Dulce y Salado / Sweet and Savory


Post written over a week ago from a sofa in Alicante, Spain…

I won’t be going home hungry.

We’re standing in front of the 3rd glass covered case of gelato looking for the flavor “Mora” which I identified in Spanish as translating to blackberry or marionberry or some combination thereof, recalling when I found good bread in Mexico to toast and top with the accompanying Zarzamora jam.

In any case it’s what my friend Alexis wants and rare here in Spain but can be found. I’m using the opportunity to inquire about every other flavor and get samples. I start with platano con chocolate – banana chocolate – which is dreamy but something I can get at home. I’m trying to find the most unique and so I inquire about a flavor I’ve never seen before – “Que es Crema Catalana?”

“Crema Catalana?” the man behind the counter with thick wavy dark hair asks me in a way that sounds like a dare. His description is seductive and like a challenge for me to order it, his final words summing it up, “It is a cold rich crème brulee. It is gelato of burnt crème. CRÈME BRULEE GELATO, he practically screams, do you understand?”

I shout back “I’ll have the Chocolate Truffle!” Something so basic but I panicked and it was all I could say at that point. It was an airy mousse-like scoop of chocolate, perfect in one small cup to stroll the remainder of the promenade watching Spanish 20 year-olds play soccer volleyball. Alexis got Mango. How boring i thought, too fruity.  I tried a bite and it was divine. The players are kicking and heading the ball over the net, soccer rules with a net in between. We find a bench in front of them and sit long past sunset, the air still warm and the stars starting to twinkle. As they are folding up the net Alexis and I decide, we too, should head home. We wander the curvy streets up the hills to our apartment, observing Spaniards eating, sipping and laughing, they all seem oblivious to time and tasks on the horizon, and slip into the panaderia for an empanada. I’m full but Alexis needs a nibble and gets the mini pisto empanada. For “mini” it is good sized and she gives me a corner to try. Pisto is a tomato paste filling and I’ve now sampled a half dozen varieties, all of them smooth and savory.

Two days later I arrive by bus in Elche, a sweet little town that is probably often missed as a place to stop.  I’ve got snacks in tow, as always, but instead of my natural raw almonds from home I’ve grabbed a bag of the freshly roasted salted marcona almonds and a hunk of Manchego cheese that I bite into and decide I want to stay here forever.

Elche happens to have one of largest groves of palm trees in the western hemisphere. There is no beach, this is inland and palms of every variety, mostly date, are growing alongside churches and bus stations, lining paths and winding along streets.  A river cuts through town, the only thing strong enough to march a course past the palms, essentially dividing the town into two very easy to manage halves. The now almost completely dried-out riverbed is replaced by a beautiful mosaic of murals painted along the ground, walkways lining the sides.

After a day of wandering the city, criss-crossing over the 4 bridges that mark the city, I start to peek into those glass cases of frozen delicacy again. “Que es….” I tried black sesame which was delicious, all the while knowing this is where I was going to go for it.

The gentleman scooped up a most generous “copa pequena” of Crema Catalana for me and I handed over two Euro coins.

It is as expected a rich custardy perfectly eggy and cinnamon cold creamy delight. I saw it in every cold case of gelato every day after that but couldn’t do it again. It was perfectly satisfying and hard to finish, but I did.

Highlights were the Pastel de Belem in Portugal, a crispy phyllo type crust tartlet filled with custard, the national pastry of Portugal.

Gelato, in any flavor.

Tortilla Española at a hole in the wall bar, perfectly cooked potatoes, crisped edges.

Churros con chocolate. Always get the hot chocolate. We tried the cold chocolate as well, “just to see” and it was good, but caliente is best.

Grilled artichokes. These came as an appetizer before the paella and almost ruined the meal they were so good.


Pastel de Belem, Alfama district, Lisbon Portugal


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Elche, Espana

To the land of Cervantes and the sea

The first and last time I boarded a plane set for Spain I was in my junior year of college at UW, ready to see beyond North America, feeling drawn to Latin culture and language from my time in Mexico and now wanting to see Europe.

I had flash cards with words written out “Llave” on one side “Key” on the other. I had little ability to combine sentences with any fluidity but wanted to be able to get by with the homestay family that I’d be arriving to in less than 12 hours. I remember setting foot in the 5th floor walk-up on Calle Muntaner, Barcelona, so warmly greeted by Senora Cristobal and her son Roberto. Less warmly by the French exchange student who was a dead ringer for a young Sean Penn. Within 5 minutes we had covered introductions and her giving me my llave and so I sat and listened while my head swarmed with these pretty words that flew by, landing nowhere near a conclusion I could draw. A girl came by from the American Cultural Exchange to help me get situated. All I could do was feel envy at her perfect prose interacting in Spanish with my new temporary family.

Today I board a plane destined for the south of Spain, no flash cards but a book in hand; hopeful, eager, tired, ready to vacation. My first time was so beautiful and I have forever held Barcelona itself on a pedestal, separate in my mind from the rest of Spain, she’s the girl at the party with the perfect dress you later find out she made herself. She stands out but decidedly wants to, never awkward as she owns her flare.

I remember girls in heavy denim wide leg jeans sitting at cafes of marble table tops, the boys we met and with whom we danced all night, eating churros y chocolate caliente at dawn, laughing about the antics of the prior night. 

My senora though, she taught me the most. I sat and watched her move about her tiny kitchen every morning making me a stovetop espresso alongside my toasted pan with Sevilla marmalade. Sausage hung above her head on a string she’d fashioned to keep them out of her way. Her husband had died  and she wore black and went to mass every day. I sat in my long black skirt and figured out how to tell her I didn’t really want to hang out with the American girls at school that day. She seemed to understand. But every night she’d push me out the door – “Vete!” go have fun, dance, be in Barcelona!

I did. But I’d wake again so happy to wander into the kitchen and take a quiet seat in the corner after the others had left and have my own time with my Senora huddled over the stove.

I don’t mean to sound precious about travel or unique in my love of it, I am almost equally moved by seeing a cat in a rain slicker, non-ironically, walking in Seattle. It’s the observance and newness and curiosity of it all that we share, whatever the subject matter that stirs your heart I am glad to share mine with you!

This blog began and remains in honor of my brother, my first travel companion and forever champion. file-7.jpeg

My spot in Seattle, room with a view



Poco a poco / Little by little

I have traded Oaxacan (whuh-ha-ken) chocolate shaved atop the foam of my cappuccino and a sun that’s rays go past the skin and straight to your bloodstream, for drip coffee and a predictable clientele at most any coffee shop in Seattle, old or new. I left Mexico with a few surprises yet to be uncovered and returned to the comfort of familiar faces in Seattle, rain to build an ark for, followed now by the bluest of blue skies of May. It is a mezcla mix, but I’m glad to be here, and loved being there.


University of Washington Campus, Seattle, WA

Before I left for Merida in August my Dr. had told me “Do not, I mean, do NOT take Vitamin D while in Mexico. You will get plenty naturally.” Weather today in Merida is 102 with ~80% humidity. I don’t regret leaving sooner than planned, but I do find it odd to be nearing the end of the teaching year and walking Greenlake instead of my old Colonia Maya.

Going to Oaxaca, the most southern region of Mexico, despite some challenges was one of the best experiences I’ve had yet in these four decades of life.

My brain is still overloaded by looking at the boxes in my storage unit marked “Kitchen appliances” and “Office supplies/Printer stuff” when I’m trying to find a lighweight jacket and clothes for an interview. I have been roving between the homes of my welcoming generous friends and started to professionally pet and house-sit. Airbnb is a lifesaver, too!  Somehow even with the stress of this arrangement, on most days it is still worth it.

As opposed to finding certainty of what I want to do next, and where I want to do that, I’m finding some of what I don’t want, or at least do not want yet. I’ve been applying for jobs of all ranges, hoping to get something I can do remotely at least some of the time with flexibility to travel and focus on writing more. The corporate world and more stability may be what I try and return to at some point, but for now some temping is working out okay as I continue the search. Most importantly with this much uncertainty, I need to get some form of certain grounding every day and for me a walk and a friend, and being a friend, is the formula that helps.

I’ve read people like lists, I know I do. So here you go!

Best things about Mexico

  • Fresh Tortillas. Both those made by hand on a hot comal every morning, noon and night by a Señora in a floral tattered apron, and the tortilleria with the mechanized “hot off the press” stacks of fresh tortillas, weighed and stacked by young men who take the task seriously.

Walking to the tortilleria, the anticipation, the waiting in line with a basket lined with a fresh dish towel into which the amount of any range, exactly 8 tortillas or 1 whole kilo, are placed atop the towel in your basket then folded over, covering the most simple, decadent and necessary of corn creations.

  • Sunsets. I was taken at how stunning the sunsets are even in the big cities and suburbs, let alone those beach and mountainous vistas. Yellow, pink and orange layers painting the skyline.
  • The people. Despite the news, the weather, the economic standings, the annoyances which are on some days abundant, Mexicans have a graciousness and jovial attitude that is comforting and catching. They love to play and celebrate within the everyday, including the hardships of life. Just look at Dia de los Muertos.
  • Multi-sensory treats 24/7. From the rooster crow to the smell of the panaderia and the truck driver on his bullhorn blaring out “Agua” to the view of the hillside with its overgrown bougainvillea and little tic tac painted casitas, all by 7am upon opening one’s door, it is a feast for the senses all day every day. Color, warmth, love and light.
  • Spanish. Poco a poco nosotros mejorar. Little by Little we improve. Why does it sound so much better in Spanish? I don’t know. But to my ears and tongue the joy in hearing and speaking this language continues to draw me in. My accent improved measurably, my grammar continues to exist on proper rules and really bad habits, I get my point across and a forgiving people and language keep me going.

Best things about being back in the U.S.A., specifically the Pacific Northwest, precisely Seattle

  • Crossing Streets. I don’t fear for my life when crossing a street. I know the signals are obeyed if I keep a watchful eye. Should something go wrong, the government likely has my back.
  • Green, green, fresh air and clean. Don’t get me wrong, houses and streets are swept and scrubbed daily in Mexico, but exhaust, dust and bugs also thrive daily.
  • My friends and family. The generosity and support for me on this journey has exceeded anything I could expect or knew how much I needed and still do. And I get to be a part of what each of you are up to, what is new, same, changing.
  • Freedom. Mexico is a Democracy with a level of lawlessness. This can be both an attraction and a deterrent for living there. One can go and do as one pleases, but there is a sense that the officials, both low and high ranking could re-direct your course at any point in time, this is true for Mexican nationals and visitors. It may be for a day by taking away your car until you provide some prior unknown needed piece of paper to entirely uprooting a family without good explanation. Money seems to be the underlying motivator and resolver and with lack of money for all involved, it is simply an unfortunate system in place.
  • Pride. I can still say this is a good place to be from and to live, despite the other Washington.


This blog and your readership has helped my journey immensely! Wherever this finds you- be safe, and let all those sensory treats in!


The broad highway / La carretera amplia


Oaxaca Mexico

Someone once said and it’s often repeated, “It’s all about the journey, not the destination”. For me, Mexico has been the journey and Oaxaca the destination I landed on not knowing it contained all the magic in one spot; the good, the frustrating, the beautiful that is old Mexico. A real live burro in the nativity scene, less than a dollar for 20 fresh tortillas, tamales stuffed with chicken mole and wrapped in banana leaves eaten at a food stall with the kindest of strangers, subversive political art produced by the most unassuming kind souls. Having regular spots where I purchased said tortillas and coffee and fruits, a routine I held among 80 year-old Zapotec women with silk ribbons woven into their braided hair. Of all, the mountain range surrounding the city with it’s orange tinge in the morning, blue-green by noon and pink tie dye swath of a reflected sunset by evening was a better view than almost any I’ve seen. Mt. Rainier stands big and proud. The Sierra Madre Range holds you, encircling the valley and all within.



My journey here is ending sooner than expected, and this is why there is no final set destination, so we can continue exploring in the every day as well as the exciting and new.  So I head north, and I’m bringing an amazing experience with me. A wise Mexican artisan said to me “I extend my hand to you across our borders, in solidarity.” I have a few more posts I drafted along the way that I will put up over the coming weeks. I am so thankful you have read and enjoyed what I’ve shared.

The broad highway, inclusive of all our dreams, hopes and wishes. It isn’t narrow or constricting unless we let our fears make it so.


Kilos exactos, mas o menos


Rincon del Acueducto, Calle Alavez

I have a 30 minute walk into town each day, starting and ending with this view.

Every morning you hear the guys on their bullhorn “Gas Oaxaca, kilos exactos!” “Gas Oaxaca, kilos exactos!” Up and down the streets they go. It’s annoying, effective and necessary. Small business owners, homeowners and renters can step outside and get their empty gas tank swapped out for a new one, never going to a store or scheduling an appointment, just wait for the next truck to go by. They go by every day, all day, too often, but eventually – bam, you’re out of gas, burners don’t turn on, and woohoo, Gas Oaxaca is driving by! They sell 10, 15 and 20 kilo tanks and part of their selling point, apparently, is that these tanks are exactly the kilos they state. Is this because you might only get 8 kilos when you paid for 10 and there’s no way to measure it? Quien sabe / Who knows. What I do know is one day my Canadian friend, George, went up to the driver and simply asked, “Is it exactly 10 kilos?” To which the guy shrugged and said tiredly, “Eh, mas o menos.” Eh, more or less.

That describes Mexico so very well and also cracks me up. Passionate and not completely playing by the rules. They play by good suggestions that can be tweaked along the way. I recently went into a convenience store to buy an 11 peso bottle of water with a 200 peso note ($10 USD) and the cashier got irritated. In these situations the cashier might suggest adding an item to your purchase like a Snickers bar, quite handily there are always stacks of candy sitting by the register. Some cashiers simply say, sorry can’t do it. In my case, she mildly scolded me by saying the only way I could buy it is if I was okay getting my change in rolls of coins. Fine by me, then I can buy tacos on the street. It’s like a standoff. They would rather lose a sale than deal with large bills – convenience store stuff is so ridiculously cheap they never have more than small change. I’m still blonde and relatively pale and I don’t seem to be able to hide out so I figure sure, why not send me to the “special” waiting area while you help others in line and ask the manager to get rolls of coins since he has the key, just let me have my water while I self-consciously wait.

The buses go by blowing diesel exhaust in my face. The motorcycles run red lights and I’ve almost gotten severely clipped; now I wait and go extra blocks to get to the safest intersections. I feel many people are low grade resentful at Americans, and in return I am low grade uncomfortable on a regular basis when walking around, which I do a lot of. Still, these things in no way change mine or many others opinions on what a uniquely wonderful place Mexico is. The pomegranate tree on my street says it all – a beautiful blooming fruit tree stands out and grabs your attention bigger than the graffiti on the wall behind it.

I’ve been going to a conversation class and my Spanish teacher, Jose, born and raised in Oaxaca said in a very lighthearted way to me, “Gracias to mi amigo Trump, doesn’t look like I’ll be getting that tourist visa to visit the U.S.”  He doesn’t need to go to the U.S. for a job, but now he he’ll likely never go as a tourist either. I asked him where he’d like to go if he could see any city or country in the world, both of us knowing the likelihood is slim, but anything is possible.

“Greece,” he says. I cringe hoping he doesn’t ask if I’ve been. He does. “Yes, I have.”

We watch the sunset and by now I will tell you my fair readers, I am on a date with my former Spanish teacher, Jose. The overlook is called the Cerro del Fortin and it’s the highest point in the city. We’ve climbed the 200+ steps to the top, stopping to catch our breath along the way, we’re now over 5,000 feet above sea level. We sit on the sloping edge so that the amphitheater is behind us, we’re on slightly uneven stone pavers and it’s probably uncomfortable but I don’t notice. A woman and child walk by and stop below and wave two tickets at us. Neither of us can hear but finally Jose makes out she is offering them to us, they’re extras. So kind. No gracias, he tells her. The symphony starts behind us and we laugh, we have perfect outdoor view seats. The musicians are amazing and Jose tells me this is just one of five symphonies in the city. We try and talk above the music and then just sit quietly. When the music ends we list off all the good about the situation: the panoramic view of the city, the mountains, the music, the breeze, the warmth of the sun as it slowly sets, the policia. Yes, the policia have stopped their truck with the militia of weapons just below us, and seem to spend a lot of time glancing up at us. Sadly, Jose confirms, it’s me. He says they are on alert to anything strange or standing out. There are other foreigners here, obviously, but when given a chance the policia will veer toward the uncommon arrangement and somehow I’m part of that, doesn’t help that we’re sitting on this damn slope. So they are on our list, ah the policia, they are the cherry on the cake! We’re speaking in Spanish and so he asks if that’s how we say it too. “I think we say it’s the cherry on top,” I reply hesitantly because nothing sounds right. I’m actually feeling a bit weak at times with my Spanish and at least five times in the evening I said I’m sorry, I just have to say this in English. I’m tired of reflexive verbs.

No, I’m not dating my former Spanish conversation teacher but I’ve made a nice friend. I’m looking for jobs in Oaxaca and Seattle. I’m eating too many tortillas but enjoying each one. Thank God for the Sierra Madre Mountain range that stops me in my tracks every day when I start to think of all the uncertainties. There are horrible tragedies going on in our world, and I look for ways to offer myself even if it’s simply to help an elderly lady across the street, or be the patient customer, or maybe to think ahead and have change. For a laugh I can count on my Gas Oaxaca guys, mas o menos.


Pavo y Patatas / Turkey and Potatoes

IMG_4111.JPGColonia La Cascada, Oaxaca City

Believe it or not, turkey and potatoes are commonly served throughout Mexico; not typically in the way we Americans see it arrive to the Thanksgiving table, but those main ingredients are present in many dishes. You are more likely to get shredded turkey atop tostadas in the Yucatan than pollo. Nonetheless, chicken is everywhere in this country and on a side note, I highly recommend watching the show “Documentary Now” Episode “Juan likes Rice and Chicken.” Fred Armisen nails it, so funny and well done. I went into “Crispy Pollo” the other afternoon and like a dummy asked if they had any grilled chicken to which she stared at me blankly. Thinking it was my Spanish I asked “What is the style, the preparation of your chicken?” to which she announced “Kentucky!” I repeated what she said in my head until it was clear and then I laughed, ah yes, Kentucky fried chicken. As sometimes happens after my inquiries, I said, “I’m getting my friend, I’ll be right back!” Never to return.

The best dishes here in Oaxaca are of course, the moles (pronunciation Mo-lay.) Brown, green and red, you can get mole of a dozen varieties and so far I’ve stuck with the traditional deep, rich brown mole sauce, as shown below. Throughout Mexico anything served before 12pm is considered breakfast even when hearty and including chicken and come with these choices: fruit – cut up or juiced, choice of main dish, coffee – regular or con leche, and always a little basket of warm white corn tortillas. They serve warm tortillas if you order spaghetti or grilled fish. It is the starch of this nation.

I chose papaya juice (though usually I get cut up fruit), the chicken enchiladas covered with mole sauce and a cup of coffee. It feels like a decadent Senior Citizen offering and I love it! These set meals are usually between $2 and $3 US dollars. The lunch offering, referred to as the Comida Corrida is a choice of soup, main dish (usually 4 to select from, always chicken and rice as one option), agua fresca (fruit water of the day such as mandarin) or iced tea and a postre/dessert.


Cafe La Fonda, Chicken Mole Enchiladas, Oaxaca. Delicious.

I want to write about many things, but most of all to send “Happy Thanksgiving” wishes to all!

I will tell you my top 5 amazements and observations in the next post. For now, I’m getting settled into Oaxaca City, and while quite far south I’m about 15 degrees cooler than the Yucatan and renting a beautiful little casita at the base of a 3 level home in the hills of Colonia La Cascada for the next month. It’s a 30 minute walk into El Centro and once again I get to meander through neighborhoods of varied economies and see life unfold; from an elderly woman sitting on a stoop selling toasted pumpkin seeds and a basket of tomatillos while knitting, to professors of fine arts sipping espresso at the hip Café Brujula, this region is rich in culture and natural beauty.

I went on a walk this morning in the opposite direction of El Centro, choosing to go up a hill climb behind my apartment. There are a set of steps to rival any Seattle urban workout. I reached the top and looked across the way – so many houses tucked into the hillside, in a way that appears just firm enough they won’t slide down. The range surrounding is the Sierra Madre Norte and I was fortunate enough to hook up with an expat hiking group and this past Friday joined them to hike an area called La Cumbre. Fresh air, pine trees and some new friends and I was beyond content. Tomorrow I’m going on an urban walk to a big park and meal out with one of the gals from the hiking group who recently moved here from Portland, Oregon. In these parts it’s completely typical to just say ‘Yeah, I moved to Oaxaca City from Berkeley, been here 22 years now.”

I feel a bit blue today and it only dawned on me an hour ago that it could have to do with Thanksgiving being tomorrow.

I’ve always known I am strongly pulled in two directions: a nester and a wanderer. I love home. I love decorating and setting out little candles shaped like turkeys and cloth napkins my Grandmother gave me, and being with loved ones. I also greatly enjoy seeing the big vistas of new places and turning down little winding roads with no idea what to expect and coming upon something I didn’t know existed, or if I did know of it, I couldn’t have imagined it looked or tasted or felt quite like this. I look forward to these two modes of living merging more and more as opposed to feeling an either/or.

Con mucho gratitud / With much gratitude


Las escalaras

IMG_4249.JPGRooftop with a view to behold

Mexico, part dos

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Don Juanito Cafe, breakfast, part one

It’s been challenging to consider writing post-election. I am not intending to write this to any one leaning group or other but to share my thoughts and views from this vantage, south of the border, hopefully never having to say “south side of the wall.”  Yes, apparently he won but that doesn’t mean a wall will be built. The concerns for Mexico are much greater than a wall, it’s NAFTA and tariffs and the economy. It’s about potentially receiving hundreds of thousands of Mexicans back into their birth nation that have been living in the U.S. for decades. Today I saw the first menu updated from $20 pesos for a torta to $28. Good for them, why wait much longer – the peso crashed November 9th and hasn’t started correcting much since then.

The first two days proved difficult to leave my apartment and walk among people who seemed to be looking at me as responsible for their worst fear becoming reality. I had waves of shame walking past a group of folks waiting to get on the bus, a block further I reached a group of men hauling cement bags, it seemed everyone who normally announced a cheerful “Buenos dias” could only look down. I wished I had a T-shirt that simply said “I’m sorry, we tried”.  A few days in I realized I needed to get back in the day to day manner of things just like all of you are. The best I can do is be kind and participate in ways that feel useful, such as going to the Intercambio conversation group where Spanish and English speakers help each other. My sweet landlady who is also no pushover said “Well, there’s still some time between now and January, wink, wink.”  Uh, ok. I saw some graffiti stating “ZAPATA VIVE” and chuckled to myself thinking, yeah, if Zapata were still alive, I think there’s an hombre in the USA who would no mas vive.

To the title – Mexico, part dos. I’ve left Merida. After much consideration over the past month, I decided 3 months was a good stretch to live and teach in Merida and when I found out they had a teacher on standby for substituting that could take over my position, I decided it was time to move on. It was a bittersweet feeling as I left; mostly for the apartment and dusty little back streets I so enjoyed observing around my modern home. The students I will miss as well and know they are in good hands to keep moving forward. My mixed emotions were short lived as I boarded a plane for Mexico City last Saturday, where I then caught a flight to Oaxaca City, where I am now.

I am in the heart of southern Mexico and it is phenomenal. I woke late Sunday morning and made my way down the 3 flights of tiled stairs and across the cobblestone street to find the vendors in the market laying out chiles and coffees and plastic tubs of mole alongside woven baskets full of nuts and coconut treats. I wandered through the maze of stalls, bins full of dried herbs and tables covered with pastries piped full of cream and chocolate paste. Feeling too much of a delirious fog to buy anything I exited the far side and found myself in the Zocalo which had been turned into the International Book Fair, an event going on for the next two weeks. Large canopies covered stands full of novels, non-fiction stands by categories on plants, music, cookbooks, philosophy, every literary category imaginable by authors from around the world. Wrought iron tables lined the perimeter of the plaza and were filling up with groups of 20-somethings ordering coffees and toasted flatbread covered with fresh Oaxacan cheese while families gathered in the center where indigenous women had laid out blankets and wooden toys for children. Fresh squeezed juices and chocolate milk were being passed around, balloons bought and let go into the air too soon. I saw a sign on a column announcing the live music events that will be held each evening and the announcement that the “invited country” is Chile and authors and musicians will be here sharing their works.

And so I stood there, looking at that overflowing plaza, and wiped away a few tears that caught me by surprise as I smiled so wide at nobody, and everybody, feeling so content.

I’m tired. Packing, unpacking, getting settled, feeling ungrounded, getting re-grounded. It’s of my own doing, and it’s feeling worth it, the opportunity to get these slices of life in new places. I’m grateful for the support on this journey that continues to weave and wind.

I feel for everyone in this struggle to accept what has transpired and continues to unfold politically. I am admittedly slightly buffered even though I am checking my news sources regularly and it’s the topic of conversation everywhere. I know the full blown reality awaits. Yesterday I met a woman from Denmark that lived in the states for years and has retired in Oaxaca. We talked about feeling like we want to do something, but what? After some silence she said “I got it, I’ll donate to the ACLU, that’s what I can do today. They won’t stand for this mentality, and certainly won’t let it be carried out, they just won’t.”

Paz, salud y abrazos fuertes a todos / Peace, health and strong hugs to all


36th Annual International Book Fair, Oaxaca City



Downtown Oaxaca and Sierra Madre range

The Politicians and the Peso


I haven’t written much about the political situation other than how my students are curious and concerned. People have commented that I’m lucky to be missing the mess going on at home.  So here’s how the United States Presidential race is looking from our view, south of the border…

Disbelief, appall and fear. Scandals are old hat in Latin America and just make it more exciting, they don’t really care about what goes on behind closed doors, but the economic impact is real and a struggle.

I’ve been getting my news via my handy NPR app each morning and then throughout the day when I walk to and from school I listen to political podcasts for about 10 minutes before deciding I get the point, it’s spun out of control further, and I go back to last weeks episode of “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me”, music or interviews. It’s nice to be up to date but not inundated. I picked up a paper the other day and after looking up a couple big words I’d never seen before, I learned a few things, sadly one being how to explain “something was gaining ground and is now regressing”.

Said thing is the peso, and it’s directly correlated to Hillary Clinton’s health and lead or lag in the polls. In August the peso was gaining strength as Hillary gained momentum, then it started to lose value when Hillary was sick in September, continuing to hit an almost  record weak point of 19.50 Pesos / per 1 US dollar. As she held her own in the debates and gained strength in the polls, so did the peso and was as of last week getting stronger moving to 17Pesos / 1 USD. Then BAM! was hit over the weekend as the latest FBI news came out. This morning, we’re hitting 18.30. Bottom line: When Mexico is supported by the U.S. in trade relations, the world economy supports Mexico. When there is a threat that a U.S. leader will not support Mexican economic growth, then the country is seen as an unstable world trade partner and the peso crashes. 70% of Mexico’s exports go to the U.S. and if these businesses are not in favor by the powers that be, Mexico has to find new partners and buyers.

And by “how the peso is impacted”, of course I mean how all the people, employees, employers, moms, dads and kids are impacted in their daily lives with hopes to stay afloat. Yes, there are multi-zillionaires in this country, and even just flat out millionaires, Merida has a number of these wealthy families; but the majority of the population struggles to hit the basic acceptable standard of living line. Impact on me? I’m paid in pesos in cash in an unmarked envelope every two weeks, the dollar equivalent depends on the day, and apparently the current strength of certain Presidential candidates!

But really, I simply go into the grocery store and calculate that today I paid a dollar equivalent for some tortillas that cost me only 75 cents equivalent last week. For me it’s interesting, not a matter of a full stomach.

Left, middle or right, we all have rights to our opinions, it’s just hard to see consequences. My “citizen abroad” ballot is in and my earbuds nearby as I continue to follow this crazy process of democracy! That said, I am truly grateful to be an American, having the opportunity to temporarily reside in a foreign country observing and writing and learning. In the end I know I am being positively impacted by my experiences here, even when some of this feels difficult. Cue the cockroach the size of my big toe as I walked out my door this morning.













Maya to Montecarlo


The time comes for us to each leave the teacher “dorm housing” and find our way into our own places. After a couple weeks of searching, mostly via the Yucatan version of Craigslist, I found a place and have moved out of Colonia Maya and across Calle 7 to Colonia Montecarlo. And as everyone knows, once you cross Calle Siete, you’re movin’ on up.


I now separate my recyclables, food scraps and regular garbage (good job Merida local government for pushing this program), there are more sidewalks and less dirt roads, one amazing looking wood fired pizza restaurant I look forward to trying, and the mother lode of all, a Super Aki Grocery Store. Basically it’s a Trader Joe’s meets Whole Foods. As you enter they have a little coffee pot with a sign above saying enjoy a cup while you shop. The neighboring store, Soriana, while lesser in quality but larger and cheaper, has free bakery samples. A recent sample was sugared bread stuffed with dulce de leche goat’s milk caramel. If they pull me out of this country, it will be for the surveillance footage showing my abuse of these treats “gratis.”

Otherwise, Montecarlo has the standard OXXO, the Lavanderia, an empanada stand, a fruteria, and lots of newly developed houses in between. This area is actually not a full fledged Colonia but rather a Fraccionamiento which by definition is:

In Mexico, “fraccionamiento” applies if houses or apartment buildings are similar in style and in year built, especially when the community was planned or built by the same constructor; otherwise, “colonia” applies.


Ok, so it’s a “Sub-division” and you can see in the pictures what that looks like here. Modern and new sub-divisions are not my prefe­­rence but the colors make them adorable. Clean, safe and walking distance to work was my basic criteria, so even though I’m still 30 minutes from the more happening downtown, this is where I’m living. Merida has just hit 1 million people and this means major sprawl, literally leveling of jungle and clearing out fields and “rapid construction” type of sprawl. The influx has much to do with the danger in other cities as well as decent jobs in Merida, mostly in the medical industry. It’s a sad state of affairs in many parts- the crime in this country along border towns is atrocious, but has sadly increased in the interior cities of The Republic. I had to use that. It’s how Mexicans talk about the whole country and I had never heard it much until recently when locals kept referring to the rest of the country as “The Republic.” Crime in Mexico City, Guadalajara, even San Miguel Allende and Guanajuato is on the rise. I had it explained to me what else comes with hitting 1 million people when I inquired of my boss’s husband (a safe reliable source for information) as to whether there’s any drug cartel activity in this region. Don’t ask questions you don’t want answers to.

Once a city hits a million it becomes a “place of business ease” for “trafficking”. So while there are no major drug runs happening here, it is a business location for having trucks specially outfitted or fixed up and re-fueled for long hauls coming through from Central America. It’s insane and nauseating to me, but apparently the reality of big business and by most standards Merida remains a very safe city.

Back to more pleasant news…

My little studio is essentially a “mother-in-law” unit, it’s own detached space behind a woman’s house. From the street entrance are two metal doors opening onto her patio and large concrete structure which is her home from where I walk down an open corridor to the back, up two flights of stairs, and you’re in my spot. It’s simple, inviting and clean. The kitchen is outfitted with only a hot plate and microwave and mini fridge but it’s great. I haven’t cooked in two months and made no-bake black bean with red sauce enchiladas in a sauté pan on a hot plate last night. Amazing how much one can do with less, once you have less.

Shelter now covered, I had to get enough water to sustain daily life here for more than just a couple days at a time, not to mention gobble up plastic bottles. Here’s the deal on water. You buy it in jugs, 20 liter/5 gallon jugs called “Garrafones” to be precise, same as the ones in office buildings in the states. There are little shops all over that sell Agua, including OXXO. While I was at teacher housing my first hit of reality that I was no longer in the U.S. was when a more seasoned teacher said, “When you need water, just grab the wagon and we’ll go get some.” Looking around at the other’s rooms I found I would also need a plastic pump to put in the jug to release the water out and fill water bottles, pans, etc. Apparently I’m camping. So one afternoon, we pulled the wagon one would normally use for toting children or yard scraps down the dirt/cobblestone streets about a ½ mile to OXXO and bought two 5 gallon jugs of water. The attendant rang us up at $22 pesos a pop – quite inexpensive for this necessity, and asked “Where is your transport?” We motioned to the door and sheepishly walked outside and pointed to the feeble wagon. No SUV, not even a taxi, just our wagon. We then took the bumpy road home with our water bottles bouncing around, straining the cracks in our abused plastic wagon, laughing hysterically as traffic moved past. Did I mention it was 93 degrees out? NO? Well it’s the first time I’ve forgotten that detail. This has become a post sunset errand.

Now that I’m in Fracc. Montecarlo I still need water and I don’t have a wagon (thank God). I can always get 2 liter bottles and carry them home to get by for now; make coffee, brush my teeth, etc. because no matter how fancy a house one might land here, the tap water is not for using. Luckily the owner’s daughter is generous and read my mind as I hauled the last of my suitcases up the two flights of concrete stairs, she said she’d just picked up extra water jugs and I could have one. Quite gratefully I hauled the 20L clear liquid gold up to my new abode, tore off the top seal, put in my pump and filled a glass.

Walking to school the other day I saw a big iron gate open, next a side car type motorcycle drove up and HAND DELIVERED water to a home. Ah, to live like such Queens and Kings. One day, one Colonia further up. I’m sure someone living in California has a similar procedure and thinks I’m over-reacting. In the end it is pretty fun, the errand that is “getting water” as I write it on my to-do list, and that first swig makes me so grateful.

It’s been a challenging last couple of weeks at the school and I recognize a lot of my bumps in getting settled here have more to do with a new job in a new field, new co-workers, and then the fact that it’s in a new city, country etc. Some days after I’m off work and walk to get some dinner it dawns on me, yes I am living in Mexico.

I’m currently preparing for a two-hour Saturday class that is pretty fun; children in private schools come on Saturday for extra help with homework or to practice listening and speaking skills. It’s suggested I show a Halloween cartoon and talk all about ghosts and goblins. I love that last class one sweet 8 year old student completely dismissed Halloween saying he celebrates Hanal Pixan. Hanal Pixan is the Maya version of Dia de los Muertos. The cultural layers deepen and I’ll find out more about this tradition as I attend festivities starting next weekend!

I miss pumpkin patches and falling leaves piling up in fall, but continue to enjoy the wild fruit concoctions, exploring in my off time and marveling at altars being assembled around town.

Beaches and ballots




Isla Mujeres on Saturday

Back in Merida on Monday:

This morning I headed out from our teacher housing glad to have a couple hours for a walk and cup of coffee before it would hit 90 degrees, which is typically by 10 a.m. I was about to go into 7-11 and grab a nice cold bottle of water when a cop turned the corner, adjusted his machine gun and walked in first. As casually as I could, I turned on my heel and walked the other direction, as if I just remembered I didn’t have enough money, or weapons. It’s unsettling to say the least the amount of armed forces present in all of Mexico, but particularly the growing number of police in Mérida “promoting safety by their presence.”

One night in OXXO (the highly preferable convenience store because they stock fresh avocados and bake their own baguettes every morning) a group of police came in, quickly parted the line of men buying Tecate and me and the other teachers balancing bags of chips and fudgesicles in our arms, each cop pulling a gun off their chest and directing the 16 year old clerk to open the safe and count out the money. By the way the clerks reacted it was normal procedure so we followed suit with everyone else and casually waited around while these cops, or possible costumed  robbers, finished up. Part way through the other clerk started ringing people up. I learned two things this evening: after “la policia” confirm the safe is full of what they deem is correct, they too just want a cold drink, and the proper term for an icy frozen treat on a stick, according to Brits and Aussies, is “ice lolly” not popsicle.

I’ve grown weary this past week. I was weary by week 3 or 4 and now at week 7, it’s still feeling a bit uphill. Humidity maintains it’s fight to keep us all moving slowly, my best students have all started acting in a way that makes me wonder if they had a double shot of espresso before they came in and decided to not sit down or listen for the entire lesson, I’m not meeting anyone my age to connect with, challenging school administration/office politics and now the rising question in the back of my mind as to what I’ll do next. This can be both exciting and absolutely daunting. Buying 30 cent avocados of course entices one to stay in Mexico, having to buy your own 20L water bottles and transport in a wagon when you don’t have a car makes Seattle look like paradise. Actually water bottle refill day is fun, I’ll share a video of this process soon.

To escape the heat and get some time in the water, a teacher with few classes offered to substitute teach for me last Saturday (Saturdays are as normal of a work day here as a Tuesday but a Sunday is always a free day) and caught the 8am bus to Cancun which took exactly 4 hours, transferred to a foot ferry and arrived on Isla Mujeres by 1pm. The beach was a beautiful respite. The water is not so much turquoise as it is a gorgeous pale jade green, covering a creamy white sand beach that extends for miles at about 2 feet depth. I swam and sat and read and then snorkeled and watched sunsets and ate fish tacos. I listened to Americans speak English which was music to my ears, for about 15 minutes.

The 3 of us English teachers have to travel more or less solo because we all teach our classes at the same time and someone or two has to teach and combine classes. It’s not ideal but it’s worth seeing more of the Yucatan however we can right now.

Two days back at school and I am a bit more in the swing of lesson planning, having fun with the kids while maintaining some order. The election is on everyone’s minds, and by that I mean my two favorite 10 year old students inquire frequently as to what I think will happen. I have no answers of course but it opens up for great discourse and I have them practice debate style conversation by answering the question “What would you do, if you were President of the U.S. or Mexico?” Before I could finish the sentence Alejandro, shrieked: “I get to be U.S.A. Presidente, Jorge has to be Mexico!” Followed by: Make the peso equal the dollar, help the people without the food, make the jails be closed (are they open?), be more fair, not build a wall, keep nature safe from destruction.

Having declared “temporary overseas residency status”, King County Elections said my ballot will be coming via email shortly, then I will begin the arduous process of finding a shop with a printer I can connect to, print, fill out, sign, scan and email back. At least I think that’s the drill to keep safe from electronic fraud. I’m pretty sure there’s a printer involved, and I’m quite sure the printer at school is broken.

More stories to come…thanks for all the words of encouragement. I heard it was National Taco Day yesterday. We had tamales 🙂