Sunday, November 30, 2008

Book: Three Cups of Tea

Neighbor Mommy brought me a book to read during their visit from USA:

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

Non-fiction is my favorite kind of book. I found this to be a book I wanted to keep reading and reading. The story is inspirational, informative and interesting (the 3 i's?)

When visiting the website I found there are also versions for young adults (over age 8) and children. I will be ordering both books for my boys.

I encourage you to visit and I have copied a book description from this site:

In Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time , Greg Mortenson, and journalist David Oliver Relin, recount the journey that led Mortenson from a failed 1993 attempt to climb Pakistan’s K2, the world’s second highest mountain, to successfully establish schools in some of the most remote regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. By replacing guns with pencils, rhetoric with reading, Mortenson combines his unique background with his intimate knowledge of the third-world to promote peace with books, not bombs, and successfully bring education and hope to remote communities in central Asia. Three Cups of Tea is at once an unforgettable adventure and the inspiring true story of how one man really is changing the world—one school at a time.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Havdalah This Night

Without a synagogue in our area of Mexico, we create our own opportunities for expressing our Jewish beliefs. An unexpected opportunity presented itself today.

Oldest Son and Youngest Son have played for a couple days with 2 children who are vacationing from California and staying next door - neighbors for the weekend. As I spoke with the parents today, we discovered that they are Jewish and originally from Israel. Interestingly they also speak French, Spanish, English and Hebrew.

I asked if they would like to share Havdalah?
Yes but they did not have candles ... no worries, we have several.

The Havdalah candle has more than one wick, as there has to be a combination of at least two flames, stemming from the plural form "lights" used in the blessing (Boré me'oré ha-esh, "Who creates the lights of the fire").

As they called us to Havdalah there was song and laughter. They indicated it would be Sephardic and the elder gentleman began reading from a prayer book in Hebrew only, right to left. He was loud and joyful.

The Havdalah ceremony comprises four blessings: Wine, Spices, lights and the Havdalah blessing. In the various rites (Ashkenazi, Sephardi, and Yemenite), the blessings themselves are almost identical, the lead phrase being kol yeshu'ot essa ("I will lift the cup of salvation"), but the introductory sentences preceding it are different: the Ashkenazi recites biblical phrases containing the term yeshu'ah ("salvation"), the Sephardi asks for the granting of general bountifulness and success, and the Yemenite prays for a good week.

A variety of customs are associated with Havdalah which signals the end of Shabbat. This family filled a Jewish silver cup to overflowing to extinguish the candle in the wine. They also looked at their extended fingers with the blessing over the light.

Once again our Jewishness reaches out us across nations, languages, families, neighbors. Amen.

And as a bonus the 8 year old girl left her phone number for Oldest Son - we are glad to see he is attracting nice Jewish girls already ...

Dolphins, Whales and Pirates

The View of PV (above)

Majahuitas Beach (above)

We have seen the Marigalante Pirate Ship many times since our arrival last July. With 2 boys, it was inevitable that we would secure passage. The time was right this week. Our 2 boys and the Neighbor Family's 2 girls were thrilled. Yes, yes - very touristy but very, very fun! We boarded the Marigalante at 9:30am and exited at 4:30pm.

Upon arrival we were assigned a Pirate, Joker. Joker took care of our every need throughout the day. The crew of Pirates was surprisingly talented - they sang, danced, sword fought and provided excellent humor. There was swashbuckling action from the shows, 2 excellent meals and alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.

Neighbor Daddy and I won the "dancing contest" - suffice it to say there was lots of embarrassment involved but we triumphed and have the T-Shirts to prove it!

Majahuitas Beach
We spent 2 hours at Majahuitas Beach which can only be reached by boat. We were able to snorkel, play beach volleyball, use boogie boards, take banana boat rides and kayak. The Pirates organized a Treasure Hunt and Olympics for the kids. Neighbor Girl Age 8 found the buried treasure of chocolate coins! She won a Pirate Do-Rag cap that she wore until end of their visit.

The beach was beautiful and had a natural fresh water spring running through it. The boys played almost entire time in this flow of fresh water.

Dolphins and Whales
We saw our FIRST WHALES!!!!!! ever. I was ecstatic. We spotted whales a couple different times along with a group of dolphins. We hear that within the month hundreds of whales will be in and around the bay.

I could not resist posting a picture of the banos (bathroom). I have never seen anything like this ...

Friday, November 28, 2008

Celebrating Thanksgiving in Mexico

We celebrated Thanksgiving in Mexico with our USA neighbors who were visiting for the week. I inadvertently erased the pictures off my camera before downloading. Ouch!

While in Mexico, we have tried to maintain a piece of home for the kids while incorporating a Mexican perspective. Thus, we had the following mostly traditional and simple menu:

- Turkey: Husband prepared and it was really, really, really good
- Turkey Gravy
- Apple & Turkey Bacon Stuffing: not our usual stuffing due to lack of ingredients in Mexico
- Fresh Green Beans
- Fresh avocado, pears and melon
- 1 Corn Tamale - Youngest Son saved it from his afternoon snack purchase to contribute to our Thanksgiving Feast
- Mango Pie: from "Pie in the Sky" which is an amazing local bakery
- Chocolate Mousse: Our neighbors always spend Thanksgiving with us and provide Chocolate Mousse prepared with French Chocolate. Neighbor Daddy's family is from France. Youngest Son specifically requested they bring the "Moose" when he learned of their visit on Thanksgiving
- Chile Red Wine: purchased locally

Oldest Son, Youngest Son, Neighbor Girl Age 8 and Neighbor Girl Age 6 decorated our windows with Thanksgiving images and set the table with fall themed paper dinnerware and our Mexican candles. They made the most creative name cards with Turkey Stamps and Dot Paints. The eight of us sat outside around our rustic wood table with the surf breaking on the beach and the palm trees accented with white lights.

Our evening ended with a crab hunt on the beach (we are a catch and release family) followed by the kids jumping in the pool - in only their underwear - oh the naughtiness thrilled their young hearts!

Our life is not perfect and we recognize that health and happiness can be fragile and fleeting. We are thankful for this day and this year.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

20 Pesos

Husband and I picked up boys from school yesterday. We could sense that Oldest Son was upset about something. We asked him to share what was wrong. He, of course, said "Nothing."

We have learned that as Oldest Son gets older he tends to be more private about the troubles in his 8 year old world. We knew to drop it for the moment.

This Afternoon
Husband tells me he what was troubling Oldest Son. I ask how does Husband know?

Earlier - This Morning
Each morning Husband sets 20 pesos on counter for Oldest Son to take to school. Oldest Son is responsible for purchasing a healthy snack for Youngest Son and himself each afternoon from local vendors (corn tamales, corn cups, cucumbers, fruit, etc.)

Husband included an extra 20 pesos with secret note to Oldest Son "Here is an extra 20 pesos to tell me what happened yesterday."

This Afternoon
I am taken aback as Husband shares with me how he sent the 20 pesos. In admiration. We have this unique opportunity for our 2 boys to have their father care for them full time this year while we are in Mexico. Husband is able to understand how a small boy's mind works and approach them in male oriented and sensitive ways. I am awed at the thought of Husband writing this special note for our son.

So What Happened?
Nothing major - just a Spanish classroom misunderstanding which embarrassed our son who is motivated by doing all that is expected at school and takes great pride in being a good student. The important result is that Oldest Son feels better having shared what happened and we feel better connected to Oldest Son.

These happenings lay the foundation for the times when truly serious challenges arise and it will be so important to have open, safe and trusting communication.

Thank You Husband. For all you do.

Baby Black Jaguar

We took our USA Neighbors to the Puerto Vallarta Zoo which was our 2nd visit. The zoo is incredibly positioned on the side of the Jalisco mountians in Mismolya. You are able to feed all the animals throughout your explorations which includes Bears, Monkeys, Birds, Fish, Giraffes, Wolves - just to name a few. The bag of food clearly shows what item to feed to the specific animals.

On our last visit the boys played with a baby lion cub, Princess. Princess was still there to play but a bit too big for our comfort zone. However, there was a beautiful Baby Black Jaguar named Rain. All 4 kids got to hold and pet her. As you can see above, Youngest Son also chose to frolic with Rain.

We saved some food for the last animals in the zoo: Peccaries - the wild pigs. The boys were distressed last time when we had no food left for them ...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Fun in Our Mexican Town by the Sea

Just got home from an oh so enjoyable evening with Neighbor Mommy and Neighbor Daddy (our neighbors from USA visiting for Thanksgiving.)

First stop: Candlelight dinner at Italian restaurant right on the beach! Husband and Neighbor Daddy debated politics over after dinner cognac. Waiter provided complementary wine as last course - which may or may not have been prompted by the overheard statement by me to legalize drugs ...

Second Stop: Gringo bar with cover band. Husband and Neighbor Daddy have 3 (!!!) tequila shots. We did get a great dance in that literally had me kicking off my sandals!

Fun times in our small Mexican Town...

Volcano Part 2 & Horses in the Beach

Volcano Part 2
A few days ago we created our Volcano and we allowed to dry for a few days. Saturday was Eruption Day! We dropped in the Eruption Powder, Red Dye and Water. It did bubble over and provided the kids with a chemical reaction - see above.

Horses on the Beach
We arranged last week for the kids to have a horseback ride on the beach in front of our villa on Saturday. Being Mexico, we anxiously awaited their arrival knowing that they may or may not show up. We were all quite excited when 4 horses appeared! The only glitch was that one of them had got a rock in its hoof and and was kinda limping. The kids had a good time. Youngest Son was pretending to be a cowboy and all 4 children spoke to their horses in Spanish!

"Donde esta las vacas?" said Oldest Son
Where are the cows?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Hammock, The Holiday & 1st Visitors

The Hammock
We have had one of those manana experiences with our Hammock. We purchased on beach a few weeks ago. Our landlord asked us to work with the complex maintenance to have it hung. I will spare you the many iterative details but there were various delays for various reasons.

However, yesterday was The Day - our Hammock is hung. Life is so definitely good.

The Holiday and 1st Visitors
Next week is Thanksgiving for the USA community. Our USA neighbors are spending the week with us. Neighbor Mommy, Daughter Age 8 and Daughter Age 6 flew to Mexico with me on Thursday. Neighbor Daddy arrives this afternoon. We are all very excited to have our friends visiting! Kids are playing Twister right this moment - too funny.

I have been commuting weekly since August. It felt odd and wonderful to write 12 days on my FMT! I also start a one week to USA schedule in December. Mucho Thankfulness!


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tribute to 8 Special Friends

I have many blessings in my life. One is 8 fabulous college friends who try to meet for dinner every couple of months. Our friend M keeps us organized and connected - thank you so much M! Tonight was the night 8 of us gathered for pizza and wine!

We are a confident, loud and fun group of women. Here is how the 8 of us stack up:

- 8 have good health although several use reading glasses
- 8 work and 4 of those 8 are self-employed
- 8 have children who are boys, girls, biological, adopted, step-children ranging from preschool to high school (14 kids in total)
- 7 are married and 2 of those 7 are on their 2nd marriage
- 3 are married to their college sweetheart
- 3 have been divorced
- We are Christians, Greek Orthodox, Jewish and Not Sure
- We are past weddings and baby showers and are raising children, facing aging parents and seeing death of loved ones

And the bonus: We look pretty damn good for women at mid-life

I consider myself privileged to be in this group - how did I get so lucky? Each woman is full of gifts for this world:

K - loving, kind and beautiful; beauty is inside and out on this one
M - the glue to the group; disciplined, ageless and able to do anything - really
S - quirky, smart, fun-loving, pragmatic, open to what is not obvious
B - open-minded, unique in spirit, responsible, does things own way
B - stable, fun, fashionable, successful, contagious humor and laughter
L - surprising, decisive, clever, secure, full of faith
A - hilarious, spirited, loyal, opinionated, strong, always true to self

I honestly look forward to growing old with these women.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Everyday Math

When we considered Moving the Kids to Mexico, our first responsibility was to find a school that would provide them a safe, happy and academically challenging environment. Fortunately, we believe that our kids are in a school that meets this criteria and provides many other benefits as well.

One area that we have decided to supplement is mathematics. But Why?
  • We want Oldest Son to be on track in concrete math skills as he enters USA 4th grade
  • Both Oldest Son and Youngest Son have an interest and natural aptitude for math
  • It is easy

We have purchased the 3rd Grade Everyday Math books. Oldest Son can easily complete the workbook with very little outside help.

Oldest Son actually enjoys doing the math so there is no parental hassle factor. We are encouraging him to make his way through the workbook at his own pace - no pressure. So far so good.

And, of course, we have Everyday Math on order for Youngest Son too.

P.S. In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention both Husband and I are "math people" - between the two of us some of our credentials include an MS in Mathematics, Enrolled Actuary, High School Math Teacher ... so the kids are doomed to have at least part of our geekiness ...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Volcano Part 1

One of my goals for Mexico was to have more time to just do stuff we did not have time for in the USA. For example - the Volcano kit which I schlepped to Mexico.

Part 1: The boys mixed the clay then built the Volcano around a plastic tube. We have to let it dry for 2-3 days then comes Part 2: the Eruption.

They did add some sand for realism. And for the opposite of realism, Youngest Son added a Snow Man with stick arms. Yes a Snow Man - no real logic in that decision just pure 6 year old imagination.

And to add to your visuals - the boys did all this creating in only their underwear ... who needs an art smock?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Saturday: Fishing Tournament & Date Night

After a short morning swim, we headed to the PV Marina.

Lunch at 8 Tostados and Fishing Tournament
First stop in Marina was lunch at 8 Tostadas. This used to be a taco stand but has shifted to restaurant status. The owner of our villa owns this establishment as well. Their specialty is a bowl of warm or cold broth with your choices of shrimp, octopus, snails and scallops along with avocado, tomatoes, red onions, cucumber and ketchup. The table is stocked with crackers and crispy tostados along with various pepper sauces, Worcestershire sauce and oil. It is very good and part of fun is to choose and season to your own preferences.

We then walked around Marina. At about 3:00 the fisherman started arriving with yellow fin tuna and marlin. Wow. These are big fish.

Last stop gelato. Yummy. Back home for late afternoon naps.

Date Night
We actually got a sitter for the kids last night. This is the 1st time we have gotten to go out alone since Moving to Mexico. Youngest Son's Spanish teacher, Maestra, watched the kids for us and she only speaks Spanish. Youngest Son was so excited to have his Maestra. Husband was so excited to have an evening of adult conversation.

We went to a lovely Italian restaurant right on the beach. We had a bottle of wine, good pasta and cappuccinos. Afterwards, we walked to centro. We went into local art gallery and were embarrassed when we realized the proprietor was talking in USD (dollars) and we thought it was pesos (there is a huge difference between $2,000 pesos and $2,000 USD!) We stopped in a bar for a beer and quick dance before heading home.

Like many husbands and wives, we are not as good as we should be about carving out time for just us as a couple. We are hoping to start having more of these nights ...

More Spanish Milestones

Good Morning!

Another Spanish First: Youngest Son spoke to Oldest Son in Spanish spontaneously. He was getting green and red crayons for them to use. He says to Oldest Son as he hands crayons over "Tiene rojo y yo tengo verde" It is not an elaborate statement but that he shifted to Spanish in our home for no real reason is remarkable.

The High Season: We are starting to get those beautiful, cool mornings. We are sitting in our family room with all doors and windows open. I can hear the surf hit the beach. The electricity is very, very expensive here so we are looking forward to lower bills.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Tazos Update

New School Rule: No Tazos

It was fun while it lasted ...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Our Little Angel

So Husband and I got quite the chuckle this morning.

It appears that Youngest Son will be an Angel in the Christmas Pageant at his school.

Our very Jewish Youngest Son is a comely child with white hair so one of his advantages in life is that he looks like a little angel which he maximizes in his frequent devilish and mischievous antics!

Perfect casting in an ironical kind of way.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Always Interesting Mind of a Little Boy

Being the mother of two little boys presents me with many moments of awe and wonder. The male minds of Oldest Son and Youngest Son just do not work like my female brain.

For example, the kids were making dot art pictures. Oldest Son initially created wrestlers while Youngest Son created a self-proclaimed masterpiece and a flower.

THEN, the testosterone and imagination completely took over ... Oldest Son created an Avatar map of Earth Nation (green), Fire Nation (red), Water Nation (blue) and Air Nation (yellow). He then started playing inside the art using strategic moves to defeat the Fire Nation. Youngest Son quickly created his own Avatar map. The two elapsed into their own integrated make believe worlds spinning far flung tales - always with the good guys and the bad guys clearly defined. Our art project had transformed into an interactive experience. I just sat and listened enjoying this glimpse into their enviable brotherly relationship.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Fishing around the Marietta Islands

As the sun was rising, we headed out to go fishing yesterday morning.
The skipjacks were schooling everywhere. The kids (we had all 5 boys with us - our 2 and the Other American Family's 3) caught a few as we trolled around. We later used them for bait.

Other American Dad caught a Tuna but not the kind you can eat. I did not even know there was a kind you could not eat?? See below.

Both Husband and Other American Dad both caught a large silver and white fish. While fun to reel in, we could not eat these either. See below.
For the first time, both Oldest Son and Youngest Son got sea sick - they took care of their business over side of boat and did not complain.
It was a beautiful morning. I could ride in a boat on the ocean all day every day.

Monday, November 3, 2008


Oldest Son and Youngest Son have a new obsession - Tazos. Obsession began when one of Oldest Son's Mexican friends gave him one.

A Tazo is a round, flat decorative disk. The object of the game is to flick a Tazo against another Tazo to flip it. If you flip it then you get to keep the Tazo. Game protocol dictates a decision at beginning of play on whether you are playing "for keeps." It seems a lot like marbles to me.

It took us a awhile to figure out where to get the Tazos. Youngest Son first thought was "Can you order some off internet?" Google research indicated no. You get them in bags of chips (we cannot completely escape manipulative marketing directed at kids.) So yes, we bought the individual size bags of chips. We provided a base of about 4 Tazos each. Oldest Son then purchased a few more at School Bazaar last Friday and won a few that afternoon. So Youngest Son and Oldest Son had a respectable 11 each.

While talking to Oldest Son on the phone , he excitedly shared his Tazos tally for the day. First he lost 4 then he gave two to friend for assisting him on his homework then he won big - something like 15 Tazos.

Decision making. Risk taking. Negotiation. Sharing. Compromise. Winning. Losing. Disappointment. Sportsmanship. Ownership. Responsibility. Bartering. Independence. Consequences. Rewards. Losses. Giving. Strategy. Skill. An impressive list of learnings from a childhood game.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Overheard: Museums

We spent the afternoon along the Malecon (boardwalk) in Puerto Vallarta Saturday. We visited the Naval Museum which is a very small collection of naval pictures, models and artifacts.

Oldest Son said "Mommy, that was really good. We ought to have something like that in USA Home Town."

Why did this strike me as interesting? Well, it is not the sort of museum most 8 year olds would think was too great. So what is up with Oldest Son?

Here is my theory. We were fortunate to visit London three years in a row when Husband traveled there on business. I took both boys to every museum and many art galleries during each trip. The museums (British, Science & History, Maritime, Transportation, Viking, etc.) have lots of exhibits that kids can enjoy. In the art museums we would do scavenger hunts to make it interesting. Thus, our kids think of museums in a positive light and we try to visit museums in most places we visit.

P.S. 5 minutes before we headed to airport today - Youngest Son vomited - allot. No time to clean up. Oldest Son grabbed a bucket and in the car we went. Vomit on the way. I took bucket into airport to clean out before Husband had to drive kids back home. I called when I arrived in USA. Youngest Son answered with a loud Buenos Noches Mommy! According to Husband he vomited again on way home. While Youngest Son's spirits seem okay - he was still vomiting at bedtime. Poor little guy and poor Husband ...

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Dia De Muertos & Halloween

Friday was a double celebration at kids’ school (preschool to 12th grade) in which parents were invited.

  • There were alters built for Dia De Muertos (Day of the Dead.)
  • Most of the kids and teachers were in fabulous costumes. There were several costume contests for the preschool and elementary students where audience cheers determined the winner. It was fun and the kids really enjoyed it. ( It is interesting to note that in the US you would never have a contest like this for young kids – the US is way too PC and all about everyone being a winner which I do not think is best for our kids – just my opinion.)

  • There was a stage set up with at least 2 hours of performances: music, dancing, mimes, plays, clowns, etc. I was really impressed with the quality of entertainment which was mostly the Upper School students.

  • Tables were set up in the courtyard by parents selling used clothing, toys and baked goods to benefit local orphanage.

  • A haunted house was erected using giant tarps. A pumpkin carving contest took place with each grade making an entry.

  • Kids gathered in small groups to play Tazos (more on this another post)

What struck me was the festive, relaxed, safe and happy atmosphere. The kids roamed here and there and back again. The students were very, very comfortable in this mucho important establishment – their school. So this made me comfortable.

Oldest Son and Youngest Son did not go trick-or-treating this year. We did not miss it at all.

Below is 2nd place Dracula Pumkin by 3rd grade (Oldest Son's Class) and 1st place Eyeball Pumpkin. The 3rd place Witch Pumpkin on far left of table is from Kinder3 (Youngest Son's Class.)