"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Dad and Pickles


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My Dad is visiting from Tucson. He's been helping me today (read: sitting in the kitchen and offering advice while I) make pickles and cheese. It's been a while since Dad has been up to the farm, and a lot of things have changed. Unfortunately, I can't really show Dad around much, because he is several years post-major-stroke and hemiplegic. He is more or less confined to a wheelchair, and my property isn't very wheelchair-friendly. The house is ok, the grounds, not so much.

Dad has always been one of my major inspirations for wanting to be a homesteader. When I was a child - before the divorce - we lived on a small "hobby" farm and had dairy goats and chickens, and Dad put in a fairly serious garden every year. After I bought my first house and my Dad came to live with me, he helped me plan and execute a pretty serious garden every year. He occasionally brewed beer and mead, and even today he continues to grow a decent garden (better than mine) and do some preserving every year down in that hellhole he calls home. But the main thing my Dad did which made me want to homestead is play a game with me. We called it the Self-Sufficiency Game ( The self-sufficiency game (love you, Dad)).

While I have nowhere near achieved self-sufficiency, nor do I expect I ever will, it's still a fun game, and even more fun now that I have an ACTUAL five acres to play it on instead of a theoretical five acres. In essence, the self-sufficiency game has morphed into my real-world full time job. And it's just totally peachy to have my Dad here for a few weeks, playing the game with me again, just like we used to do sitting around the kitchen table in my house on a Seattle city lot years ago.

Today, I went to the farmer's market and made a trade with my usual trade partner, Veggie/Oil Man. I traded 3 dozen eggs and a half-pound of cheese for nine ripe peaches, a bunch of onions, some chives, seven heads of garlic, and several dozen pickling cucumbers. The peaches we are eating out of hand; the onions and chives are just general groceries; some of the garlic is being saved to plant; but the cukes and the rest of the garlic have been turned into pickles.

We adore pickles around here. I pretty much can't make enough pickles. The cukes today made three quarts of garlic dills and two quarts of bread and butter pickles. Way back in April I pickled some asparagus, and later on I'll pickle beets and green beans, too. All in all, I expect to pickle some fifteen quarts. We'll eat them all by October or November.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hopeful About Honey (When to Invest?)





The other day, Rowan and I put the honey-supers on the hives. Honey supers are just like regular beehive boxes, but shorter, so that when they are full of honey they will only weigh about forty pounds instead of eighty or a hundred pounds.

I didn't have enough of the smaller frames to go in the supers, so I put an ad on Craigslist and quickly found someone willing to lend me some in exchange for half my harvest from those frames. If any, of course - harvesting honey is just a dream at the moment, I don't know whether or not there will actually be any.

I intended to open the hives all up and check for queens, but I didn't. We just pried the tops off, took a quick look at tens of thousands of buzzing bees, and quickly slapped on the queen excluders (grills that keep the queens from entering the honey supers but do allow in the worker bees) and then the honey boxes and replaced the lids. I had added the second brood boxes right before we left for Mexico, so three weeks ago they were pretty much empty. Now it is clear that they are stuffed full of bees.

That means I MUST have queens, and they MUST have been laying their little butts off. I know that sooner or later I will have to take the hives apart and check all the frames and find the queens and look for signs of mites and illness... etc etc etc. But I'm not over-eager. For now, it's good enough for me to peek in and go "holy crap, what a lot of bees!"

I am looking forward to honey. There are issues; there always are. Beekeeping, like many other aspects of farming, can be made much easier if you have the right equipment. Extracting honey is pretty easy if you have a honey extractor, and a big fat pain in the butt if you don't. The thing is, a honey extractor (even a small, "hobby" model) is quite expensive - too expensive to be worth it if you only have a couple of hives, like me.

I have noticed the same thing over and over again in many aspects of farming - sure would be nice to have a drum carder, for example, to deal with the alpaca fleece, but a drum carder costs $400. The fleece is only worth about $150.
I'd like a cheese press and molds, too, but the same ratio applies.

I think it makes sense to wait a few years at least, to see if a given hobby lasts before investing in the equipment. The alpacas, for example, are long gone. If I had bought a drum carder it would be sitting in a closet. The cheese press, on the other hand, I think would be a good investment still.

Then there's the DIY option: I've seen plans on the internet for a passive-solar powered honey extractor. It involves heavy cardboard, black paint, and fine metal screens. I'll probably try that. My DIY cheese press is a tall stack of my biggest books, and it works pretty well, although it does occasionally fall over in the middle of the night and wake me up.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Raspberries (Making Up for Lost Time)

Raspberry season is almost over. We pretty much missed it by going to Mexico for most of July. Although Whatcom county produces prodigious quantities of raspberries (I'm pretty sure it is the top raspberry producing county in the country) the season is quite short. For a few weeks everyone is drowning in beautifully fragrant ruby colored fruit, and then - BAM - it's all gone for another year. Lynden puts on a Raspberry Festival in the middle of July every year, and it's a quintessential small-town fair, with a raspberry queen, and all-you-can-eat raspberry sundaes, and a stage for the local kids to put on dance recitals and stuff like that. I was sorry to miss it this year - all-you-can-eat raspberry sundaes are totally my thing.


In fact, raspberries are my favorite fruit. I absolutely adore raspberries, although I only like the good ones, and they can be hard to find. Most of the farms around here are large, commercial operations and they are monocultures of one variety, bred for shipping well (raspberries are the tenderest of fruits) and usually sprayed with some kind of crap, and unfortunately my work with the local Hispanic organizations has taught me way too much about how the agricultural workers are treated on the large farms.

I had to devote some serious research to finding an organic U-pick raspberry farm that was still open this week, but I found it! For you locals, it's AAA berries on the West Pole road. They use the honor system, and berries are $1.50 a pound. We've made it out there twice this week, and now I have six gallons of raspberries in the freezer, plus a quart of syrup, and also we have all gorged ourselves on fresh raspberries and cream. I'd like to make it out once more before the season is really and truly over because when you love raspberries like I love raspberries, six gallons is just not enough.

Of course, it's also blueberry season. I become an absolute slave-driver where blueberries are concerned. I'll pack a nice picnic lunch and bring the transistor radio and a few gallons of water and just flat-out tell the family "we aren't leaving until we have twenty pounds of blueberries, so get pickin'." Last year I had blueberries until well into January and I'd like to beat that record this year.

Then, of course, there's blackberries...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Mexican Fireworks (Videos)

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I finally figured out how to upload a video (I think) so here is footage of the torito at the festival of the church of the Sacred Heart in Oaxaca (for an explanation see Remote Post, 7/4/10 (Mexican Fireworks))

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And part of the castillo, an eighty-foot high tower with many separate parts. This is the butterfly ... I apparently filmed it sideways and can't figure out how to rotate it, but still, it's pretty impressive.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Man and his Goat (It's a beautiful Thing)

With Valentine, 2008


Clove, 2009
Clove as a smaller kid
Unnamed doeling, out of Django, 2010

What can I say, the man likes to tote goats.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Hay Hay Hay (Good Neighbors)!


I have some very very good neighbors. At the church potluck the other evening, Mrs. B. asked me if we'd be needing any hay this year. I said, "we sure do! But our pickup truck is out of commission at the moment. I'll have to figure something out and let you know."

Next morning, her husband calls me and says he's got the hay all loaded up on his trailer and he and his neighbor Mr. M. can be at my place in fifteen minutes if my husband were home to help them unload. Mr. B. and Mr. M. are both retired gentlemen of an age I wouldn't like to guess at, but at least as old as my parents. They, along with Homero, unloaded and stacked seventy-two standard sized bales of very nice local grass hay in about an hour. By the end, the two gentlemen were a bit sweaty and winded, but so was Homero.

It was great to listen to them talking about their younger days. "When I was twenty, I used to do this all day long," said Mr. M. "And milk the cows before and after." Mr. B. told a story about haying with a teenage boy some time ago who complained he couldn't lift the bales high enough - when Mr. B. picked up a bale and tossed it up where it needed to go, the teenager suddenly discovered the resources to match the old man. After we finished, I poured everyone some coffee and we all sat on the hay wagon and talked for a while.

I love the people I've met through church - it's wonderful to have access to people who are real farmers, people who have been farming and ranching in this area for many decades and know just about all there is to know. There aren't a whole lot of real old farmers left around here, and in ten or twenty years there might not be any. I am so happy and feel so privileged to have met these folks, and any chance I get I discreetly pump them for stories and memories.

Not to mention, they are flat out some of the nicest people I've ever met. Last fall, Mr. M. brought me some wild ducks he had shot because he heard me talking about how much my husband loves duck. He taught me to butcher them, too. His wife is one of the warmest, most welcoming ladies at church. There are other great old farming families too - The other Mr. and Mrs. B. who live up the road and raise beef cattle, for example. My greatest hope in life is to eventually become one of them!



Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Back to the Grind

I took one full day's rest before getting back to the summer farm routine - well, of course I milked the goats, but other than that. Yesterday, it was back on track, full steam ahead!

The first thing I did was walk the property and take mental notes. The grass is awfully high, and the mower is still broken, but I made Homero use the weedeater to clear a space around the fruit trees and to whack down the poison hemlock, which is flowering even though it has been mowed twice already. My little garden is almost lost in the high grass. I see that many of my plants are a dead loss - I think the problem is my heavy clay soil, which bakes into a brick when it gets hot and dry. I did mix in a lot of compost, but that didn't do the trick, I guess. My beets, for example, made nice big leaves but no beets at all. Same with the carrots. Squash and beans, on the other hand, are doing very well. I have harvested three zucchinis and have more little ones which will be ready in a week or so. Potatoes look good. Tomatoes not so much.

The trees all look good - man are we going to have a lot of pears. There are so many pears on that big tree we'll probably have to make cider. Or, as pear cider is called, Perry. One of the small pear trees also has a few dozen pears on it. The Ranier cherry bore fruit, and I was looking forward to eating some, but when I got there the birds had eaten most of each cherry, without taking the cherries off the tree, so it looked like they were still good from far away. Bummer. Net next year, I guess.


However, I did harvest a big ol' bowl of cherries - pie cherries from the neighbor's trees that lean out over the fenceline. These cherries aren't very sweet, but we still like to eat them out of hand, they are juicy and bracingly tart. When we had eaten our fill, I used the rest to make a cherry cordial with vodka. I'll keep it in the freezer and come christmas put it into pretty little bottles for my friends who drink.

I also made some fresh cheese (although the cheese I left in the fridge to age is doing so deliciously) and am making more today.

I checked through the bee equipment to try and put together two honey-supers (the small boxes you put on top of the hives this time of year to collect extra honey) and realized we didn't have enough frames. So I put an ad on Craigslist and immediately found someone willing to lend me ten frames in exchange for half my surplus honey - if any, of course. I explained this is my first year and I might not get any. She understood and was willing to take the risk. So, later today Rowan and I will put the supers on.

The farrier is coming today. The ponies have lost their halters somewhere in the field so I have to try and find them and go buy new ones if I can't. They haven't been handled in a few weeks, of course, and Rosie especially is as wild as a deer. I'm sure the farrier will have a wonderful time. He just loves Rosie - NOT.

Also it is high hay season and if we want to stock up on reasonably priced hay now is the time to go buy it off the fields. Of course the pickup truck is out of commission, so I'll have to either borrow somebody's truck or pay to have hay delivered.

Oh I forgot to mention yesterday I also took the kids out to the raspberry fields to pick berries before the season ends. We came home with four gallon-sized ziplocs full, two of which are already gone. Raspberries are my favorite berry, and I want to pick as many as I can this week for the freezer.

As you can see, I have my work cut out for me, so I'd better get off my butt and get to it.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Vacation Photos, With Explanations

Ladies in traditional costume (below) dancing traditional dances for the Calendaria that opens the festival of Mezcal in downtown Oaxaca. For those who don't know, mezcal is a spirit distilled from blue agave, similar to tequila. In fact I'm not sure exactly what the difference is, but something in the method of production. Oaxaca state is home to many dozens of small distilleries which still make their mezcal the old-fashioned way - by roasting the agave hearts in a pit oven, grinding them in a stone pit by donkey power, fermenting and then distilling in a hand-built copper still. Once a year, these small producers have a chance to come to the big city and showcase their wares in a three day festival that begins with a big parade and ends with everybody staggering drunk passed out on the llano. Not really, but they DO give out unlimited free samples. I had a grand time visiting the pavilion with my mother-in-law.

My sister-in-law and comadre, Temy, with her pet parrot, Zair. Temy has been my sister-in-law for ten years now, but she only became my comadre a few months ago, when we had Paloma baptized and asked her to be the Godmother. The Comadre/Compadre relationship is very important and nearly sacred, and I feel very happy and privileged to be a real comadre at last.
Zair talks very well, and even speaks appropriately; for example, he says he is hungry whenever he sees someone eating.

The inside of the central dome of Santo Domingo, the largest and most magnificent church in Oaxaca. It was built as a convent in the mid-sixteenth century and now houses a very fine museum as well as, of course, still functioning as a church.

A painting in an exhibit in a gallery downtown. The exhibit was focused around the deadly train journey that so many central American migrants make on their way to the U.S. I haven't the time nor the heart to go into it now, but an excellent book on the subject is "Enrique's Journey." The exhibit, although it contained some fabulous art, was truly disturbing and gave my children nightmares. I shouldn't have taken them inside. I was only looking for a bathroom.
A typical street scene. A typical house on a typical day. Beautiful, isn't it?


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Home From the Land of my In-Laws

All told, we had a really fabulous vacation. All our major goals were met (get the kids dental care; sew up the real-estate deal; don't have any screaming fights) and we got to enjoy ourselves visiting the sights and swimming in the ocean. It wasn't too hot, it wasn't too cold, and although it WAS too wet, at least the torrential rain pretty much kept the mosquitos away.

The farmsitter took splendid care of the animals, and everyone looks fat and sassy. The goats are giving tons of milk, the ponies are friendly, and the dogs are ecstatic to see us again. Farmsitter is a treasure - I'm so thrilled and delighted to have found someone reliable and conscientious! I hope she never ever moves away.

I'll have plenty to write about later, but in the meantime, I need to go enjoy my first bath in three weeks. Here are a few pictures to tide you over!
Ex-Convent at Cuilapan - seventeenth century.

The view from the top of Homero's street. The mountains in the background are the Sierra Madre Occidental, and they separate Oaxaca from Vera Cruz state. It is raining high in the hills.

Homero and Alejandro (my Brother in law and Compadre) in the backyard of Alejandro's and Temy's house. The vines over their heads grow chayotes and zacate.

A young man preparing to don a "torito." The fireworks attatched to the frame will be lit and he will dance around and charge the crowd while sparks shoot out. This torito was part of the calendaria for the Church of the Sacred Heart of Christ's feast day, July 4th. Best fireworks show EVER!



Friday, July 16, 2010

Mexican Real Estate Transactions

We are back in Oaxaca after a three day trip to the coast. Oaxaca is a nice, medium sized city in a broad valley between two mountain ranges, the Sierra Madre Oriente and the Sierra Madre Orientale (That's West and East, to you gringos). We crossed one of these ranges - 100 miles of unbroken hairpin turns, spectacular views, and incredibly vertical villages - to Las Bahias de Huatulco, a region rather than a single town, with a few scattered towns and a series of a dozen or so gorgeous coral studded bays to swim in.


It wasn't just a pleasure trip - we had business. several years ago, Homero bought a property on a hill above one of the little villages and although we had paid for it, we had to finalize the sale and transfer title through a complicated process involving a ton of small town Mexican beaurocracy. Believe it or not, every sale of real estate requires that the buyers, the sellers, and all neighbors who have contiguous properties be present - at the SAME TIME - for an official measuring, which must be done by a government official. All parties must be provided with refreshments and a meal by the buyers. As you can imagine, causing this event to take place requires the powers of a diplomat and/or magician.

That's not the end of it, though. Homero did manage to get the property officially measured, even in the driving rain, but the creation of an official document to be signed by all interested parties had to await the next day, and required more refreshments. Altogether, the process took two full days, and we counted ourselves extremely lucky to have been able to complete it. Now we are the proud owners of a very pretty 1 and 1/3 acre on top of a hill with a 180 degree view of the ocean.

Or Homero is - as an American, I cannot legally own property in Mexico. Nor was I present for any of the official wrangling. That would have thrown some sort of monkey wrench into the works. Fine by me - instead of climbing mountains in the rain, I took the kids to the beach and went snorkeling in the rain. It was lovely.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Uh-Oh

I did not know that Google automatically translates all my posts into Spanish. Love you, relatives! You guys are the greatest and Mexico is the greatest country in the WOOOOORRLLD!!!

Friday, July 9, 2010

My Love/Hate Relationship with Mexico (Part 3)

Here comes the hate, in a big uncontrollable stream of consciousness flood:


I hate the same things about Mexico that most Americans hate - the squalor, the dirt, the garbage in the streets, the ubiquitous artless graffiti, the lack of toilet paper or bathrooms that resemble in the slightest a bathroom in the states. I hate the fact that there is not, apparently, a single bathtub in the entire country, nor could I take a bath in one if there were, because I'd be sitting in a pathogenic stew of evil latin american organisms, each capable of causing me many many hours of misery shitting myself blind. I hate diarrhea. I hate puking. I hate sick children burning up with fever, and tiny, disgusting doctor's waiting rooms with flies in the air and water on the floor. I hate never ever being physically comfortable, always either too hot or too squished or too wet or too covered in mosquito bites. I hate mosquitos. I hate gnats. I hate big, weird, lumbering rhinoceros beetles. I hate not knowing which bugs are dangerous and which are not - the kids pick up a fuzzy caterpillar and everyone goes apeshit, but I go apeshit because a wasp the size of a kaiser roll is in my hair and everyone says "oh it won't hurt you!" I hate sunburn. I hate driving - I hate the way people drive, as if it were a contest to see how many pedestrians you can make shit their pants. I hate sitting eight to a volkswagen beetle. I hate the roads, rutted, washing away visibly in the rain right in front of your eyes, twisting and turning in hairpin curves over 1,000 foot cliffs with no guardrail or even pavement. I hate hyperventilating on those roads. I hate imagining us all plummeting to our gruesome deaths and my relatives erecting a stupid little cross where I died and once a year putting plastic flowers on it. I hate the way people treat animals here. I hate seeing dogs stuck up on rooftops who have probably never been down in their lives, half-crazy with loneliness and rage, and even worse I hate the hordes, the army, the crowds, the legions of street dogs - starving, limping, mangy, blind. I hate that the knee-jerk Mexican response to these animals is to throw a rock at them. I hate seeing tiny children, no more than four years old, selling flowers barefoot and grubby faced along the highway. I hate seeing a family in the median, holding up a sick baby and a slip of paper to the cars passing by. That slip of paper is a prescription that they don't have money to get filled. I hate seeing twelve year old fire-eaters performing at busy intersections for pesos. I hate seeing old people beg on the streets, elderly indigenous women for the most part, who I can only imagine were once proud mothers living traditional lives in their ancestral pueblos and now, through some circumstance or another are reduced to holding out their wrinkled old hands to tourists. I hate feeling rich and guilty. I hate having to weigh, a dozen times a day, my need to buy my kids a popsicle against some abuelita's need to eat today. Most of all, more than anything else, I hate not knowing what the hell is going on from minute to minute. My relatives act like a flock of sparrows - they all act communally, nobody ever does anything by themselves, or even in a nuclear family group. To go anywhere - the store, say, or out to lunch - might take four hours because it requires getting thirty people to move in unison. First so-and-so has to take a shower, then another person decides they have time to go to the corner pharmacy, and then the next guy decides they may as well take their kids to the shoe store while they wait... WHY in the name of God everyone has to do everything together I don't know. Today we were all going to the same restaurant, but we had to all meet up in the centro first - three different families - and then caravan in three different cars. We all made it to the restaurant a full two hours late. I hate being late, I truly do. It's my biggest pet peeve. I hate not knowing what is going to offend people, and I hate that apparently it is anything I want to do. I hate not having any say whatsoever in what to do or when to do it, and I hate that anytime I express a preference I piss somebody off - my husband, mostly. I hate that we always fight when we come here. I hate that he puts my needs last, after his third cousin's sister-in-law. I hate feeling helpless and needy and weepy. I hate that I don't know my way around and that even if I did can't go anywhere on my own because my relatives would be shocked and offended for reasons I don't understand. I hate that my normal desire for a little privacy and alone time is seen as anti-social. I hate that we haven't been able to make love and won't for the length of the trip, because we are sharing a room with all of our kids. Plus neither of us even feels like it, what with being mad at each other all the time. I hate biting my lip and walking on eggshells. I hate the feeling that I am just being tolerated, that everyone sees me as a soft, whinging, spoiled American who just can't hack life in the real world.

I hate thinking that just might be true.

My Love/Hate Relationship with Mexico (Part 2)

Well, actually all I have time to do is list off a few more things I love, then we are off to the cheap dentist. But the hate is coming, I promise!


Stuff I love:

- houses painted bright orange, shocking pink, royal blue, emerald green, daffodil yellow.... sometimes all of the above

- warm rain.

- the street carts. Here, street arts are not just for street food (though oh my gosh the street food deserves it's own post - forthcoming) but also for things like drinking water and garbage collection. Each type of merchant has his own special kind of call - either a voice call or more often a bell, a steam whistle (in the case of the cart that sells steamed yams), or a horn. Everyone recognizes all the different calls, so for example, when the garbage bell rings, you jump up - even from the dinner table - and grab the garbage and run as fast as you can to catch up. This is garbage collection in Oaxaca (See: things I hate about Mexico, forthcoming). The carts are actually giant tricycles, and it is quite a sight to see an old man peddling a giant tricycle loaded down with full water containers. It must weigh a ton.

- old people. Old people in Mexico are so strong and so healthy, generally speaking, even though they look about a thousand years old. Homero's grandmother is so old she doesn't even know how old she is, but her younger sister is 81 and Grandma remembers when she was born. She goes out to the market and carries her own groceries home, up and down these incredibly steep hills. Old ladies in the market selling chapulines (grasshoppers) from a straw basket on top of their heads, toothless and wizened and smiling. Old men in straw hats and homespun cotton trousers pulling handcarts loaded to the brim with flowers or pottery. Our guide yesterday at the mineral springs was an old man, and he was running up and down the steep path like a goat. The rest of us were puffing like freight trains.

- kids playing soccer in the streets. On every side street is a group of mixed age kids, playing soccer using bricks or chunks of rock as goalposts. Whenever you have to pass, you lean out the window and shout "move the rock!" and the kids haul off the big rocks and you drive through and then they put them back and keep playing.

okay more later

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

My Love/Hate Relationship with Mexico (Part 1)

I blame it all on a natural aptitude for languages. Way back in second grade, my school started a twice-a-week Spanish class, and my seven year old self loved it. I was GOOD at Spanish - I quickly outstripped my classmates and impressed my teacher. Being the obnoxious little show off that I was, I absolutely adored being told I was amazing and basked in praise, so I looked forward to Spanish every day and worked hard to be the best.


Spanish class didn't outlast second grade, but I did have a good memory for words, and I simply never forgot anything I had learned. So when it came time to choose a language to study in seventh grade, naturally I chose Spanish over French or German. I don't remember but most likely I looked forward to an easy A and more praise. Both of which were in fact forthcoming. I worked ahead in my book and memorized vocabulary lists like a brown-nosed demon. Everyone else in the class naturally hated my guts. I didn't care.

At the age of 19, I decided I was going to travel to Mexico, alone. I'm not sure why - I wasn't, at that point in time, particularly interested in Mexican culture or history, I think I just wanted to immerse myself in the language and see how I did. In preparation I took a few intensive courses at the Seattle Academy of Languages (great school - pioneer square) and set off into the unknown. I flew to Cancun (this was 1991, not the same place it is now at ALL) and from there took a bus down the coast to a small town called Tulum. I rented a palapa for $12/night and swam in the ocean until I was exaughsted every day. I learned to snorkel.

Well, one of the first things I learned is that I LOVED to snorkel and swim in the Caribbean. I loved truly authentic Mexican food, I loved Mexican folk art and Mexican music .... and I loved Mexican boys. Oh how I loved Mexican boys. At 19, I was a very hot little number, and I didn't lack a single minute for the company of slim, dark-eyed, quick-moving, laughing Mexican boys.

Just because I eventually went home to rainy Seattle didn't mean I had the slightest intention of giving up the sweet attention of Mexican boys I had so quickly become accustomed to. After a long interval in which I dated Americans, almost got married, and had a kid, I found myself a twenty-five year old single mother, still pretty hot, who was sick of American men. Clearly it was time to go back to my first love, Mexican boys, but how?

The answer I came up with was salsa dancing. The salsa craze had barely begun and when I went out to the clubs I found hordes of Latin men of all nationalities, and many fewer women, mostly American. Although I am a natural born klutz, there was no shortage of young men who were willing to have their toes repeatedly trampled in exchange for the chance to chat up an attractive, blonde, blue-eyed chick who actually spoke pretty good Spanish. After a couple of years I morphed into a decent dancer. Eventually, this is how I met Homero. The rest is history (or at least, a story for another day). Fast forward twelve years and here I am in Oaxaca with two new children, alternately blessing and cursing my luck.

There are so many things I love about Mexico. There are so many things I hate about Mexico.

Things I love about Mexico:

1) The food is terrific and cheap. Today I bought a gigantic bunch of bananas (Mexican bananas blow U.S. grocery store bananas all to hell), three big ripe mangoes, a few onions, some zuchinni and tomatoes all for the equivalent of $1.75. If you like fruit, this place is paradise.
If you are brave enough to eat at the Mercado, you can get a truly amazing meal for something under $3

2) Oh the Mercados! I could get lost in the Mercado (and I have) and not come out for days. The piles of spices, chiles, medicinal herbs, raw meat, flowers, fish, plastic woven bags, beautiful ceramics and gorgeous hand woven textiles! Oh the endless pirated DVDs! Oh the old ladies in colorful aprons selling weird bugs and unheard of vegetables! Oh the smell of copal and rotting garbage! The tiny children selling tortillas and the skinny lame dogs! The mixed up horror and wonder and pity and joy.

3) Baby donkeys. 'Nuff said.

4) I brought a pair of broken glasses with me that the optician at home said were beyond repair. I knew that was crap: in Mexico, NOTHING is beyond repair. The first place I walked into here fixed them for me in five minutes. They charged me a dollar.

5) Homero can get all four of his wisdom teeth removed for under $400. The little girls and I can get all of our cavities filled for less than $100. Rowan can be fitted with braces for about $200. All of these things together in the states would cost us more than a year's income, and I am not lying.

6) I believe I mentioned something about fireworks (Remote Post, 7/4/10 (Mexican Fireworks)?

7) My Mexican relatives. They are a really terrific bunch of people who would gnaw their own arms off and sell them on the black market just to be able to buy a chicken to cook for you when you come to visit. There just isn't anything they wouldn't do for me and my kids. They are fun loving, hardworking, friendly, welcoming folks and I'm very proud they have accepted me as one of their own.

This is by no means an exhaustive list: I haven't yet mentioned ruined cities in the jungle or sudden, warm downpours but those thins, along with "Things I hate about Mexico" is going to have to wait for tomorrow, because it's time for me to go downstairs and eat some more food. Homero's grandmother is making hand-formed sopes with tassajo and salsa de guajillo.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Remote Post, 7/4/10 (Mexican Fireworks)

I am having a ball in Oaxaca.

The trip down was long (about 42 hours from door to door) but went off without a hitch. Both planes took off on time, and we got into Mexico City about midnight, local time. Taxi to a hotel (Los Azores, I highly recommend it; clean, cheap, and two blocks off the Zocalo) and we slept for six hours. In the morning, we walked to the Zocalo and took a tour of the cathedral (NOT to be missed.). Then we were off to the bus station to catch a bus for the six hour ride to Oaxaca.

We arrived in the city at about 10 pm, and everyone met us at the bus station. Mama had made a hot dinner, which was a good thing, since we hadn't eaten in about twelve hours, and we all enjoyed some food and conversation before falling into a deep, coma-like sleep.

The weather here has been pretty nice so far - about 85 degrees all day but in the afternoon it clouds over and usually rains for a half hour or so, and in the wake of the showers the air is cool and fresh. The rains have revived the trees and everywhere you look there are flowers: bouganvilla, jacaranda, hibiscus, and so many others I don't know. There is plenty of water now, and we don't have to be more than ordinarily careful (which is to say; five minute showers.) Everyone ere is in good health and good spirits.

Sunday - yesterday - July fourth, happened to be election day across all of Mexico. It also happened to be a very important saint's day and one of the major downtown churches was putting on a procession and a fireworks show. All the major political parties were gathered in the Zocalo with their own fireworks and celebrations awaiting the election results, so we decided to go downtown and enjoy the atmosphere.

Man, I really wish I had the ability here to upload the photos and videos I took. My fellow Americans, I guarantee you you have never seen a fourth of july fireworks display like the one I witnessed last night. For one thing, it would be so highly illegal it's not even funny. There were four or five "toritos," or "little bulls," which are a kind of wearable fireworks display mounted on a paper-mache bull. Young men put on the whole contraption over their heads and run around, dancing and charging the crowd while colored sparks fly in all directions. Other young men jump into the ring to act as "matadores" and dance with the bull. The game is to get as close as possible, sometimes even snatching the armarture away, without getting burned. We were right at the front of the crowd, and the children screamed and laughed and covered their eyes as the bulls charged them and the sparks showered down over their heads.

The toritos were not the main attraction, though. The main attraction was a tower, some eighty feet tall, all made of fireworks. It had two columns of spinning wheels, in six different colors, and a giant butterfly that spun out over the crowd. Further up, there was a peacock with fiery green feathers that shot red flames from it's paper-mache beak. And at the top, I kid you not, there was a larger than life sized crucified jesus, and a spinning crown of thorns with letters of fire that spelled out "the sacred heart of christ." Could there be anything more gaudy, gorgeous, and deeply Mexican than an 80-foot flaming Jesus?

I tell you I was so happy I could barely speak. The tower was very expertly constructed and beautifully engineered so that the sparks died out just as they were about to touch your upturned face, and the spinning wheels threw out great gouts of fire, but all pointed up, away from the crowd. In actual fact I doubt we were any danger, but it felt deliciously dangerous and just the right mix of wonder and terror.

After the show, we had hot roasted ears of corn and then cool ice cream in flavors like guava and tamarind. Then, exhaughsted, we slowly stumbled back to the car, drove home, and staggered into our rooms to sleep naked on top of the covers in the heat of the night.

I slept until 11 a.m. this morning.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Vacation Anxiety

We leave tomorrow morning, 8 A.M. sharp, on our first vacation in years. Actually, I do believe it's the first vacation we have taken (longer than an overnight) since we have had animals. I very luckily managed to contract a farmsitter who seems to be competent, knowledgeable, and honest, insofar as I can judge on short acquaintance. Short acquaintance is all I had, because the farmsittter I had previously hired bugged out on me two weeks before our departure date. Apparently she got pregnant or something. Sheesh.


People who know me but shallowly often think I am a relaxed, easygoing sort of person, not given to worry or obsession about details. Ha! Those who know me best know I am an iron-fisted control freak whose need to micromanage everything is a vain attempt to compensate for my innate disorganization and basic slovenliness. Hi Mom! Recognize anybody? Love you!

What this means for immediate circumstance is that I have spent the last couple of hours writing out an exaughstive how-to manual for the farm and household. My last post here was a treatise on milking - it may have seemed quite thorough to you, but let me tell you, it was just the beginning. My finished manuscript (there is no other word for it) runs to seven handwritten pages.

And here's the thing - I swear, I only included the absolute basics. I covered nothing more than essential information - how many scoops of feed for each species of animal; where the glass milking jars, lids, and filters are; the fact that the hose leaks so you have to turn it off at the spigot after watering; the fact that Iris can open the door to the mama barn if the latch is not turned down just so - you get the picture. The second half of the document consisted of directions on how to operate stuff inside the house - the computer password, the intricate workings of the high-tech dryer, the TV remote, etc.

Even now I am thinking of all sorts of things I did not include that might be essential. For example, Ivory (our older dog) needs to go outside at about 6 a.m. every morning to pee, so it's probably easier to just have her sleep in the playroom. Lancelot (the collie) has been causing trouble with the neighbors (He Doesn't LOOK Like a Bad Dog (Neighborly Relations)) so he should not be let out for any reason. I put that in the letter, but I didn't put in that if you leave the sliding glass door open even a tiny crack, he can push it the rest of the way open with his needle-nose and escape. Should I revise the letter? Put on a P.S.?

Or should I take a freakin' chill pill?

Yeah, I think so too... but I have to go check over the packed luggage for the third or fourth time. I'm sure I've forgotten something.