Sunday, August 31, 2008

Labor Day News Ticker: Gustav and Polska

First things first. We're crossing our fingers for everyone along the Gulf Coast this weekend. Hurricane Gustav sent our favorite New Orleans family, The MacPhees, on the road at 4 am this morning.

No doubt they had hoped to wait a little longer before introducing their 6-week old son Jimmy to the Mandatory Evacuation drill.

Switching gears, we have some very long-range news to share this holiday weekend. We've received notice of our next assignment...

Next stop on the Moreno world tour: WARSAW, POLAND!

We are really excited to announce that we are headed to Warsaw. Remember, this is all still pretty far off, but here's what we've got planned for the next few years. First, we finish up here in Mexico next summer, then we're back to Washington to learn Polish, before moving across the pond early in 2010 to make our new home in the exact geographic center of Europe, a place where the continent's largest animals (the European Bison) still roam and where they make over 100 varieties of kielbasa! Here's a sneak preview of some of Poland's many charms...

Historic Warsaw!

Orange-ish Mountains!

Seriously, bison!

Led Zeppelin album covers!

Pretty umbrellas!

Half-naked Polish people! (It's not always cold).

Skiing! (Or possibly this might be our daily commute).

This specific job in Warsaw happened to be our #1 out of 20 potential choices. It is a testament to how odd this lifestyle is: if you had told us 6 months ago that our #1 preferred destination in the whole world would be Warsaw, Poland, well let's just say we would have been, um, skeptical. But after hours of research (mostly by Sasha), it just seemed to make the most sense. And when we found out we had gotten it, it made all the more sense. We are actually thrilled, and promise to continue sharing our little adventures with you when DF Days turn into Warsaw Wackiness. Na razie!*

* - See you later (Skater).

Monday, August 25, 2008

Last days in the G-D-L

Sons of Jalisco!

We're back from our exchange in Guadalajara, having arrived home in Mexico City last night. Happily, as much as we dug Guadalajara, we are delighted to be home. This was our longest stretch away from Mexico City since we landed here a little more than a year ago, and it turns out we've gotten attached to the place!

We did manage to squeeze in some more adventures before we left. Overall, our time in Guadalajara was fantastic, thanks largely to the great guidance we got from Gina, Kevin's wife, on the city and especially their own corner of town, Colonia Providencia. Sasha, Ivan and LouLou are still homebodies for the most part these days and they couldn't have been happier to hang out in this bright, cheerful house with plenty of cool stuff to look at, books to browse and nearby routes for dog and baby walking. Sergio, for his part, had a great time trying on Kevin's job for a few weeks and overall the whole exchange was a very refreshing change of pace! Sometimes a change of location is just what the doctor ordered, and we feel we've returned to Mexico City with more energy than when we left.

So back to the travelogue. As some of you may have noticed, eating is usually pretty high on our agenda when we travel. After doing a little research, we decided there were a few things we needed to find in Guadalajara: tortas ahogadas, pozole, carne en su jugo and fish tacos. Sergio managed to check off everything on the list while Sasha performed only half as well trying out two of the four.

For the Mexican stew called pozole we decided to try the down-home Dona Gabina Escolastica in Zapopan, about 10 minutes north of Kevin and Gina's house and right around the corner from a beautiful Basilica. We had to wait outside the restaurant for about 40 minutes before being seated which was a surprise, and one that Ivan didn't exactly handle gracefully.

This blows, Mommy.

(We're learning Ivan's an impatient little dude. His grandparents nicknamed him "Mr. Greenlight" because he screams bloody murder every time the car stops and then quiets immediately when the car starts moving again. )

The menu at Dona Gabina was really good, traditional fonda treats with the star of the show being their pozole. The place was packed with families and the open kitchen allowed us to watch some older ladies going to town making fresh tortillas.

Morenos on the town!

The pozole was indeed fantastic, dressed with shredded lettuce, onions, radish, lime and hot sauce. The sopes were stuffed with chicken, potatoes or beans. Everything we tried was fantastic and the long lines outside made perfect sense. Even Ivan forgave us and spent dinner either flirting with the ladies in the booth next to us or contentedly sleeping.

I ate none of this food!

On the way home we wandered through the Zapopan and stopped at the plaza to look at the beautiful church. Lit up, it took our breath away. On our way to the car, we spotted a big crowd dancing at a wedding reception in the city hall rec room making for a very sweet end to a great evening.

Our next eating adventure took us to Karne Garibaldi, THE place for carne en su jugo. The restaurant actually holds a world record for fastest service -- 13 seconds, which is apparently achieved by keeping the menu simple and having multiple waiters anticipate what you want before you even know it (and they were right). At any rate, we know we were eating delicious tacos about two minutes after we sat down. The waiters were excellent, one even thrilling Ivan with his birdcalls. The carne en su jugo is just about the only thing on the menu and was reminiscent of Texas-style chile with a bacon and spice-studded ground beef mix.

Yes, this will do just fine...

Besides eating, we had a few things on our shopping list . First we found the clunky handblown tumblers Sasha was after in Tonala. We drove downtown another night to cross off the other major item on our Jalisco list: finding a pita belt for Sergio. We've both admired these belts for a while and were excited to be in Jalisco, where the art of piteado was developed. Piteado is the term used to describe the intricate embroidery on leather done with a thread taken from the agave plant.

We went to the Mercado San Juan de Dios to find Sergio a belt on the recommendation of some shopkeepers in Tlaquepaque. The mercado was a little rough around the edges with booths full of bootleg sneakers and DVDs manned almost exclusively by angry young men (who looked like they were all straight out of East L.A.). On a mission, we charged past the vaguely-criminal enterprises and swept by the vaguely-criminal proprietors until we came upon the charro section of the market. As soon as we slowed down to check out the boots, belts and hats on offer a tiny teenaged girl appeared out of nowhere to swear up and down that her stall had the real-deal, made-by-hand pita belts and saddles we were looking for. The prices were steep but, as far as we could possibly tell, reasonable.

Finally, no more twine.

Sergio scooped up a very handsome example of the craft and we skipped off to check out the view of the larger produce market and food stalls below us. Like a laser beam, Sasha scanned the scene and picked out her own made-by-hand souvenir.

An old man sold Sasha her very own made-by-hand beachy tote bag. Perfect for, well, shopping at a market just like this one and much sturdier than the usual mesh bags made out of giant rice bags, etc.

After checking everything off our lists, we returned to Providencia and relaxed for the rest of the weekend. One of our favorite features of the neighborhood was this enormous park a very short drive from the house. Ivan has become quite the naturalist and seems to have taken a real interest in watching trees --- he lights up whenever his ride passed under a tree, leaves blowing in the breeze. This park was full of them.

The park also had a lovely Japanese garden with a huge koi pond.

Everywhere you turn, there are couples getting wedding photos taken or young girls getting their quincenera pictures done making the park feel a little like one big fashion runway!


All in all we had a fantastic time in Guadalajara, finding it to be a very laid-back, lovely Mexican city. We had read in guidebooks that it is the "most Mexican" of Mexico's cities, whatever that means. We kept thinking it was a little bit like a Los Angeles to DF's New York. Not a totally accurate comparison, but close. Guadalajara seemed a little more casual, a little less crowded and more horizontal than vertical. Other things we observed---men wear cowboy hats in GDL which we almost never see in Mexico City, and we saw tons more pick-up trucks. People dressed more casually in GDL, and strangely, more people spoke English to us. Perhaps there is more migrating back and forth in this area?

There even seemed to be a few more American food products at the grocery stores. Sasha scooped up some Pioneer brand biscuit mix and Sergio loaded up on one of his favorite Texas treats -- Best Maid Pickles!

That's the dilly-o.

It was a great opportunity to live in another Mexican city, and we are so thankful that Kevin, Gina and Elsa were interested in being our partners in this adventure. We hope they had as rewarding a time in our city as we did in theirs!

Now, we're back home in time to watch the political conventions unfold, enjoy a long holiday weekend and kick-off Fall and its new beginnings in earnest. Ivan will be three months old soon and no longer a "newborn." Sasha's got some decisions to make about her return to work and Sergio starts a new rotation at his job. Lots to look forward to!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Hanging Around the House

We have had a rainy morning and so I thought I'd put up some photos of the place we've been calling home for two weeks.

The Front Porch

The Living Room: Art galore!

The Dining Room: One of our favorite paintings.

The Kitchen: Space-age Italian dishwasher with instructions more tricky than IKEA's.

The Stairs: Two more flights just like this one.

Our Kind Host: Kevin.

Since Kevin arrived here with a family of three, Sergio and I have high hopes for our next assignment now that we have Ivan in tow! And speaking of that, we turned in our final job list yesterday. We had to make 20 selections which ended up representing 13 different countries ranging from Poland to Peru, Brazil to Bulgaria and lots in between. We're pretty jazzed about all the options on the list and should be able to share some news in early September.

But first, two more days in the GDL!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


We rolled into town a little over a week ago and man, is this place great!

Why aren't more baby clothes made in black? Thanks Drew and Piper!

Before heading out of town, we took care of Ivan's first set of vaccinations and another well-baby visit, both of which went very well. Ivan is a trooper and while he screamed like a banshee during the shots, he bounced back pretty quickly (his mom is another story). So with medical errands completed, we loaded up the wagon and headed for the hills.

Full-family vehicle:roof rack, cargo box, pet barrier -- and infant seat!

The trip from Mexico City took about 6 hours---great roads all the way, and plenty of nice scenery, especially in Michoacan. We intend to make it back to that state and check it out more closely.

Our stay in Guadalajara happened to sync up with what would have been the 110th birthday of Sergio's grandfather, Roque, who hails from here in Jalisco. We've noticed lots of folks around town with the relatively uncommon family surname, Duenas, which is pretty cool. We hope to return to the area later this year to see his hometown of Navidad, a town on the coast and very beautiful from what we hear. Sergio's mom told us some stories about her dad and we think Ivan might take after him---apparently he was fair, handsome and musical, with big feet. That's our baby to a tee! Have we mentioned Ivan is a song and dance man? Okay, it is more just bouncing and cooing, but he really gets after it regardless.

El Jalisciense!

Here in Guadalajara we're staying in the very stylish pad of Sergio's training classmate Kevin and his family. The house far exceeded our expectations. Casa Kevin has four floors, a zillion bathrooms, a Euro-style kitchen complete with mysterious but very pretty Italian appliances and two spacious decks. The whole place is filled with gorgeous Tapatio sunshine thanks to the huge floor-to-ceiling windows and also has an amazing collection of paintings by Kevin himself. Just hanging out in this house is a great escape!

Even fussy time is fun with a huge porch off the bedroom.

Ivan likes to kick back with a good book.

Just after standing around the living room with our mouths agape, Sergio's folks arrived from Houston. They met Ivan and we think it is safe to say that everyone hit it off! Ivan entertained the grandparents like a pro, and it was great to see Dali and Gonzalo again here in Mexico.

Dali was a bit of a baby whisperer, convincing Ivan of the charms of the pacifier and keeping him spellbound with her singing.

She's actually singing Rod Stewart, inexplicably.

Both grandparents were such a help with Ivan, and their visit afforded us the chance to even go out for a dinner sin bebe one night! Sasha was a little nervous without her constant companion but in the end really enjoyed herself.

But adult-only dining just isn't how the Morenos roll and Ivan has officially been welcomed into the Diner's Club himself!

At the neighborhood steakhouse.

Ivan went to his first restaurant ever right here in Guadalajara (carne asada, natch) and it was such a success we've trotted him out to two more. He got an especially grand welcome in Tlaquepaque:

Ivan couldn't get enough...

Sergio's working all week here, but we managed to pack in a bunch of sight-seeing over the weekend including the above-mentioned Tlaquepaque where we saw lots of great galleries and shops and had a nice time strolling through the very pedestrian-friendly streets.

Parakeet-chosen fortunes for sale.

We also took a cruise through the centro and checked out Guadalajara's main plazas, cathedrals and government buildings. We were in shock that we could drive right into downtown, a task we avoid like the plague in Mexico City.

Main cathedral and plaza downtown.

Huge Orozco mural in the National Palace.

Ivan loves sightseeing...his mother.

We also hopped over to Tonala for more shopping on Market Day where we exhausted ourselves trying to find shops that apparently no longer exist. (Thank you very little, New York Times travel section). The town is a madhouse and is known as THE place for handicraft shopping; in fact it is where wholesalers load up shipping containers to mail back to the US which means great prices but overwhelming crowds. The city also has all of these factory stores where you can see the artisans blowing glass, doing beadwork, firing pottery, and on and on -- only not on Sundays, as we found out the hard way. Even with all the goodies on offer, we somehow came home with a few bottles of grape juice, a couple of turquoise glasses and a soap dish. Better luck next time.

We finished up the week by firing up the barbecue with our neighbors, a family of five who just arrived in town from Peru three weeks ago. The girls were very impressed with both LouLou and the baby, but their youngest was mostly interested in the limon tree on the patio.

You put the lime on the coconut (head)...

We're racing to pack in as much as we can in the last few days here and will take photos accordingly. Stay tuned!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Getting ready for G-town

Gimme some dap

As usual we'll start off with the week's baby pictures. He's getting to be quite a roly-poly little dude! Or as my Panamanian neighbor commented yesterday, "Ivan's getting junky!" Probably not coincidentally, he seems pretty happy these days, too. Sleeping better, crying less, and more fun every day.

Greeting Sergio on his return home. He really recognizes that fur face!


Somehow tummy time has become thumb-sucking trance time. Oh well.

This chair is far too large.

We've been taking care of business here this past week. Sasha, back at the home office, hid out with Ivan and LouLou in the kitchen one day while a local team of carpet-cleaning professionals worked their magic on some pretty awful wall-to-walls. Another day saw Sasha and son averting their eyes as our veterinarian performed surgery on LouLou in our kitchen. Talk about house calls! We'd been worrying a little over a lump on Loupy's chest and had been thrilled to learn that it was benign. Still, it needed to be removed and it was quite a surprise to find out that the doctor suggested operating here at the house. It was quite the production, and other than a little limp from the I.V. in her front leg, LouLou has recovered nicely.

No more rainy season paw prints---hooray!

In other medical news, Ivan is coming up on his two month mark and that means vaccinations. A controversial topic nowadays, but not so much around here. In fact, Ivan can't get a medical clearance without them so we've signed him up for some shots at the end of this week. After all, medical clearances are essential as we move around the world. Speaking of moves, we turn in our job preferences mid-month. We're looking at some pretty cool options and are excited to find out what happens next for the globetrotting Morenos. We're eager to hear from anyone who has some inside scoop on the differences between, say, Sao Paulo, Rio and Brasilia. Or Krakow vs. Warsaw. Or the relative merits of Bucharest, Sofia and Ljubljana. Oslo vs. Stockholm vs. Tallinn? Our heads are spinning!

We had a nice time discussing world travel with our friend Mariano who stopped by on Saturday night along with his lovely fiancee Cristina -- they had just returned from a trip to Peru. We were shocked to realize that they were both on their way back to the States after their stint here in Mexico--time has flown and we are so happy we got a chance to see Mariano again and meet his lady. Best wishes to them in finishing up the planning for their winter wedding.

Perhaps inspired by newspaperman (and current New Yorker) Mariano , Sergio bit the bullet and ordered a real live Sunday New York Times from the international news agent we finally discovered in the neighborhood. We picked it up on Monday and it was a total treat. And cost only about $12 ! Kind of nuts, but so worth it when the travel section's front page featured the exotic destination of Saugatuck, MI, which is a short drive from Sasha's hometown. And not exactly exotic. I guess even the big city swells are feeling the economic pinch these days. We'll be expecting a big spread on Galveston next.

12 frickin' dollars?!

And now we're getting ready to shove off for our house-swap in Guadalajara for two weeks. Sergio's folks will join us in the first week. We're all excited to visit Mexico's second city and the rest of Jalisco (where Sergio's Duenas family has roots---in a magical-sounding place called Navidad. And Sasha thought her own roots in Crystal Falls were cool---what she wouldn't give to be from a town called Christmas!) We've got a carseat, a dog gate for the back of the wagon and one of those cargo boxes to put on the roof. The circus will roll into town this weekend. Watch out G-jara!

Plotting the Moreno invasion...