Wednesday, December 31, 2008

It's Jared's Birthday!!

I love my husband SOOOOO much, and am happy to celebrate his birthday today!

People always ask how in the world we can work together every day, and and be together literally 24-7...and the truth is, we LOVE it!Jared is my best friend, and I am so blessed to have him as my eternal companion, and the father of our children. Love you, sweetie! Happy Birthday, and thanks for walking through this life with me...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Our year summed up in 28 photos...

I suppose you could say this is our Christmas card, since we are definitely not sending cards from Mexico! If you care to know what we've been up to, click on the image below to view our life in 2008! We love our friends and family, and wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Tingambato Ruins, Isla Junitzio, and Patzcuaro

After enjoying our horse ride to the Volcano, we packed up the car and drove toward Patzcuaro. On the way, we stopped at the Tingambato village and enjoyed their ruins dating back to the Tarascan Empire (supposedly AD 450 to 900).We then drove to Patzcuaro, only 30km away, and checked into Hotel Estrella, a small hotel right down the street from the lake's pier. It had a beautiful garden "lobby," and we enjoyed the hot shower! Our room was on the right hand side, overhanging the gardens.
We imimmediately walked down the street to the pier, and jumped on some boats going to the Isla Janitzio, an island in Patcuaro Lake (Lago de Patzcuaro). It was a Mexican holiday weekend (Revolution day was coming up, but as is the tradition here, if a holiday falls mid-week, the school moves the holiday break to a Friday or Monday). There were many wealthy Mexican tourists visiting (as made evident by their clothing, cameras, etc), and we were the only Americanos in sight. The boat was a party in and of itself:

The island is also well-known for its fisherman with a very interesting fishing style (long skinny boats, big wing-like nets, etc). When our boat got close to the island, it stopped for a quick "show" by the local fisherman. It didn't seem like they caught any fish (or intended to), but after their short production, one fisherman rowed towards us and collected tips (probably a big portion of their limited income). My camera handily died before we arrived on the island, so here are some photos I've "borrowed" from others.At the top of the cone-shaped island is a giant 40m high statue of the independence hero Jose Maria Moreles y Pavon. It is large enough that you can actually climb stairs inside of it, and take photos from the wrist (we didn't). The fun part is that the streets zigzag up the side of the island, so you get a good workout while walking up the streets of vendors and shops. We also enjoyed a fabulous dinner at the top of the island for only $85 pesos total ($6.37 USD). By the time we got back on the boats to head back to our hotel, it was dark!

The next morning we went downtown in Patzcuaro, investigated the 3 different markets, and even saw the Basilica De Nuestra Senora De La Salud (a church that is famous for people crawling on their knees to receive the blessings of their revered Virgin/Lady of Health). Also pictured are my well-priced (and prized) fruit cups that we purchased for $25 pesos total. Holy cow! 2 heaping cups of fresh strawberries, kiwi, melon, etc, for less than $2 USD! try getting THAT in the US (since I am a big lover of fresh fruit, I can attest to the fact that a cup 1/3 the size of one of these would likely cost you $4-$5)!!!Lastly, we went to a water park 2 hours from Patzcuaro. It was definitely not up to US Water park standards, but Ella loved it just the same. Jared managed to lose his glasses within the first 10 minutes (at the end of the toboggan run), and the wave pool was closed (bummer)! After a few hours we had had enough, and went to go check out the local hotel scene.
An attached water park hotel was a whopping $850 pesos (a LOT for hotels around here!), so we went to the nearest downtown to search for a different one. As we were unsuccessfully searching the narrow streets, Jared was driving down a tiny cobblestone road that seemed to arch down, out of view. This often happens in come over a ridge, and you can't really see what lies ahead on the road...but you just keep driving. In this instance, I managed to shout for Jared to slow down, and low and behold, a few feet forward, it became clear to us that this road turned into STEEP STAIRS leading to the road below. HELLO?!! A street that, without warning, turned into stairs? Whew...we managed to back the car up and turn around. Jared says our van could have made it...just like in the movies! Hahaha...

So, after not being able to find a suitable hotel (1 was too expensive, 1 was too questionable, and the other didn't have hot water, a toilet seat, or toilet paper), we decided to go ahead drive home in the dark for 4 hours. It's typically not safe to drive in the dark here, but there was plenty of steady traffic on the nicely-paved toll roads, so we took our chances.

And that was the end of our first big road-trip in Mexico. Whew. That took FOREVER. Hope you enjoyed it :-) Now we are off to Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo, and whatever other treasures may await us on the coast this weekend!

Oh yeah, and enjoy your snow ;-)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

About that house in Mexico...

In response to my friend, Yasmine, and any others of you who may be wondering:

Why would we want to buy a house in Mexico before Skagway? We intend to make Skagway/Mexico a permanent thing...we LOVE it here, AND in Skagway. However, Jared figured out the difference between our lifestyle in Skagway, and our lifestyle in Mexico:

On average, in a 6 month period in Skagway, we spend 600 hours at home.
On average, in a 4 1/2 month period in Mexico, we spent 1,800 hours at home.

In Skagway, our store IS our we spend many more hours there. These stats do not include sleeping time, and if they did, we get even MORE sleep in Mexico!

So...which would we rather spend money on? Mexico! Hands down!
(P.S. A house is still not in the near-future)

Monday, December 15, 2008

8 Things About Me...

My friend Yasmine tagged me over a month ago, and I just remembered to do it! Here goes:

*8 TV Shows I Like to Watch:

1. The Office
2. The Apprentice
3. Designed to Sell
4. Hmm...and nothing else that rings a bell. We don't watch a lot of TV (who has time for that?!), but I LOVE movies!

*Favorite Restaurants:

1. Chilis
2. Starfire (Skagway)
3. Port of Call (gourmet pizza in Skagway)
4. Hmm...again, I'm lame. Who has money to eat out?

*Favorite Places to Shop:

1. The internet
2. The markets in Mexico
3. You're gonna hate me for repeating this...but who has money to shop?!

*Things that Happened Yesterday:

1. Went to church
2. Maiya fell 4 feet onto the tile, head first. We're blessed she's still alive!
3. Went to a firework show on the Lake Chapala pier
4. Sat in the pitch black on ant-infested ground, and later spent a lot of time killing all the spider-like ants that hitched a ride to our car, and to our home.
5. Took a 3 hour nap...yippee!
6. Swept the floor to try to get rid of the mini ants that suddenly swarmed our tile floor when we were at church
7. Rearranged the furniture (as a result of sweeping)
8. Kissed my girls (and hubby) a billion times (or such)

*Things I'm Looking Forward to:

1. Puerto Vallerta this weekend
2. Christmas in Mexico
3. My lil' bro's wedding in Idaho Falls in January (and seeing my family!)
4. Going on a big road trip to Central Mexico after Christmas
5. Taking a shower (it's 12:36 pm...and I still haven't gotten around to's too peaceful without kids around! Ella's at school, and Maiya is napping)
6. Eating more of the homemade bread I just made today (my first time, ever!)
7. Finishing this post
8. Seeing what Maiya will look like when she grows into a little girl!

* Things on my Wish List:

1. A house in Mexico
2. A nice keyboard (pianos don't fit into my gypsy lifestyle)
3. A GPS
4. A vacation from kids
5. A date night with my hubby
6. An appetite (see "Food Rut" post)
7. A good hair day (it's been a LOOOONG time!)
8. A magical, free accountant elf to finish all of the work I'm avoiding

*8 People I am Tagging:

1. Angie
2. Joni
3. Lara
4. Stacey
5. Adelheide (aka Heidi)
6. Vanessa
7. Lea
8. Anyone who wants to!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Angahuan and Volcan Paricutin

After seeing all of the falls and National Parks in Uruapan (and also unsuccessfully trying to find the "Feria del Aguacate"...The Avacado Fair in the Avocado capital of the world!), we drove up North about an hour to Angahuan, a small Perepecha town with wooden houses, colorfully dressed women, and a lot of dirt. It was very humbling to drive through town...firstly because it was clear that most people's transportation consisted simply of horses, but secondly, because people obviously lived in very humble circumstances.
As we pulled up to the main plaza and stopped briefly on a street corner, a gentleman signaled to me, saying he was a "tour guide" and who knows what else (in Spanish). I showed him my book, and asked him (in my best Spanish) where the 'Cuartos Familiares' cabanas where. He motioned that he would take us there, jumped on his horse, and began leading us through the streets (see him?).
He first took us to what seemed to be the absolute outskirts of town to a large collection of cabanas. I immediately recognized these cabanas as described in my Lonely Planet book as being overpriced for what you get (not the right place!). He grabbed a key from the grounds keeper (obviously a buddy) and showed us a place that I was not interested in staying. I said "Cuartos Familiares!" So, he got back onto his horse, and led us one property further to another place which obviously not "Cuartos Familiares," either. He showed us the cabana, which wasn't all that bad, but I was seriously concerned about how I was going to keep the room warm all night (no heat and the fireplace was in a separate room). And I was simply angry that he was not taking us to the right place" I felt like a snotty American, denying the places he showed. But I had read that Cuartos Familiares was supposed to be the best sleeping option in town, and it also had an attached restaurant. We were hungry, and I knew we'd also need food in the morning.

So, we finally decided we'd have to wing it on our own, but once again jumped on his horse, lead us back into town, and low-and-behold, he took us to "Cuartos Familiares!" FINALLY!! After taking us to all of his buddies...he finally relented, and brought us to the cheapest and obviously best place in town. He then scheduled an appointment to take us on a volcano tour in the morning (the purpose of our visit...and obviously the only reason you'd visit this town). When he talks only Spanish (and us English), this is easier said than done. Whew. But was done.

So, we paid for the cabana in cash, right there in the dirt parking lot at nightfall. We checked into our room, and felt blessed to find a place as nice as we did. Even so, it was the most rustic place we had seen so far. While it was an enormous room (enough beds to sleep 6), the walls and floor were concrete, there was no heat, no hot water (not that it mattered, because the shower didn't have enough pressure to even wash your hands!), and we were already freezing our buns off. There was, however, a nice fireplace and wood for the taking. Jared built an enormous fire, and we tried to heat the place up. We had't come prepared for cold (no long sleeves or jackets!), and at an elevation of 8,800 plus feet it was COLD!

Maiya slept on the floor in her regular little child's tent (with a foam bottom), but it was certainly not warm enough for her to sleep soundly. She woke up at midnight, and went in and out of our bed (making us miserable) all night. She simply doesn't sleep well in the cold (and we didn't have warm clothes for her!) . We were actually relieved when the sun came up. It would have been a perfectly fine experience without her (did I say that?), but we wanted sleep on our menu!

The evening we arrived, we enjoyed a delightful meal of quesadillas on blue corn tortillas (the local specialty). We tend to eat quesadillas a lot when we're out and about. Not good for trying to eat vegan...but I seriously feel safer eating cheese than mysterious meats that may or may not prepared safely. Jared probably doesn't care either way, but I've been nervous about meats my whole life! Now, if I knew everything on the menu was vegatarian, I wouldn't be afraid to try it all! It is VERY rare to find vegatarian food in Mexico. They like MEAT, and they rarely include other toppings, except for extremely hot salsa (not like our tex-mex with lettuce, tomatoes, etc). The lady who "checked" us in (obviously the owner) also cooked our food right there in the open kitchen. Her children came and went, and enjoyed making faces at Maiya.In the morning we had huevos and frijoles (eggs and beans). It is very hard to order food when you know a very limited amount of Spanish. (p.s. Ella has a crayon in her mouth...luckily we haven't yet let her pick up immoral habits while in Mexico)
Brr! We were COLD!!
Looking across the street, I saw a Purepecha woman cleaning up in front of her tienda. The lady at Cuartos also dressed similarly.After breakfast, our guide arrived on time with our horses for our ride to the Volcan Paricutin.

The Paricutin volcano has a pretty spectacular story. In 1943, a farmer in a nearby town was tending his fields. All of a sudden the earth began to quake and steam, and sparks and hot ash came flying out of the ground! He tried to cover the holes, but realized his effort was futile, and he left the property. The land began to rise, and up came a volcano! In fact, within a year it reached an elevation of 1,300+ feet, and lava had covered two towns in its path! Luckily, it all happened slowly enough that no one was killed, and the villagers were able to evacute.
Now, the only remains of either of the villages is the top of a ruined Templo San Juan Parangaricutiro (A stone chapel). While some people hike/horse ride to the top of the volcano (8 hours each way), we opted to do a short 2 1/2 hour round-trip to the chapel and back.

The book told us this trip would cost about $250 to $300 pesos per horse (less than $25-$30 each. This is astonishing to us, considering a similar tour in Alaska would probably cost about $175 per person!). We could have easily "hiked" for free to the chapel (more of a walk, really), but with a 3 year old and a baby, we were willing to pay the price to take a horse. Our fabulous book warned us that we shouldn't be surprised if our guide suddenly traded off with a little boy who then would became our actual tour guide to the chapel. Sure enough, when we got to the trailhead, our "guide" waved goodbye, and suddenly an 11 year old boy, Ismael, was leading us along the path! (That was the extent of our communication...simply asking him his name. He didn't speak English, and asking a person's name is about all I've learned from watching Dora with Ella too many times...)
The trail took us through the woods, then out to a clearing which was covered in volcanic rock. We rode along the edge of this rock until we reached the "tourist trap" (ha!) right before the chapel.
Vendors in shabby huts lined the area, and everyone offered us food samples. We had just eaten a hearty breakfast, and felt sad to turn them down (I really sympathize with the individuals trying to make a living by the 'sweat of their brow').We then started our short climb up the volcanic rock to the chapel.
The chapel looked stunning, boldly jutting out of a field of volcanic rock. What an amazing testament to the craft and care that went into building this chapel!
We hiked around the chapel and took photos, while Ismael played with a stick and waited patiently.
I'm down in the archway. Can you see me?
We then climbed back down, got back on our horses, and started the ride back to our cabana. At the end of the trail, suddenly our older "tour guide" reappeared to collect his money. He said the total was just $300 pesos...half of what we expected! Wohoo! We also tipped the boy $40 pesos, and hoped we had given him enough. It is hard to know what is appropriate, and I also wish I knew the arrangment this "guide" had with the younger boy. Perhaps the boy's only wage was a tip? Not to mention...shouldn't this boy be in school? We passed many other young boys leading Mexican tourists (and one Canadian family...the only other minorities we saw on the trip!) to the volcano.
Leaving town, I managed to snap a few more photos of the local scenery.
I tried so hard to get a photo of these three beautiful young woman walking side by side, but when they saw my camera pop out of the car window, they joyfully hid themselves and refused to cooperate...giggling all the while!
We passed the cemetary on the way out of town...
Whew. And that was just the start of the day. It was only noon! So, stay posted for more of this great trip that happened a MONTH ago! (Yeah, I'm WAY behind!)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

It's Maiya's 1st Birthday!

It's hard to believe that Maiya has been part of our family for a year, now. But then again, it's hard to imagine life without her! It was so much easier having only 1 child, but when we were in the thick of things, we thought it was plenty hard! It's amazing how your perspective changes over the years. are some things I love about Maiya:
  • Maiya has always been a darling, sweet baby!
  • She has always slept well (compliment of "Babywise")
  • She has always been a "Mommy's Girl" (Awe. I just love that!)
  • She has the sweetest grin that just makes me laugh every time I see it.
  • She is VERY tiny for her age (she weighed in at the doctor's last week at 15.8 lbs), but she has these delightful squishy cheeks that I always want to kiss (and always do)!
  • Despite her size, she eats like a HORSE! She probably eats just as much as some adults...and she certainly out-eats Ella EVERY day. We had Thanksgiving dinner with the missionaries, and I warned them about Maiya's eating abilities. After the meal, one of the Elders said, "I didn't believe you...but Whoa!"
  • She follows me around the kitchen, trying to cling to my legs (okay, so sometimes it's annoying...but it's also so cute!)
  • She HATES getting her diaper changed, and flops in every direction. This daily interaction shows her strength. She is HARD to control...and we will be in deep doo-doo when she gets older.
  • She loves baths, and when I show her the towel (indicating her time is done), she tries to crawl away from me (to the far end of the bath tub). She squeals, and acts like it's a game (that is, until I get her out, and she gets VERY upset!)
  • She loves to suck her two middle fingers...better than a binky anyday!
  • Her hair stands straight up if you put it in a ponytail or in pigtails. Even when it's wet!
  • She loves to put EVERYTHING in her mouth. This goes with the whole eating thing...because if any food is left accessible, she'll be eating it in seconds!
  • She's so cute and cuddly (Jared's chiming in next to me)
  • Her giggles are ADORABLE!
  • She's perfect (Jared adds in, "Except for diaper changing!")
Maiya and Ella were anxiously awaiting the birthday cake I made:
Maiya devoured her cake face-first. Here's the video to prove it!:

The aftermath:
And her birthday bath:
And to top it all off, we got to enjoy some BEAUTIFUL fireworks in Chapala at the Festival Deluces. The best view was directly overhead.
We love her, and we're so glad she is in OUR family! Happy 1st Birthday, Maiya!

The Mommy Tag

I got tagged nearly a month ago by my college roommate, Tiffany. However, every time I planned to work on this "Mommy Tag"...I realized I was having a pretty rough "Mommy" day. So, hoping that the post would take a more positive turn, I waited...and waited...and waited...until a good day (so far)!
1. What time do you wake up?
Technically around 6:00 am, or whenever the fireworks start. Then again at 7:30 when Ella comes in and pulls Jared out of bed. Then again at 8:30 when Jared brings Ella to the bedside for me to brush and put up her hair (But some mornings, like today, I say to Jared, "You didn't bring up Ella before you took her to school? Did you brush her hair?" He replies, "Oh, no. Her hair was still up from last night." "So, did you brush it?" "No." Well, nobody's perfect...). Then, I wake up again between 9:00-9:30, when Maiya decides she's ready to wake up. I am so not a morning person.

2. On a good night, what time are your kids in bed?
A GOOD night would be 8pm. Not reality...but we do our best to start the process by 8pm (baths, etc). Hopefully by 9pm the house is ours, again.

3. How long have you been a mommy?
3 years, 8 months, 13 days
(p.s. I didn't figure out that myself...I found a handy website!)

4. How old were you when you became a mom? 22 years old

5. What is your favorite chore? A silly question, if you ask me...who likes chores? I guess my favorite is IF I make a meal that everyone likes...then it is very (ful)filling. Ha.

6. What is your favorite meal to cook?
See previous post about my "food rut"...this is not a good question to ask right now. When I am in a food rut, nothing is good. I know I posted a Mexican rice recipe last week, however, when I made it this week, I never even touched it. I just hate food right now. :)

7. What meal do you cook most often? Tex-Mex in any shape or form (tacos, taco salad, etc). But even that sounds lame right now. But truthfully, when ALL else fails...just plain chips and salsa usually tie me over.
8. What are 5 things about being a mom that make you smile? 1. When my children play nicely with eachother...and they make each other laugh. 2. I love it when Jared makes the children laugh. 3. When Ella randomly gives me a hug and says "Mommy, I love you SOOO much!" 4. When Ella colors quietly, and is so proud of the end result. 5. When Maiya gives me her big grin when I get her out of bed in the mornings.

9. If you could take your kids anywhere, where would it be?
To their Nana and Grandma's house (to stay for a little while...hehehee...)

10. When was the last time you went out without your kids? I went out with "the girls" last weekend to Guadalajara to see "Crepusculo" (aka "Twilight"). Six whole hours without the girls! Before that? In October Jared and I got to go on a double-date without the girls, when we were in UT (Thanks Mom & Lea!). And before that? Gee...probably a year earlier...we're too cheap (aka poor) for babysitters...and we hate to impose!

11. What is your most heartbreaking moment as a mom?

When we brought Maiya home from the hospital, Ella went to Grandma's house for the rest of the week. When she came back, I was shocked at how BIG she was. Suddenly my "baby" was clearly NOT a baby, and it took awhile to adjust to her.
12. When was the last time you told one of your kids I love you?
Hmm...just a billion times a day.

13. When was the last time you were told I love you?
By Jared, probably last night or this morning.

I tag Lea, Christina, Lisa S., Angie, Joni, Jenny, Morgan, Yasmine, Cara, Stacey, and anyone else who wants to do it!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

My Food Rut...

Well, it happens every so often (more often than it should)...I get in a food rut, and I no longer have motivation to cook anything. Nothing sounds good! So, I start going through cookbooks and looking online...trying to figure out what to make.

Surprisingly, tonight I managed to create another dish both Jared and I liked (a rare feat). If you happen to have some eggplant, onion, and rice lying around (it was pretty much all I had in my kitchen), click on this Indian Rice recipe. It was YUMMY!!

(p.s. Lara, it requires chopping you won't like it!)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A weekend trip to Uruapan, Mexico

In mid-November we visited Uruapan (Oo-Roo-Ah-Pahn), about 4 1/2 hours from Lake Chapala!

On the drive there, we passed through some tiny towns that were fairly "authentic". This part of Mexico has a high Perepecha "native" population. These women typically wear traditional clothing...colorful skirts and large shawls/scarfs wrapped around their heads or shoulders in various ways. The native women work hard, and their faces show it. It seems that women here are either very young (teenagers) or old (60+). I'm sure that there are plenty of women in between, but as soon as the young women get married, have children, and work through the daily grind of life, they suddenly age 40 years.

When we got into town, we checked into our "retro" hotel that our Lonely Planet guide described as a place where "Austin Powers would sleep well". The Nuevo Hotel Almeda was clean and suitable, and I didn't think it was that crazy retro. However, it did have marble-swirl toilets and sinks in the lounge bathroom, which I found to be truly photo-worthy.
When we arrived in our room, we were kindly greeted by the resident pet, lurking directly over the bed.
We asked to be moved to another room, not because of the spider (which the bell man killed and brought to us in a bag to show us that he got rid of it), but because we preferred an inside room that didn't face the noisy street. Okay, but seriously...Jared was freaked out by the spider. Me? I would have slept in there (after killing it, of course). So, how poisonous does this spider look to you?

Our hotel was right next to the Plaza. Uruapan has a great little shopping strip, and wonderful little open-air market, as well.
Next we found a great Cafe in the downtown Plaza area. I enjoyed a yummy gigantic torta, and Jared got a hamburguesa like no other. It had toppings of carrots, zucchini, cauliflower, and who knows what else.

A local "marching band" started playing in the square, and I had to film it, just to prove to my family how terrible they sounded. Good intentions, yes...but I will file it under "Mexican Noise Pollution," as so many other things are sorted.

In the morning, we stopped in an open-air market area for "breakfast." Gotta love the dirt-cheap, delicious meals. Honestly...when we order, we never know what we're going to get. This yummy breakfast was a pleasant surprise.Ella made a buddy immediately, and we spent quite awhile rolling playdough with her new friend, and her grandma. In the end, this little girl gifted her a mini children's mug that she was playing with. So sweet!
We walked around the plaza, and found some great products to try out at our store this summer (beautiful hand-painted boxes that remind me of Russian laquer boxes, but for only $25 to nothing)! We always enjoy the unique architecture in each town.

The plaza was quite nice, and very well kept. And of course, there are always some Mexican men standing around, socializing.

We went to the Parque Nacional Barranca Del Cupatitzio, the National Park just down the street from the main plaza. It was like stepping into another world! Whoever designed this did an incredible job, and we enjoyed looking at natural and man-made waterfalls that abound along the cobble-stone trail.

And I took another video of some typical Mexican music from a band in the park (but this time with a traveling harp...something I haven't seen!):

Next, we went 10 km south of town to Cascada de Tzararcua, a beautiful natural waterfall park. To view the falls, you have to walk down 557 steps, but it is well worth it!

Walking down all of those stairs with Ella was one thing, but up again? Well, we decided to take horses back up for a total of $140 Pesos (less than $14). Sure, we only had $200 pesos on us, and our guide didn't have change...but even then, it was WELL worth it! Ella loved riding the "caballos"!!

And I'm pooped just from trying to remember it all.
Uruapan was just the start of our amazing weekend stay posted for more!