Friday, January 30, 2009

Book Club Fodder

Just a quick post to keep us honest on the once-a-week promise.

Highlights from this week included a spot of entertaining, a dose of culture and some new-found productivity.

First, on Sunday we had some neighbors over to share a church bazaar type of meal: sausage and peppers with a big tray of baked ziti. Our efforts were pretty average,but we really lucked out as our guests brought some fantastic desserts includng the famous Nelson chocolate chip cookies and some very pretty mini-tarts. Ivan seemed mostly starstruck by our toddler neighbor Naomi. He basically just stared at her. Sadly, we failed to capture this on camera.

The following day was our first test-run with the babysitter. Sasha has been borderline crazy-lady about sharing childcare duties for Ivan so it was a big deal. And happily, it went well. Ivan even took a long afternoon nap, no doubt inspired by being rolled up like a taquito!

Or perhaps a mummy-baby.

So it looks like once a week Ivan will be spending time with Elena, (who raised 6 kids!), while Sasha gets to work. And by the way, you should really see Sasha's cool new Special Investigator Badge.

The other highlight of the week was attending a discussion/meet the author event for this guy's book, First Stop in the New World.

Our neighbor Emily pulled the party together and it was pretty cool for everyone to get a chance to chat with this dude about all things Mexico City. His book is a good read and we definitely recommend it if you are interested in learning more about the city. His collection of essays provide a street-level look at Mexico City and after reading it, we are much more in the know about things like the municipal sewage system, glue-sniffing homeless kids and what it is like to be kidnapped. His essays also taught us a lot about Santa Muerte, lucha libre and Carlos Slim. A trio of topics that kind of sums up this city, actually.

In other news, Sergio is getting home from work early today because tens of thousands of farmers and fishermen are demonstrating against NAFTA outside of his office. Traffic outlook: not good. But hopefully tomorrow will be a-ok, because the Morenos are driving off to what is often called the most beautiful state in Mexico: Michoacan. A full report will follow!

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Dude and Dr. King

Sometimes, to save time, we put him in the washing machine.

Well, we're back to earth here after the festivities of the inauguration. Per some grandmother requests, here are some more recent photos of the little tyke.

Guard! I wanna call my Embassy!

Ivan's getting to be quite a little big boy. In fact, he's sliding down slopes, climbing mountains and flying around on zip lines.

He did all this climbing by himself...

Okay, not really.

Besides visiting our local playground, we also took Ivan to see the Martin Luther King statue on MLK day and told him all about America's civil rights history.

Let freedom ring!

We also took advantage of the holiday on Monday to try a new Italian restaurant. Ivan has decided that he is far too old to be relegated to the stroller during meals. He also insists on dining while wearing hats that are too small for his giant noggin.


More news on the boy: he has taken a job working on old Peugeots which makes the French coveralls his Grandma Kathe found very handy.

Sometimes he practices his trade on his own fleet of Mexico City taxicabs.

Somehow this seems sad.

We've been up to a few things around here, work-wise. Sergio is busy coming to the aid of all sorts of distressed Americans in Mexico. You may have heard he's got a new boss? Meanwhile, Sasha is still waiting on the credentials she needs to allow her to properly invoice the Federal Government --- she has taken over the contract for background investigations in Mexico from our much-missed neighbor (and fellow underemployed attorney-at-law), the Manila-bound Meredith. Some of you might recall getting phone calls or making appointments to talk with retired FBI types to discuss Sergio and Sasha's moral character, mental health, job history, etc. Well, now Sasha is going to be one of those retired federal agent types. The best thing about the job, besides the chance to be legitimately nosy, is its flexibility. It is technically a full-time job, but as she is telecommuting her hours are hers to set and we only anticipate needing childcare one day a week. Should work out very nice for the next couple of months.

In more exciting news, we are so happy to welcome a new family member into the fold: Penelope Flores was born earlier this month to cousins Humberto and Veronica. We're eagerly waiting for photos. Hint, hint. And so the baby boom for 2009 has begun! Our friends Lara and Derek in Austin are expecting to meet their little girl next week and our pals Kate and Michael are just behind them getting ready for the arrival of "Little Zeke" in L.A. in early February. And there's more: Sergio's sister Narda is due just before school's out later this Spring (or early summer as we're talking Houston here!), very convenient for a teacher. The Solis family is having a boy!

We are already thinking about all the fun Ivan is going to have as part of this crowd of kiddos.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

New Era

Every once in a while we really wish we were in Washington.

Thank goodness for CNN International. It was almost as if we were there. Okay it was nothing like we were there but we sure have enjoyed watching all the hoopla about the speech, the parade, the balls!

What a day.

Happy New President to everyone.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

San Miguel New Year's

Cobblestone streets still in use (for some reason).

Gosh, we're still struggling to catch up on our posts! Our tardiness can be partly blamed on the excitement of adjusting to our new computer. And just the general post-holiday slowdown I suppose. So, a little overdue, but here's the scoop on our New Year's trip to San Miguel.

First, we have to say "muchas gracias" to The Primroses who generously offered us their pad for a couple of nights while they were out of town. And of course we never would have gotten to meet The Primroses had we not been at the Moore-Ader wedding last Fall. Jennifer is Jessica's sister. So a big shout out to Jennifer, Clay, Jessica and Tristan. We sure hope we get a chance to show all of y'all around Mexico City soon!

The Primrose Palace

So San Miguel is about a three hours drive northwest of here, in Guanajuato. It is famously pretty and has a long bohemian (and gringo) history---it seems that its popularity with Americans began when the language and arts school in town accepted G.I. Bill students after the War. Nowadays, it is a favorite vacation and second-home spot (and increasingly a retiree haven). We stopped counting the Texas license plates after our first night. Of course it isn't all Texans in San Miguel. We also saw some folks from California and New Jersey.

No shortage of wide-brimmed hats...

...or vaguely-ethnic dresses...

...or linen. So much linen.

Our first night, by the way, was New Year's Eve. We rolled into town in the late afternoon and we were flabbergasted by how central Casa Primrose was---just a hop away from the main plaza!

On the Primrose terrace. We can see the Plaza!

After gaping a bit at the fantastic greenthumbs in evidence on the apartment's rooftop courtyard, we headed out into the town to grab some lunch and start sightseeing.

The inner courtyard

We can't stress this enough: dude is crazy for the flora.

The town is surrounded by mountains with church steeples on every horizon and the weather is fantastic with strong sun and cool breezes. The vibe in San Miguel is super relaxed and vacation-y; it is a small impeccably well-kept colonial town crawling with visitors and the friendly folks who cater to them which makes for a lot of English-language menus in the restaurants and to our great delight, a lot of places open on the holidays. We were still smarting from the desolate scene in Polanco last New Year's so we were overjoyed to learn that we had our pick of several decent-looking restaurants for the evening, a big fireworks celebration in the zocalo and New Year's Day shopping. Hooray for tourist economies!

A view from where we had lunch.

Waitress appears to not be having it.

Fun with mirrors!

Starting to lose it...

Dude is done.

So after visiting some cathedrals, we decided to take advantage of the cross-cultural scene and chose a Creole-Cajun place for dinner that night. The place was buzzing with tons of folks celebrating and in high spirits; Ivan, however, wasn't having it. He was seriously disappointed with the place, and also seriously teething and generally miserable. So Sasha and a screaming Ivan walked up and down the street, stopping for chats with the 15 year old car valet, who spoke pretty decent English and even better tourist Spanish and proved to be an old hand at entertaining despondent babies. Meanwhile, Sergio explained to our perplexed waiter back at the restaurant that we had a change of plans and wanted to take everything we had ordered home with us.

This happy kid at the same time on New Year's Day. Go fig.

Ivan eventually caved in to sleep and we were able to sit down to a nice adult dinner. We raised our glasses and toasted parenthood and the crazy way a quiet sleeping baby can make even the coldest dinner taste delicious! It was still hours away to midnight and we were in danger of falling asleep ourselves, but we stubbornly stayed up to open our bottle of moderately-priced/terrible champagne and catch the fireworks show from the rooftop. It was a glorious view. Here's to 2009!

And the rockets' red glare...

We started the new year the following morning back on the roof eating breakfast in the garden and admiring the views. Then we headed out to walk around the city and check out whatever arts and crafts we might be able to find. We visited the market, several churches and lots of lovely sidestreets. There was a bit of artesania on offer though we manged to keep our wallets closed for everyone but the sidewalk vendor selling one of those under the door, draft-busting beanbag snake things.

Obligatory dog-on-roof shot.

We ended the day with a trip to a very popular hot chocolate joint across from the lovely San Agustin. The cafe is apparently owned by a famous Argentine actress, Playboy centerfold and Mexican soap opera star named Margarita Gralia. The long wait was worth it because Sasha was eager to get her first-ever order of churros. It was pretty nippy at night in San Miguel and the hot chocolate really hit the spot--and the churros? Well, when properly dunked in the hot chocolate they were even better than funnel cake!

The boys watching the hot-chocolatiers.

Ay, que churro!

Spooky monster church

The next morning we planned to get an early start, heading home with a stop in Queretaro for lunch. Unfortunately, our early start was more of an early stop when Sergio went to pack up the car and was surprised with the sight of a dead-flat tire. Luckily, Sergio is pretty handy with a tire jack and we rode on our spare to the vulcanizadora (these guys are never far away in potholed Mexico). To our pleasant surprise, the price of patching and replacing the tire (which had been punctured by a screw): about three US dollars.

No door = low overhead. He passes the savings on to you!

And we were off!

We had heard really nice things about Queretaro and it certainly was a beautiful tidy little city though we only had about an hour and a half there to visit. We did manage to eat at the place that supposedly invented the gordita (enh, not that great actually), find an ice cream parlor, get a little lost in the centro and puzzle over a ca-razy over-the-top nativity scene in one of the plazas.

Lovely sunlit plaza (Ivan's asleep).

A little weird...

...a lotta weird.

Ivan had a couple of minor meltdowns along the way --- we've learned that a 6 month old Ivan doesn't go with the flow quite as easily as his younger self did. He seems to have a lot more trouble sleeping through distractions nowadays and gets impossibly frustrated when he is bothe tired AND interested in what's going on around him. Of course we also noticed this week that the kid has three stumpy white teeth working their way through his upper gum so boring old teething probably had a lot to do with his fussy primadonna tourist routine.

It turns out we were back in DF on that first Friday afternoon which meant Sergio still had two more days off before returning to work. We looked forward to a relaxing weekend , and Sasha was especially thrilled imagining Sergio's extra help around the house.


I got him, babe, don't worry.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Dennis Family Mexican Vacation

Leanin' Dennises...

We had an action-packed visit with Sasha's mom and brother. Kathe's first visit to Mexico City was a long one last June, but not one with a lot of sightseeing unless you count hospital rooms and stroller trips around the block! And Sam hadn't been to Mexico since a long-ago high school spring break in Cancun. So we had a lot to show them...

It's hot here. Everybody be cool.

We got off to a racing start on the day after Christmas when we caught the Turibus. This double-decker bus rolled down Reforma to the Zocalo via Roma and Condesa and from our lofty perch we could easily play tourguide, pointing out the places we knew a little bit about.

Fun with self-photography.

It was pretty cool although we had to duck our heads a few time to avoid getting strung up in the utility wires.

Ivan of Arabia

Once we got downtown, we hopped off the bus and checked out the ice skating rink in the Zocalo, the murals in the palace, the ruins, the Cathedral and lots and lots of folks enjoying a day off. We ate lunch at our regular taqueria and walked through Alameda Park to catch the bus back.

Mexicans love/misunderstand snow.

The following day we headed out of town. One day in the chaos of the centro and we figured it was time to head for the hills.

Seriously, dude loves trees.

On the recommendation of the Catheys, we drove out to Malinalco, an exquisite mountain town a couple of hours away. A "Defeno" weekender spot, the town is pristine with a gorgeous church, a sweet little plaza, some interesting restaurants and shops and of course, a steep climb to some Aztec ruins with a great view.

The drive was really beautiful, though a little rough on the wagon's shocks! When we got close to Malinalco we started to notice people with rucksacks, on foot and on bicycle, along the road and when we got to Chalma, the last town before our destination, we saw vendors selling garlands of flowers and people wearing these wreaths on their heads. A little research and we realized that Chalma is one of the most popular pilgrimage spots, and its church the scene of a miraculous appearance of a crucifix in the 1500s.

Upon our less-miraculous appearance, we scouted out a place to eat straightaway and found ourselves the only customers at a very cute outdoors place. This suited us just fine as Ivan is unpredictable in his table manners. We dined under a palapa and Sergio even tried the local specialty: trucha (trout).

This one's for Melany.

Revived, we headed over to the check out the church that is the center of the town. Founded as an Augustinian monastery in the 1500s, the ex-Convento de la Transfiguracion, was pretty magical. The cloister is built around a small courtyard (complete with nativity scene for the season) but the real highlight is the amazing murals.

What's up with that donkey?

Primarily in charcoal and white with bits of watery turquoise, it is very stylized and a treat to investigate for the variety of flora and fauna. A crowd-pleaser, we had to tear Grandma Kathe and Ivan away.

Our last stop was the obligatory Aztec ruins. We couldn't let the gang go back North without a little ruin hopping. As it was getting a little late in the day, we were rushed to climb up the (as usual, endless!) stairs and see what there was to see. Sergio and I started off with Ivan in the stroller as it appeared to be a paved walkway up the mountain, but had to abandon the plan when the footpath turned to stairs. In the end, Sergio and Ivan ended up sitting this one out as the rest of the gang tackled the haul up the mountain.Grandma was outpaced but made some friends on the way up who commiserated on the altitude/steep stairs. Sam and Sasha were pleased to find no less than an actual Eagle at the Temple of the Eagle. So that was pretty sweet.

And oh yeah, the view was grand.

We returned to the big bad city at dusk, the drive taking a long time and it felt even longer as Ivan had a bit of a nervous breakdown in his carseat which was no fun at all except that it prompted Sasha and Kathe to sing a hilariously nutty version of Old MacDonald's Farm (a farm with monkeys, squirrels, and screech owls).

With just two days left in Mexico for the Dennis family, we stayed a little closer to home. Luckily Ivan was back to his old self in no time and returned to his mission to charm his relatives.

Really, the hair needs work.

Grandma had found a neat book on making your own baby food that she and Sasha spent a lot of time perusing, and a little time testing out. Ivan's reviews were mixed. He seems more engaged with the tools of eating (the spoon, mostly) than with the actual food.

With some restaurant visits, a stop at the Anthropology museum and a cruise down to the Ciudadela for souvenir artesania, we wrapped up the Dennis family visit before seeing them off to some of the hottest and coldest spots in the USA, Phoenix and Duluth.

Ivan misses them already, and so do we.