Spring Break Shananigans

In Mexico, Spring Break is a nationally mandated vacation for schools–and every year all students in the entire country are out of school the same two weeks.  This is our first week of Semana Santa, or Holy Week.  For Ale and me, this is the fifth day that we have played Play-Doh, cleaned the kitchen, and picked up toys all before 9 a.m.  In between all of those activities, she goes on speed dates with whatever books are lying around.

Ale Reading2  Ale Reading

I am so enjoying my time with this little stinker.  She is really coming to life in the language department–although so much of what she says is so unclear.  (It is hard work learning two languages at the same time!)  I think I am hearing more right now because all she is hearing is English.  I can’t wait until this summer when everyone around her will speak English.  It will be interesting to see how she grows during that time!  Right now she is speaking Spanglish with the best of them!  “Mira a mi hand!” she will say.

While I am enjoying her liveliness during our time together, I find myself really short on patience by the end of the day.  It is really making me stop and salute all of the single moms and stay-at-home moms out there!  Whew!  I think I would need to take up exercising or drinking if my whole life consisted of cleaning and repeating myself fifty times a day.  On the other hand, I feel like I am missing so much of her growth when I only see her from 3:00 to bedtime.  I guess you just bloom where you are planted!  Every situation comes with a long list of advantages and disadvantages…

We bought one of those blow-up swimming pools this weekend.  Luckily, it is big enough for the three of us.  Even luckier, the back patio is walled-in, so our neighbors can’t see us “swimming” in a plastic pool with our daughter.  In our defense, it is quite relaxing to just lie there soaking in the sun.  It’s like an outside bathtub!  (Bathtubs aren’t a popular thing in Mexico, so it has literally been 8 months since I have had a bath instead of a shower.)  I told Victor that next time we have to empty the water, I am going to fill it up with hot water and go out to read a book by myself.

In the meantime, I’ve made a point to read my bible each morning as I am drinking my coffee.  Today is Day One of Proverbs–starting over is always really nice.  I read something new every month!  I remember that when I came to Mexico (three years ago!!!!) this is what I was doing.  I had started reading a proverb each day several months before I arrived, and there was so much comfort and encouragement in those chapters!  Being with Ale renews me with the knowledge that she sees everything I do–and wants to do the same.  I want her to see me doing the things that are beneficial, singing the songs that have sweet messages, and praying before bed and meals.  A mama’s work is never done…

A Sunday Miracle

I actually understood most of what my meeting had to say today!  Halelujah!  Just in time for me to go back to the States for a month and forget all my Spanish!  Eek!

It was a pretty busy morning.  My sweet baby must be growing or something, because we woke up several times to feed last night.  She woke me up this morning wet and starving, but smiling sweet good morning smiles!  I am so happy I have a morning girl–she fits right in with our 5:30 a.m. routine!

Our Sunday tradition (which is so unhealthy) is to take the taxi to McDonald’s on the way to meeting.  It’s pretty nice actually, because we are never late.  Until today…

My husband had a little mishap with his coffee this morning.  I jumped to save the baby (who was safe already, but it was totally instinctual), and I put myself in the line of fire.  Lucky for us, this coffee doesn’t fit into the infamously hot coffee of lawsuits.  It did, however, cause a bit of a problem with my attire.  So, Victor and the baby headed to meeting–and I went home quickly to change.

I arrive just in time to hear my husband’s prayer.  Ahhh! how sweet it is to hear prayers from the lips of babes!  Even sweeter to know that he’s my husband…

We sang one of my favorite hymns too, which really made my day,

“Tuyo soy, todo doy; Señor, es para siempre.  Mi pobre vida acepta hoy; no la reclamaré.”   I am yours.  I give you all.  Lord, it’s for always.  Accept my poor life today, I will not reclaim it.


Making Mistakes–Part of Learning the Language

I did it again.  Only now, I’ve learned to laugh at myself.  Which is good–considering everyone else was laughing too!


Rosario and Antonio in Santiago

When we went to Monterrey, we stayed with a family there.  While the father and a son lived a little over a year in Texas–their English is developing.  So the majority of the time (99.9%) we spoke Spanish.  Or rather they spoke Spanish, and I tried…  Actually, upon leaving I felt like I had learned so much!  It’s amazing what five days with just a little English will do for you.

I have a friend from Monterrey who I contacted prior to visiting.  Her parents live there, and I thought that if we had time we could see them.  Fortunately, their photography shop was just a short distance from the family we stayed with.  We stopped by one afternoon, as they were leaving the next day for a trip.  Victor and I sat and chatted with the older gentleman–as he speaks English.  But we went back and forth with a bit of Spanish too.


REALLY old church in Santiago, Nuevo Leon

Eager to show my skills when we were leaving, I gave a parting goodbye.  Here in Mexico, they often will say, “Que tenga un buen dia.”  Which means, “Have a good day.”  Or in the south they more often will say, “Que la vaya bien.”  Which is something close to,”Have a good one.”  I wanted to say, “Have a good trip.”  And I really thought I knew what I was saying.  So confidently, I said, “Que tenga un buen viaja.”  Which my husband told me later was like saying, “Have a good old woman (or can also be used as a term of enderment like ‘honey’.)”  older woman=vieja, trip= viaje

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAVictor at Cascada Cola de Caballo 

Later that weekend, we were looking at photos of the family on the computer.  Both parents have large families, and it was a lot of fun to find out who’s who.  Rosario has three brothers–and she is the only daughter.  Upon looking at her family, I ask, “Quien es mejor?”  She looked at me strangely, and said, “Well, they’re all good–but I guess him,” pointing at the man standing next to her in the photograph.  Victor knew what I was really asking, and let her know I wasn’t wondering about the best brother–just the oldest…  mejor=best, mayor=oldest

I may make a lot of mistakes, but I sure do it with gusto!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFamily picture at the overlook in Santiago

29 Years Stronger

My first thought was, “I should blog about 29 things on my bucket list for this year.” Something about that seemed all too familiar, so I decided instead to revisit my post from last year.  Yep.  Twenty-eight things.

Twenty-Eight Things I Want To Do This Year
1). Go to the Mayan Ruins.
2). See the Canyon.
3). Learn to speak Spanish.
4). Swim in the Gulf.
5). Visit Central America.
6). Visit the Zapatista communities.
7). See the old people dance in Marimba Park.
8). Learn to make tamales.
9). Learn to salsa.
10). See some monkeys (apparently this can be accomplished with 1 or 2).
11). Understand the songs I listen to.
12). Figure out how to make more money teaching English.
13). Raise my GRE scores.
14). Learn to make more than black beans and rice in Mexico.
15). Figure out how to get water (you’d think I would know this by now…)
16). Give a testimony in meeting that doesn’t require me asking how to say something.
17). See an active volcano.
18). Learn to knit on a knitting machine the indigenous women use.
19). Run again!
20). See the coffee farms.
21). Ride in the front seat of a Collectivo.
22). Start English classes for the neighborhood kids.
23). Read a Spanish book.
24). Talk to my Mexican niece and nephew in Spanish only.
25). Find the source of music and fireworks.
26). Have a conversation without apologizing or saying, “Hablo poco!”
27). Visit a waterfall that you can swim in.
28). Scuba dive (or snorkel) in Belize.

Turns out, meeting my (future) husband two weeks after my birthday keeps me from doing most of those things, but helped me accomplish the few things I actually did.  And I know that some of these will happen yet–but the others really aren’t that important to me anymore.  Funny how a husband and a baby can rearrange priorities!

You should know, I used to be all about making lists for things that I want to accomplish–my “bucket list”, if you will.  I remember the first list when I was 20.  I was living in Minnesota with my first real taste of independence.  All I could think is “There are so many things to see and do!  And I have so little time to do it!” I made a list of 101 things to do.  My older friend (with a five-year plan that he actually followed through on) dashed my dreams when he edited my list.  He told me that half of the items weren’t important and most of the others wouldn’t be achieved.  Bah!

Now, almost a decade later, I feel like I’ve grown beyond lists.  My greatest lesson this year is the importance of taking things one day at a time–and making sure that I enjoy the moment that I am in.  (This is easier said than done when the moment is swollen hands and feet, sleepless nights, and achy parts of my body that I shouldn’t share…)  We aren’t planning (or worrying) about the future, we’re just living today and trusting tomorrow in God’s hands.  So if I were to make a new list–it would be full of on-going goals that MIGHT be accomplished in this lifetime…

  1. Learn to serve God with my all.
  2. Learn to be a mother as good as the one I have (and the one she has).
  3. Learn to love my husband as unselfishly as he loves me.

I don’t even need to go on.  This should keep me busy for years to come…


It’s All in a Name

I love my name.

I’ve always felt really special to have such a unique and well-pondered name. Mama used to tell me about how she lay in bed at night wondering what she would name me. After having previously named three children with “J”, she wanted it to be a “J” name too. I think I won the lottery.

  • Jami Michelle was named after my grandfather, James, and my dad, Micheal.
  • Joseph was named after my great-grandfather, Edward Joseph.
  • Jennifer Lynn was the 1980’s baby who ended up with the most popular name of the year–but she was also named after my uncle, Terry Lynn.
  • My little sister, Jacinda Adele, also has a pretty great name: My oldest brother picked her first name out, and her middle name is the name of one of our preachers.

And then there was me… Jania Irene. My mom took my grandmother’s name, Jean, and my great-grandmother’s name, Maria, to make Jania. Irene is my maternal grandmother’s name.

So when I think of putting a name on my precious little baby, I really have been thinking hard. Because it’s one of my favorite things to do (and I want to make sure another “Jennifer” situation doesn’t happen), I’ve been checking out the birth announcements again in my hometown. These are names that WON’T be found on a child of mine:

  1. Xinamae
  2. Afeni
  3. Adiaree
  4. Averie (Anyone else wondering about all these weird “A” names? Oh, wait! I think they mean, Avery…)
  5. Jessexander
  6. Canaan (I actually LOVE this name, but I had a student who was really b-a-d named Canaan. Entonces, name is ruined…)
  7. Parinique
  8. Guage (I feel like I should give parents Word Study lessons on the “rules” for word patterns in English. How do you pronounce this? Gooj?)
  9. Kloe Nikole
  10. Zoiey (Same reason as #8.)

Bless their hearts. (And their teachers…) This has given me a lot to think about!

Sidenote: Every name on this list popped up on spell-check except for Canaan. Even mine…

A Civil Ceremony

Finally!  It’s done!  We’ve only been trying to do this since May…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Back in Chiapas Victor went to three different cities  to figure out what we needed to do to be legal.  In true Mexican fashion, in each city we were told something different.  But this was clear: a lot of paperwork (in both the U.S. and Mexico) was in the mix.  When we asked friends and other couples made up of Americans and Mexicans, the advice was the same:  Go to the States.  Well, that’s great advice–and we’d love to do that.  But we can’t…

So, instead, we began the long, drawn-out, and expensive process of making our marriage legal in Mexico.  In Mexico, the civil ceremony is the only recognized legal ceremony for marriage.  And it’s a hard ceremony to have… so many couples are married, but not by the law.  Which is okay, unless you need official paperwork for any reason.  Actual weddings will take place, but perhaps it’s easier to explain by comparing it to old days in the Appalachian area (Jumping the broom, hand-fasting, waiting around for the circuit judge to legalize your marriage).

Part One:  Birth certificate for each person.  While home this summer, I completed part one:  Getting a birth certificate with an apostille on it.  This is necessary for your birth certificate to be recognized in other countries.  The request must be made via mail and check (no online ordering with your credit card).  You must also write a letter explaining what you will use this apostillized birth certificate for).  Victor also had to hunt his down while he was still in Chiapas.  Ironically, he was ten when his birth was finally registered.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Part Two:  The above mentioned pain-to-obtain birth certificate must be translated.  By a licensed translator.  Cha-ching!  Afterwards, we visited a judge to discuss what else would be necessary for our civil ceremony.  No matter who you talk to, the information changes from person to person.

Part Three:  Ìmmigration approval.  Well, this would have been faster if Immigration didn’t close for the holidays.  We were told to return on the second.  When we returned, we were told that the office would be closed until the next day.  Oh, Mexico…  (Actually, the guard’s exact words were, “It might be opened tomorrow, but it might not be opened until Monday.” Niiice…  Upon talking to the nice Immigration lady the next day, we were informed that the law had changed!  No longer is it necessary to get permission from Immigration!  Woo hoo!  Why didn’t the JUDGE know this?

We left Immigration looking for a new judge.  Our taxi driver took us to a civil office on the way home.

Part Four:  Blood tests.  It’s my understanding that some states in the U.S. still require blood-work before marriage.  This is a bit ridiculous for me.  I would really like to hear why this is necessary.  So, in the civil office we visited, they informed us that we would be required to have our blood-work done (The first judge was going to skip this step).  Luckily, a laboratory that I really like was just around the corner (The Lab Tech remembered me–this is why foreigners should always be nice:  your face is not just another face in the crowd…)  A side benefit to having blood-work done is that we finally figured out Victor’s blood type.  Hooray!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Part Five:  Marriage class.  This is actually required in our state.  Our first judge was willing to overlook marriage class (Victor said he just wanted the money…)  At this office, they forgave us this requirement due to the fact that we wanted a speedy hitching.  Should we choose to wait until the next week, we would have to pay for classes.  I am a bit curious about what you learn in marriage class…  The divorce rate here is probably lower, but I seriously doubt it has very little to do with marriage class–most likely it is because it is a PAIN to get married in the first place!!

Part Six:  Paperwork.  All paperwork must be submitted eight days in advance.  Well, ummm… our ceremony is scheduled for two days from now,  AND our witnesses are in the U.S.  This was the part that almost broke my husband down.  Each of the Americans (including myself), had to submit a photocopy of their I.D and their immigration paper giving permission to be in the country.  Seeing as how three of our four witnesses were American, this meant a lot of copying and collecting.  Yesterday, when I was dropping off part of the paperwork, I was granted an extension on our deadline.  I made Victor wait outside while I broke the bad news–it’s a lot harder telling someone they can’t get married if they’re pregnant and don’t fully understand the words coming out of your mouth…

Unfortunately, our deadline meant hoping our witness’s flight wouldn’t be delayed AND rushing with copies an hour before they were due today…  Birth certificates–originals and copies, passport copies, government ID copies, blood test result copies, and the list goes on and on.  Then there’s the explaining in broken Spanish what a county is, and why the name of my city is different then the county.  And why my mother’s madien name is on my birth certificate, but not her married name.  And why the translation doesn’t include my father’s middle name.  And… gasp!  Oh, well…it’s good practice for me.

Part Seven:  The easy part… the actual ceremony.   OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Hooray!  It’s done!  Can I present (for the second time) my husband?



Oh…You Speak English?

I really came close to making a big mistake.  I was under the impression that Victor and I are the only English speakers in birthing class.


I’ve been getting frustrated.  You see, this is the way birthing class goes:

  1. Walk around on my toes.
  2. Some stretches and light exercises.
  3. Breathing Work.
  4. Partner massage (my favorite).
  5. Birth Lesson.

One through four aren’t that bad.  I actually really enjoy it–and feel like the breathing exercises are helpful (despite the fact that I have a cold and can’t quite cut it…)  Four is by far the best part of the day–as we stretch out on labor balls (I don’t really know what they’re called.  This is much better than my previous experiences with them where I was doing sit-ups and ab work…) and our partners massage our backs.  Sigh.  My kinda class…

Well, then part five comes along.  This wouldn’t be that bad, except I am a nerd.  I love to learn new things–and I read ALL about pregnancy, birth, and lactation.  I’ve read interest articles, research articles, opinion articles.  I’ve watched videos and documentaries detailing everything.  I have a mom who (according to Victor) really knows her stuff.  And so, while there is a lot I haven’t experienced yet, I am doing my best to stay educated and informed.

Not the case with all mothers.

Our lessons are constantly interrupted with questions like, “If I drink a lot of milk will it help me produce more milk?” And “Is it okay to drink beer to help my milk come in?” And “If your boobs are bigger, does that mean that you will have more milk?BIG SIGH.

The worst part is that the class is from 7-9 p.m. and that is already encroaching on my sleepy time.  Then we walk home, shower, and by the time I FINALLY crawl into bed, I am a big brat.  So the whole time, Victor listens intently, translates the ridiculous parts, and then laughs with me quietly as we scoff at silly questions.

Last week, the instructor/midwife asked a bored-looking teen soon-to-be-father if he had learned anything, and he replied, “No.  We watched this on YouTube.” Another time, the same kid said, “We read all about that on the internet.” So see!  I am NOT the only one!

Of course, he doesn’t mutter in English just to find out when he leaves that the two couples that attract the most negative comments speak perfect English…Perfect.

Muchos Taxi-os!


Friday afternoon found me in Tuxtla at a cab station. This was not just any ol’ taxi service–but the kind that would take me from city puebla to puebla until I reached my destination.

Victor’s family currently lives in Jaltenango and this is where he spent most of his childhood. I don’t know where the expression “one horse town” came from, but perhaps one ATM town would more appropriately fit. (We found this out the hard way when the one ATM was no funciona–and all we had was 200 pesos…)

My first leg of my trip I ended up in the back seat. I recoiled as I got into the car–realizing that someone has been sweating profusely on the way to Tuxtla. The days have been incredibly hot, and this is intensified if you remember that air conditioning is NOT the norm here… Plus, I think that Mexicans have adapted to hot temperatures, and they seem to sweat a lot. Even my little boys have beads of sweat on their foreheads and upper lips by the time recess is over. Finally I settled back into it, accepting that there was nothing I could do. I dozed off with one arm thrown above my head as the rather rotund couple sharing the back seat spread out. When I awoke, I realized that the señor-next-door was laying on me at each turn.

I was happy to arrive in Revoluciona Mexicana, and switch to the front seat (woo hoo!) of my next taxi. This was short-lived when I realized the young taxi driver had a concerning cough. My imagination went into overtime. What disease had he contracted? Should I hand out advice like a real Mexican? I decided it would be best to sit quietly and enjoy the scenery as the car either swerved (to avoid potholes) or jerked wildly (as potholes were ignored). The lady had a baby in the backseat, and Mexican women are perhaps not overly precautious of their infants. The do tend to worry about gripa and such. I rolled up my window to respect her mama-hoodness–aware that more danger was present in whatever was causing the driver to cough every two seconds.

My last leg of the journey was where Victor met me. I was happy to see him–and then we shared the front passenger seat of the taxi. This was okay since he’s my sweetheart, but it isn’t abnormal for that to happen with strangers on these trips… The rain cooled our journey, and quickly we arrived to the small town of Jaltenango.

Ahh…cool night breeze, home-grown coffee, and the company of my new Mexican family. Totally worth that four-hour/four taxi trip!

Talk the Talk

I’ve been mulling this over.  I can tell that I am learning more Spanish, because it is no long just about surviving.  I don’t carry my dictionary with me anymore.  And I can usually get my point across with a combination of body language and words.  Take last night, for instance.  I took the taxi to the home of the girl I tutor.  I knew before I got there that the guy was going to ask more than was normal.  Sure enough.  And I got all feisty on him before you could blink an eye.

Now though, I find myself listening to expressions and filing them away with a great desire to use them.  Claro!  Clearly!  Que bonito! How pretty! Que padre! How cool! This goes a bit beyond Ay, bueno!  Also cute and so desirable is the ability to stress the importance of an item.  Muchisimo!  I just found out that you can do this with size and color too!  Grandisimo!  My favorite change to words with size is when -ito or -ita is added to a word.  Pastelito was used today to describe a little cake.  I´ve decided that I need to make sure my kids have good names that I can use this on: Josito, Adrianita, etc.  Of course, gordita can totally be used too…

On Tuesday, my taxi driver was younger than usual.  He was a normal nosy Mexican–asking how long I lived here, how long I would stay, and of course, do I have a husband.  “No,” I explained, “I have a Chiapaneco for a boyfriend.”  “Que suerte!” (How lucky!) he kept saying, but I just chalked it up to another Mexican expression.  He asked about the other girls from the States.  Do they have eyes as pretty as mine?  Oh, much prettier, I assured him.  Shortly before I arrived at my destination, he mumbled a handful of words and touched his little dimple on his cheek.  I made out beso and got the idea.  He was asking to kiss me! (I wish I knew how to say, “How bold!”) Kisses on the cheek are nothing special here, and what do you say?  Then it progressed.  He wanted a kiss on the lips.  That is where I drew the line.  If you give a Mexican man man an inch, he wants a mile.  Que suerte indeed…  I couldn’t accept the free ride he offered either–I know how much those guys make and pay for the taxi business.

Today was the cutest:  I was reading the kids this book about a fish with fingers.  (Obviously, this is quality literature…)  The fish saves the day when he gives a “hairy, scary monster” a haircut.  Immediately when the “monster” is uncovered, and a cute seahorse is under that mop of hair, a student yelled, “Ahhh!  Que bonita!”  A chorus of “How Beautifuls” followed.  Apparently, I am not the only one that wants to use these expressions…  Ay, que bueño!

Why A Mexican Man Is A Good Accessary


Because when you get groceries, he carries ALL the bags. All you have to do is walk along and hold his hand.

Because he sings you songs on the way home–then translates them so you know how sweet he is.

Because when you arrive home with bags of groceries (that he carried), and you forgot your keys–he will climb through the neighbor’s upstairs window onto the roof. Then he will jump down to the back yard while you shout, “Don’t die!”

Because when you start to wash dishes he will say, “I can do that.” (Why, yes, you can, thank you.)

Because when you start fixing supper, he offers to help by cooking the chicken (which you hate cooking anyway).


Because, when you ask him to cut the tomatoes (which you also hate doing), he won’t only cut them–he will sharpen the knife on the concrete sidewalk outside (Why did you not know this was possible?)


Because no matter what you fix, he will eat it with gusto, and tell you how much he loves it!

Because he will let you prop your gross feet on him–and will nicely tell you they are like an Indian’s when you say you need a pedicure (obviously..)

Because, after supper, he will (again) do the dishes.

Because when you hesitantly take homemade barbecue sauce upstairs to the neighbor to say thank you, he will accompany you. He will then answer the questions asked in Spanish. He will tell the neighbor that the sauce is a delicious American sauce you prepared.

Because he will dance with you in the kitchen, and only laugh sweetly when you look a fool.

Because you will be completely at ease to talk about your family, faith, and life.

Why do you need a Mexican Man Accessory? Why not?