Tag Archives: adaptation

Adaptation, Take 957… Action!

23 Jan

Our first week back I kind of wanted to poke my eyeballs out from all the stress and upheaval. Who signed me up for all this moving? Who thought it was a good idea to be multinational? This is too overwhelming! And then I remembered, oops! It was me that made those decisions. Alas.

By the second week back I still kind of wanted to go ahead and pour myself a drink at 10am, but I resisted, remembering that I am a billionaire rock star when it comes to adaptation (minus the billions). So I did what I do best and cranked out an even longer-than-normal list of things to be grateful for. I won’t bore you with the whole thing (you don’t need to know just how happy it makes me to never watch TV, for example), but here are some highlights for you.

Family and Feeding Time!
Finally, Conan can share the joy of being woken up early in the morning to somebody crawling on him or attempting to pull him out of bed with a crane truck. “It’s morning time, Papi. Let’s get up!” says Khalil as I laugh diabolically over my coffee cup.

Conan’s mom, the famous “Abia” (Lucia’s early mispronunciation of Abuela), spent a week in town with us, with promises of more time soon. The kids also have access to cousins, aunts and uncles galore. Mostly this means everyone is overfeeding us and the kids are running around barefoot without folks giving them dirty looks. I can’t complain. In the first two weeks we’ve already had most of our favorite local foods: mole, tamales, chepiles, all the best salsas, gaujes, chilaquiles, and like a million kilos of fresh tortillas. Now just to bide our time until mangos are practically free.


Papi Time

My future engineer/construction worker
Khalil’s first day back here, he took one look at our dirt road and started questioning his papa about it. “Why is it so bumpy? They didn’t do a good job.” He is relentless in his incredulity over the state of our roads. Everywhere he goes he lets us know about it. He gets out his trucks and insists he’s gonna “fix all the roads.”  “This is not a good road. I’m going to move all the rocks. I need to flatten this road.” All the time. Every day. With all the road repairs in the works for the upcoming elections (repairs which cause road blocks and won’t be done for months, if ever), I am praying that Khalil’s trucks and his ingenuity can actually do the trick. Regardless, his determination makes me happy consistently.

My five year old socialite
It’s been all socializing, all the time since we landed. Our first week back the kids were already invited to a kid’s birthday party (a pool party, no less). They’ve had cousins over and gone to cousins’ houses. Lucia, particularly, is invited to two different neighbors’ houses to play pretty much on the daily. She’s had friends over from school, and of course invited the neighbors to her house. She’s especially thrilled with her bestie Alin, the slightly older girl across the street. Lucia’s making up for lost social time all those months when she wasn’t in school and there were no other kids in the apartment complex outside playing. At last, she has to pencil in her introvert time on the agenda instead of having an over-abundance of alone time!


warm ocean water year round: yay!!!


The School Sent from Heaven
The kids’ first day back at their dream school, we met the new teachers for this year. The principal/director of the school made sure to send me pictures of the kids playing happily and let me know a few details of their adjustment. (How cool is that? Are you jealous yet?) When I went to pick them up, the teachers filled me in on the rest. “Don’t send any more diapers,” the lead teacher told me. “He went on the potty today. Just send some extra shorts or underwear instead.” I hesitated, and admitted, “Well, he always asks to poop on the potty, but he’s not totally potty trained about pee.”
“It’s fine,” she waved me off. “If he pees we can just clean it up. It’s too hot to be in diapers if they don’t need to be.” Where else do you get that kind of attitude about potty training at school?

Two weeks later, Khalil is potty trained. Plus, my kids are well taken care of, having a blast, and most importantly, out of my hair, for several hours a day!


Khalil in hog heaven at school 


And me? Just Here Taking All the Vitamin D
Don’t tell the immigration officials around here, but I am here to soak up ALL Y’ALL’S sunshine, dear Puerto natives.

Did I mention that immigration officials here are about the nicest people ever to have worked in a position of bureaucracy? Seriously. They are soooo nice and understanding, I am thinking about learning to bake just to go thank them.

But back to my sunshine. Not having an all-day full-time job means I get to run errands on my bicycle! Being back in Puerto means riding on the back of my friend’s scooter. It means rocking out to my CDs in the car with all the windows down, with a backseat full of small children on carpool days. It means sunglasses are my most prized daily possession. It doesn’t even matter that my fancy hair product is no match against the humidity and the breeze!

Most of all, I have proved to myself once again how necessary it is to have community, and to maintain my gratitude practice. The first week back of constant chaos and doubts, plus the lack of set plans for both short and long term future, just about crushed my little soul for a second there. But damn was the sunshine great! Damned if I didn’t take advantage of my unemployment to walk around by the beach while the kids were at school one afternoon. Damned if I didn’t find a way to get some moments of peace and joy and appreciation for so many things, amidst the chaos and doubt and indecision and scarcity. Because I’m supported by the best folks in the world. Because gratitude is work that’s always worth it. Because the sun in Puerto is always shining for me.


A surprise, too-short visit from my favorite resident of Oaxaca City!!!!! The love! The joy! The gratitude! 

Reversing Course: Appreciation of Things I Used to Loathe

30 Dec

Now that I am almost completely acclimated and comfortable here in Puerto Escondido, I’m ready to start thinking about leaving. Go ahead and shake your head; it might be a little crazy. Apparently I equate comfort with stagnation, or so it would seem based on the course of my life thus far.

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking lots about why I love it here now, and the multitude of things and people that I’ll miss when I move back to the states. I’ve been reflecting on all the things that I disliked when I first arrived in small-town Oaxaca that now make me feel kinda warm and fuzzy.* Here are a few of the things I’ve adapted to appreciate.


I don’t love the lack of safety, per-se. I do think that it’s nice to not need lids that caution you about hot coffee being hot. I appreciate that kids can be trusted to differentiate the chocolate in a chocolate egg from the plastic toy inside that is too big to choke on anyway. I love that nobody’s actions are based around whether or not they might get sued. It certainly makes a cliff more thrilling when there is no railing to prevent you or the cars from falling off the giant cliff into the abyss. I like the tremor of excitement from the occasional motorcycle ride, the breeze in my hair when I’m riding in the back of a pick-up truck. I’ll miss seeing folks holding on to a bar, riding the back bumper of a truck. Furthermore, I think that the safety measures in place in the US aren’t typically there to protect vulnerable people, and they don’t protect everyone equally. For example, they don’t want kids to have those chocolate eggs with toys in them, but they expect refugee kids to defend themselves in court (but that’s part of a whole ‘nuther rant, I guess).

While sometimes I think the lack of safety measures here is the opposite extreme, I’m no longer shocked by it. I might have gotten nervous watching the one year old I saw the other day, standing up and bouncing up and down on the moving motorcycle with his parents, no helmet for anyone. But I didn’t freak out at anyone. The electrical socket that my kid tried to stick his fingers in among the baby books in the library this year was a bit unreasonable, in my opinion, but I distracted my kid and kept my mouth shut. I still can’t quite appreciate the irony of not having soap in the bathroom of a hospital or clinic. But mostly I am able to laugh about it all. In the van to Juquila this trip, I was marveling at the seat belt situation. Even after years of being here, even though I’m not shocked- it’s still a little baffling. They took such pains to make sure that nobody ever uses the seat belts- folding them up neatly and putting plastic cuffs around them, just to be on the safe side (hahaha).


Seatbelts? What are those things for?

I certainly appreciate this forcing me to go with the flow more, to just breathe my prayer into the wind and keep going, something I might never have learned to do raising kids in the US.

(Isn’t culture funny, though? This culture is not big on some kinds of safety, but people do vaccinate their kids, almost religiously- partially because it’s free. Women will totally wait in line for 3 hours, a few days postpartum, to diligently vaccinate their baby. It’s pretty impressive what public health campaigns could do if they put the resources into it. Imagine what things would look like if they gave out helmets for kids!)

When we first moved to Juquila, in 2012, that first month we ran out of everything. We spent a couple days with no water for washing (or flushing, etc. Yeah. Think about all the implications of no water). The electricity went out for a day and a half. We ran out of drinking water and the truck with the big jugs just wasn’t coming. Sometimes the cell phone wires were so saturated that you could’t make a phone call. The internet went down in the whole town for a week. I couldn’t imagine how all this lack of services and technology was possible. How can people live like this? I didn’t even realize then that that would be my “easy” life, compared to living in Puerto without electricity.

More than anything, living on little-to-no technology for all this time has reframed my ideas about necessity. We’ve now spent a year and a half in our house with electricity- the same amount of time we spent without it. I still feel grateful every morning that I plug in the coffee maker, every night that a fan blows on us, every time Khalil goes to flip the switch all by himself- a baby who can take electricity for granted. We’ve made so much progress, and I don’t really want to live without any of it. But I know that I can. Doing without has trained me to ask a lot of questions about what’s important in life.

Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Google. I love my National Public Radio news. I love the Hurricane preparedness website. I love exchanging morning emails with my mom while I’m at work. I dream of all the music I would have Youtube access to with home internet. Khalil and I just did a video call with my mom while visiting in Juquila, and it was so fun! It made me think that the whole feel of my life might be different with at-home internet. Publishing a blog every week would be less of a monumental challenge, among other things. I could read all of the interesting articles that my friends post on Facebook. I could convert celsius to fahrenheit when my kid has a fever without having to call my mom.

It would be helpful to have internet. But really, I don’t need to read all of the articles on Facebook. Even the fact that this year I got a cell phone with Facebook access was another good news/bad news scenario. It’s nice to be able to “keep in touch” like that, but some days it just makes me feel more alone and isolated. I can’t actually get together with most of the people I’m friends with- even the ones who live here, thanks to stressful schedules and whatnot. Thus, I also have my doubts about the true benefits of at-home internet, as much as I pine for it sometimes.

All in all, I’m still a technological dinosaur, a bit by choice and a bit by force. But I hope I keep myself in check despite having a smartphone. I hope I never read all the articles my friends post on Facebook, even though someday I will have home internet. I hope I keep asking myself what is really necessary and what is most important with the time and resources that I have.


If you know me, you know that I have loved thrift stores and other discount styles forever. Y’all know that I’m staunchly against the wastefulness, expense, and tedium of following fashion rules invented by anyone but yourself. That said, I’ve always had my own version of fashion rules. Like, if you wear some color, wear plenty of black, too. No flower prints. Those sort of rules I made for myself. I didn’t apply them to anyone else, and yet other sorts of rules had seeped into me from living in the states. So I was a bit taken aback by what, in my former life, would be labeled tackiness. When I saw a group of folks in matching spray-painted Jesus shirts, for example, I raised my eyebrows. Or when people wore a polka dot shirt with striped pants. What?!

Living in the land of fashion anarchy has slowly changed my patterns and liberated me from fashion judgment I wasn’t even particularly conscious of before. Granted, you will never convince this boot-obsessed, Tank-Girl type to run around in flip flops all the time like so many folks around here. I still have my own brand of fashion. But I sure have changed my ideas of appropriate attire. I love that there is complete and utter apathy and lack of consensus about what combinations are okay. Anything goes! Sweat pants and flip flops- cool. Prom-type dresses- whenever the mood strikes. A suit with sandals- absolutely correct. Yoga pants for class- very hip. There are no rules! I love this anti-fashion!

The other day I found myself wearing blue shorts, a purple shirt with different colored polka dots, a red hairband, and pink shoes with orange laces. I glanced in the mirror before I walked out the door and decided that it totally worked, and walked out laughing at myself for ever having thought that I shouldn’t look like a rainbow all the time. I have branched out from mini-skirts to include shorts, especially cut-offs, in my out-on-the-town attire. For work, I have many different pants, including various capri-type things. I often wear jeans, a tank top, and tennis shoes to work, thrilled that this is my professional professor get-up. Only in paradise! (Somehow this is okay, women in cocktail dresses or with raging cleavage is fine, but they draw the line at male professors wearing shorts of any kind. Men showing their legs is offensive and unprofessionally. I will never understand.)

I am not looking forward to having to wear more professional clothing in the future. Also, I have really had to face the fact that using what you wear as a form of self-expression is a privilege that many, many people don’t have. It’s important food for thought.

Anti-Following-the-Guidelines and Comparing-Children:

The first time we tried to take Lucia to a doctor for a check-up, the doctor kept asking, “But what’s wrong with her? Why do you want me to see her?” There are no check-ups here. There are no guidelines about childhood development. It was very disappointing, at first. And I worried about one of Lucia’s cousins, who still wasn’t really talking at age three, when Lucia was already talking in whole paragraphs at age two. Nobody else was worried, though. Instead they proclaim, “Oh, so-and-so still couldn’t pronounce half his words correctly at 6 years old.” Big old shrug. But have they gotten him checked out for problems? Nope. He’ll be fine.

I am sure that sometimes kids do have actual health or developmental problems and it would be beneficial to be checked out by a doctor, and to have routine wellness check-ups. For example, we discovered that Khalil was anemic even though he didn’t seem to have any health problems- thanks to check-ups with our fabulous pediatrician. However, I love that there is zero competition for your kid being “advanced” in their development. There is no judgment if your kid doesn’t fall in the standard guidelines on walking/talking/getting teeth/etc. Moms may compare notes and say, “My kid only has four teeth and yours has 10 already!” But they aren’t implying that your kid is better because they have ten. If your kid already talks at a year, they might even be impressed for a split second, but nobody thinks it’s weird or wrong or bad that some other kid isn’t really talking at three. If your kid’s not walking well at a year and a half, people are like, “oh, she doesn’t want to walk yet.” And that’s it- on to the next topic.

A happy medium would be nicer, where people in small town Mexico have more access to routine check-ups and help if something actually is going wrong in the child’s development. Meanwhile, the US needs to chill out quite a bit on fitting everyone into the same developmental boxes. And parents in the US need to take a good hard look at how not to judge and compete about things that aren’t even reasonable competitions!


my fearless little busy bee/social butterfly who’s not ready to talk at almost two


When we moved here, the fact that it could take days to complete a simple errand was heavily disheartening on a daily basis. The slow-lane lifestyle, of every day being completely filled just with carrying out the basic necessities of life was maddening and gut-wrenching. But I’ve adapted and learned how to make this pace more convenient now. Sure, it would still be nice to find decent frozen veggies or canned garbanzo beans that didn’t cost a day’s wage, but now I freeze my own everything for later convenience; I work with the pace of life in many ways. And there is convenience food here. I love that the only kind of “fast food” is the stuff women make at home and sling in the streets- delicious stuff like tamales, healthy stuff like cut-up fruit, and worth-the-calories treats like homemade donuts.

Also, I love the other type of conveniences that are here, especially the way that so much stuff comes right to your door. Our drinking water jugs, propane gas tanks, and sometimes even freshly made tortillas, all get delivered. People pass by selling ice cream in their little push cart, or buying your used aluminum in their beat-up truck. Women carry giant baskets of fresh bread on their heads, or someone drives around a motorcycle with fish fresh from the sea. It takes a lot of adapting, and at the end of the day it’s still not easy- but it isn’t easy anywhere, I don’t think.

This year was extra challenging because we’d gotten accustomed to having a car that worked most of the time. Then it became a car that only worked sometimes. And right after we started sending Lucia to school on the complete other side of town, our car went to transportation heaven.

Not having a car presented so many new challenges. Thanks to the good will of other parents, we were able to work out sending Lucia to school. Even then it wasn’t easy, although now I’ve learned to love my long walks with Khalil to go get the big sister. When it rained, I took my rainboots and my umbrella to work and got through it. When the clocks went back and it got dark before I left work, I faced my fears and biked home in the dark- a rock in hand for the over-aggressive dogs, flashlight in the other hand for that section with no lights- but I did it. I got sort of used to it. (I don’t think I’ll ever get used to people letting mean dogs wander the streets. It just doesn’t make sense to me. But whatever.) I learned how to tell taxi drivers, “That’s not what the price is” when they tried to charge me too much.

It’s another kind of adventure, the inconvenience of not having a car, and another opportunity for lots of thinking. You can think about how much harder other people have it, like the women and girls who walk miles for a bucket of water. You can actually notice flowers and cactus shapes and lizards and birds and the colors in the sky. You can count dump trucks (okay, this is probably only exciting if you’re with small children). You can appreciate the sunlight on your face. You can observe other people in the street- because lots of people are out walking, not just you. (Something so lacking in so many spots in the US) Riding a bus is a great chance to read- to yourself or to your kids. You can play games and really talk in a way that’s much harder when you’re driving. It’s an obligatory slowing-down of life, in some ways, although in other ways it makes you more stressed-out, because something simple like an errand or picking up a kid from school takes double the time. But it has been a good constant reminder for me that so many of life’s circumstances we don’t get to choose, but that we can choose how we react to them. It’s such a cliche on one hand, but it gets said all the time because it’s so valid, too. So I wouldn’t say I totally love all the inconveniences, especially not having a car, but I definitely appreciate it for what it is.

*(Nope, I still don’t love Juquila, though. That town seeps depression into my bone marrow upon arrival and it stays in my core until I’m safely back to the humidity of the coast. You just can’t love everything in life.)

Looking at the Road Ahead/Holding that Thought about Appreciation in the Midst of Adversity

We’re not planning a move back to the states because I dislike Mexico or the life we’ve made here. In fact, I like my life here now more than ever before. I have so many moments of joy and gratitude every day that I wake up in my imperfect “paradise.”

Partly, I know, though, that my joy and gratitude about my life here are because of my weight-lifting exercises in appreciation of life. My biggest “resolution” is to carry all this with me when I go back to the states. It won’t be too hard; I am a very different person than I was when I came here four and a half years ago. My gratitude/joy/appreciation muscles are much, much bigger than my anxiety and stress muscles these days. I still have anxiety. I still get overwhelmed in stress. I still need to complain some of the time. But I’m so much better at letting it go. And I’ll need that for the culture shock and adaptation that lies ahead.

Also planned for the coming year:

Goal #1- Read and write more in Spanish! I know it seems ridiculous, but my Spanish skills diminish every year that I’m here, thanks to being an English teacher and speaking to my children in English. My conversational Spanish is still decent, but my vocabulary is shrinking from not reading and writing in español. I’ve got to remedy that.

Goal #2- Find time for poetry! I managed to give myself an hour of free-writing time the other day, thanks to vacation. I played with words with no intention to publish them or keep the same train of thought. I let my creativity soar out and oh! I hadn’t even realized how sorely that was lacking in my life. I don’t know where or how I’m going to make time for more creative writing, but somehow I have to. Art and expression should not be luxuries; they are life.

What are your plans for the coming year? What are your big lessons you want to take with you from this year? What’s something you used to dislike that you’ve learned to appreciate?


The Oaxaca-Kentucky Culture Jolt Extravaganza, Take Four

8 Aug


You know you’ve been living in small-town Southern Mexico for four years when your two-week-long visit to your hometown in the USA means….

You’re in the airport and…

-Your four year old is totally baffled as to why there are moving vehicles allowed INSIDE a building. We do love the “magic” moving sidewalk, though.

-Same four year old giggles her butt off because everyone is taking off their shoes (aka going through US security).  You try to make her calm down because you remember that these people take themselves very, very seriously. You watch them take away a lady’s new fancy, unopened lotions that she just bought in the other airport, and you turn away so that you can roll your eyes at how incredible safe that makes us all.

-You can’t figure out how to get one of those handy baggage carts out of their slot because there are no instructions on it. Why are there no instructions? Are you just given the gene of knowing how to work airport carts when you are born in the US?! You look around frantically for an appropriate person to ask, but people just keep walking by, averting their eyes at your pleading face. You start to question whether this really is your home country or if you are actually a foreigner now, and they’ve taken away your knowing-how-to-work-convenient-machines gene.

You’re at the grocery store and…

-You’re children are jumping up and down with joy about a grocery cart with a toy car attached to it. Seven minutes later they become overwhelmed with all the excitement and the 537 kinds of yogurt, and demand to be held instead. (Oh, wait, maybe that was the grown-up overwhelmed by all the products- but the kids most certainly did get overwhelmed by something and demand to be held.)

-It’s now part of  your homecoming routine to be in awe about the access to asparagus, brussell sprouts, “stinky” cheese, and blueberries.

-The almond milk and other things you can never afford where you live are a reasonable price, possibly because they are no longer considered fancy imports.

-Your children eat their first ever chicken nuggets because they are in total hunger/exhaustion meltdown mode and that is the best option in the deli section.

-You can’t drive this giant, stupid car cart. Who thought this was a good idea, anyway?

-You and your children are putting on hoodies even though it’s the middle of summer because it’s FREEZING in there.

Here are the monsters, having happy moments in the car cart before the meltdown:

You’re at your family’s house and….

-You’re wrapped up in heavy blankets because it’s FREEZING in there, too. It’s the same temperature as the average in your town’s “winter” weather, which seems to be shorts and t-shirts temperature for everyone else.

– It’s 95 degrees (F) outside and yet your four year old asks you, “Mommy, why is it cold in Kentucky?”

(Really, I cannot overstate how much of a shock to our little systems all the air conditioning was. It was nice to not be sweaty all the time, but if we had air conditioning at our house, we would probably keep it at around 82- certainly not in the 70s like everyone else in Louisville.)

louisville trip 2016 lu

complaining about the cold, so they gave her a bathrobe : )

-Your kid starts talking to another kid in Spanish- because that’s the language she speaks with all the kids at home. It takes her a beat to realize the other kid doesn’t understand and to then translate herself.

-Your kid says “Daddy” instead of “Papi” for the first time ever in reference to her father.

You’re in the car and….

-The baby is pounding on your chest to be nursed. He’s thinking, “If you’re in the back seat with us, you’re not driving. Why can’t you get me out of my carseat already?!”

-You’re driving and get on the expressway. Suddenly you realize that you are not wearing a seatbelt. Yikes! You and everyone else are driving about 40mph faster than you ever drive at home and you have zero protection happening. Whoops! You forget that most cars have seatbelts in each seat, not like in your car where only the kids’ seats are secure.

-Your four year old keeps excitedly insisting that the rental car, the fanciest car you’ve ever driven in your life, is the family’s new car. You try to break the news to her that it’s not, but you don’t really want to believe it, either.

-You are momentarily frightened by the speed with which you are supposed to drive, until you remember that 60mph is not so scary when drivers know that there are rules and try to follow them. You are impressed by what a smooth experience it is to, say, approach an intersection and know who has the right-of-way, all the while with other drivers also being informed on these matters. You are also happily shocked by the lack of speed bumps, rocks, ditches, and potholes all around you on the road.

-You let the car cool down by blasting the air conditioning before you even put the kids in it. You don’t even think about the environment, since you know it’s only for this short, little vacation before you go back to the reality of your busted car without A/C, which is always like an oven in the eternal summer that is your adopted town. The car seems to be the one place your four year old appreciates air conditioning, especially since it prevents the wind blowing hair in her face. “What the hell,” you think, “they’ll believe it was all a dream later.”

You’re here and there out in the big city and….

-You realize it might not be the norm to wear cut-off shorts and tank tops everywhere. You check to see if you brought any non-cut-off shorts, or shirts with sleeves. One outfit. It’s something until you make it to Goodwill.

-You spend three and a half hours at the thrift store to buy your year’s wardrobe. You are tempted to worship at the workers’ feet, in thanks for organizing everything so beautifully- NOT just thrown into one giant bin- separated by sizes and all. Then you decide it might put your clothing and accessory selection in jeopardy, in case they misinterpret your intentions, and so you pay for your clothes like a normal resident.

-Your four year old starts saying, “Well,” before everything. You’re surprised because at home she only picks up English speaking habits from her parents, and “well” doesn’t happen to be one of our habits. (“WTF” on the other hand, I absolutely take the blame for.)

-You buy all kinds of junky things in the dollar bins because it’ll be so useful! Or because another nephew of your husband’s will just love it! And it’s only a dollar! And even the junky dollar stuff is better quality than the junky ten pesos crap you get in your adopted town, for some reason. Then you take all your prizes to check out and realize you’ve racked up more than a hundred dollars on one- and five- dollar random things. You’re pleased as punch that you can pay with fake money! A credit card! Then you remember you still have to use real money to pay your credit card someday, and you return half the crap. Because they take returns, too! It’s like an alternate universe.

-You can’t stop staring at all the people. There are so many people! A wealth of different people! So many different skin shades! People of varying religious backgrounds! People who speak different languages!  And there are so many different fashion styles! Shoes that aren’t sandals!  You had forgotten what this was like- to see people from many varying backgrounds in one place. It feels so energizing, to be surrounded by such variation. You think of all the interesting conversations you could have if you could talk to all of these people here in the park. You realize that you might have a condition- something like Extroverts Trapped in a Small Town Syndrome. You fail to stop staring, despite reminding yourself not to everyday.

-You take your kids to their first ever protest! You’re so stoked to see community getting together in support of each other- and against racism- that you almost pee your pants. (But thank goodness for unlimited bathroom access in the USA!!! I can’t tell you how great that is- constantly.) Your four year old looks worried about the shouting till you shout-dance-smile it out, then she’s stoked, too, and trying to repeat the words.

-You go with some family members to scatter some of your father’s ashes, and you realize that closure doesn’t ever happen when someone you love dies. It’s just a long series of different kinds of goodbyes, of different adjustments to life without them.

-You visit with certain old friends and pick up the conversation like it ended yesterday. You get one-on-one time with certain family members. You speak openly, honestly, knowingly, powerfully- because you know each other, deeply, lovingly. These moments are are a feast after a famine. These moments- the kid-free ones especially, when you get to be totally you and not just Mommy with a side order of You- are the nutrients to replinish your malnourished soul. These people and the beautiful intimacy they share with you are the kindling for all of your chispa, your inner spark. This limited but glorious vacation social life- this basic necessity of conversation and recognition- is sustenance for your spirit. It’s medicine to eradicate the distance, and you soak it all up, hoping to store it away like vitamin D.

louisville trip 2016

Grown-up time with my dear Aunt Julia- the locally brewed beers were an added bonus.


Going back and forth annually is not so much of a culture shock anymore. It’s more like a little jolt, like that sudden sensation after a shot of liquor- sometimes sweet and warming, sometimes sending you directly to the toilet bowl.

All in all, I think I’m becoming relatively adept at taking it in stride these days, in both parts of the continent.  (Thank goodness for that. Sorry to all my friends who remember me being heart-wrenchingly awkward and desubicada after long trips to other places.)

There’s plenty more I’m leaving out from this year’s stories- other fascinating experiences that can only come from leaving home and coming back.  Four years being more away than there gives such ample perspective. And I hope for even more next trip.

Till next time, my dear home country! Thank goodness we don’t have car carts and dollar bins down here!



Excess of Vitamin D (Ode to my Adopted Coast of Oaxaca)

15 May

It’s that time of year again, folks! Spring time on la costa, when I wake up at 3AM with my sheets soaked in sweat and pull myself out of bed just to go take a shower so maybe I can sleep some more. (Granted, this happens less often now that we have electricity.) My hair is a frizzy frazzled mess, thanks to the 85% humidity. The water in my shower is tepid even though we don’t have a hot water source. The baby is battling some sort of fungal diaper rash. I don’t ever actually dry off because I’m soaked in sweat again as soon as I turn off the water. But I love it! I love it! I adore my hot, sweaty, beloved, adopted costa!

I appear to be suffering from GLEE(VD) Syndrome, the opposite of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). My current disorder stands for Gringas Loving Everything due to Excess of Vitamin D. One of the side effects is inventing cheesy acronyms, so beware, folks, if you plan to travel to a tropical climate for an extended amount of time. You, too, might find yourself making up stupid names for things because you’re giddy with the realization that you are living the dream of eternal summertime.

Photo on 5-15-16 at 1.54 PM

Frizzy, sweaty, and smiling! Yipee!

My mama always said you can only complain about one season. If you’re gonna gripe about the snow, don’t talk bad about the sunshine. If you’re gonna moan about raking the leaves, don’t whine about the raging April showers and storms. Pick one season to complain about, and that’s it. You don’t get to hate everything all year long.

It’s a good policy, and it’s serving me well. When I walk back into my office in the most outrageous heat of the day at 4pm, and I’m dripping sweat and running out the door to go teach, I try to keep myself from bitching by saying something like, “I’m so glad it’s not cold out!” or “Thank goodness for this sunshine!” One of my coworkers has declared that, “This is much better than negative 40 degrees,” and I’ll be adding that to my list of things to say in the 4pm heat. Because if I only get one season to complain about, it’s winter. I loathe and despise the cold. I abhor the way cold weather and lack of sunshine seeps into my bones, all the way into my soul, sucking the joy right out of my very existence. Seriously. Winter is my arch nemesis.

Not that winter exists here in Puerto Escondido. Despite being on the coast, however, there are seasons. They’re just way more subtle than the drastic seasons in Kentucky. Sure, there are the official two seasons- rainy season and dry season. Rainy season is from May to early November, and dry season the other half of the year.

But there’s more to it than that. Like right now, we’re in the April to June ungodly humid season, the Satan-himself-is lightheaded-from-sweat-induced-water-loss season. Granted, it may rain some starting about the first of May, but it won’t actually cool anything down for more than 3 minutes. But I’m not complaining! No, siree. Sweat is good for getting those toxins out of your body, according to the internet. Some people complain they aren’t motivated to exercise when it’s this aggressively stifling in the air, but I figure you might as well exercise because even if you’re just sitting there you’re going to be sweating. It’s a lot like summer in Kentucky, which is my favorite season. This is not Kentucky, though, where I had to carry around a hoody in July because the air conditioning everywhere would nearly freeze me to death. There’s practically no A/C anywhere because it’s too expensive. One less thing to worry about!

After this, from July through the end of September, we reach the more-likely-to-rain-or-have-a-closeby-hurricane season. At that time of year, if there’s a hurricane off in the distance bringing some of its effects in, it’s liable to be cool enough for a cup of hot chocolate. (Yum!) This is when you have the Puerto equivalent of snow days. Classes might be cancelled, and even if they’re not officially cancelled, most parents won’t send their kids because the roads flood, making it too hard to get them there. (I still have to work on “snow days,” unfortunately.) Granted, roads flood temporarily pretty much anytime it rains hard, but they’re extra flooded when it rains for days on end. You try to stay home as much as possible, watching movies, making popcorn and hot chocolate. (What? Did I mention that already?) In the rainy season, it usually just gives us a shower or a storm around the time that I get off work, or a little later, and then it’s over. It’s nice and sunny again the next day- nothing like the days and weeks of gray that can happen in my city.

October and November are pretty uneventful. It’s hot and sunny (yipee) and a bit humid, with some ever-so-slight coolness from time to time. It’s nothing to write home about, but it is nice to not have to think about possible hurricanes once we’re out of the rainy season. March is another transition month, just your average hot and sunny time.

December through February is our pathetic imitation of winter. Except that that makes it sound sad and negative when really it’s f#~!ing fabulous! It reminds me of parties I had, as both a child and an adult, where we’d crank up the heat as high as it could go and wear shorts and tank tops, drinking icy drinks out of fancy straws with little umbrellas, imagining ourselves laying out on the beach. Except now I don’t have to imagine. It’s real! It’s hot and sunny on my birthday, even though I was born in sub-freezing temps. Bwahahaha!

In Puerto, my trusty hoody and some pants are as prepped as I need to be for the cold. On those days I’m stoked because I get to pull out some pair or another of awesome boots, which is the absolute only thing I appreciate about the cold (or slight chilliness, as the case may be.) Lucia is stoked to wear those pajamas that have footies and long sleeves during this season. Khalil is thrilled to not lose half his body weight in sweat every day and night. Conan’s tickled pink at being able to put a sheet over us at night (some nights). I heat up water on the stove for the kids and me to take warm showers, and there are often appropriate moments for more hot chocolate! (Seriously, guys, I’ll bring you some good Oaxacan chocolate if you’re nice to me.) And I’m thrilled that it’s- you guessed it- hot and sunny everyday, even though it’s chilly at night.


Showing off her monkey footy pajamas, which she would totally wear no matter how hot it is if we let her.

What I love most of all, though, is that I’m living the Janis Joplin song: “Summertime… and the livin’s easy…” ALL YEAR ROUND. (If you don’t know this song, you have to listen to understand just how blissful summertime listen)

I mean, year round hot and sunny means, for example, no hoarding every kind of clothing and accessories. No bibs for the baby, because we just take his clothes off to eat. We let him run around nearly nude most of the time. I don’t have to fight with Lucia to get her shoes on if she doesn’t want to- I just throw her sandals in the backpack. I don’t have to constantly be wearing layers and changing my kids’ clothes 3 times a day based on the changes in temperature within every day in Juquila. I don’t have to put on a bunch of clothing just to be able to get up to go make coffee. I don’t have to put 5 layers on a baby just to get up and make coffee. My skin doesn’t dry out from the scalding hot showers my body requires when it’s cold. I don’t feel stuck in the house, because it’s almost always a good time to go out. Besides which, my house doesn’t even have windows that close (though we do have mosquito nets on our windows), so it’s almost like I’m outside all the time anyway. I’m not constantly shoveling food into my mouth to try to store up body fat. No covering the windows in plastic.The constant sun gives me plenty of vitamin D (excess? perhaps) and prevents a lot of my grown-up acne. I ride my bike to and from work most days of the year. I can ride a bike or exercise without feeling like my lung is caving in from the cold biting wind. I can wear skirts and tank tops all the time, even to work. We don’t need a clothes dryer. I don’t live 4 months a year hunched over, scrunched up, shriveled up, trying to somehow magically make more body heat.

I could go on for days and days like this, extolling all the benefits of what others deem infernal life on the coast. Partly because, yes, truly, I love hot and sunny weather. But I also stole another of my mama’s philosophies: if you’re going to be happy, you might as well do it right now. I quit telling myself I’ll be happy once x, y, or z happens. It’s like a dear niece of Conan’s, who when she lived with us never wanted to go out because she was always waiting for the heat to lessen up. She’d say, “I’ll go just as soon as it cools down some,” even though that might be in another 6 hours, or maybe not at all. I cannot wait for the heat to lessen up to be happy, or for anything else to change in my life, or I could just be waiting the rest of my life. So thank goodness for this unrelenting sunshine! And if you really want to hear me complain, just send me back to Juquila’s perpetually cold gray mountain weather.

The Goddess of Admonishment, La Reyna de las Regañonas

24 Apr

We received a visit this week from the mother of all finger-waggers. She is bound for some kind of title in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most scoldings dished out per minute, a record carefully maintained daily throughout an entire lifetime. She could win an award for most creative admonishments, since she can even find a way to put innocent babies to shame. Here in Mexico, we call this kind of person regañona, a scolder. But this is an understatement; she is the Goddess of all Scolders.


The best part about this situation is that while this person is related to me through marriage, she is not my mother-in-law. Every time I see her I spend the entire next day saying Hail Marys to the Patron Saint of In-Laws, to thank her for blessing me with a mother-in-law who is not Tia Meya. Also due to her being an Aunt-in-law, I can actually enjoy her company and love her. Behind all the rebukes is a shining star of auntly adoration. You just have to look hard behind the reprimands and critiques.


This lady’s toughness has  nothing on Tia Meya. But my aunt-in-law is much more attractive, always formally dressed, plus she’s got a big, big heart.

And perhaps, after all this time with my in-laws, I’m starting to see how scolding is another way to show affection. I should have known that Tia Meya liked me from that first time she laughed at me. I was just visiting Mexico, trying to wash my clothes by hand in the concrete washboard. She came up and all but snatched the clothes out of my hand, telling me something like, “You’re totally clueless about this, huh? Go, go.” She shooed me off as I tried to babble about my lazy style of washing by hand in Paraguay, that yeah, I’d done it before. “Go make yourself useful with something else. You’re gonna have to extend your visit by a few more weeks at the rate you wash clothes.” And she did it all for me. 


She’s a character, and a good one at that. So usually I can take her barbs and critiques with a grain of salt, but this time around it had been too long between visits and I forgot to not take it personally for a minute. The baby had a cold and she was telling me to put Vick’s Vapor Rub on his feet. “I’m out of Vick’s,” I told her. “Julia,” she told me sincerely, “you should always have Vick’s Vapor Rub around. Why don’t you have Vick’s? It’s really useful. You should just keep it stocked in the house.”


“Yes,” I told her calmly, “I agree. It is very useful. That’s why I normally have it. But since I also use it regularly, it runs out. So I don’t have it now.”


“I know but you should keep it in the house all the time. You need to stock it.”


“Yes but I’m not a pharmacy. I have to go out and buy it when I run out.” We could’ve gone for several more rounds like that but Conan distracted us with something, since he’s more expert at this situation than I am.


She’s very old school in her ways, and one constant point of contention is how we dress or otherwise take care of the kids. This time, like every time, she blamed our underuse of socks for the baby’s cold. “Julia, don’t let his little feet go around on this cold floor! No wonder he’s all snotty! Put some socks on that child, please! It’s hurting me just to watch him!” Never mind that it’s 80 degrees and that Khalil won’t even keep socks on his feet when it is actually cold. If you say something like that, though, she just shakes her head sadly, telling you it’s still you’re fault- if you’d have gotten him used to socks from day one, you wouldn’t have this problem. Sigh.


Our pet cat was the other major problem this visit. Tia Meya has decided that the cat is the obvious culprit in Lucia’s asthma. Furthermore, nobody should even have a cat for a pet because it’s just gross and wrong. According to her, cats eat all your food and leave their hair on your kitchen table, among other complaints. “But don’t listen to me! Go ahead and get more cats and see how your kids breathe then. Don’t come to me when the kids are in the hospital from all this cat hair!” And when you try to explain what the doctor said, or give some other kind of reasoning, she cuts you right off, with “Déjalo, vaya,” which is the regional equivalent of her saying, “Nevermind! Do whatever! You wait and see!” Oh, dear, Tia Meya.


Often there’s not even time to argue, though, because she zips around like a bee pollinating flowers. Instead of making honey, however, she’s busy questioning you and everything you’ve done or haven’t done (possibly while she’s also doing some random chore that she sees you’ve left undone.) She comes in to your house, gives you a hard time, and runs out the door, off to scold someone else. “Ya me voy,” is her theme song- Im leaving– she announces as soon as she’s inside. If she walks in on you with a sink full of dishes, she’s guaranteed to say something like, “Look at all these dirty dishes! So many dishes! How can you stand it?! How’d you even make all these dishes dirty!” As she’s scolding you, though, she’s washing them for you. And then she’s gone. If she walks in on you doing chores, she’ll tell you how you’re doing it wrong. You’re using the wrong kind of cleaner, or you shouldn’t be washing dishes with cold water like that- it’ll be the death of you. “And I’m not going to stand around and watch you killing yourself like that,” she’ll shake her head at you and off she goes. “The good thing is,” she told us the other day, “I’m sure I won’t be here the day that Khalil brings the whole table down on top of himself with this seat you all put him in!” Even though the seat was designed and safety tested for use with babies, with the sole purpose of attaching the seat to the table, you will never convince her that it’s okay once she’s decided to criticize something.


She doesn’t even always mean what she says; she just has some compulsion to give everyone she cares about a hard time. Even babies are not exempt from her wrath/affection.  When Lucia was just a couple of months old, Tia Meya would come in and scold her about nursing. “Ay, ay, qué cosa comes?! Deja esa chichi, vas a acabar a tu pobre mama!” (My goodness, what are you eating?! Leave that breast alone, you’re gonna finish off your poor mother!) Mind you, she’s 100% in favor of breastfeeding. But if she hasn’t told you what you’re doing wrong today then it’s like she hasn’t even seen you, no matter what age you are.


Scolding is not optional for her; you can’t escape it no matter what you do. If you’re cooking something she’ll say, “You’re just now cooking lunch! My goodness, I’ve had lunch ready for two hours already! You guys like to suffer around here.” If you’re not cooking then she’s wondering aloud what in the world are you doing with yourself? It’s a miracle you’re even still alive, the way you may or may not get around to cooking lunch. If she arrives and you’ve already had lunch then she’ll surely criticize you for eating too early. There’s no pleasing her.


It’s not really about criticizing you, although I have no doubt that she truly believes her way / the traditional way is the only correct way to do things. Conan comes from a large family of women who believe that scolding equals love. Not all of his mother’s 7 siblings are women, but the majority are, and boy are they a majority to be reckoned with. They are the type of women who are constantly working, constantly pushing themselves to get it all done. They don’t take time to have fun or relax until all their work is complete. And they believe that everyone else should be like them, too, although they’ll go way out of their way to take care of everyone around them. So Tia Meya washes the dishes while she smilingly chastises you, because really she knows you’re busy and she wants to help. Or she brings you something she’s cooked, under the pretense that it’s so you’ll have something decent to eat, or you’ll be able to eat at a reasonable hour, according to her standards. She could never just do something nice and admit that it’s because she’s a nice person. No, there must be finger-wagging involved or it wouldn’t be Tia Meya taking care of you.


So I try to just remember, scolding is love in this family. The more of it they dish out, the more they care about you. So look out for Tia Meya in the world records. Say a prayer of thanks on my behalf, that I lucked into the most diplomatic scolding sister of the family to have as a mother-in-law. And if you’re ever down here in southern Oaxaca and you find yourself being attacked by too many regaños from critical old aunts (or your mother-in-law, God forbid), just tell them “Déjelo, vaya!” Because at least then they’ll laugh at you, probably tell you that you said it wrong, and you’ll know that they like you. What more could you ask for?


What Not To Do When You Move to Small Town Southern Mexico

9 Apr

My dad always said that opinions are like assholes; everybody’s got one. So true, and yet we all still think that ours is truly valid, that we can really help someone out with our hard-earned wisdom. So I’m here today, ladies and gentlemen, to share my opinions, my own stellar advice for all of you pondering a moving to the marvelous state of Oaxaca. For those of you already in Oaxaca, this is still superb advice, but you might already know it. You guys can go ahead and laugh with me, please and thank you.

This is advice that I would have appreciated, theoretically. I mean, okay, sometimes I love to jump headfirst into things, blindfolded and grinning. But often I would prefer to research things to make the most informed decision possible. Usually that means I seek as much advice and information as possible and then jump briskly off cliff number one anyway. Sigh.

So here you go- I present you the fruits of my experience, aka some advice that you can read, reject and ignore. (I’m practicing for the kids’ adolescence.)

The first tidbit of guidance I have for you is second-hand, but it is first-rate advice nonetheless.

Don’t change your country of residence immediately after having your first child.

“Don’t plan any major life changes for a while. Transitioning to parenthood is hard enough.” Our lovely doula, the birth assistant we hired for Lucia’s birth, tried to warn us. Truer words were never spoken. But, alas, the U.S. government did not appreciate this wisdom. And you know, there’s gotta be some benefit to starting your kid off really, really early with the globe-trotting.

But it’s not a great plan for adjusting to parenthood sanely. Abandoning your entire support system and general way of life while learning how to parent is a special kind of madness. I mean, leave the country, yes! I am so glad that we live here- now. If we could have waited a year, though, it would have saved us lots and lots of heartache. So while I don’t recommend jet-setting first thing postpartum, if you find yourself doing it, you’re a special kind of badass, and I want to be your friend.

Don’t buy an automatic car that needs work.

Contrary to popular belief down here in the land of stick shifts, automatics are not bad cars. In the U.S. I owned several over the years, and a couple of them were fabulous cars. They go up hills just fine, thank you very much, when they work. The problem here is, unless your automatic is more or less new (or at least in such condition that it never needs to be worked on by a mechanic), you are screwed, because nobody knows how to fix it properly.

This advice is spawned by my current frustration- the impetus for this blog post- which is a recurring soap opera. Every time our car breaks down (which is about bimonthly) it either takes a week (or longer) to fix it, or in the process of fixing it they cause some other problem. This month both things happened.

At first I thought this phenomenon was due to having bought a lemon of a car. Then I thought it was because the mechanic we often took it to (the cheapest option, a friend of a friend) was just a slow and inexperienced mechanic. But at one point we had a problem that required about ten different mechanics. Ten! They didn’t know if it was mechanical or electrical, so we took it to all the types of mechanics. They didn’t have a clue. They took apart our car, broke other things. It was absurd. And it just keeps happening!

It was nice to use an automatic to transition into learning to drive on these bumpy dirt roads with lots of drivers who don’t follow any rules. But now I have my teacher lined up to teach me how to drive a manual car, and I’ll hook you up, too. Just say no to automatics that might need mechanics. Buy yourself a nice little Tsuru, just like the taxis and half of the rest of the population own. That’s what we’ll be doing next, if I manage to follow my own advice. (Don’t hold your breath.)
Don’t build a house to live in when there is not yet electricity in the neighborhood.

“It’s just an overgrown lot right now, there’s no electricity or water,” my in-laws warned me when we came to visit the plot of land in Puerto that Conan owned. “Right, but we can get that stuff installed, right?” I asked, thinking it was just a matter of getting things hooked up, signing a contract, paying the bill. Little did I know….

We got water hooked up just fine during the building process, thanks to some help from a family member. But with electricity, there was no “hooking up” because there was nothing to hook up to on our block. The electric company won’t set it up someplace new unless they’re paid to by the folks living in the neighborhood and/or government (and we’re talking thousands of dollars). So it was a lot of waiting and fighting and hoping and hopelessness. Perhaps someone tried to tell me beforehand, but I was too blinded by my desperation to get out of Juquila to really let it sink in. And really, if I had it to do over again? I suppose I would think about us renting a place while we waited for electricity. But would I stay in Juquila till the lights came on here? Hell, no. Hell, no. (Seriously. Double or triple hell, no.)

We got lucky that we only spent a year and a half (two years for Conan) living without electricity. I know people who spent years and years living “off the grid” by accident. So you just don’t know when you’ll get it. Don’t plan to live there unless you’re one of those amish-style hippy types who wants to go charge your iphone at someone else’s house and live without fans because your body odor just isn’t at its best in the A/C. And if that’s the case, bless your little heart, you’re made of sterner stuff than I.

Don’t start a business that you know nothing about.

When we lived in Juquila, we couldn’t find decent jobs. Everyone and their mother wanted me to teach their kid English, but nobody actually wanted to commit to regular classes, or pay more than 20 pesos an hour (less than 2 US dollars). Conan’s construction skills were not in demand, either, since everything they construct here is very different. He got a job at one point, but he was working about 12 hours a day, 6 days a week for next to nothing.

So we decided to sell cell phones, accessories, and recargas (prepaid minutes) out of his mom’s storefront in the front of the house. That’s right- we sold cell phones. Imagine me selling cell phones. Me- who refused to have a cell phone until I lived in Chile in 2007. Me- who then held on to the same flip phone for like 6 years. Me- who still had cassettes until I moved down here, just to give you an idea of how resistant I am to new technology. It was totally my dream job to sell cell phones- Not! (Haha, look how backwards I am! Still using kid quotes from the early 90s- that’s me.)

In fairness, Conan knew much more about cell phones and accessories than I did (and do; I’m still clueless). But neither of us had any idea what the people of Juquila would buy, really. It was a pretty uninformed business venture, which seems to be kind of the M.O. in Juquila. There are no corporations; it’s all small business. You don’t take any classes or write up a business plan. You either have experience because your family owns something or you just scrape together some money for a small investment and get started with your tiny business that you hope will do well so you can expand. It’s a respectable way to do things in the circumstances, but it did not make us a living. Now if we had invested in statues of saints instead….

It wasn’t a total waste of money. We sold most of it over time. We used some of the phones and accessories ourselves. We earned some money, slowly. It was certainly an interesting experience. And I certainly admire the tenacity of the neighborly small business owners who just open up the front room of their house and stock some snacks and sodas along with the most common of vegetables. I mean, why not? Who says you have to have a stupid business plan? Granted, bigger small businesses down here do still have a plan, I’m sure. And maybe a small business could still work for us someday. But not in Juquila. And not cell phones. This lesson was learned, for now.

Don’t let your small child sleep in the same bed with you “just for the transition.”

Don’t do this unless you want to sleep with them forever. There is no “just for the transition.” Once they worm their way in, you will never get him or her out of your bed again. The transition just keeps on keeping on. Just say no to bed-sharing, for the health of your grown-up relationship and the sake of your ribs, which will remain bruised throughout the duration from all that kicking and thrashing these mini-monsters do. ‘Nuff said.


this is our near future…

The Moral of this story is…..

Well, nothing, really. As you can see, I don’t have any real advice. I don’t have a clue what you should do, but I have a wealth of savvy on what not to do. Not that you should listen to me. Counsel such as this probably would have saved me lots of heartache, but that doesn’t mean I would have taken it. My dad was always futilely trying to save me from making the same mistakes that he made, but heartache is ours to find, one way or another.

Furthermore, if I had known then what I know now, would I have done things differently? In general, probably not. For one, I love rollercoasters, and I am constantly learning to appreciate this roller coaster that is my life, no matter what. Also, I’m working on not judging myself harshly, and both Conan and I have done the best we could with what we were working with, and that just has to be good enough. Not to mention that I always figure these brilliant “mistakes” are good for my character. And I’m pretty damn cool on a good day. So if you find yourself by happenstance moving to small town Oaxaca, look me up and I’ll impart more thrilling opinions. Worthwhile? Well, that and a few cents will get you a stick of gum, as my dad would say. So on second thought, come on down and I’ll give you a cup of coffee instead.

Toto, We’re Not in Kentucky Anymore

31 Jan

You know you’re not in Kentucky anymore when you wake up to find your coffeemaker colonized by some tiny species of ant. It had been ant-free the night before, and, as usual, I’d put in the water and coffee so I could press the button and go back to bed while my magical elixir brewed itself (oh happy day, this electricity thing!). Alas, dead ants were swimming in my coffee. Live ants were swarming the machine. Ants were struggling to survive in the water part in the back. It was just another day in Puerto Escondido. These things just didn’t happen to me in Louisville, Kentucky.

Lots of other havoc and mini-disasters did happen in Kentucky, though (like when I moved into an apartment with fleas. Bleck!) There’s no perfect place, just like there’s no perfect relationship, no perfect person. Here, I don’t worry about tornadoes every time it storms (and it rarely even storms), which is a great relief. There are no watches and warnings to keep updated on, no tornado sirens to fuel a panic attack. Instead, however, I keep abreast of the hurricane forecast from May to November (the rainy season). Earthquakes are also more frequent here than in my hometown, and don’t even talk to me about the possibility of tsunamis (terrifying!).

Mostly I love the two-season system (rainy and dry), although I miss the leaves changing in the fall. I miss the excitement of taking the plastic off of my windows in the spring (cheap insulation), but you don’t have to get excited about a warmish day when you haven’t been bummed out and trapped inside for 3 or 4 months.

What’s funny, though, is how some countries’ seasonal status quo becomes the dominant, normalized thing worldwide, even when it’s not the slightest bit relevant. Take snow on Christmas as an example. Pretty much every single image about Christmas shows snow or snowflakes or Santa in his winter outfit or whatever. Yet snow is only even possible in half of the world, since the other half is in the hemisphere where it’s summer in December. Then there are all the other places without those kinds of seasons- like here. Whenever things like spring come up in my classroom activities I have to not only translate it but also describe what it actually means, because the four seasons mean diddly squat to my students. Needless to say, it’s never going to snow here for Christmas. There are no chimneys, either, so I guess Santa just has to break in. Perhaps that’s why so few people get excited about Christmas around here.

It got me to thinking about all the things that are and will be so different for my kids growing up here, different from how things were for me in Kentucky. Not just seasonal things, but cultural and political things, like the lack of emergency vehicles. The only time we hear sirens is when some religious pilgrim group has taken charge of an ambulance and is using it to parade through the town.

I knew my kids were living a totally different reality when I rode a wild-ish ride at a fair with a 7 year old. Not only are there no official rules about how tall you have to be to ride rides, there is essentially no regard for safety (which, you know, tends to be more fun, until someone gets seriously injured). We were on this ride pictured below and the apparently teenaged boys controlling the ride are jumping up onto the ride and manually spinning us around so we go faster. It was fantastically fun, and it would never, ever, ever happen in Louisville, Kentucky. If it did there’d be a big public outcry and possibly lawsuits and everything would get shut down after the first time it happened.


I rode this ride with a 7 year old who was not at all impressed.

Or there’s the way people in Kentucky assume that we must live out in the country (we don’t!). Perhaps it’s because all the animals in our “farm animals” book roam around our neighborhood (except pigs). Really, different neighbors boast sheep, goats, tons of chickens, and now a couple cows, in addition to the mean old dogs. And yet we live right behind the biggest public university in town, inside what’s more or less a small city.

Of course, it doesn’t help convince people we live in a city when I tell them about the lack of sidewalks, and the dirt road we live on. And yes, I hate that Lucia can’t just go outside to the sidewalk to practice on her roller skates or her bike. I hate that using a stroller is an extreme sport. It’s not like that in all neighborhoods in Puerto; lots of areas have at least paved roads if not sidewalks, but it is part of our family’s reality.

Then there’s much more stuff that’s neither good nor bad, just different from how I grew up. Like not leaving the house without mosquito repellant, but shoes being optional. Yes, I know, there’s that image of us Kentucky folks with no shoes, and indeed, I spent summers running around barefoot sometimes. But you can’t go inside ANYWHERE without shoes in Louisville. Here, it’s no problem if your flip flop blows out or your heel comes unglued from the heat or you just didn’t feel like fighting with the kid to get their shoes on. You can go to restaurants, supermarkets, just about any damn where without shoes and nobody cares.

Here, we check our shoes for scorpions before we put them on. We take showers with cold water (so much better for your skin!). Fresh coconut is a routine part of our diet. There’s no fast food but there are lots of street vendors with bicycle carts to sell you all kinds of junk food. There are so many differences that seem so normal to me now, three and a half years since our move. I’m looking forward to comparing notes with my kids when they’re older- their childhood versus mine. Assuming, that is, that we don’t get blown away by any hurricanes or devoured by ants before then!


Ice cream carts like these even make it to the most remote neighborhoods, to the beach, wherever! All kinds of junk food vendors LOVE to post up outside of schools, of course.

image street vendor bici

These kinds of carts are the common (and cool, in my humble opinion). 

images street food vendors

Homemade street food can include healthy options like fruit, jicama, popcorn, or super fried (and yummy) crap like chicharrines or pork rinds

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.

Today I Freely Choose To Be Here Now

30 Aug

We didn’t have much of a choice when we moved to the southern state of Oaxaca, Mexico, three years ago this month. A ridiculous immigration system was kicking my partner out of his home of 10 years, and effectively taking me and our 7 week old daughter with him. Of course I could have stayed behind, but that wasn’t an option I was interested in. So I was going, but it felt like I was forced, like we were forced, like our life was all totally out of our control. If there’s any time in life when you’re aware of your total lack of control over your life, it’s when you first become a parent. Add being uprooted from your home to the mix and it’s a recipe for personal crises (yes, crisis plural).

When we arrived we had nothing but 5 bulging suitcases, a newborn, and a whole lot of faith in our love. We were lucky enough to have a home to arrive to, going to live with Conan’s mom, but it was still not quite our own home. Lots of things have greatly improved in our lives since then. We’ve far outgrown our 5 suitcases. Our newborn has turned into a preschooler who has a baby brother to boot. We have a car. We have our very own house. We finally have electricity in our house, complete with a refrigerator and washing machine. I have a full-time job that I enjoy. We don’t live with anyone’s parents, and we don’t live in a tiny town that we both hate. If that’s not progress, what is?

So we’ve moved up in the world and everything should be perfect now. Except it’s not. This week in particular I had a personal crisis that made me totally rethink and question where I want to be. And boy, was I pissed about it. How could I think about being somewhere else when finally our life is put together here? How could things be falling apart if everything’s finally great? I have a washing machine, for cripe’s sake! What could I be unhappy about now?

The problem is, progress isn’t what actually sustains us, right? “Moving up” in life can only mean so much, since life doesn’t appear to be some vertical venture. Despite having all the things I was sure would make my life great (and our car didn’t even break down this week), I was terribly, profoundly unhappy.

Partly I was unhappy because this whole time I’ve held onto my anger and helplessness at the injustice of us being forced to move down here at that moment. I’ve spent too much time visiting if-only land. If only we hadn’t moved here, we wouldn’t have this problem. If only x, life would be better. If only y, I’d be happy. Partly it’s that this time of year, full of anniversaries (our move, our first kiss, Lucia’s conception), makes me nostalgic and frustrated. I was clinging on to some happy, joyful memories, trying to cut and paste them into the present.

Five years ago, in the steaming hot months of August and September, Conan and I converted our friendship to something more. We went out for bike rides through Louisville’s beautiful parks. We went out for beers at all the microbreweries. We posted up on the back porch of my charming, cheap Victorian apartment and talked, for hours and hours and hours. We held hands at WorldFest, the fabulous festival of world cultures. We went to the farmers’ market, and I cooked us elaborate, local, vegetarian dishes that he devoured appreciatively. We went to friends’ parties and weddings and birthday celebrations. We ate Mexican fusion sushi and drank Vietnamese avocado milkshakes and decided on our favorite Indian buffet, among other culinary delights. We sipped bourbon on the front porch. We fell in love. Those places and activities epitomize what I love about my city, about my culture, about what I left behind. They remind me of moments, too, when my love for Conan was so uncomplicated, so easy, so perfect.

Nowadays nothing ever seems to be simple or easy. In theory I know that nothing stays the same, that you can’t return to the past. That love is a lot of work to maintain. That nothing is ever perfect. That the past wasn’t as easy breezy as it seems in hindsight. That Louisville is not utopia, and we’d just have a different set of problems there. I never did and never would love everything about my city and my culture. And while in the beginning of any relationship it can seem that everything is perfect about the other person and they way that you interact, that illusion of perfect can’t last, either. I know all these things, I do. And yet it doesn’t stop me from torturing myself, wondering how our lives would be if we could just go back. If we could have stayed. If we could return.

I did just return to Louisville for a visit, and I had to face the fact that our relationship to a city evolves while we’re away. Some things disappear, like our favorite Indian buffet. Some people who were central to your life there move away or pass on. Other things remain, but they’re not what they once were to you. Like Big Rock, my favorite spot in Cherokee Park. It used to be my spot to climb around and sit by the creek to think or talk. But this trip I could barely tear Lucia away from the playground area long enough to notice the creek, and we didn’t even climb up anything. My charming beloved apartment is still there, with the same weird neighbor who plays guitar horrendously. (Yep, I even have nostalgia for that.) But I don’t actually want to live in that apartment anymore. We payed a fortune to nearly freeze to death every winter! We had recurring mice attacks! All kinds of things were wrong with it, and, more importantly, it just wouldn’t suit me anymore. It’s not part of who I am now, even though for a good while it was the “perfect” place for me. My city’s changed, but I have changed, too.

So I know. We can’t go back to before. We can’t know what would have happened if we’d stayed. And we can’t know what will happen in the future, even if we’ve got it all planned out. We don’t have control, even if we think we do. I know. But living this knowledge, breathing it, feeling it when I’m stuck in an emotional crisis, is quite a different matter.

But today, suddenly, after days of walking around in a funk, in a daze of depression, I woke up and remembered who I am. I am a badass Kentucky girl, living in Mexico, raising children, trying to make some kind of tiny positive difference in the world, trying to find laughter and love in all kinds of places, rebelling from the system like always, albeit in different ways than before. I am my brave, wild-spirited, fiercely-loving Nonna’s granddaughter. I am my mama’s daughter. I am my dad’s daughter. (Two amazing spirits). I don’t need to freak out about what I’m going to do or where I’m going to go in the future, because regardless, I’ll make it work. I don’t need to worry about what other disasters will happen, because I’ll just deal with it. There will be good things and bad things and struggles and joys, and it’ll all be okay. Repeat after me: I am a badass, and I will be okay no matter what happens.

I woke up this morning and drank my lovely Oaxaca coffee and wrote my three “gratitudes” for the day, even though and especially because I had not been feeling so blessed. I did some yoga, and actually focused on my body, and noticed how wonderful and strong my body felt. I chose not to get upset or yell when Lucia woke up grumpy and freaking out about Cheerios and everything else possible. I put on Paul Simon, a makes-me-happy-from-lots-of-good-memories CD I inherited from my dad, and danced around my kitchen while I made breakfast, singing loudly and off-key. I decided to be happy. I decided to know that I am worthy and good just because. To feel it and breathe it in. To just be here, for now.

Because I know now that I can be here and have a good life. Or I could be in Louisville and have a good life. Or I could be in Timbuktu or somewhere, and somehow I will have a good life. It’s always going be a struggle of some sort or another. No place is perfect. Getting established, in terms of getting your physical and social needs met, finding furniture and friendships, is a process. But even if we started over again somewhere else, I now have a much better idea of how to incorporate and appreciate the things- the moments- that make life so worthwhile. I know, suddenly, finally, that I always have choices.

Even if the options don’t seem plausible, even though none of the options are ideal, I do have options. Of course they’re not ideal! Life’s really hard. And it’s also really great. It’s taken me three years of this exile with my partner to come to terms with it. To finally decide that this is my choice. We weren’t just victims of a messed up system. That’s only a partial truth. We did have other (less appealing, more difficult) options, and we chose this. I chose this. I’m here, so I might as well own it as my choice. Because the alternative is to keep resisting it. The alternative is to keep feeling angry, bitter, cheated. To wistfully romanticize the alternate life we could have had theoretically. And I don’t want that anymore.

Feeling free! If freedom's just another word for accepting that I don't have control over anything, but I can face every day head-on.

Feeling free! If freedom’s just another word for accepting that I don’t have control over anything, but I can face every day head-on.

Today, I made the choice to be here, just for now. Today, I decided not to ponder the effects of now on my future. Today, I decided not to lament what could have been. Today, I decided to trust myself and my feelings and my choices. Three years later, this is my true “progress.” Even though I don’t have control over all kinds of things in life, that doesn’t mean I’m a victim. This is my freedom- accepting my lack of control while acknowledging my inherent, universal worth as a human and my personal power over my life perspective. I won’t be happy all the time because of it, but I sure won’t be sad all the time, either. I am a badass, and I’ll be okay no matter what happens. Today I actively choose to be here, just for today. Tomorrow I can choose all over again.

Building My Own Yellow Brick Road

14 Apr

“Envy has some pretty major flaws,” I thought when folks expressed that they’d love to be in my shoes. I was pretty sure that none of my friends would kill to be in my dusty, worn-out Chucks, scrubbing their family’s clothes on a washing board with a scrub brush, constantly trying to sweep the sand and dirt and dust out of their sleeping and living area, battling the onslaught of mosquitos at dusk so intense it sounds like an oncoming freight train, spending like 3 hours just to make coffee and breakfast in the morning because only 1 burner on the crappy camping-style stove works at a time. Although if you are, indeed, dying for that authentic Mexican* experience, by all means, come on down to my house.

my lavadero (washing board)

my lavadero (washing board) – with my bike in the background!

In fairness, I think my Facebook friends and family must’ve seen one of our pictures from the beach (the few times we’ve gone to the beach) and mistaken our life here in Puerto Escondido for the life of some of the gringo bloggers I read before moving down here, the people writing (and living) stuff like it’s so great to live in Mexico because we can afford all the domestic help we want for practically nothing. Or maybe they imagine us as semi-retired snowbirds, drinking some cafe con leche by the beach in the morning, spending the suffocating afternoon hours in the pool or the air conditioned house, and then… um… what else would we be doing? Lounging around? Biding our time till we go out to dinner with the other ex-pat friends? Getting our nails done? …Have you guys met me?

But the truth about my life here lies somewhere between these lines, neither in the depths of abject poverty nor in the blissful ignorance of material wealth. I could feed you all kinds of anecdotes to wash away any twinges of jealousy, tell you all the gory details about things we’ve had to do or things we’ve had to do without in this journey of moving and building a house, but really I want to tell you about all the things that make me head-over-heels happy with my little space in the universe. Today I am gonna revel in the confidence of knowing that I am exactly where I need to be.

So lemme tell you that yes, it is sunny and hot most of the time (while you’re freezing your butts off, dear gringo compatriots), and then even after that it’s still hot and mostly sunny with a bit of rain or a couple hours of coolness. This means I can wear skirts and tank tops most any day of the year, which already practically proves I was meant for this place.

And lemme tell you that I, the walking-talking PSA for seatbelts, have discovered that it’s exhilarating to ride in the back of a pickup truck, with the wind blowing my hair everywhere (and my skirt, too, a la Marilyn Monroe if I’m not careful), seeing all the scenery up-close-and-personal, grabbing leaves off of trees in a contest with 7 year old Emmanuel. (Yes, seatbelts save lives still. They are also mostly not an option here, so you might as well enjoy it.)

Lili -pictured with Uriel- demonstrating how I feel riding in the truck

Lili -pictured with Uriel- demonstrating how I feel riding in the truck

And lemme tell you that my sense of accomplishment is off the charts when I arrive somewhere on my bicycle, without hitting any sheep or goats, or being bit by disgruntled dogs, or flipping over on any of the plethora of speed bumps that I may or may not have seen first, or having been discouraged by the sand and dirt and rocks that is my road. I feel like me when I get home from the supermarket (“Me hunter/gatherer,” I grunt at Conan), my thigh muscles pounding from the uphill first half of the ride with umpteen pounds on my back, my heart racing and my smile plastered on crooked from the downhill second half of the ride, bathed in equal parts sweat and triumph.

And lemme tell you how I smirk at the Julia of four months ago who couldn’t get to and from her own house by herself, not even by taxi, much less any other way. Because the Julia of today goes all over town by micro (bus) and colectivo (shared taxi, 3 people in back and 2 in the front seat), by bike, by foot, or haggling with taxi drivers trying to charge me the tourist price. This right-at-home-here-thank-you-very-much Julia can tenderly make fun of the anxious woman who thought Puerto was so big and complicated, when it’s really so much smaller than my small hometown city of Louisville, Kentucky.

And lemme tell you how I marvel at subtle cultural things that contrast so sharply with Juquila, things someone who hasn’t lived in a town that’s like an emotional and intellectual coffin would surely take for granted. For instance, many people rest on Sundays. You have to go farther away to get tortillas because even the women that normally make and sell them give themselves a little break. Brilliant! People often walk down the street together as a family; it’s not just women and children doing their thing and men doing their own thing. Miraculous! Friends and family randomly drop in on each other for visits on a regular basis. Amazing! Strangers mostly refrain from unabashedly gawking at you and asking pertinent personal questions about you, addressing questions about you to persons whom are not you. This is madness, I tell you! Here in Puerto, there are universities and poetic graffiti and playgrounds and a million other things that add meaning and spark to life, and every time I notice all these beautiful details it adds to my sense of belonging here.

And lemme tell you how I feel tsunami sized moments of joy when I stand outside on our (still-in-the-works) porch and look at the incredible amount of stars in the universe that I can see right outside my door, when Lucia says “home” as we’re coming up the path to our house, when I can hear the giant waves from the comfort of my bed (even though we’re relatively far from the ocean), when Conan and Lucia walk around our yard calling out to all the lizards to come out and play, when I eat a hot pepper or a watermelon from our magical garden (that sprang up from spitting seeds without any work on our part), when I’ve got fresh mango or papaya or pineapple juice dripping down my chin, when I spend 100 pesos at the market and come home with an overflowing bag of vegetables, when Lucia makes a b-line for the ocean and screams giddily as she is nearly carried off by a wave, tethered to the land only by my arm. In all of these moments and many more, I feel sure and secure in our decisions to come live here, to raise our family here. (So secure, in fact, that I won’t even edit my run-on sentences! Take that, perfectionism! Ka-zam! Right in the kisser!)

the first ripe tomatoes from our magic garden

the first ripe tomatoes from our magic garden

And lemme tell you, sometimes my battle with the ants in my kitchen feels like it could devour me, sometimes the lack of electricity makes me bleak and weary inside, sometimes I miss people and past routines so much that I stumble, unsure of my path. Some days I want to turn back. But the real problem with envy, even envy over your own past, is that it distracts you from this adventure here and now, from forging ahead on your path, rugged and unpaved as it may be. And lemme tell you, some things and some days are horrendously miserable, and some moments are astoundingly fabulous, and then there’s everything in between. In the end, it’s just like your life, except it’s mine. So don’t be jealous, ‘cause my Chucks wouldn’t fit you anyway, and you’ll get your sunshine when it’s your time.

*I don’t mean this is the experience of all Mexicans in all of Mexico, by any stretch. Mexico is a vast and diverse country. I mean that it is a singular experience taking place in Mexico and that it is not like a tourist’s experience in Mexico.

an iguana visiting our house... Conan using the banana to show to-scale size of iguana, not to feed the beast ; )

an iguana visiting our house… Conan using the banana to show to-scale size of iguana, not to feed the beast ; )

beautifully  melodramatic poetry on the street

beautifully melodramatic poetry on the street

more graffiti makes me happy

more graffiti makes me happy

my chile tusta

my chile tusta from the garden

the beginnings of our porch

the beginnings of our porch

the view from a truck one day

the view from Arturo’s truck one day

holding on tight as Lucia prepares to throw herself into another wave

holding on tight as Lucia prepares to throw herself into another wave

a float from the carnaval celebration

a float from the carnival celebration- another reason Puerto’s great