Tag Archives: Mexico

Home again, home again…

3 Feb

With yesterday’s snow on the ground outside, it was hard to believe that we just came home from two weeks by the ocean in Mexico. We’ve been going to the same town – Barre de Navidad – for a number of years and this year we brought a couple of friends with us and introduced them to “our” small Mexican town. At first, I wondered if they would love it as much as we do… after all, it is not a resort town in any sense of the word. Fortunately, they did. We all enjoyed sitting on the beach, playing games, eating tacos (thank you Ritchie Ruiz!), and sipping the local beer. It was really a wonderful time.

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George and Joyce

Emile and me

Emile and me

Before going to Barre, I collected an assortment of gifts to bring along. Usually when you sit on the beach, vendors approach selling their wares.  Most of the time, we say, “No, gracias.” However, I would also ask, “Tienes ninos?” Most every vendor did have children, and then I would ask how many and their ages. Once this was determined, I would let them choose a gift for their kids. It didn’t cost me much, was fun for me to do, gave me a chance to practice my Spanish… and I made friends along the way!

gifts for Mexico

Beanie Babies, Crayola Crayons and Pencils, etc.

We had friends visit us in Barre as well. David and his wife, Rosalba, used to live in Ashland but now have returned to their home near Guadalajara. When they know we will be in town, they make the long drive to spend time at the seaside with us.  They are salt of the earth folks and we feel like a part of their family. Somehow we communicate quite easily because hearts will find a way to do that if you give them a chance!

Ramirez family

Leslie, Miriam, Rosalba, and David

Because I really need to make pies, I brought along ingredients to make a few. I hauled several pounds of cookie crumbs and a half dozen pie tins through TSA (I wonder if that even seemed strange to them?)  Of the five pies I made, three were coconut cream and two were chocolate cream and  I know at least two were delicious as we shared them with our friends.  One of the three pie “gifts” went to an old man recovering from a recent illness. He didn’t really know me but we had stayed at his inn about five years ago. I walked in and (all in Spanish) explained that we had once stayed there, that our friends stayed there the week before, and that we really loved Barra all while holding the pie.  I sensed his confusion and finally blurted out, “Esto es un regalo… gracias por todo. ” The smile that appeared on his face was absolutely glorious! Lesson: Next time, lead with the part about the gift and maybe those other details won’t even be necessary!

pie prep in barra

Parts of the pie-making process

coconut cream pie in Barra

Coconut Cream Pie

marketplace bowls

A trip to Mexico wouldn’t be complete without a day at a local crafters market. The bright colors of the pottery and the array of shining silver jewelry are stunning!  I’d love to take it all home with me… but alas, that is not possible. Instead, I limit myself to a few items as gifts and a few more as colorful reminders of our time there.

Market Vendor

Jose Ruis Montoya and Artesanias Huichol

Beach items

Gifts from the Sea

Each time as we walked the beach, I took a bag to pick up debris because I really feel that Barra is my beach and I want to do my part to take care of it. Occasionally we would find evidence of the recent hurricane but, all in all, the playa was pretty clean. I found this spigot and couldn’t leave it behind though I don’t know what I’ll do with it yet. The beach glass is something my Mom used to collect and I think of her each time I find a piece.

At the end of two weeks, it was very hard to leave Mexico behind because I feel so comfortable and at home there. It was shortly after returning from Barra five years ago when I began my pie project because I realized just how much I have to be grateful for. For many reasons, I think that a part of me will always remain in Mexico even when I am home again… And, really, that is as it should be.

“Wherever you go, go with all your heart.”  Confucious

 

 

Living On Mexico Time

4 Feb

Emile and I were lucky to have had the chance to spend almost two weeks in Barra de Navidad, Mexico and have just recently returned from that trip.  It was a wonderfully relaxing time for both of  us – we enjoyed long walks, swimming in a warm ocean, catching up with old friends, and making new ones.

This is a blog about gratitude and so I thought I would share photos of a few of the reasons I have to be grateful.

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Having the chance to see cool and unusual creatures!

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Spending time with dear friends.

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Being able to bring supplies to the local school.

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Watching as our favorite beach was undergoing much needed restoration.

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and then thanking the backhoe operator for his hard work with a Coconut Cream Pie!

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Finding our old friend, Jose of the Malecon, at his new workplace!

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Playing Scrabble or Bananas with Emile almost daily!

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Delivering one last Chocolate Cream Pie for our “hostess” Cynthia on the day we left.

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And lastly, having a warm safe place to come home to.  Many thanks to the good neighbors that watched over our home and our fluffy kitty while we were away.  We’re both so grateful that we were able to take some time to unwind… and very thankful to have been missed while we were gone. We’re lucky ducks to be sure.

As we sat in the airport in Los Angelos awaiting our flight, I was texting with my son, Coco, and in trying to explain the affinity I feel for Mexico  (the people, the weather, the food, and the bright colors everywhere), I said, “I think I was Mexican in a past life” and he wrote back, “Mom, I think you’re still Mexican!”   You know, he just might be right.

A wise man travels to discover himself.  James Russell Lowell

Take vacations… go as many places as you can.  You can always make money; you can’t always make memories.  Unknown

 

 

Friends, Pies, and Pepper

28 Apr

Lilacs in our yard

Though I haven’t written in a while, I want you to know that I’m still here and in the last few weeks I’ve made a few pies.  One, a Triple Berry Pie was delivered to a nurse named Nancy at Ashland Hospital.  She was very kind to my Dad and I wanted to thank her for all the care that she showed him.

pie for nurse nancy

Another, a Mushroom and Pepper Quiche, was delivered to a friend shortly after she returned home from the hospital.  It was much appreciated by my friend and it felt good to know that I could help her on her way to recovery.

quiche prep for DeeDee

Another pie, my go-to Apple Crumb Crust, was delivered to a woman I met when she was having a yard sale.  Her name is Josie and I overheard her saying that she is moving to Guanajuato, Mexico – one of my favorite cities!  I was amazed at the idea of her packing up a home that she’s lived in for years and moving to another country.  That kind of adventurous spirit certainly needed to be rewarded… and what else would I bring but a pie?

Apple Crumb Crust Pie 315

And one day last week I made these delicious Gluten Free Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies to thank my friend Don for coming to my aid when my car battery died at the worst possible time.   I made one phone call to his workplace and in just a few minutes he showed up and got my car started.  I didn’t have time to bake him a pie (so much going on!) and I hope that these brownies gave him some indication of how grateful I was for his help.

Gluten Free Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies

This last week was especially challenging as my dear kitty of 18 years, Pepper, was preparing to leave this world.  She was the epitome of grace as she ate less and less, and then not at all.  The last few days she sipped only water until that too was unnecessary.  In the end, she left peacefully with a final “meow” as I held her close.  I feel that we were lucky that she chose our home to come to live in all those years ago… and am grateful for all the time that we had her… but I’m still very sad to see her go.

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“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”  Anatole France

“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die, I want to go where they went.”  Will Rogers

 

 

 

 

Mexico, our Friends, and a Pie

3 May

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The Chocolate Cream Pie that we shared in Barra de Navidad

As you know, we’ve been in Mexico for a short vacation.  Although it has only been nine days since we arrived, much has happened in that time.   One of the most remarkable things is that we have been able to remain in contact with our family back home which has been critical as my Dad has been in the hospital for our entire stay.  Two days ago my Dad was finally able to have surgery on his (almost completely blocked) carotid artery and being able to be in contact via Skype has been a great blessing… and to know that Dad is now on the other side of surgery (and has even been able to complain a bit!) is absolutely delightful!

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Carolina, Miriam, Rosalba, and David

One of the best parts of our visit was the time we spent with our friends from Mexico, David and Rosalba.  They drove from their home near Guadalajara (about four hours away) to spend a few days vacationing with us.  With them came their daughter Miriam and her best friend, Caro – two beautiful young ladies who will celebrate their quinceneras later this year.  Together we shared long walks on the beach, lots of sunshine, laughter, tacos, and a few mango margaritas (well, the adults did anyway).  It always amazes me is that we are able to communicate so well even though we speak different languages.  Yes, it’s true I know some Spanish, but my language skills are pretty rusty.   And yet here we are with just the simple desire to be together, and somehow we figure it out.   Would that all the world’s differences could be solved as easily!

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Pretty shells and sea glass from our walks on the beach

Another highlight came when we shared tacos one night at a little place near the center of town called “Rinconcita Mexicana” (little Mexican corner).  We ate at this place last year (in February) with David and Rosalba.  At that time I was still immersed in my “year of pies” and had brought a coconut cream pie to share with David and Rosalba and we wound up leaving half a pie as part of our gratuity.  This year when we showed up, the waiter, Ricardo, saw us and after a moment asked, “Do I know you?”  I shook my head no, but then Emile smiled and said, “yes” and Ricardo pulled Emile’s business card out of his wallet!  He commented on the pie from last year (delicioso!) and I was completely stunned!  It had been more than 14 months and we had made a lasting impression with half a pie!

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As we left to go home, I jokingly asked Ricardo if we could get a reservation for the following night.  He asked what time and said, “of course.”   The next day, I made a chocolate cream pie to commemorate our last night with David and Rosalba and the girls.  We arrived at the “restaurant” and found an empty table and sat down.  Then Rosalba pointed out that our table from the night before had a notice posted.  It said “Reservado” – and Ricardo’s wife Nancy told us that they had saved the table for us!  I felt honored to have earned a place at their table and, of course, we shared our pie with them once again.

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The Rinconcito Mexicana

Today we have one last day to walk the beach and to soak up the flavors of this colorful land.  We will miss it so much when it is time to go, but feel certain that a piece of our hearts will remain here until we are able to return.

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched.  They must be felt with the heart.  Helen Keller

A Mexican Vacation… and a Coconut Cream Pie

27 Apr

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In January my husband and I planned a trip to Mexico.  We used a companion fare ticket from Alaska Airlines and booked a trip to Barra de Navidad that would begin on April 24.  Once the plans were made, life went back to normal… until my Dad’s stroke.  Then the trip that we planned seemed unlikely… and I felt guilty for even wanting to go.

As the date to leave drew near, I spent many hours discussing insurance, surgery dates, payments for care, and myriad other details.   Once that was done I had to believe that my Dad was in good hands and that my husband and I could take a much-needed break.  We left early Wednesday morning and arrived about seven hours later in Manzanillo, Mexico.  A friend of a friend agreed to pick us up at the airport and he drove us to Barra.  We thanked him and gave him a bottle of Oregon wine for his troubles.

After a short rest, we walked down to the beach and enjoyed a beautiful sunset.  Then we bought tamales from a street vendor and ate them while sipping cold Pacifico beer.  That night we went to bed tired but happy.

The next morning I checked email (yes we are tied to our computers) and saw a message from my Dad’s case manager: Dad was taken back to the hospital. My first thoughts are unprintable but I will say, “Thank goodness for Skype!”  Immediately I called my sister and after a while we figured out that Dad had several things going on: dehydration, dizziness, and low levels of sodium.   Dad’s been in the hospital for three days now and I think that he is in the safest place he could be and the nurses at JFK have been amazingly kind and helpful dealing with his family that is so far away.

Since Dad was being well-cared for and I could not do anything for him I did what I do when I need to feel in control: I baked a pie.  This year in our little rental apartment we have a two-burner stove top and a toaster oven.  First I formed a graham cracker crust (with crumbs that I brought from home) and baked it in the little oven until it was lightly browned.  Next I mixed milk, sugar, eggs, and coconut for the filling and poured it into the crust.  We then went out in search of whipping cream to top it off but could not find any for sale in this little town so I had to settle for toasting coconut for the topping.

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Even without whipped cream I thought it turned out nicely… but who would get this lovely pie?  I thought of the people that we had come in contact with and settled on a young man who works in a shop that sells beautifully hand-woven works of art.  We asked him about the wall hangings and he told us that some of them had taken months to make.  He explained that many of those hanging had been made by other workers but that he also could weave and he first began learning to weave ten years before.

Maybe I felt a connection to that young man because I too learned my craft when I was young.  Whatever the reason, last night Emile and I walked back to the shop and brought a pie to that young man.   He was there with his girlfriend and as I gave him the pie I tried to explain in my best Spanish that the pie was a gift – to honor the beautiful pieces that he had created.   I hope that he continues to pursue his art throughout his lifetime for I believe it can make all the difference in the world.

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“If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you: I am here to live out loud.”  
Émile Zola

 

Amadeus and An Apple Pie for Senora Chela

4 Mar

MozartA week or so ago, my husband and I attended a performance of the play Amadeus at Camelot Theatre.  What a show!  It had been a long time since I’d thought of the life of Mozart and his amazing talent and tragically short life but it all came flooding back that night.  The cast and crew did an excellent job of bringing this story to life – and filling my head with questions… about Salieri and about the music that might have been.   That night I  also learned the meaning of the name Amadeus; it translates to “love of God.”

Senora Chela Ribbon cutting

Ashland Mayor John Stromberg and Senora Chela Tapp-Kocks

The friend who shared this insight with me is Senora Chela Tapp-Kocks.  The very same Senora who is singlehandedly responsible for creating the sister city relationship between Ashland, Oregon and Guanajuato, Mexico.  That relationship began with a University exchange in 1969 and has continued on to this day.  This relationship has “been forged and nurtured over four decades by officials of both city governments, university and high school administrators and teachers, actors, artists, police officers, firemen, service clubs and — most of all — families” ( GlobalPost.com).

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Senora Chela Tapp-Kocks

Some of the “consequences” of this sister city relationship are as follows:

  • Several thousand students have taken part in the University Exchange
  • 80 marriages have taken place between Ashlanders and Guanajuatenses
  • Over 200 homes have been constructed in Guanajuato with funds provided by the Ashland Rotary Club

All this occurred because Senora Chela wanted to bring a little bit of Mexico to Ashland.   This is what she has to say about the program, ““The most important thing is the family relationships that we’ve maintained for 40 years,” said Tapp. “It’s people to people connecting with their city, their lives, their love, their passion. It has a life of its own.”  Last week to honor all that she has done – and continues to do – to make the world a friendlier, more connected place, I brought Senora Chela an Apple Crumb Crust pie.   She is an incredible inspiration and I am honored to know her.

“Never depend upon institutions or government to solve any problem. All social movements are founded by, guided by, motivated and seen through by the passion of individuals. ”
Margaret Mead

A Miracle in Guanajuato

28 May

Francesca

First a story: A young girl was walking along the beach early one morning. The tide was receding, leaving numerous starfish stranded on the beach. The girl began picking them up and tossing them back into the water.

Engrossed in her task, she didn’t notice the crusty old fisherman sitting quietly watching her. He startled her with a gruff, “What are you doing?” to which she smiled and enthusiastically replied, “I’m saving the starfish.”

He laughed at her and launched into a scoffing ridicule. “Look ahead of you down the beach,” he said, pointing to the seemingly endless expanse of sand and surf. “There are thousands of starfish washed up on this beach. You can’t hope to save them all. You’re just wasting your time. What you’re doing doesn’t matter,” he exclaimed in a dismissive tone.

The girl stopped, momentarily pondering his words. Then she picked up a starfish and threw it far into the water. She stood straight and looked him in the eye. “It matters to that one,” she said, and continued down the beach.

Why do I tell you this story?  Well, this past week,  several members from the Ashland Rotary Club flew to Guanajuato, Mexico and I was incredibly fortunate to be a part of that group.  With the help of our very generous community,  and working with “Mi Casa Diferente”, aka “DIF”, (Mexico’s version of Habitat for Humanity), the Ashland Rotary Club has raised many thousands of dollars to build homes for some of the neediest people of Guanajuato.  And while these homes are very simple structures, the people who get them are thrilled to have them and are deeply grateful.

Back in the spring of 2007, during my first visit to Guanajuato with Rotary, we spent a day with a family in one of the communities that had recently built their home.  One of the children in that family was a young girl named “Francesca.”  She was about eight years old and easily charmed every member of our group with her insatiable curiosity, her lovely smile,  and her delight in showing us her new home.  When I spoke with Francesca and told her that I had a son named Francesco she seemed to think that this “coincidence” was funny and smiled.   She asked about my “other” children and I showed her the photo I’d brought of my daughter, Alexandra.  I think that Francesca must have thought it strange for me to have had only two children.

After a few hours, the house was painted, we’d all been fed fresh tortillas in gratitude, and our time with Francesca and her family came to an end.  It was very hard to think of leaving and never seeing this delightful, precocious child again  for she represented what we were there for: to make a difference in someone’s life.

As we drove away, the DIF representative said that it would be nearly impossible to keep in touch with, or send anything to,  Francesca and her family. After all, they lived in a remote area where there  was no mail service, and the DIF workers had too much to do and could not guarantee anything that we sent would reach them.

Until last Monday I had all but given up on ever seeing Francesca again.  On that day, our group of Rotarians was taken on a ride deep into the hills outside Guanajuato to paint a small schoolhouse.  As we unloaded all of our painting supplies we greeted the women and children of the community who had come to help us (most of the men were off at work making charcoal).

As I looked around, I noticed a girl peeking at me from behind the far wall of the schoolhouse.  Each time I looked over at her, she ducked back behind the building.  I thought she might have been afraid of our group and so I  waved and said “hello.”  When she looked out again, I noticed that she looked like Francesca and mentioned this to our group’s leader, Angelica.  She looked at me and said, “No mija, you want it to be Francesca, but it can’t possibly be her.”  Sadly I agreed that she was probably right and I went inside to begin painting the walls of the schoolhouse.

About fifteen minutes later, I heard Angelica screaming my name, “Karen, Karen… it is Francesca!”  I raced out of the building to where Angelica was standing with Francesca.  They were both smiling at me and my heart almost burst with joy.  I asked Francesca if I could hug her and told her how I had thought it was her but had been convinced that this was too much to hope for. I exclaimed, “Este es un milagro” (This is a miracle!) as tears streamed down my face.

As we talked she asked about my daughter, and of course, my son, Francesco.  Then she took me a few hundred yards down a steep path to see her mother and her family home – the same one we had painted five years before!  She even showed me a pillow we’d brought as a gift way back then… a remembrance of the people who had come to help.  And to think I’d thought that this day would never happen… but it seemed that Francesca was not at all surprised.  It was as if she’d been expecting this moment all along.   Talk about faith!

As we parted ways this time, I told Francesca that this would not be the last time she would see my face and I know that she believed me.  She simply waved goodbye and turned to walk back home with her sister.  I am certain that Francesca will go on expecting miracles, and it is just as certain that I will do all I can to make sure that they come true.

The very next day, I made an Apple Pie for our home hosts, Oscar and Marta.  It was a small gesture to thank them for offering the comfort of their home during our stay… and also a chance to offer my sincerest thanks to the universe for rediscovering a very special starfish.

“The child must know that he is a miracle, that since the beginning of the world there hasn’t been, and until the end of the world, there will not be, another child like him.”  Pablo Casals

“There are only two ways to live your life.  One is as though nothing is a miracle.  The other is as though everything is a miracle.”  Albert Einstein

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