Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The top tortilla

I hate to break bad news but The Prices Go Down Party beat The Earth Party to win the fake 5th Grade election. Even worse, it got ugly at the end -- someone stole the Earth Party's seed packets so they had nothing to distribute to their potential voters. It was a real scandal.

So The Earth Party decided to arm themselves and go kick some Prices Go Down ass.
(not really, this is Lucien at a paintball birthday party)

Lucien came home red in the face and fuming when the seed packets disappeared the day before voting day. Then the pacing commenced at home because someone had also misplaced the Earth Party t-shirts, which the entire team was supposed to wear the next day. And then, insult to injury, Lucien yelled, "And Mom, the sleeping kid next to me kicked me in the nuts on the bus ride home!"

I could not wrap my mind around all the injustice my child had suffered in just one day. How to comfort him, I did not know.

The Earth Party came in a respectably close second place, way ahead of The Donut Party -- whose members were actually campaigning for fewer donuts on school campus and more health food, a platform that likely makes them the most deceptively named and least popular political party in elementary school history -- and The Flower Party, whose members wanted to plant trees in the middle of the soccer field for more shade on hot days.

We can all agree it was a two-party race from the get-go. Aren't they always.

In one of the stranger tales of my life, I had a panic attack at a hair salon. I decided at the very last minute, the day before we left, that I needed a haircut before our trip to Costa Rica. Costa Rica is hot and humid and I suspected the unruly mess atop my head was going to contribute to the discomfort.

Everything was great at the salon at first; my hair was getting hacked off and tamed by a lovely Australian woman and we were chatting and laughing when I felt a slight tremor. It was a real tremor, like the earth shook a little, and I briefly thought, "Oh no, is this the beginning of an earthquake?"

We all felt it. The ladies in the salon looked at each other with raised eyebrows but since it passed so quickly, we decided it had been a large truck rumbling past the salon instead of impending doom. Everything returned to normal except for my body. My body had taken right the hell off and was really committed to it. My heart began racing, I couldn't breathe very well and I suddenly felt trapped and suffocate-y.

The other ladies seated in the salon noticed the odd look on my face and asked if I was OK. I said I felt "really weird." The lady next to me said, "You're suddenly pale, it could be your blood sugar." That woman was a stranger to me and had foils sticking out all over her head like a dozen shiny antennae, people, but she still got up and ran to the adjacent corner store to buy me cookies.

People can be so good when you need them! And yay, cookies!

So what the hell was that all about? I'd never had a panic attack before and have a vague theory it was related to the plane we were scheduled to take to Costa Rica early the next morning. I don't like planes (funny understatement) but was determined not to let them ruin my anticipation of Costa Rica. It was a a new strategy I'd adopted; I'd been refusing to acknowledge airplanes for weeks. If airplane thoughts popped up, kinda like, "Hey there, girl, I was just wonderin' how you're getting to Costa Rica..." I would interrupt with a "YOU SHUT UP RIGHT NOW PUNK," shove that stupid thought right back to where it came from, and walk away whistling.

I thought it was working pretty well until I bolted out of my chair at the hair salon. Then I wasn't so sure.

Maybe planes are sneaky little bastards who will ruin your day if you refuse to acknowledge their existence. Maybe planes will not be ignored. There's probably a good lesson in there somewhere, something about dealing with your fears head-on instead of ignoring them or whatever, but my takeaway is I probably just need a prescription for Xanax.

I have much to say about Costa Rica, to be written at some vague future time. It was our favorite vacation thus far and I'm not sure it can ever be topped. Costa Rica is one of the prettiest places you could ever imagine and one of the friendliest, too. It sure isn't cheap, though.

I dream of it still and can't wait to return.
Thankfully, there are no planes involved in getting to Costa Rica.
*walking away whistling*

I took a day-long cooking class Saturday with two friends: another Seattle Mom (I am grateful for the proliferation of Seattle people in my Mexico life because my "adios" in a few months can be reduced to a much easier "hasta luego") and my very first Dublin Mom.

The cooking class began at the Mercado Medellin in the Roma neighborhood. The Mercado Medellin is a market known for its products from many Latin American countries, all stacked high at stalls run by immigrants from those countries for decades. It's one of those markets where, if I entered by myself, I would wander for hours blinded by the bright colors and wondering "What the hell is any of this stuff and how do I make it into food?"

Our teachers were a feisty, funny, talented Mexican chef couple named Beto and Jorge. For Beto and Jorge, it's all about Mexican traditions and Mexican grandmas, as evidenced by how often they say things like, "My abuela used to do it like this" or "This was my abuela's mortar and pestle" or "My abuela would be so mad at you right now because you are definitely not doing that right and are crapping all over our family's traditions."

Look at all of those abuela-handed-down molcajetes.

We spent several hours at the Mercado Medellin browsing its aisles and trying its products. We met a Venezuelan man who makes his own hot sauces; we tried several and they set our mouths aflame in a painfully great way. We learned how flour tortillas are made. We learned what to do with all those bins of dried peppers, and what tamarind looks like, and the names of all of those odd looking fruits. It was all so perfectly delicious and interesting, you could (almost) ignore the men walking past with huge pieces of cow carcass balanced on their backs and the stands featuring nothing but whole pigs' heads.

take it away, Jorge

Our favorite booth was the one that sold mole paste because if you didn't know it was mole paste, you would think it was cow poop -- which frankly, wouldn't even be the strangest thing found at the mercado. Gobs of mole paste are slapped on top of each other until they resemble a stack of cow pies but Jorge told us if you buy half a kilo of those cow pies, then thin them with a little chicken stock at home, they turn into a delicious mole sauce you didn't have to spend all day making.

The three of us promptly got in line and bought half a kilo of cow poop apiece because any day now we are going to cook something incredible enough at home to be worthy of that mole sauce. We were so inspired, so convinced of it.

Beto smiles a lot

The actual cooking back at Beto and Jorge's house was not as hard as I thought it would be, though I did manage to overblister my jalapenos to the point of heavy black char. Jorge clucked at me briefly for that because he knew his abuela was mad at me. His abuela needs to get a hobby up in heaven and stop watching me screw up her favorite recipes.

But I did a very nice job grilling the tomatoes and garlic cloves and onion slices
for the red salsa we hand ground with a mortar and pestle.

Seattle Mom mixes the filling for the tamales

Beto shows how to wrap our cochinita pibil in banana leaves

perfect guacamole topped with a fried grasshopper.
Mexico, sometimes you are weird.

One of the most important food lessons we learned that day is "never take the top tortilla." Beto and Jorge would slap at our hands if we absentmindedly reached over and grabbed the first tortilla off the stack to assemble our tacos. The top tortilla gets cold and crunchy quickly, you see, and should be kept in place as a kind of lid to keep all the tortillas below it warm and soft. Also, since everyone ends up touching the top tortilla, it's considered germy and gross. 

(The top tortilla is so unsavory, it's even an insult, used like "your sister is the top tortilla." Get it? Everyone touches the top tortilla but nobody keeps it. Being called "the top tortilla" in Spanish is akin to being called "the town bicycle" in English. Good tidbit to know -- women are judged for their sexuality in all kinds of languages!) 

We ate our lunch on Beto and Jorge's rooftop deck
with perfectly crafted Paloma cocktails in our hands.
Not a bad Saturday.

On the way home from Casa Jacaranda, stuffed and happy, Dublin Mom suddenly began to crack up. We stared at her mystified until she managed to get out between laughs, "I'm never gonna do a damn thing with that half kilo of mole paste!" We started laughing then, too, because it was true for all of us. It had been a brief, beautiful dream, though.

If you're ever in Mexico City and want to learn how to cook some traditional Mexican food, you can find Beto and Jorge's cooking classes at the Casa Jacaranda website here. You won't be disappointed but their abuelas probably will be. Don't let it get you down too much.

Gotta run, I've got family coming to town. My parents and my brother arrive in Mexico City in a couple days and I am putting together quite an itinerary. I cannot wait to show them the wonders of Mexico. Just wait 'til they see how expertly I can char the hell out of a jalapeno AND maybe reconstitute some cow poop! Finally gonna make 'em proud.

Keep being you, top tortilla,
keep owning your tortilla sexuality...
I agree, it's getting confusing now.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Idealism, harmonicas, electrocution

Lucien's 5th Grade class is holding a mock election. Groups of like-minded students have joined together to form parties based on changes they'd like to see implemented at the school. They are currently campaigning to woo supporters from the lower grades and come election day, one party will emerge triumphant.

I'm not sure what happens for the winners of the election but it must be a big deal because Lucien is taking this more seriously than he takes choosing an ice cream flavor. That's a hefty statement because my kids stand in front of the ice cream counter for an excruciating amount of time, discussing the negatives and comparing the virtues of each flavor, as the line behind them grows and grows and I lurch around the store pulling my hair out and screaming, "OH MY GOD, just get cookies-n-cream and be done with it!!"

Lucien's group has formed "The Earth Party" and is running on environmental issues such as using less plastic at the school and improving the recycling program. The Loosh sits at his computer after school putting together graphic PowerPoint presentations full of whales who've died because of the gigantic wads of plastic bags in their bellies and malformed turtles who've grown up with six-pack rings around their shells.

The Loosh spots a plastic bag floating in the water at Xochimilco.
An enemy of the environment in our midst.
I had to threaten him with bodily injury to keep him from jumping in to retrieve it.

Lucien is pumped about the election and often, while showing me his latest depressing PowerPoint presentation featuring gigantic "garbage islands" floating around in the ocean, says chirpy things like, "We are going to win because this is everybody's future! Everyone wants to be healthy, and everyone loves animals and doesn't want to hurt them! We're gonna get so many votes!"

I tell him yes, he's got an excellent shot at winning but I say it with a sinking feeling in my stomach because I know one of their rival parties is the "Prices Go Down Party" and they are running on a platform of cheaper snacks at the snack bar. The rumor is they are also bribing their young voters with fistfuls of candy at recess. The PGD is not running a clean campaign; it wouldn't surprise me if they have shadowy ties to Russia.

The Earth Party learned of the PGD candy handouts so decided to counter by handing out seed packets kids could take home to plant. That was one of the sweetest things I'd ever heard from my excited smiley-faced son and it made my heart explode but still -- bottom line is it's "less plastic in the oceans" vs. "cheaper snacks" to an electorate of 3rd and 4th graders.

I'm afraid Lucien is about to learn a very harsh lesson about idealism in politics. I hope it strengthens his resolve and doesn't break his little Earth-loving soul. Because we're gonna need him.

Alex's parents and cousin were here recently for a brief but action-packed long weekend visit. One of the first things we did was the mandatory visit to the Frida Kahlo Museum in Coyoacan. We met a man in line there from Portland, Oregon, who had not purchased his ticket in advance -- an unfortunate rookie mistake at the Frida Kahlo museum -- and was bummed to hear he was going to have to leave our short pre-ticketed line to wait in the two-hour non-ticketed line that snaked down the street, around the corner and out of sight. We felt sorry for him and wanted to help him, such a nice guy and our fellow Pacific Northwesterner.

So Alex concocted LIES.

Alex told the ticket taker at the museum entrance that not all of our tickets had printed when we purchased them online but we hadn't realized it until that very moment. We had in our hands only seven tickets, not the rightful eight! As Alex went on and on about his frustration with the unreliability of the online ticketing system, even waving his arms around convincingly for emphasis, the rest of us snuggled up to our new friend, Joe, and attempted to look very familiar with him. The entrance guy let us all in, likely just to stop Alex from talking.

Joe was grateful and stuck with us to chat. Joe is a cool guy, a professional harmonica musician on tour in Mexico City. I didn't know professional harmonica was a thing, either. His specialty is tango harmonica (!) so he travels the world playing tango festivals and doing guest appearances with symphonies. As thanks for saving him two precious hours of his life, Joe says he'll pop by our house someday when he's in Seattle for a gig and treat our friends to a harmonica concert. We exchanged emails and we will take you up on that, new friend Joe.

Frida Kahlo, bringing the people together

P.S. We made a donation to the museum in the amount of Joe's ticket. We would never cheat Frida.
Diego, maybe, but not Frida.

The next family weekend tourist stop was Xochimilco.

Xochimilco is rich, long ago Mexican history but it doesn't look like it. Mexico City was originally built in the middle of a lake back when the Aztecs ran the show -- easy to defend, yo --and was surrounded by canals but then the Spaniards took over and drained most of the water. The canals of Xochimilco are all that's left of the once huge and intricate Aztec canal system.

The grand history of the area is made slightly less epic, perhaps, by the fact Xochimilco is now a place people go to have loud raucous drunken floating parties. It is not a calm contemplative place where you reflect upon your minute and insignificant place in time; it is a boisterous, colorful, obnoxious place where you get a michelada for less than 20 pesos.

Music blares from speakers on most boats. Mariachis play from others. Vendors constantly pull up alongside you offering beer, or cheap trinkets, or roasted ears of corn. Boat collisions are common when the canals get crowded. You must keep a sharp eye out and yell, "Incoming!" so everyone in your boat can grab onto something stationary before they lose footing and get tossed over the side.

No, Xochimilco is not calm nor educational but it is a lot of fun and we love it --

Coco dancing at the back of our boat
 to the tunes of a mariachi band on a nearby boat
and swinging her brand new Slinky
(we are about to get rammed by those boats behind us so hang on, little girl)

Mexico, you are truly something special.

We asked Mario for a dinner recommendation on the way home from Xochimilco and he said he knew just the place, then picked up the phone and made us a reservation on the spot. We pulled up in front of the restaurant a few hours later and -- holy hell, Mario had perhaps misread our intentions. We wanted a hole-in-the-wall taco joint only locals know about but he instead dropped us off at the San Angel Inn, widely regarded as one of the nicest and fanciest restaurants in Mexico City.

Men in tuxedos, or at the very least crisply tailored suits, and women in gorgeous dresses and high heels dominated the scene. Our post-Xochimilco windblown and sun drenched selves stood out a bit. All of us were wearing shorts or jeans, t-shirts and tank tops, and one of us "may" have been wearing socks with sandals. One woman laughed blatantly in our faces after looking us up and down in wonderment. Screw you, lady, long live the San Angel Inn Rebels.

At least they didn't refuse us entry. You overshot that one, Mario, but you were right, the food was definitely tasty.

Coco is exhausted by the day, she does not care 
we are seated in one of the finest restaurants in the land,
and that we are doing so wearing shorts and sweatshirts.

The next day we took Alex's family to Valle de Bravo, a colonial town a couple hours away from Mexico City by car. We cautiously asked Mario for a breakfast recommendation on the way there, then pointed at ourselves over and over for dress code clarification. He got the second one right, stopped at a small string of restaurants along the highway and led us into a tiny, rough-around-the-edges place with three women at a gigantic stove in the corner of the dining room.

The food, frankly, was better than what we had at the fancy San Angel Inn. It was perfect, cheap, simple, pure homemade Mexican food. The chilaquiles with chorizo are still on my mind and may be forever. Best of all, nobody cared what we looked like.

And most random of all, there was a photo of Hugh Jackman hanging on the wall over my mother-in-law's shoulder. In the photo, he's standing at the very gigantic stove in the very dining room in which we were seated with the very women cooking our breakfast --

That's pretty random, Mexico.
How did Hugh Jackman find it? Does he know Mario, too?

Mario earned his pay that day because Valle de Bravo was a mess given the three-day holiday weekend. Traffic was more "stop" than "go" and more "infuriating" than "not infuriating" because colonial town streets were not meant to hold cars. They were meant to hold people and horses, and not many of them at that.

Valle de Bravo was crowded. And hot. The combo made me slightly mental. We ducked down side streets to avoid clogged main drags and stayed in the shade as much as possible. Also, for whatever reason, fireworks were being set off at random intervals somewhere near the main square, which did not help things. The fireworks were so loud and startling, we all jumped a mile every time one exploded over our heads. I soon became a very twitchy tourist indeed.

But it's true, Valle de Bravo is very pretty. 

We signed up for a private boat tour on the lake in an attempt to escape the chaos. The jostling crowd that formed as all of the waiting people tried to get onto their boats made Parisians look downright civil in their line-waiting capabilities. It was that bad. You often need to embrace the chaos and disorder of Mexico, just go with the flow, but sometimes I am not in the mood to do that. I am ashamed to admit I considered pushing many Mexicans into the water but thankfully I managed to resist the urge.

The kids think it's hilarious to pretend to be asleep.
Kids are weird.

The boat tour was very enjoyable and relaxing until Alex began to feel seasick. He was able to hang in there for the duration but it made the last half of our tour a little more tense; the lake we were on supplies water to Mexico City and we desperately did not want to do anything gross to it.

Before I go, I want to mention a game that is often played late at night in Mexican bars. Alex and I went out with a group of co-workers and assorted friends over the weekend to Plaza Garibaldi, a.k.a. the birthplace of mariachi music. It was a raucous evening involving tequila and mariachi and electrocution.

Shit gets real when you're up until the early morning hours
at the birthplace of mariachi

I don't know why electrocution is a fun thing to try in Mexico, but it is. You sit in a circle with your friends, hold hands, and a guy just electrocutes you all. He starts with a very low current but keeps jacking it up until one of you is in so much pain you let go and break the circuit. Then everybody laughs and howls and makes jokes like "hope nobody has a pacemaker!" and "What's my name again?" -- although that last one may not have been a joke, he seemed legitimately confused.

We are proud (?) to say we all made it until the end, 
the highest current safe to pump into humans for fun.

Weirdest stuff. I just don't even know. But it's true we bonded and had a good laugh over it, even if my right arm is still tingly days later and I can't grasp my toothbrush very well anymore.

Spring Break is coming up starting this weekend so we're heading to Costa Rica for 16 glorious days. I have been meticulously planning this vacation and am very excited. From what I hear, we are never going to want to leave Costa Rica even though we will be near eaten alive by bugs and likely sunburned beyond recognition. That's Costa Rica's inexplicable magic.

Until we meet again, here's our new friend Joe playing the famous "La Cumparsita" tango on his harmonica --

Pura Vida!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Shiny shoes and other party lessons

Alex is excited for lunch but Coco is not convinced

I first realized there was a problem with the shininess of my shoes while seated at a restaurant on a date night with Alex. An immaculately dressed older woman seated next to us glanced down at my well-loved, scuffed-up boots and made a grimace. Then she looked at me with an expression on her face that seemed to suggest I was not a good person, or at least kind of a gross one.

I assumed it was a freak occurrence because who couldn't love my gnarly boots? I also suspected it was my outfit as a whole that offended because I am chronically under-dressed when out on the town in Mexico City. When others wear short fancy designer dresses with sky high heels, I wear my favorite baggy harem pants -- the Aztec printed ones, the ones I wear more often to bed than outside the house -- and my aforementioned scruffy boots.

I didn't really plan to wear pajama pants out on date night. I was just so comfortable in my day clothes I didn't want it to end.

I realized the severity of my shoe situation when shoe shiners began following me down the street on a regular basis, pointing at my boots and begging me to let them shine my shoes, so horrified were they by their appearance. Then Coco's school sent an email reminding us that part of keeping their uniforms clean is keeping their shoes properly shined. What is with these people and shiny shoes?

I suspect the school's shoe message was directed at me because I dug Coco's school shoes out from under the couch and sure enough, they looked like she's never walked in them, only been dragged long distances in them. How does she manage to scuff the tops so terribly? She must be wrestling gators in gravel pits when I'm not looking.

I applied a little spit polish and rubbed them with a washcloth and the shoes marginally improved. I'll be expecting another email from the school soon.

easy on the shoes, girl, you're getting me in trouble

Coco's class put on a circus at her school Friday. The regular homework for the week was scrapped so kids could use their after school time to "make an authentic clown costume, no costume rental nor new purchases permitted, work with what you already have at home."

There's a lot of panic in those instructions, especially for short-timers like us who brought precious few supplies to Mexico City, and definitely none of the clown costume making variety. Coco thankfully has a craft kit full of pom poms so pom poms were promptly glued all over any brightly colored piece of clothing we could find in her closet. It was a pretty lame clown costume but definitely showed we obeyed the "no costume rental nor purchase" instruction.

Coco's clown costume began falling apart before she even left the apartment on the morning of the circus. She left a trail of pom poms all the way out the door of the building. I kissed her at the door with a bright, "You look great, honey, I'll see you at the circus later!" and secretly prayed some other parent had done even less with their clown than my half-assed efforts. Hopefully someone had quarter-assed.

Getting to Coco's circus show was harder than I expected. I had to walk to the school because our driver was still occupied getting Alex through rush hour traffic to his job. No biggie, the school isn't too far and I love walking around the city even on days when pollution is really bad and it burns your eyes.

The problem that morning wasn't pollution, it was crossing Paseo de la Reforma, the main drag through town with four lanes of traffic in either direction. Crossing a street isn't straightforward business here in Mexico. Traffic lights aren't always obeyed and crosswalks are sometimes few and far between. Most people just kind of cross wherever they happen to be and dart around like a real life game of Frogger.

I am not yet that bold. I instead stand by the road for half the day waiting for a "safe" opportunity. When no safe opportunities present themselves willingly, I jog anxiously up and down alongside the road looking for a crosswalk or traffic light. After awhile I reach a breaking point, "Dammit, I've been standing on the side of the road for seven hours, it's time to get serious" and just kind of plunge recklessly into the fray.

It's easier to cross when traffic is heavy because at some point it gets backed up and cars are forced to slow down. Then you make your move, dodging around bumpers as quickly as possible before they pick up speed again.

After I'd successfully crossed the street and made it to school, I witnessed my daughter rock that circus in her very nearly pom pom-less outfit. Her part in the performance was "Coco the Magician." She successfully performed her several magic tricks with confidence and only a few minor (and pretty adorable) hitches.

But I'm suspecting her magician's assistant, Victor, did not listen to the "no costume rental, use stuff you have at home" directive. His clown outfit was straight out of a Ringling Brothers picture book. Regardless of my suspicions, Victor has a place in my heart because he has declared his fervent love for Coco several times and wrote her the funniest love letter for Valentine's Day.

Coco's glorious clown hat. 
 We made that beauty ourselves out of construction paper and scotch tape 
after watching several YouTube tutorials

There aren't just circuses happening around here. There are also parties. We attended three parties over the weekend and I was under-dressed for every single one, trust it.

The first party was a child's birthday party thrown by Alex's co-worker for his two daughters. I couldn't find wrapping paper in our neighborhood so wrapped one of the girl's gifts in the brown paper used as packing material in our recent Amazon order. Then I covered the brown paper with a sheet of Coco's stickers, which upset her but sometimes we are called upon to sacrifice for the family, little girl.

The other daughter's gift was oddly shaped so I stuffed it into the paper bag recently used to bring home our Indian takeout. The bag still smelled pretty tasty. More stickers were applied to the outside. Whatever, let's party.

Children's birthday parties in Mexico City are big productions. There is a lot of entertainment. We were treated to a "My Little Pony" show that lasted an hour and involved smoke machines, singing and dancing. Alex was disturbed by how attracted he was to both Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie and wanted to process his feelings about it at great length.

A new fetish may have been born. Please stay away from Coco's actual My Little Ponies, Al, or we're gonna have to put her in therapy way sooner than we planned.

The birthday party had it all; there was a bouncy house, arts and crafts, full catering and an open bar for the hundred or so guests, a "candy table" and the biggest damn candles I've ever seen stuck into two gigantic My Little Pony cakes. Those things were more like distress flares than candles; flames shot out of them forcefully at least two feet into the air. One of the distress flares was tossed into the garbage afterwards but it was not yet fully extinguished so the garbage can began to smoke excessively. It was Lucien who first saw it and yelled "Fuego!" which, understandably, alarmed us all until a pitcher of water was dumped into the can as well.

Perhaps most distressing was the My Little Pony pinata that, after being decapitated and losing two legs, was finally broken all the way open by a very strong little girl. The disembowelment immediately sent the smallest of guests into hysterical crying fits and I have to agree with them; it was surprisingly disturbing to watch a smiley My Little Pony get beaten to pieces with a bat.

But I love when the teeniest guests take their turns at the beginning.
It's a real uterus explosion.

The kids who weren't crying over the violent death of Pinkie Pie flew into Wrestlemania XVI on the floor. There was so much candy coming out of that pinata, I was getting cavities just looking at it. So imagine my surprise when the animators of the party brought out MORE bags of candy, ripped them open and dumped the contents onto the floor along with all the pinata candy. More wrestling, more tripping over candy, more bonked heads.

The second party was Saturday at our ex-pat friends' house, Seattle Mom and Bolivia Dad. The occasion was "Spring!" I suppose Spring is something to celebrate in Mexico even though the weather doesn't change much. Monsoon season begins, though, with its brief daily downpours, so that's exciting.

House parties in the DF (that's cool speak for Mexico City) are different from those at home in that parties here are often heavily staffed. There were los animadores keeping the kids entertained with games in the yard, servers walking around replenishing drinks before they were even empty, a man stationed at the pool to make sure no kids drowned, some ladies in the parlor helping kids paint flower pots, and a fully catered gourmet pizza buffet that blessedly included a Nutella dessert pizza topped with strawberries.

Los animadores, the fun men in red.
My kids said "they were way more fun than parents!"
My kids really know how to hurt my feelings.

Alex and Bolivia Dad crashed the kids' sack race.
Alex and Bolivia Dad are similar people.

When we go back home to Seattle, money will not go nearly as far as it does in Mexico. There will be no room in a party budget for staff. I will mix the mimosas myself and turn on a movie for the kids halfway through the party to buy us adults a little more time, as per our usual. And it will be fun and I will be happy but I may miss the people in red shirts and white coats just a little.

Seattle Mom and Bolivia Dad's gorgeous home

Alex and I have been lucky to meet great people wherever we go. How is it possible there are great people everywhere? And do you think there's a place in the world that's full of only shitty people? If there is, I hope we don't get sent there for Al's work because we are really on a roll.

Eight different home countries in this picture alone.
It's the luck of an ex-pat to hang out with the world.

At Spring Party we learned if you start drinking mimosas and cubanas in the sun before noon, you will all be sound asleep by 7:00 p.m.  And speaking of the sun, the sun in Mexico is stronger than you think it is. It's not the same as standing in the sun in Seattle. You can stand in Seattle sun all day long and barely register a pink tinge.

But at Spring Party, when Seattle Mom said, "Why didn't you bring your sunhat?"and Alex said, "Have you applied sunscreen to your shoulders lately?" I said, "Chill, overreactors. I've been standing in the sun only half an hour, I think I'm going to be OK." But I was not OK, I was sunburned and it was still hurting two days later.

The dude tug-o-war took a toll on a few backs
that were also sore two days later.

Is everyone still with me? It's OK if not, this post is a long one.

Our fantastic new party lives weren't over yet, much as we kind of desperately wanted them to be. We were very tired but couldn't turn down the third party of the weekend when the occasion was revealed to be -- meat.

some people are living very well in Mexico City

Alex's co-worker, Mexico Dad, invited us to his big beautiful home out in the suburbs with the invite, "Come for carne asada, I want to make you carne asada, let's eat carne asada." Al and I began referring to it as "the meat party" because 1) that's what it was and 2) it sounds dirty.

Mexico Dad is talkative, jovial, a born entertainer. He also apparently really loves to make carne asada because the amount of meat he grilled was enough to feed fifty people even though we numbered only ten.

The most important thing we learned at the meat party, aside from the fact Mexico Dad likes to grill meat so much I felt compelled to hide the family dog, was don't try to keep up with a Mexican man when it comes to drinking tequila. Alex tried and it didn't end well. It may or may not have resulted in Alex stripping down to his underwear and going for a very cold swim in their pool in the rain. Alex wasn't able to feel cold at that point thanks to tequila's numbing properties but I think I got hypothermia just watching him.

Alex rarely overdoes it on the drinking. He's a man who knows his limits and is just as likely to be drinking mineral water with lemon slices than alcohol. But things get disorienting when your enthusiastic host keeps refilling your glass and insisting "You gotta try this one! You're gonna love it!" Jovial hosts always make tequila sound like a good idea but it's not always true.

As Alex's condition deteriorated before my eyes, I knew I could get him home OK in a taxi and maybe ask the doorman to help me drag him into the building. I also knew I'd made the right decision in not drinking tequila.

To recap, this is what we've learned the past few days in our new party heavy lifestyle:

1.) wear heels. no pjs. shiny shoes.
2.) don't hump My Little Ponies. for the love of god stop, man.
3.) sunscreen and lots of it. the sun is an asshole.
4.) don't drink tequila. tackle your host to the ground to prevent this from happening if you must.

Mario just brought me a baggie of pom poms he found rolling around in the car.
Her costume was awful but my clown was so happy,

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

That man had no legs

That was a weekend.

Friday night found Alex and I at Coco's school auction/casino night fundraiser. Alex and I have attended perhaps five billion auctions in our parental careers but it seemed many of the parents at Coco's school did not have the same level of experience. We guessed this by how many were overheard saying things like, "Well someone's already bid on that so I hate to take it away from them."

Silent auctions are cutthroat, people. No prisoners. Maybe it was rude of us but Alex and I used our hefty auction expertise to flatten our competition. I outbid when many were reluctant to outbid, I made shady deals with PTA members in dark corners. I walked out with stuff under my arm before the auction was even officially ended.

I apologize for nothing. It's all for the children, man. Plus I really wanted that hand-carved jewelry box from Oaxaca.

Alex lost all of his fake money at the blackjack table. 
You can't win them all.

Unless you're me. And shady as hell. 

Alex and I made a handful of new friends at the auction despite our aggressive ways, including one funny British couple who got a little tipsy at the open bar and bid on, quite literally, everything. They began at one end of the auction table and walked its entirety signing their names to every scrap of paper they encountered, assuming they would be outbid on most. But this being the most polite auction in the history of auctions with no one willing to "offend" them, they were in a precarious spot indeed as the evening wore on.

At the time of our departure, they were winning well over a dozen items, including a half dozen individual lots of wine totaling 72 bottles. We left them laughing hysterically in the corner after they'd begged anyone and everyone to outbid them on anything at all. I wonder how they got all that wine home.

Mr. W., a British man and the founder of Coco's school, is a character I enjoy very much but I rarely know what's going on when I'm with him. He's intensely cerebral with the most impressive breadth of life experience. He has a personal connection to everything, everywhere, for all of time and can connect all of it in a single thought. He starts a story but shares many details about other stories in the middle of that story. The person who can follow him all the way through a thought is a rare one indeed.

At the auction, he was talking about -- something, I honestly don't remember where we started -- but then interjected himself with something along the lines of, "Well, my eldest son -- oh, my son, well, you know my son grew up with Julian Lennon, very good friends really, and he's even seen the drawing that inspired "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" well isn't that something and so yes they were pals but the man's aunt is also distantly related to the Queen of Belgium of centuries ago so gave me the most handsome wood carvings of the king and queen but then his parents moved to Amsterdam and the brother there -- well goodness now I believe he's figuring the cure for cancer in Norway and is damn near to it, too -- and anyway, what was I saying...."

And I look at him with my hands outstretched like, "Sooo....I'm still back at 'Julian Lennon.' Can you slow down?" And then he laughs this hearty laugh and nope, he doesn't slow down. He keeps on going and now you're really super lost. It's fascinating to see how someone's mind works and makes connections in real time but I'll be damned if I can follow.

(I outbid all of the world to win the auction item "Mr. W writes a personalized story about your student." Mr. W is an accomplished writer in addition to being an educator and with his mind working the way it does, I cannot wait to see what he comes up with for the Coco girl. Those poor inexperienced auction-goers didn't stand a chance against me ha ha ha.)

Saturday morning found us bound for Las Estacas, a natural water park two hours outside Mexico City. We were meeting two other ex-pat families there and had all rented a big house nearby for the night to maximize our fun. The house we rented came with a pool and a cook. I hear this is fairly common. This may be why the two ex-pat families we were with claim they never want to leave Mexico.

Mario, our driver, drove us to Las Estacas. On the way there, he mentioned we might like to stop for lunch at a long stretch of food stands right off the highway at an area called Las Tres Marias. We take the recommendations of locals very seriously, especially his, so absolutely, Mario, lead the way to the food.

Mario was not wrong
Thank you, Mario's arm

We pulled off the highway and selected one of the myriad of food options. We ordered chilaquiles and enchiladas and quesadillas then shamelessly gorged ourselves sitting amongst local families whose kids were mesmerized by our English speaking. I love seeing little dark eyes peeking over a parent's shoulder. As soon as I look back, they duck behind mothers or fathers or grandparents but soon again peek out with a shy smile. It's pretty much the best, especially if I have a bunch of enchiladas in my mouth at the same time.

Alex and I ordered micheladas at Las Tres Marias. Micheladas are usually just beers with lime juice and salt but these arrived looking like someone had to die for them to be made. I have no idea what the stuff dripped around the outside was. It was sweet and chili peppery at the same time.

Anyone? Anyone?

Alex drinks the blood of children for breakfast  
(with a side of churros, of course)

Driving away from Las Tres Marias back onto the highway.
If you didn't know it was something, 
you would probably think it was nothing.

Las Estacas, our destination that day, is great if you like chaos and water. We were thankfully in the perfect mood for both so settled in for a long day of screaming and sunburns. We spent much of our time at the river where two of the dads rented a boat and loaded it up with most of our kids. Better them than me.

Alex was supposed to be in the boat with the other dads but he had, only mere moments before, backed up suddenly at an inopportune moment along a walking path and fallen about six feet into a narrow channel of water. It could have been bad but thankfully he was fished out by the other dads with only a few scratches.

So while the other two dads were brave/crazy enough to do this --


Alex was laying in the shade a bit shaken, bleeding, and drinking a beer.  As he should have been.

Don't worry, he recovered fully

The dads had a difficult time between the screeching children inside the boat and the many swimmers outside the boat.  It didn't look promising as they tried to get the hang of the paddling and the river current. At one point, Seattle Mom said, "They are seriously just turning in circles." And that they were. Wheeee.

They finally got the boat going in one constant direction -- yay -- and promptly ran over an elderly man swimming in the river who had no legs. We had all seen the man earlier in his wheelchair and were impressed when he dove into the water and began swimming against the current with powerful strokes. That man is tough.

Which is good, because as I mentioned, our crew ran right over him. He was OK, came out the other side of the boat fine and accepted the dads' profuse apologies graciously but yep, that was horrifying. We adults continued to re-live the moment and cringe the rest of the day; we couldn't shake the image of that poor man disappearing under our dudes' boat.

Later that day, one son revisited the story with the other kids like, "You guys, we ran over that old man like BAM!!" Seattle Mom, believing the kids were being too callous and taking the situation too lightly, pointed right in all of their faces and yelled, "THAT MAN HAD NO LEGS!"

It should have been a profound teaching moment and the rest of us should have nodded solemnly in solidarity with the message but no, it struck us all suddenly as very funny. We lost our collective sh*t, rolled around on our beach towels and laughed so hard we were just silent, shaky, and snorty. You can't be good parents forever, I guess. Or at least we can't.

We got lost trying to find our rental house after the water park because you tend to get lost anytime you leave a main road in Mexico. Nothing's labeled, GPS is imperfect and directions are vague. It was worth the up-and-down, back-and-forth, forward-and-backward shimmy our caravan experienced, though, because the house was big with a cold pool and a cook in the kitchen already preparing our dinner.

Our house
and our children being thrown mighty distances

Sure, there were some kid injuries and some blood and some tears but that's all par for the course when families get together. What isn't par for the course, and what will spoil us forevermore thanks to Mexico, is a cook made us delicious chiles rellenos for dinner while we sat around on the back patio talking about stupid things.

It's like we were making armpit fart sounds while she was in there creating a masterpiece.

He's still throwing them

The next morning for breakfast the cook made the kids pancakes and the adults chilaquiles and huevos with whatever the words for "red peppers" and "spicy stuff" are. I'm just bragging now, if not exactly showing off my Spanish skills.

Why did we leave?

Two of our families decided to stop at Xochicalco, an Aztec ruins site, on the way home, which was both a fantastic idea and a terrible idea. It was a fantastic idea because the site is gorgeous and I enjoyed every minute we spent poking around the area despite the fact it was very hot up there.

Hard to regret walking along the upper edge of an Aztec pyramid with your crew

Their new album drops next month.
Their band name is "Blood and Churros." 

It was a terrible idea to visit Xochicalco, however, because while we were up there, a semi truck overturned on the highway, which backed up traffic for bazillions of kilometers. The trip home should have taken an hour and a half but wound up taking over five hours.

Our food supply had run out and we all had to go to the bathroom quite badly by the time we finally passed the overturned semi truck and the neighboring upright watermelon truck that must have also been involved based on the number of watermelons still in the street. The watermelons had been mostly cleaned up (there were still people dodging between cars to grab some here and there to throw them back into the truck) when we drove past but that semi on its side was going nowhere fast.

We heard from Seattle Dad he knew a couple people who were stuck in that mess
 for nine hours. 
I guess we should consider ourselves lucky. 

Mario was regretting agreeing to work on the weekend right now,
trust it.

I thought I was going to live the rest of my life in that car.  Alex and I are the geniuses who decided the weekend was going to be "screen-free" so had permitted neither iPad nor Kindle to join us. That was a stupid idea. If anyone ever asks me to play "I spy" again, I'm going to punch them in the face. I don't give a sh*t what you're spying that's blue -- plus nothing has changed in this car for hours so I know you're still talking about Mario's jeans.

I just asked Paulina to make chicken enchiladas with salsa roja and broccoli for dinner. I said several complete sentences in Spanish without even consulting my notes.
Fluency here I come.