract. It’s kinda like when Lucia was 5 months old and got chicken pox. I was in a panic about it because she’s just a little baby, but it turned out to be the mildest case of chicken pox in history, and essentially didn’t bother her at all. That’s not exactly the case with Khalil; he’s definitely suffering. But the good news is he has a “good” case of dengue. It’s not the type that causes hemorrhage AND his platelet count is so high that it’s extremely unlikely that it could become the dangerous type. By the time we found out, he was already on day 3, so the absolute worst of it had passed. And we know how to treat it- keeping his fever down with paracetamol, keeping him rested and hydrated and comfortable. (It’s times like these when I am more than happy- grateful, even- to be a human pacifier! Before you know it they’re too big for that little, easy comfort.) Additionally, we have the best pediatrician ever (finally, lucking out on a service here in Puerto Escondido!), so if anything else goes wrong or anything gets worse, we will get it taken care of. What more can you ask for, really?

And while it stinks that we’re not with more of the family in Juquila, it’s also nice that we get to stay home. I am just pretending that I’m out of town. Sure, I have to cook, because we have to eat, but I enjoy cooking, and I’m making all kinds of special yummies to celebrate. I’m not doing extra chores. I’m enjoying time with my family and making my own celebration of my loved ones. Some of Conan’s family here in Puerto came to visit us, too. We’re definitely making the best of it! I don’t have the correct type of wooden utensil to make good hot chocolate, but Lucia helped me stir it, and we enjoyed it just the two of us, curled up with books and the sound and smell of rare, precious rain outside. It was perfect. I don’t have the “right” kind of flowers for my altar, nor all the “right” kinds of food. We don’t have a picture of Conan’s abuelita. But it’s still our tribute to our folks, our invitation to our gente, our people, to come visit. Our reminder to ourselves that they’re not lost to us. I don’t have to be in Juquila for that. It’s perfect just like it is. And I enjoyed it with the family, and still found alone time to be with my Dad and my Nonna. Life is so good sometimes. And death is not the end!

This is what everyone uses to stir the chocolate into the milk. I don’t yet own one of these. Maybe next year.

The plot will always thicken here. There’s always something unforeseen, or something foreseen that’s just not what you hoped for. It still gets me down sometimes. I was pretty upset and overwhelmed for portions of this week. But that’s normal when your baby has dengue and your car’s busted, right? But I’m getting better at finally learning how to roll with the punches. To accept that I don’t control anything. To let up a little on my plans and my lists (but no, I’m not giving up on them, thank you very much- plans and hopes are still necessary and beloved!). And to teach my children that no matter what happens, we can adapt. It’s not always here nor there, just different. So bring on the plot twists. Goodness knows I never wanted to have a boring life!

Conan and Lucia make a flower trail to show the way to the ofrenda.

Conan and Lucia make a flower trail to show the way to the ofrenda.

Our first Palacios-Satterlee altar. Pure love!

Our first Palacios-Satterlee altar. Death is not the end! La muerte no es el final! Hot chocolate, coffee, and bourbon, oh my! Mole and pasta, too. Our dead folks surely enjoyed it.