Mother’s Day; remembering Estée Lauder

May 10 is Mother’s Day in Mexico. Here is a little remembrance of my mom, Agnes. I hope she’s partying in heaven with her sisters.

I remember the smell of my mom’s Estee Lauder perfume. My dad wasn’t the most creative shopper or gift-giver; he always claimed that the lights in the stores hurt his eyes. As I came of age, he would make me go to select his gifts for her. But before that, birthdays and Christmases, he would usually get my mom Estee Lauder soaps, lotion, or colonge. Her purses always smelled strongly of it: cigarettes and Estee Lauder, her signature scent.

My mom wasn’t exactly a hoarder, not like the stuff they show on TV where houses only have tiny paths through stacks of newspaper and trash, but she was definitely a saver. She was a child during the depression and saved everything because you “might need it someday.” My parents moved from Chicago to Oregon when they were in their 70s. I don’t think she sorted through much in the house before moving, just had movers pack everything up. When she moved to Oregon, I found a box of comfrey tea in her cupboard — tea that my grandmother had drunk and that my mom never liked, probably at least 10 years old. Yet it was there and had been moved across the country. All the cupboards and closets were full. A lifetime of accumulation, nice things and junk, shelves and drawers full.

The bathroom storage was particularly stuffed: cottonballs from a store in Chicago that had long been out of business, a lifetime supply of Aquanet hairspray, Cindy Crawford anti-aging lotions from the Home Shopping Network, and lots of worn towels and sheets (because there was no sense using all those brand new ones until the old ones were completely rag-like). And again the smell of Estee Lauder. She had soaps or sachets; towels and sheets were infused with scent.

When my mom died and I had the responsibility to go through her things, I found a fair amout of Estee Lauder colognes and soaps from, I guess, the 60s and 70s, still in their original packaging . Most of them went to the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store, but I kept a box of small rectangular green soaps. Each was wrapped in cellophane with a small bow, the Estee Lauder name carved into it, and they fit into a classy-looking green and gold box. I used the soaps in my homemade laundry detergent, reminding me of my mom.

When we packed to move to Mexico, there was one soap remaining, its edges finally turning brown. I threw it into the bag with our comforter and pillows.

Henry and Agnes, engaged to be married:


Rainy season(s)

Rainy season(s)

I endured about thirty rainy seasons in Oregon, West of the Cascades, the part of the state where it rains. My experience is that the rainy season is approximately from November to April, with May, June, and October thrown in some years as a bonus. That’s a good six months of rain. What is the rainy season like? It’s dark (think short days and long nights at that latitude), grey, and the rain comes in steady showers, drizzles, and soakings. To break it up, there are occasional bursts of ice and snow. It’s the season that makes some suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and compels others to a winter vacation to sunnier places. Like Mexico, for example…

On Beltane (May 1), I think our rainy season started here in the Lake Chapala area. The clouds built up steadily during the day, mostly south across the lake. We saw a few little flashes of lightening around 6 p.m.. By 8:30 or 9, we had a thunderstorm, the kind I remember from growing up in Illinois. Lightening vibrating the sky in big arcs; thunder, rumbling like earth’s anger; and a long drenching rain. We watched the show from our mirador (rooftop deck) for quite some time. The rain was loud on the plastic patio cover roof. The electrical energy was palpable all around us.

The next morning as I went out for exercise along the lake, the air was fresh. The cobblestones were damp (not dusty!). The sand on the beach was furrowed in places where streams of water ran into the lake from the streets. In the afternoon, we had a smaller, less spectacular storm but we enjoyed that one as well.

During travels in Mexico, many have told me that they love the rainy season the best. They say, “Everything is so green and fresh!” I am grateful to be here to experience this rainy season and look forward to it with anticipation — green mountains, flowers, fresh mornings and roaring thunder in the evenings.

What I’ve seen so far here beats the rainy season in the Pacific Northwest. Here, there is sun, powerful electrical energy, and cooling after a hot day. While I do enjoy a rainy day of soup-making, cookie-baking and sitting by a fire, the energy of the dark grey drizzle in the NW doesn’t crackle and charge me like the rain energy here.

Experiences and changes; more opportunities to let go

Experiences and changes; more opportunities for letting go

It’s been a while since I posted anything, largely because all of my electronics were stolen in mid-March. I won’t go into the details of the burglary, but will express that we are very fortunate to have excellent landlords and neighbors who helped us in the aftermath of this unpleasant and disruptive experience. Losing those electronics and my jewelry has been yes another lesson in letting go.

Does being burglarized influence our desire and decision to live in Mexico? No. Burglaries happen everywhere. In fact, our neighborhood back in the Pacific NW was well-known for burglaries.

In fact, we have been looking for a house or a lot to buy in Ajijic, with the intention of spending seven or eight months a year here. That will be a big change in lifestyle for sure.

As I’ve mentioned before, we got rid of a lot of stuff before making this one-year jaunt to Mexico. A. Lot. Of. Stuff. We kept the things we will need to live when we return: bed, dressers, desk, chairs, table, kitchen things, cookbooks, winter clothes, garden tools, hobby stuff (camping, canning, soap making, beer making, skiing, dog-fostering, bicycling). We also kept art and (speaking for me here, not “we”) a major quantity of old (1920s to 1980s) photos, files, journals, and inherited mementos. Where will all of these things go when we sell our house and move South for the majority of each year? How much will go with us (not much, given moving costs and constraints), how much will go away, and how much will remain in the Pacific NW for our summer life?

Semana Santa (Holy Week) was interesting. This was the trial of Jesus, where he was condemned to death:

Gran Isla Navidad resort in Barra de Navidad. Stayed there for a treat and golfed at their lovely course:

Wine on our mirador:

Me and Frida, being beautiful:

Monarch butterfly reserve at Cerro Pelón

Recently we went to Macheros, a rural town of about 300 people and the gateway to the Cerro Pelón butterfly reserve. It’s one of the places where the monarch butterflies spend the winter. Macheros is at about 7,000 feet, and the mountain reserve is maybe 10,000. The closest large town is Zitácuaro, Michoacan. It took us about 6 hours to get here from Ajijic.

We stayed at a place called JM Butterfly B&B, owned by a local Macheros guy and his American wife. 14 rooms. Lovely and highly recommended. The owner’s mom runs a small restaurant (only one in town) next door that serves three meals a day to us butterfly tourists. The vistas remind us of Oregon – mixed conifer forests, farmland, orchards (here, peach mostly, I think, and avocado), mountains. It’s pretty remote. There is wifi at the B&B only because they built the towers to bring it in. No cell service. Fields being plowed by horses. Trout farm for fish.

Our lovely room:

View of Macheros from B&B, and sunset:

Yellow on map shows where we live; red shows approximate location of Macheros:

We took the tour up to see the monarchs, which entails about an hour horse ride each way. Do you know I am afraid of horses? Well, there you go. Luckily, you don’t actually ride the horse, in that you don’t steer it; someone leads it while you sit on it. Still, I found it kind of terrifying. The terrain is pretty steep and I was very sore from the ride — both my backside (as expected) as well as my arms/shoulders from hanging on the saddle, front and back.

I asked one of our guides if anyone ever fell off the horses and she said, “never.” I understand now that this was a lie, but I am grateful she told it to me, or I still might be making my way down the mountain on foot after refusing to get back on the horse.

The butterflies were wonderful to see, although we were at the tail end of their stay here and many had already left. (My advice: go in December or January vs March.) Still, we saw lots of clusters hanging from the trees and then many flying when the sun hit them. Pretty amazing how they make the trek across two (sometimes three) countries twice every year.

Butterfly numbers are significantly down, largely due to the herbicides in the US that kill the milkweed they depend on, and the pesticides that kill them. The argricultural system in the US causes so many problems, and this is one very sad one. Many of the people visiting here are folks who find the caterpillars in the US and Canada and then feed and shelter them until they become butterflies. (They have some tagging system too, and the tag numbers are entered in a database when the dead tagged insects are found.)

We had some milkweed growing in our yard in Oregon and saw the caterpillars (although the Western monarch population is different from the one that winters here). Now, I want to do more.

The B&B, the butterfly tours, and a non-profit started by the B&B folks (Butterflies and Their People) are doing what they can to protect the habitat here — mainly by offering jobs (guides, B&B workers, arborists) so that people have some income and don’t illegally cut the trees that the monarchs rely on.

We also took a nice hike up a big hill to two viewpoints. Along the way, a forest full of wildflowers and hummingbirds.

I will write later about my cooking class at the small restaurant, with owner Doña Rosa.

Keep your eyes open: things you see in the AM in Ajijic

I am not an early riser by nature. However, here, I am always rewarded if I get up relatively early to exercise on the malecon. I see so many wonderful people and things. I am afraid the US will seem impossibly and unpleasantly sterile when we return there.

This week, I noticed:

— The man with a wheelbarrow full of ice and fish, hollering “Hay pescado! Pescado fresco!” (There’s fish, fresh fish.) He’ll clean them for you on a board that he carries on the wheelbarrow with the fish.

— Freshly painted polictical slogans, the overspray still dotting white on the sidewalks. All the signs in our nieghborhood seem to be for the Morena party — “Morena, La Esperanza de México.” (The hope of Mexico.) Elections are in July. Note to self: learn about the political parties.

— Two horses (with riders) hauling ass down the street, so fast that people were gathering their kids up onto the sidewalk and coming out of shops to look.

— Dogs. Mostly out by themselves or with canine buddies, going about their dog business. Sturdy German Shepherds, skittery chihuahuas, wagging yellow Labs fresh from a swim, handsome pit bulls, dirty little poodles. Today, I passed a woman on the sidewalk who was followed by a tiny brown chihuahua in a pink sweater. I must have startled her, the pink sweater pup, as she stood still, creating an impasse on the narrow sidewalk until her person called her.

— Men going to work, mostly carpooling in pick-up trucks. They are dressed for construction, in jeans and boots, and carrying water bottles, lunch containers and backpacks.

— Men not going to work, sitting in a small group in the soccer field or fishermen’s lot. They can look a little rough around the edges and are sometimes having a raucous discussion, perhaps under the influence of last night’s libations. Still, a smile and “buenos dias” is always greeted with a friendly response: “adios,” “buenos dias, “good day” or “good morning.”

— Kids running in their pajamas to/from little stores to get an item needed for breakfast, perhaps eggs in a plastic sack, a jug of milk or a stack of tortillas.

— Women setting up their food stalls in the street, kneading a big plastic tub of masa for tortillas or heating up a grill.

— A noise that sounded like a boat motor coming from the fruit and veggie store. A juicer, of course! Note to self: bring a little cash for fresh carrot juice.

— Flowers of all colors and scents, including the fragrant vines across the street from our house.

— White pelicans, egrets, herons, doves and parrots.

— A new mural at the skatepark on the malecon, a study in black, white and grey replacing the colorful stylized eagle that had been there.

— Lake Chapala!

Unrelated: a fall, Luche Libre wrestling, and return to Yelapa

Unrelated items: a fall, Lucha Libre wrestling, and return to Yelapa

We’ve just returned from our annual Yelapa visit. For those who don’t know Yelapa, and my love of it, I suggest you search my blog for prior posts. We played in the International Croquet Tournament, but alas did not win. Like croquet? Want to play it in a beautiful tropical place on a jungle-y course? You can join in next year, February 10-14. The more, the merrier.

Living in Mexico this year made our trip different, as we didn’t return home to the US and the cold, but to our snug rental in sunny, colorful Ajijic. Still, I find Yelapa incomparable. The lack of cars makes it different than other beach towns we have enjoyed. Even though there is more building here every year, the location and the fact that the place is an indigenous community keeps it small — there will be no Hiltons, Señor Frogs, no time shares or 20-story condo buildings. I enjoyed sleeping on an open-air porch and listening to the surf at night. And the frogs! The nights when I heard the chorus frogs from the river, those were special.

We were invited to dinner at some friends’ house and several people told their “why Yelapa” stories. They all have one thing in common, “I got off the boat (haha, everyone gets here by boat),” and most then continue with something like “and knew this was where I wanted to be,” or “and I felt like I was home.”

Gracias Yelapa; nos vemos en el proximo año!


And now, on to the topic of feeling old. A week before we visited Yelapa, I fell. I had attended Zumba class on the malecon in Ajijic and was jogging home through a field, on a dirt path, when my toe hit a rock. The next thing I knew, I was sprawled in the Superman pose on the hard, rocky ground. (Did I mention it was hard and rocky?) Knees, elbow, hands, thigh, lots of scrapes and bruises. My stainless steel water bottle tumbled onto the rocks, making a huge clang that woke up the dogs who live in that field. They came barking at me, which motived me to haul my sorry ass up quickly. I hurt, I felt miserably old, and I limped home where my husband fussed over me and cleaned my wounds. I spent the day with ice and ibuprofen. I’m happy to report (I think) no lasting injuries, although my left knee still isn’t quite right.

I feel lucky, as a middle-aged woman, not to have broken my wrist or ankle or hip. I feel old and vulnerable, and more committed than ever to exercising and staying fit.


A few weeks ago we joined a bus trip from Lake Chapala Society to see the Lucha Libre wrestling in Guadalajara. My complete knowledge of the sport was based on seeing Jack Black in the film “Nacho Libre” years ago. But it seemed like a fun experience to be had only in Mexico and so we signed up.

And it was fun! A stadium where beer and food vendors come to your seat is always a plus and the wrestling was a spectacle! Evidently we were there on “family night,” and heard it gets pretty raucous on other nights, with folks throwing things at the wrestlers. Kids and adults, everyone seemed to be having a good time. Lots of cheering the good guys and booing the bad. The wrestlers had interesting (and sometimes skimpy) costumes. My favorites were a sexy guy with “Black Sugar” emblazoned on the rear of his briefs and “Tigre,” a fellow with white-and black-striped mask/ears and briefs. Roar! There were single matches, and then some with teams of two or three. The guys were all athletic with their choreographed gymnastic throws, slams and falls. All of that must seriously hurt, even though it’s “fake.”

Our biggest adventure of the night came when the bus ran out of gas on the way home, about 4 miles from Ajijic, on a dark narrow stretch of road with no shoulder. Some fellow passengers called taxis, the fire department showed up to make sure no one whacked into the bus, and things worked out in the end.

Go do things. Enjoy life. And when you fall, get your sorry ass up before you get bitten by a dog.

Black Sugar

I’m a fan girl


I Speak Spanish in my Head: San Sebastian and Women’s March

I speak Spanish in my head: San Sebastian and Women’s March

Saturday, January 20.

We started the day at the Ajijic plaza for the second annual Women’s March. Last year, we were travelling and I regretted that I wasn’t able to march in protest of the inauguration of our current US President. So I decided not to miss my chance this year, although this year’s theme seemed more general. A woman more artistic than me made the sign I carried, “Los derechos de mujeres son derechos humanos.” Women’s rights are human rights.

My husband came along and took some great photos. At one point, he left the plaza to get a spot on the street where he could photograph the march approaching. He asked the police if he could stand in the back of their pick-up truck to take the photo — and ended up riding in the police truck along the parade route. How cool is that?

Women’s march as viewed from back of police truck

Stop the hate; spread the love

As we were walking, I had one of my most embarrassing moments ever in Mexico. (Yes, more embarrassing than going into the men’s room in a restaurant, which has happened more than once.) I was walking in the march when a young Mexican man with a large camera approached me and asked me if I spoke Spanish. I told him, “Un poco.” He proceeded to turn on the recording feature of his iPhone and start to interview me! I am guessing (and hoping) it was so awful that he didn’t end up using the footage. He asked me why I was marching. I understood the question, because really, I do understand Spanish if someone speaks slowly to me and uses the words you might use to speak to a 6-year-old child. But speaking? I speak it in my head. I answered him very simply (Porque creo en los derechos de mujeres!) and then completely bombed the follow-up questions, not being able to translate fast enough in my mind to form coherent sentences in Spanish.

Of course, a few minutes after this, I thought of a bunch of things I could have said, know how to say, that would have been fine. But alas, it was all in my head, and much too late.

<sigh> What an idiot I am, living here, and being so inept. Of course, who knows how cogent I would have been in English when faced with a reporter … but likely a lot better than I was in Spanish.

I enjoyed the Women’s March, being with like-minded people, although it felt odd to be participating in one in Mexico. I am not protesting anything in Mexico. I don’t know enough about the politics and women’s issues here, I’m not a citizen, and don’t feel it appropriate to comment or protest on anything Mexican. Most of the people marching were from the US, some from Mexico, some from Canada. I think people were largely incensed with, and protesting, the anti-woman, anti-immigrant, anti-human actions of the US leadership. But we were doing it here, because, well, here we are.

Our second event of the day was the San Sebastian procession and fiesta in the upper village area of Ajijic. If the Women’s March was largely a gringa(o) event, the San Sabastian procession and fiesta was almost 100% Mexican. Earlier that day (6 AMish), the statue of San Sebastian was taken from the chapel on the plaza and processed up to a small shrine in the upper village where Mass was said (and menudo was eaten). We joined the procession to bring him back to the chapel at about 4 PM. The procession had marchers carrying the statue, men carrying a tray of cakes and pots of food, a guy lighting off cohetes (bottle rockets), costumed dancers, floats in pick-up trucks, and folks throwing confetti and candy. After replacing the statue in the plaza chapel, the group made its way back to the upper village for the PARTY!


Masked dancers

San Sebastian procession

Cups of tequila-infused ponche were distrubuted, beer was sold, a band was playing, and then the big “fight” started. Everyone (aged 2 to 80+) had brightly-colored confetti-filled eggshells and started breaking them over people’s heads. Some nice folks gave us some so we could participate as well. It was a blast! And during all this mayhem, a lovely woman with a big smile, about 10 years younger than me, approached, again with the question of whether I speak Spanish. And again, well, I speak it in my head. She hugged me, welcomed me to Ajijic and to the party, and gave me a confetti egg. She later introduced me to some of her relatives. How sweet is that? After the US has fucked Mexico so many times, a kind woman welcomes me, the inept foreigner who can’t speak her language? I feel it in my heart, a warm sweet pain.

Confetti chaos

Our twin friends having fun

Confetti mayhem

As dusk fell, the party cranked up a notch. The band was fun, lots of cumbia music. We danced and drank beer. A greased pole had been erected in the street with toys hanging from the top. At a certain point, boys began to try to climb it. Men stood to form the base, hoisting boys onto their shoulders, and then more boys on top of those boys. Many times, everyone slid back down to the disappointment of the crowd. One of our friends and my husband decided to help (my husband thinking they needed a tall gringo to get the boys up higher), and finally there was success as a boy managed to get to the top and pull down the toys. Cheers!! A few minutes later, another lovely lady found my husband and our friend and gave them each a Tecate beer in thanks for helping the boys.


Boys climb the greased pole

Two events, a lovely day, and the same conclusion: I need to speak Spanish out loud, and not just in my head if I want to connect with all the kind, interesting, fun people around me.

Viva Mexico! I’m a lucky gringa to be here and I appreciate it every day.