Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thanksgiving

I hadn't planned on doing Thanksgiving this year. The kids had school. Turkey is really expensive. It's hot. (not that I'm complaining). And with no family here it just didn't feel like Thanksgiving.

But some friends called us to see if we wanted to join them at the Lake Chapala Society's annual Thanksgiving dinner and we thought...why not? But plans changed when the LCS dinner was sold out.

So I invited our friends to come over here and enjoy a chicken dinner. They had also invited the missionaries to the LCS dinner, so we invited them too.

Then Dave said it just wouldn't be Thanksgiving without turkey, so he quickly ran to Walmart and found a $35 turkey and some fixings.

But I'm glad it turned out the way it did. We had a good dinner. Everything turned out except the apple crisp that I burned (still not used to a gas oven that has a temperature dial that reads 1,2,3,4,5 as the settings). Conversation was good and the kids had fun.

After dinner, we had an appointment with a photographer for my Birthday family picture. Haven't seen the pictures yet but will post some when they are available.

Now for the gratitude part. I'm so grateful to be here. I read once that the reason time seems to go so faster and faster when you get older is because every day gets to be more and more the same. Nothing happens that is memorable. In my experience this is totally true. I'm grateful for a year where time seems to have slowed down. Though the kids have grown and changed a lot here, their youth doesn't seem to be running away so fast. And though sometimes (usually grouchy afternoons with Amelia) I wish it would speed up again, I know I will always remember this year together.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

What's happening with Jane?

Jane has always had a very similar life to Riley. Because they are so close in age, they have some of the same friends, hobbies, views on life, etc. So most of what I have said about Riley also applies to Jane. But Jane differs in a few ways too.

Jane has become our resident Spanish expert. Many times Jane will correct Dave and I on our Spanish. And she's usually right. Her accent is awesome, too.

Jane has been very successful at making friends at school. She gets invited to play at someone's house about once a week. Her best friends are Jenita, Mayari, Alberto, Andres and Indigo.

Jane has found a love of lime juice and salt. She puts it on cucumber, guacamole, chips, and tacos. She is always the one pulling limes off our tree and leaving juiced limes in the kitchen. She'll even suck on a lime with salt by itself. She is also our bravest eater. There isn't anything that I would try that she wouldn't. She likes Mexican food more than any of the other kids.

Jane is also doing well in piano. She is currently learning to play a challenging song called "Trumpet Tune" that Riley did for a recital a few years ago. She's learned it in half the time.

The kids have seemed to adjust to Mexico pretty well, but there have still been some repercussions. One of which is that Jane has started sucking her thumb again. She quit about a year ago and earned money to buy a DS Lite. She really wants to get her ears pierced, so I told her that she can when she stops sucking her thumb for real. We'll see.

Jane is a member of the spy club too, but has less interest than the others and frequently opts out of meetings.

Jane has also been a great big sister to Amelia. Besides sharing a room, they have to shower together, because there are no bathtubs. Jane is usually a good sport about this. They also play house, animal shelter, doctor's office, the "spy on the spy club" club, and babysitter.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Look what Riley has done.

I know that updates on the kids are what my readers have been waiting for, so here's the first. (Thanks for reading, mom and dad)

Riley has finally gotten hooked on Harry Potter books. Back when he was 6 or 7, I tried to get him to read the first one and I think it was a little too advanced for him and put him off the books. But beggars can't be choosers here, and since our selection is more limited he finally gave in and tried again. He read the first 3 books in about 1 week. Now #4 is already checked out at the library and he's dying for it. He's also watched each of the movies after finishing the book.

Speaking of books, some of his favorites (besides Harry Potter) that he's read here have been: Phantom Tollbooth, The City of Ember, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Harriet the Spy, The Mysterious Benedict Society, Here Be Monsters, and Alaskan Adventure Series.

Amazingly, Riley hasn't been playing as many videogames since we've been here. In part because our Xbox broke on the way here; so sad. But he still spends a few hours a week on clubpenguin. He even runs into some of his friends from Utah on it occasionally.

Riley had started making these intricate mazes at school during his free time. I remember doing this during church when I was a kid, so I understand the appeal.

He has also started a collection of Tazos. These are little plastic or metal discs that come in bags of chips here. I think they call them Pogs at home. You play a game with them and try to win more. Very popular with the Mexican kids.

Riley, Jane and Jocie have started a spy club and even built a clubhouse out of scrap from the Walmart construction in the backyard. He spends endless time contemplating new rules, contraptions and merchandise for the club. Currently they are decorating for Christmas.

I still make the kids practice piano at the church a couple of times a week and Riley has learned a couple of new favorite songs and even started to write one of his own. I promise to record it when he says it's ready.

Riley still refuses to admit that he likes Mexico, but he already admits that he'll miss Jocie when we go. They have a lot of fun together.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Carrie's Happy Moments

Everyone may be sick of hearing about me and the things I do, but I decided that there were aspects of my life here that I want to remember, so I'm going to blog myself anyway.

First, most of my routine is the same as at home. Cook, clean, drive, homework, grocery shop, read, exercise, church, and play. Those things will probably never change as long as I have the kids and Dave to take care of.

But some additions since moving to Mexico have brought me extra joy.

I love it on the days when after Charlie goes down for a nap, I get to take my book outside with Amelia and sit in the sun. As a teenager I used to love to take my homework out into the backyard and lay out while I studied. I remember Freshman Year in High School when I had honors Geometry and English, I got my best grades and my best tan ever. (Remember I lived in California.)

I love to try to perfect recipes from restaurants when I like one of their dishes. Mexican recipes add extra challenge. Currently I am trying to perfect a Chicken Tinga Tostada recipe. I usually try a few different recipes from the internet. This dish actually was served to me at a church activity, so I could break down and ask the chef for the recipe, but that would take some of the fun out of it, and I'd have to embarrass myself with my broken Spanish.

Here is my latest attempt. Not bad, but not the same as the one I love.

I have also been spending time the last month trying to track down a good photographer for a family picture. I asked Dave to give one to me for my Birthday, but have yet to find a photographer that I like that doesn't cost a fortune. It's very few times when I wish we were wealthy, but this is one of those times. If I had the money, I'd fly down one of my very talented friends to come shoot us. Looking for the photographer is not what brings me joy. It's picturing how wonderful the picture will be to look at in 10 years, when I remember how cute my kids used to be before they were teenagers and how much I loved Mexico.

Believe it or not, driving in Ajijic also brings me joy. But only when I'm doing the driving. First, it reminds me of driving in England as a missionary. There are one-way streets everywhere and streets too narrow for 2 cars to drive even though they are 2-way. I told this to a native Englishwomen, and she was slightly offended, because the drivers in England are very polite and follow all the rules, while Mexicans don't follow any rules except try not to get hit. But I love driving down a narrow road and having to pull way over to the side and wave another driver past. It challenges my peripheral vision and makes me feel like I did a good deed that day.

This brings me to walking around Ajijic. I also love to walk down a street and say Buenos Dias, or Buenas Tardes to everyone I pass. They always smile and say it back. I don't have to really talk in Spanish, but I feel like a local.

And on to running. Like Dave, I have been trying to run along the Ciclopista every so often. I'm not going to say that I don't prefer or miss the aerobics I used to do at home (Hi, aerobics girls), but I do feel pretty healthy after running a couple of miles (My record is 2) and coming home super sweaty.

I almost forgot to add blogging. I didn't think I'd like it as much as I do, but it replaces my scrapbooking hobby very well and I feel like it will help us remember this year even better.

As the song says, these are a few of my favorite things.

Friday, November 21, 2008

What's Dave been up to?

First, I know that many of you have been reading my blog, waiting for Dave to make an appearance. Well, he informed me a while ago that even though he may have consented to comment on my blog in the beginning, he has now decided that it's my blog and he won't do it. If everyone wants to stop reading now, I'll understand. Or better yet, we could start a petition. Although, since Dave is usually for anything that's unpopular, might not work. If anyone has any ideas let me know. My usual methods haven't worked. ;)

As you know, Dave still has to work while we're here, so he spends most of his time (as most husbands do) working.

For a few months Dave did his 12 hours of work a day on this:
But he finally gave in and bought a nicer chair, and this is where he spends most of his day. Our life here may be simpler, but we still have got to have 2 monitors.
About 3 days a week, Dave gets some exercise by running about 4 miles on the Ciclopista alongside the highway.
On Fridays, he usually takes part of the afternoon off and either runs or drives to Ajijic and takes in a movie.
This last week he saw the 3:30 show of Traidor. HSM3 was sold out.

Dave goes out to lunch a couple times a week to get out of his cubicle and works on one of his lifetime goals. He wants to walk into a restaurant and have someone say to him "The usual?" There are two restaurants here that may help him achieve this goal. One I've never seen, so can't include a picture, but the other is Loncheria Brissi.
It's a nice little place owned and run by a man and his wife. It's named after their one-year-old daughter. Dave goes there so often, he is currently helping them with their advertising. We supply them with avocados from our tree from time to time, too.

Speaking of food, Dave's friends know that he is somewhat of an expert on chocolate cake. Don't think his quest for a good chocolate cake in Mexico has been fruitless. His current favorite is called Chocoflan. It is a layer of chocolate cake with chocolate flan on top. I thought about including this in my food series, but this cake really belongs to Dave.This is one that I made, it's not as pretty as one you'd get in a restaurant, though Dave thinks just as good.

Chocoflan recipe
Cake layer:
Devil's Food Cake Mix
3 eggs
3/4 cup oil
1 1/3 cups water

Flan layer:
6 eggs
2 (140z) cans of Sweetened Condensed Milk
2 (12oz) cans of Evaporated Milk
1 Tbs vanilla

Grease bundt cake pan (I make mine in a stainless steel bowl).
Mix cake layer ingredients and put in pan.
Mix flan layer ingredients in a blender and pour on top of the cake. It will mostly sink to the bottom of the pan.

Put in a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes, or until cake doesn't jiggle anymore.

On the days when Dave doesn't go out to lunch, he usually grills something on the mini-gas grill that he picked up on one of his trips to the states. Turns out it is virtually impossible to find a gas grill for under $300 in Mexico. So he got this little one and we use it a ton. He'll grill a brat or some chicken for lunch and read a book outside in the terrace. What a life.

I don't know if Dave would agree with my assessment of his life and routines here in Mexico, but since he's declined to comment, he's lost all veto privileges too. So there.
Coming Soon!

Dave is out of town this weekend and next weekend, so I decided to use the free computer time catch up on all the blogs I've been putting off. I also am going to do a post highlighting each of the family members and what they've been up to the last 4 months. I had planned to do this at our 6 month mark, but Dave doesn't have another trip planned till February, so a bird in the hand...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Fastest Restaurant in the World

After the zoo on Saturday night we went to dinner at the restaurant that won the Guinness World Record for fastest service in the World in 1998. 13.5 seconds. Ours took a frustrating 50 seconds but who's counting?
The food was this steak cooked in a broth with beans and bacon. At first, I couldn't see the appeal, but by the end of the meal, I could tell I was going to be craving it. Also served a great bean dip with corn in it and fresh lemonade.
Guadalajara Zoo

We've been meaning to make it to the Guadalajara Zoo and finally did on Saturday, although only for about 3 hours. Got a late start.

Our favorite part: Feeding and petting the giraffes on the safari. video

Friday, November 14, 2008

Wow! What a surprise!

After over two months of endless homework, internet translations and studying for exams that were at least as hard as one's I did in Junior High, if not High School, Jane and Riley got their grades for the first grading period and they got 8's, 9's and 10's out of 10 in all of their subjects, both English and Espanol! They even made the honor roll in both their classes! Wow! It makes it all worth it!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Weekend trip #2: The butterflies of Michoacan

We decided our next trip here in Mexico would be to see the Monarch butterflies that migrate down to Mexico from the US every year. We had heard it was amazing, and the season was November - February or March. We want to go somewhere on the beach next month, so November seemed as good a time as any.

One book I had about Mexico said that Patzcuaro was a good jump off point for seeing butterflies and there seemed to be quite a few other things to see around there, so off we drove. It took us a little longer to get there than we anticipated, but we found the town center and the tourist office. They gave us pamphlets and Dave went to look for a hotel while I studied them. Much to my confusion, the pamphlet on the butterflies said the reserves we wanted to see were near a town called Zitacuaro about a 2 1/2 hour drive away. While we waited for Dave to return from getting a hotel, we were entertained by some dancers in the square.
(Above picture courtesy of the Patzcuaro tourist board)

When Dave got back, I told him my discovery. We decided that the butterflies were our main objective so we would set off in the morning and go to the closest reserve.

After settling into our hotel room we found some dinner and wandered around in Patzcuaro. I finally bought a Dia de la Muerte figurine that I've been wanting for a Halloween decoration. These dolls remind me so much of A Nightmare before Christmas, that I wonder if this is where Tim Burton got his inspiration.

When we got there, a car had gotten itself stuck in the entrance so Dave got out to help and one of the other good samaritans was a tour guide. He said that this reserve was still closed until November 19th, but one about 1 hour away was open. We had gone this far so....

By the time we got to the Rosario Butterfly Reserve it was about 1pm and we were really tired of driving and really hoping this was going to be worth it. As we drove up a group of boys tried to tell us in Spanish where to park. We didn't really understand and drove farther up the road to a dead end. After we turned around, the boys ran with the car till we found a spot. There were only about 5 other cars in the parking lot. An older man came over and told us that one boy would "watch" our car, and another would lead us up to the entrance. I'm not sure how much we needed the 10 year old security guard, but the tour guide was very helpful.

Watch and see. video

After making it through a labyrinth of shantys and hornets, we said goodbye to our small guide, paid our entrance fee and were issued another guide, an older lady in her 60's or 70's.

She proceeded to lead us up approx. 715 stairs (thanks to Riley and Jane for the count) and then about another 1/2 mile of incline till we finally arrived at the famous butterflies. She was amazing as she carried Milli and held her hand at various times. Our guide said there were not so many butterflies right now, but see for yourself. What looks like leaves are not.Note: the butterflies the kids are holding were already dead. Promise.

We made our way back down, (uneventful except when Amelia had an "accident" in which she announced "I have some good news and some bad news, the good news is I'm done peeing, and bad news is my pants are all wet") and we were grateful to see that the hornets had gone to sleep. Now where to eat and sleep ourselves? It was about 5:30pm by now and getting dark fast. Dave wanted to find a hotel in Morelia, the capital of Michuacan. I wasn't too hip on driving in the dark. He won (since he was the one driving and I couldn't very well jump out of the car) and we drove to Morelia. Arrived 9:30 and settled in a Best Western at 11pm, exhausted.

Didn't want to leave for home too late, so we visited a Candy Museum and headed home.

The kids and their old-fashioned candy picks.

Three things I will especially remember on this trip.
  1. Lots of driving
  2. Millions of flying things, friendly and un-
  3. Our first experience with being an attraction. At every little town or taco stand we stopped, we caused a stir. People would just stand around where we were and watch us. Especially this one little hamburger place, we were the only customers, and the owner's family just stood around our table and watched us eat. Kind of uncomfortable, but we hoped we left a good impression of Americans.
Playing Hooky

On Wednesday, the kid's school had what they called a "Spiritual Retreat" where the kids spent all day with a Catholic nun doing reflection, team building games and other activities with their class. Not that we are against that kind of thing, but most of the kids in Jane's class were not going and some had invited Jane and Riley to play that day instead of go. We thought about it and though we think the retreat might have been of some benefit, we decided making friends here would be more beneficial, especially for Riley who hasn't made very many friends so far. So I arranged for 3 of Jane's classmates to come over and swim and play most of the day. I think it was good for them both.

Here the kids had just finished making a gross "secret potion" out of various foods and other unmentionable things.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Halloween

My friend Laura talked me into hosting a Halloween party at our house for some of the kids friends. I usually get a little stressed out about kids parties but I thought it might be a good opportunity for the kids to see friends from school that they don't usually see. We planned a lot of games, but ended up only doing Pumpkin carving, a pinata and trick-or-treating due to it getting dark faster than we anticipated.

The kids had a blast and I'm glad we did it. Jane and Riley were both skeletons, Amelia was an angel and I bought a luchador mask for Charlie, but he never quite got it on.

Trick-or-treating was interesting. There is one neighborhood here with large amounts of Americans and Canadians, so we went there. Here when you get to the door of a house with lights on, the kids pound on the door and yell "Queremos Halloween"; we want Halloween. I mentioned to Dave that it seemed rather demanding, but he pointed out that ours is rather threatening. Even still, I have to admit when the group of about 30 Mexican kids came to our door and yelled it, I felt a bit threatened.

We ended up with a yard full of paper from the pinata, stomachs full of candy (minus the ones with chili) and a house full of happy kids. Not a bad Halloween.
Dia de la Muerte

For the past few weeks the parents of the students at Jane and Riley's school have been meeting to discuss and plan for Pantheon Loyola, the Day of the Dead celebration at the school. This celebration is very important to some of the catholics in Mexico, for some more than Christmas. For others it's just a tradition. On November 2nd, people crowd the cemeteries (pantheons) to leave flowers, gifts and food for the deceased. The school plans this celebration every year and the students prepare a tumba (tomb or crypt) to represent a famous person. In the past they've done musicians, actors, etc. This year they focused on Mexican heroes, mostly from the Revolution.

Anyway, here is the tumba from Jane's group:

Riley's group:

Also the parents of each grade got together and did a stand to tell about various states in Northern Mexico.

3rd grade (tercero) did Nuevo Leon:

4th grade (cuarto) did Sonora:

We worked on each of these stands and tombs for many hours (mostly the parents) and on the day of the event (Thursday) lots of parents spent all day at the school getting ready. I was able to help only a little on each one, but was glad to get to know some other parents.

At the actual event, Jane's group was supposed to sit by the tomb and pretend to be the mourning family of the deceased. That lasted for about un momento. There was food and halloween junk for sale and I finally got one of my favorite Mexican foods, tamales.

Jane got her hair painted pink.

The high school students designed and made a picture out of colored sawdust for the ground in front of the stands. I saw them working on it and it was painstaking. They would get a handful of the sawdust and press it into a stencil they had made. Then when the stencil or section was done, they would spray it with water and put a board over it to stand on and press down. The finished artwork was probably 5 X 15 meters in size.

The whole festival was very labor intensive, but I gained an appreciation for Mexicans ability to work hard and talk a lot.