Live Life like Someone Left the Barn Door Open

thumbnailWhile I know very little about horses, I am always up for a horse ride.  Horses seem pretty smart to me; they know that  I have no idea of what in the heck I am doing.  Granted, most of my rides have been pretty tame.  The horse follows the one in front of him on a trail so well known, he could walk it in his sleep.

Except my horses always seem to be the ones that stand around a lot, laughing at me while I mentally run through my options.  Do I squeeze?  Do I pull the reins?  Do I swat?  Yeah, usually, I am just rescued by the professional—or my son.  My horse is also the one that experiences technical difficulties.  I have spent more time leaning 45 degrees in the saddle because of equipment malfunctions that I am too embarrassed to mention.  (As if The Leaning Rider of Horses is a thing, and no one notices.)

Steve does not ride, so it is up to me to accompany Caleb and our guests on the trail.  Our first ride was a two hour trip into the desert and back.  Hidden throughout areas of the desert are “ojos de aqua”, or deep holes that fill with rainwater, creating mini ecosystems within a larger one.  The hole we were searching for was filled by a waterfall no less.  I rode Mariachi, who was preoccupied with the smorgasbord on the side of the trail.  The guide had discussed the horses’ snacking habits prior to the trip.  I knew I was not supposed to let him munch on the trees and grasses.  But, kind of like me at a Pizza Hut Buffet, no one was going to get between this guy and his lunch.  This meant the guide was paying a lot of attention to me (and my lack of ability).  Caleb actually moved  a spot or two in line to distance himself from the troublemaker and obvious amateur.

The set of Catch 22 in San Carlos, Sonora.  The movie was based on the novel written by Joseph Heller.

While it was apparent that these horses knew the route, they were not nearly as programmed to follow one another.  We did not move through the desert nose to tail.  This allowed riders more time to focus on the beauty of the desert than the bathroom habits of the horse in front.  I experienced moments of solitude which allowed for quiet time to reflect on nature and my place in it.

I had never been allowed to trot or gallop on a guided horse ride in the U.S.A.  On these trips, however, our horses were encouraged to pick up the pace.  I am still on the fence about whether or not that is a good thing.  I am pretty sure I looked like a rag doll in the saddle, and I felt like a bowl of Jello.  But I did not care!  I opened my eyes wide, let out a “WHOOP”, and pretended to chase an old time stagecoach robber.  I was at the end of the line, in my own world, and oblivious to the coaching (or reprimands)  I was receiving at this point.

Our next horseback ride passed right through the set for the movie Catch 22.  Part of the old airstrip is still visible.  Some of the buildings that served as the base are still standing.  Many of the stones used to build them have disappeared over time, probably serving a more functional purpose in someone’s actual home today.   Since I had never read the book, Catch 22, I needed to watch the movie, especially knowing now that it was filmed in my own backyard.  I watched long enough to say, “Yep, I have ridden my horse through that arch,” before falling asleep.  Then I read the synopsis published on Wikipedia instead.

thumbnail-2I loved watching my mom ride.  The smile never left her face.  Her joy was pure.  Her laugh while her horse ran across the desert was beautiful music- -and she even looked like she knew what she was doing.   At the end of the day that is what is most important about experiences like this.  It is not how well you handle your horse or how competent you look doing it.  It is about being able to let go, if even for just an hour or two, and living life in the moment.  It is about leaving insecurities and worries at the ranch.  It is about appreciating what you are seeing, even if you happen to be looking at it from a 45 degree angle.

Keep Calm and Buy More School Supplies

thumbnail-1You can take a teacher out of the classroom, but you cannot take the classroom out of a teacher.  Or so they say.  It has been more than a year since I resigned my position as an elementary teacher, and I still love visiting art/office/school supply stores.  When a friend mentioned she needed some new drawing pens and a sketchbook, I jumped at the chance to accompany her.   One of my husband’s co-workers pointed us in the right direction.  We stuck to her map until detoured by the opportunity to photograph goats grazing in an empty lot next door to the beer store and across from the Home Depot.  Cuteness quota met, we carried on.

We experienced a bit of confusion when we pulled up in front of a Super Farmacia.  Do not misunderstand.  I love a drugstore as much as the next guy.  This has less to do with being a teacher and more to do with the 3/$3 deals on boxed candy I remembered.  I just was not sure we were in the right place for what we needed.

Oh, I love when am I am wrong! (Shhhh.  We will just keep that between us.)  Thethumbnail-6 “Super” in the store’s name meant that this was much more than just a pharmacy.  It was also a papelería, or stationery store.  My eyes glazed over as I took in the bins of notebooks, the holiday decor, the wrapping paper and gift bags, the pens and pencils…  Within 15 minutes I had my hands full of things that I could have used in my Spanish classroom.  Then I remembered I did not have a Spanish classroom any more and put most of them back.

I did have a very loud internal debate with myself on whether or not I would be able to convince Steve to play “Pon Una y Toma Una”.  (Learn to play here.)  After discovering the game a few years ago, I modified several dice so that my kindergarteners could play.  The real deal was right in front of me!  Ultimately, I decided Steve would not be interested, even if I somehow managed to include tequila.  I consoled myself with the fact that I now knew where I could buy the special dice I needed.  The Día de los Muertos lotería game I ended up with made me feel a little better too.

Pens and pencils, markers, erasers, paints, glue, scissors, and pencil sharpeners are arranged on shelves behind glass.  Most of those items are sold individually, rather than in jumbo packs.  Great idea, considering I am still hauling around the box of 60 of pencils I bought for Caleb when he started junior high school 12 years ago.  In fact, you can buy individual sheets of construction paper, tissue paper, wrapping paper, and pipe cleaners too.  This makes school supply shopping much more affordable for families.  There is a copy machine on site as well.  My friend found her art supplies and picked up a box of Dramamine for our upcoming boat ride at the same time!  Talk about convenient.

thumbnailI was excited to show Steve all the cool stuff I found.  Always a good sport, he was as enthusiastic as one can possibly be when looking at items purchased from a papelería.  That is until I pulled the Constitución Politica de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos   out of my bag.  He could not look up the word “nerd” in his Spanish Dictionary fast enough.   It is el/la nerd, by the way.  And I will own it.


Hello, It’s Me…

By the time my husband signed his contract, accepting a new position in Guaymas, Mexico, we had about two and a half months to organize and move.  For me, this included finishing up the school year and packing a classroom; in addition to finding a new house, selling an old house, deciding which of our belongings to sell or store, selling and storing those items, visiting the Mexican Consulate in Indianapolis, finding Mexican car insurance, packing, and saying goodbye to family and friends.  I know there was more, but I’m exhausted just typing this.

The very last thing on my mind was checking out cell phone plans.  To be honest, the only reason I had a cell phone in the first place was to communicate more easily with my son, as his days and nights became busier beginning in junior high school.  Well, that and to look things up on road trips.  (All those brown signs with someone’s names on them?  Yes, I am the one person who actually used my data to learn about who they were.)  After 10 years I still need to look at the keyboard to type, and I text with one thumb.  So calling Verizon to find out if I would have phone service in Mexico and how much it would cost were not priorities.  I turned off my cellular data as soon as we crossed in Nogales and drove off blissfully into a world with no Google Maps, Trip Advisor, or AAA.  This also meant I could not call my husband, who was in the lead car, to tell him he was going the wrong way again.

After about a month, I came to the conclusion that I would probably benefit from a phone that I could use outside of the house- -just in case I had car problems, or got lost, or needed to look up a word on my Spanish Dict App.  Rather than investigate my Verizon options, I decided to buy a “burner”. 1) I was watching too much Narcos on Netflix. 2) I loved using the word burner.

I became easily confused with the options available in the United States, so I have no idea what convinced me I could handle a phone purchase in Spanish.  Off I went anyway to the nearest Telcel store.  They had a “Plan Amigo”, two words I could understand at the time.  I was in and out in about 15 minutes, feeling rather pleased with myself.  That lasted until I charged the phone and got dinged with multiple texts from Telcel, presumably welcoming me to the Plan Amigo, but I don’t really know because they were all in Spanish.

I started carrying my phone with me whenever I left the house.  I used it to check Facebook while I was getting my hair done.  I used it to take pictures of the octopus for sale in the seafood department at Walmart.  I used it a couple of times to text my husband at work, just because I could.  I used Whatsapp to message my son, my mom, and my aunt.  (They rarely checked WhatsApp or didn’t recognize the number.)  It did come in handy during Hurricane Newton when we were without power for three days, she says sarcastically.  (See above about not checking WhatsApp.)

Poor little burner can no longer even be charged after mistaking its cord as an extra for a Kindle and disposing of it!

And like presents kids receive at Christmas, after the novelty wore off, I more often than not forgot all about my burner when I left the house.  I took a book to the hairdresser instead.  I enjoyed looking at new discoveries through my own eyes, rather than through the lens of a camera.  My husband is pretty busy at work; he can text me if he needs something, right?  (He might have to wait a long time before I answer.)  If I have car trouble or get lost?  Well, the only local number in my burner phone contacts is Captain Steve; captain of a boat, not of the Policía Municipal.  I am sure I can figure it out.  It is not like the great explorers before me had cell phones either.  (We are going to ignore the fact that some were forever lost at sea, eaten by cannibals, or never made it out of the jungle.)

I did take it with me on a recent trip North.  My phone stopped working while I was taking a picture of a roadside restroom that charged five pesos for toilet paper.  Lesson learned.  Leaving the house with a roll of toilet paper is much more important than leaving the house with a cell phone.

Wild, Wild Life

thumbnailWhile growing up, my son was obsessed with animals and Pokémon, in that order.  By default, I become somewhat of an expert on both.  I still hear the words “ask me another trivia question” in my head before a car ride or bedtime.  Fortunately, the Pokémon craze passed.  (Although we were both still interested enough to check on Pokémon Go availability in Mexico.)  We were left with a lasting curiosity and love of animals.  We were hopeful that our move to Mexico would generate sightings of “never before seen to us in their natural environment” experiences.

We have seen roadrunners, desert hares, coyotes, tortoises, wild pigs (cochi), sea lions, and dolphins in the wild.  Well, the sounder of cochi came up from the beach and strolled through our neighborhood- -that is outside, so technically, wild may apply.

Caleb was stung by a jellyfish twice within a two week period.  Fish and other underwater animals are definitely more interesting when observed through a dive mask, as opposed to reading about them in a library book with a copyright date of 1953.  I have learned that starfish are not white; they are orange and purple and red.  Stingrays will ignore you, if you ignore them.  That skinny, green thing close to shore is not seaweed, rather, it is a sea cucumber.  I’ll be darned, crabs really do live in shells.  Many varieties of shells, I might add.

Iguanas show up where you least expect them:  a parking lot at the Delfinario, a drainage wall, a window screen.  There is absolutely nothing cooler than watching a pelican dive bomb into the water for its dinner, over and over again.  It can be rather unnerving walking past a volt of turkey vultures, especially on the way back from a long walk on the beach- -when I look “dead” tired.  A squirrel sighting is rare.  A raccoon sighting is not.

thumbnail-1But the animals we see most frequently are not the animals we thought we would see!  I’m talking about cows on the beach.  Cows eating grass in the middle of the neighborhood.  Cows walking in both lanes against traffic.  Horses drinking from a mop bucket full of fresh water on a hot day at the neighborhood Oxxo or lounging under the shade tree in the center of the roundabout.  Horses taking a break from the hot sun in someone’s garage.  In fact, there have been more traffic jams caused by cows and horses in San Carlos than cars.  “Cow crossing” signs are posted along the main thoroughfare.  I never imagined myself saying “watch out for the cows on your way home” or turning on my hazard lights to alert other drivers to the presence of a newborn foal.  Or making my husband drive loops around said roundabout to take yet another picture.  But I do!


The most common explanation given for their appearance (everywhere but on the actual ranch) is free range.  Free range meaning that cows and horses can go wherever they want, and you are powerless to stop it.  This is debated frequently, particularly after a horse has knocked over someone’s garbage cans (again) or the cows have eaten newly planted grass on the town’s golf course (again).  There are gates and fences.  Where there is a will, there is a way.  I have seen cow sized gaps in stands of barbed wire.  I have watched horses open closed gates.  I guess even animals fall under “the grass is always greener” spell.

So while I bide my time in my search for the elusive mountain lion, I will not discount the joy I receive from my farm animal sightings.  It never gets old shouting “Look!  Cow!”  And you just never know when the inspiration for a new trivia question will strike.


No Todos Los Héroes Usan Capas

Given the recent earthquakes that have affected Chiapas, Oaxaca, Puebla, Mexico City, and many smaller communities in southern Mexico, there has been much attention focused on the heroic dogs who are assisting the Navy and other rescue groups in the search for survivors.  Frida, Eco, and Evil have become household names.  Piñatas, coloring books, and stuffed animals created in their likeness aim to celebrate and honor these dogs for their hard work.  It has even been suggested that Frida’s likeness would look terrific on a 500 peso bill.

Their presence also serves to remind citizens not to forget pets and the stray animal population during this chaotic time.  Donations of dog and cat food are pouring into collection centers.  Notices of missing animals and those needing homes appear daily on social media sites.

It is not easy being a dog or cat in Mexico on a normal day, never mind after a devastating natural disaster.  There is a stray pet problem in Guaymas/San Carlos, exacerbated by lack of affordable veterinary care or lack of access to such care.  La Sociedad Benefactura y Protección Animal, a non-profit headquartered in Tucson, Arizona, works hard in the community to change that by offering spay/neuter clinics and vaccinations, not only for family pets, but also for stray and/or feral animals.  Recently, the SBPA has added mobile clinics, extending their outreach.

The SBPA depends on volunteers to assist with the operation of the clinics and the various annual fundraisers.  Volunteers transport animals, man tables during the clinics, and translate (Spanish to English and English to Spanish, not barking).  Many members also choose to foster puppies or adopt abandoned animals themselves.

One of the most popular fundraisers each year is the SBPA Fashion Show.  Rescued dogs parade up and down the catwalk wearing hand knitted sweaters.  (Sweaters become very popular for dogs during the “winter months”.  You know, when temperatures reach about 75 degrees.)  Human fashions are also on display, as local businesspeople model clothing from area thrift stores (non-profits for rescue services and scholarships for local students).  Attendees can buy raffle tickets for items donated by local businesses.  There are usually pets available for adoption as well.

Altered Tails Bookstore is open daily on the malecón in Marina San Carlos.  Residents thumbnaildonate their gently used books, which are then resold to eager readers.  We were provided very limited space in a moving truck for personal items when our family transferred to San Carlos.  This meant I had to leave my personal library behind. I discovered Altered Tails within our first week and began volunteering a few months later.  It is the perfect place for anyone who loves books and animals!  Every third Saturday, readers can buy a bag of books for a mere 50 pesos (approximately $2.75).  All money raised through fundraisers and book sales support the clinics and vaccinations.

Through much hard work and a genuine love of animals, stray and abandoned dogs and cats and family pets are given a chance for a much healthier life.  Dogs have demonstrated their ability to assist humans in Mexico City.  The SBPA in San Carlos shows animals that humans are willing to do the same for them.

My “Come to Jesús” Moment

thumbnailAs a front gate guard for the Villas California community, Jesús Morales Vasquez is up and down constantly throughout the day and night, questioning visitors, chatting with residents, and raising and lowering a very heavy metal barrier as he lets folks in and out of the neighborhood.  He was just shy of the halfway point of a 36 hour shift when I joined him for lunch in the casita a few days ago.  Jesús has an inner essence that outshines everything around him; a spirit that makes this 5 feet 6 inch man seem 10 feet tall.  His love of life is infectious, and I wanted to catch it.

Born on December 25 in Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico, Jesús is 68 years old.  He is no stranger to long hours or hard work.  Jesús left school after the ninth grade to help his mother support his eight brothers and sisters.  He worked as a welder and a fisherman, often simultaneously, leaving one job for the other each day.  He didn’t dwell on the long hours or demanding, dangerous work.  Instead, Jesús reflected on nature’s wonders and her beauty in places like Chiapas, Oaxaca, Bahía de Kino, and the stretch of the Sea of Cortez visible from where we sat.  He shared his top-secret fishing spot with me, recalling with pride the day he hauled in 800 kilos of camarónes, some nearly 40 centimeters long.

Jesús has been married to his wife, Rosario, for 40 years.  They have three sons and one daughter.  Their daughter keeps Rosario company during his long shifts- -he described it as a never-ending talk fiesta.  Jesús spoke of his oldest son, who is faced with many challenges in his life at this time.  Not easily discouraged by events outside of his control, Jesús is filled with hope that with the love and support of his family, all be will be right again soon.

Jesús’ faith comes from his strong belief in God and involvement with the church.  When he was younger and his children smaller, Jesús and his family participated in mission exchanges through their church and parishes in the United States.  They traveled to Minneapolis, Maryland, San Jose, Salt Lake City, and Scottsdale.  Jesús ministered to teens.  After a little sleep at the end of a long work day (or two), he completes items on his Honey Do List and then spends his time reading from The Bible.    Unless he is working, you can find him at church on Sunday mornings.

Jesús feels deep pride for his country.  His eyes teared up as he described the strength of Mexico’s people.  He placed his hands on his heart and talked about their unity and love for one another.  He referred to his compatriots as his hermanos.  This depth of feeling is not just reserved for his countrymen.  In spite of dealing with his own health issues related to diabetes, he focused his attention on my sprained ankle, detailing a family recipe guaranteed to reduce swelling.  Noticing the struggle I was having with one verb in particular throughout our conversation, he took the time to write down the correct conjugations in my notebook.  I was there to learn more about him… this lunch was about Jesús.  He didn’t necessarily see it that way.

“How are you always so happy?” I finally asked.  Still working at the age of 68- – long, lonely, physically demanding hours,  facing precarious health issues, and hurting for his son and grandchildren, Jesús never fails to have a smile on his face.  His response was surprising simple.  “La vida es un regalo.”  Life is a gift.  “Waking up is the very first gift of each day.”   I felt the depth of his words in my own soul.  Occasionally, we need reminders to give thanks for the precious moments we are granted.  Jesús is my reminder.  I am forever grateful for the gift of his presence in each of my days.

Chamoy Apples: Welcoming Fall, Mexico Style

Lately, I am reading a lot of fun posts on social media from friends in Indiana who are beginning to celebrate fall.  Cooler temperatures, changing colors, football games, and trips to orchards or corn mazes are just a few of the signs of the approaching season up north.  The only reason I am aware of fall’s coming in San Carlos is my calendar.  That and a very odd, out-of-place fall display at the Guaymas Walmart.  The temperatures remain warm and the sky a brilliant blue.  With rainy season just past us, rich hues of green cover the surrounding mountains.  Late blooming flowers boast vibrant shades of purples and pinks.  On weekends, boaters, jet skiers, and swimmers still enjoy the warm water of the Sea of Cortez.

Last year, some friends and I decided to bring a little Indiana fall to Mexico with a twist on the traditional caramel apple.  The idea of making this treat came to us in the middle of a downtown shopping trip when my friend described a delicious apple she had eaten over the weekend at a baseball game.  Having no internet access for a quick recipe look up, we relied on helpful shopkeepers to direct us to what we would need.  As a result, we ended up with a pouch of tamarind paste, a bag of tajín seasoning, and a bottle of chamoy sauce.   And we had absolutely no idea what exactly to do with any of them.

I spent the rest of that afternoon searching for recipes on-line – -recipes that matched the ingredients we had already purchased that is.  It seems there are much easier ways to make Chamoy Apples, as tamarind is sold in fruit roll up form, ready to be pressed around the apples.  After nearly depleting the battery in my phone, I found (a much more involved) recipe that would work.   Ah, what were a few more steps between friends anyway?

thumbnailWe started our apple making over breakfast by translating the steps of the recipe.  Yes, the recipe that best suited our purchases was in Spanish.  Confident that we understood what to do, we began making one of the biggest messes I have ever seen in a kitchen.  Tamarind paste is not easy to work with.  It stuck to the package it came in, the stove, the pan, the spoon, the counter, our hands, the cute little cupcake liners, the wooden sticks… The “professionals” in the YouTube videos made it look effortless – – and clean!  It took longer to wash the pan than it did to cover all of our apples.  And if tajín was glitter, I would have been ready for a night of clubbing.

Was it worth it?  You better believe it!  One bite and an explosion of flavors filled my mouth.  The fall treat was a perfect coming together of sweet, sour, and spicy.  I put on a sweatshirt, turned the air conditioner down, and gazed at the September/October pages in my National Parks calendar while eating my apple.  And once I was done, I slipped on my bathing suit and high tailed it over to the pool.

If you need help translating the recipe, leave me a note in the comments. ¡Disfrutan!