28 July 2014

The Great Visa-Free (Sort Of) Central Asia Trip

Kazakhstan is finally getting closer to jumping on the no-tourist-visa boat (they just started a one-year trial for citizens of a few countries), so between that and Kyrgyzstan's already allowing tourists to enter for 2 months without a visa, travel around Central Asia should get a lot easier.

So here's what I want to do.  First, live in Tashkent with an actual employer so they get to sort out the visa.  Also, make sure we have a car.  Then start on a long adventure through southern Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and the Ferghana Valley.

First, head north to Shymkent and Sayram, then west to Taraz and down into Talas in Kyrgyzstan.  Head over to Bishkek, then continue on all around Issyk Kul, then toodle through Central Kyrgyzstan to Osh.  Go back into Uzbekistan through the Ferghana Valley, stopping often, and then back home to Tashkent.

Tashkent after Riyadh?  Please?

Places to Visit in Mexico DF

We'll be off to DF in a few days and I'm working on the list of all the things I want to do there.  We'll have more time than we did when we were there in February, but I still don't think we'll get to everything.

We'll stop at Tula on the way, but don't tell my children.  It only adds on 30 minutes of driving.  I promise.

Our big weekend trip will be to El Tajin. Other Saturday trips could be to Huamantla for their huge August Feria, Puebla to see the pyramid of Cholula and check out the ceramics, Malinalco, Tlaxcala and Xochitecatl and other sites in the state, Tepozteco, Miacatlan with Xochicalco, or Pachuca. And we'll definitely go to Xochimilco.

Here's the  list of some of the things to see in Mexico City in no particular order:

Tenayuca 
Anahuacalli Museum
Museo de Arte Popular, again, because I loved it
Museo de Arte Moderno
Tlatelolco
We might be able to pull off visiting Tepotzotl├ín one evening
Chapultepec Castle, since my husband missed it last time
Galeria de Arte Mexicano
First print shop
We might have to check out the Leon Trotsky museum for some Soviet nostalgia
Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Museo Nacional de Culturas Populares
Museo Nacional de las Intervenciones
Palace of the Inquisition, because it's there
Templo Mayor
Museo Soumaya
UNAM and the Olympic Stadium
Cuicuilco

And we'll do some shopping and eating of tortas.  I doubt we'll go back to DF before we leave Mexico, but we'll have spent 4 weeks there, so I'm feeling good about that.


25 July 2014

Home Again

We've been in the US for the last three weeks and just got home last night.  I've never, ever before gone to the US just for a visit. We never had the money to fly to the US just for fun when we lived overseas. But new jobs and living in Mexico make a visit easy.

The best part was that I could enjoy being in the US without feeling like I was stuck there.  I knew I'd go home to Mexico in a few weeks.  And I could stock up on food I can't find in Mexico or that's really expensive.  We came home with:

Lots and lots of dark chocolate
Peanut M&Ms that aren't horribly expensive
2 cases of coconut milk
16 pounds of rice noodles
Two giant things of curry paste 
RED LENTILS!
1 gallon of rice vinegar

And some unscented laundry detergent, since that's hard to find here.  I think that's everything.  I am looking forward to a year with more coconut milk in it. :)

The other best part about the trip was knowing that I was coming back to Guadalajara where I've already been living.  I went home to my house (still too big, but delightfully white and devoid of furniture), wonderful weather, a place where I know how to shop, friends, and good food.  Our plane arrived late, but there was still time to get tamales and stop at a taco stand on the way home. It's so nice to be home and to go to the tianguis this morning.

We'll be in Mexico DF for most of August, and I am so excited for that.  Then back home for one more year until we go to the US to relearn Arabic, then off to Saudi Arabia.  

08 July 2014

Riyadh!

Yes, we are going to Riyadh, and I cannot tell how how excited I am to be doing Arabic again and going back to the Middle East.  I know I'm not supposed to want to go to Saudi, and I know enough about it to know that it'll be hard for some reasons, but I think it'll be amazing for a lot of reasons.  

Shennie was the first to guess Riyadh, so I'll be messaging you to find out what I should send you from Mexico.

07 July 2014

The Contest, Clue 5

See the rules here.

The city is not near the ocean.

06 July 2014

Just to clarify, I'm looking for the correct city we're moving to.  I've had several people guess the right country, but the winner will be the person who gets the city first.

The Contest, Clue 4

See the rules here.

One of the world's major religions began in this country.

05 July 2014

The Contest, Clue 3

See the rules here.

Arabic!

04 July 2014

The Contest, Clue 2

See the rules here.

Clue two:

Nearly everyone in this country is a member of a religion that is not common in Mexico.

03 July 2014

The Where We're Going Next Contest

So. We know where we're going next.  Since I'm not going to be able to blog much for a while, I'm going to do a contest about guessing where we're going because it'll fill up some space. And because that seems like fun.

First, the prizes.  Whoever wins will get something from Mexico. You can choose between something from the Day of the Dead (there is a limited selection now, or you can wait till October), a ceramic lizard that goes on your wall, or Tostalinaz.  I'll mail it what you choose to you later this summer (or in the fall, if needed).

Second, you can only participate if you don't already know where we're going.  That includes family members who haven't heard yet, but will hear sometime soon.  If the first person to guess turns out to have already known, then I'll go on to the second guesser.

Third, I'll post a clue every day or so for a few days.  You can guess the city in the comments; since they'll be moderated right now, your guess won't be posted.  Instead, it'll come right to me.  The first person to guess the correct city wins. You can guess once a day.  *I'm looking for the city we'll be living in, not just the country.*

So, the first clue:

We'll be returning to the largest continent.

30 June 2014

Tamales

We're learning that people have strong opinions about their tamales in Guadalajara.  You might hear more about tacos and see more taco stands, but that doesn't mean the tamales are ignored.  We've tried four different tamale places around us and we still can't see a huge difference in the taste of any of them, despite everyone telling us there is.  So we stick with the first place we found because they're cheap, they usually have Oaxaca tamales, and, most importantly, they're almost always out by 6 PM. No one else does that for this American family.

We also finally tried some of the sweet tamales (strawberries and pineapple, although there are more) and I don't think I need to eat those again.  If I want something sweet when I'm eating tamales, I'd much rather have champurrado.

For the record, two of my children prefer red mole, one likes green, my husband likes both or gets Oaxacas (mostly because they're bigger), and I like rajas con queso.  We can get enough for the whole family for about 12 dollars.

Ramadan Kareem

Another Ramadan has begun and I'm not in a Muslim country, again.  We've gone to the mosque here in Guadalajara once, but no one was there.  Maybe we'll find someone there this month.  It's a little sad to see all this Islamic-inspired architecture in Guadalajara, but the mosque is just a regular house.



26 June 2014

Jocotan

One thing I love about Guadalajara is that it's really just a collection of little pueblas and neighborhoods that sort of accidentally became a metropolis of 5 million people and the second-largest city in Guadalajara.  You can walk a few blocks away from downtown and the main cathedral and suddenly be in a neighborhood that's oriented around its own church and shops and doesn't really care about downtown even though it's just right there. Mexicaltzingo and Analco are two examples of this.

This only works when you're walking though; otherwise you pass through everything too quickly and don't really see the differences, or you skip the smaller roads.

This even applies out where I live.  Most of the neighborhoods are newer and upscale and filled in gaps between smaller places and aren't particularly interesting, although they're pleasant.  The Monday and Tuesday tianguis both are firmly in these neighborhoods and are a little more expensive, are more likely to have well-dressed women buying vegetables who bring their help along to carry the vegetables, and feel a lot like a farmers market in the US.  The Friday tianguis tries to be that, but it's too small and is strung out between the railroad and the road and just isn't as conducive to heels. The same vendors are generally at all three of those tianguis.

But if you get out a little further, you get to the Wednesday tianguis that's on the border between the upscale neighborhood and Jocotan, which is one of those little pueblas that was swallowed up by the metropolitan area. This tianguis is a little cheaper, a lot more crowded, much bigger, and sells different things.  You start at one end, the more upscale end (although the neighborhood is nowhere near as nice as the Monday tianguis neighborhood) and work your way down Ramon Corona/Novelistas to the other end where you're in Jocotan and all of a sudden you're really in Mexico.  And it's lovely.

And then if you keep going (probably in your car) out past the periferico, you get to San Juan de Ocotan and even it is part of the city now with the terribly snooty Valle Real north of it and the periferico connecting it to everything else.  But it's still its own place, with its own problems, and its own church.

23 June 2014

Yakult, Baby Mangoes, and Nutrileche

I'm still following my rule of trying new things from the grocery store or tianguis as often as possible.  Usually it works great, but last week I made the mistake of trying a new brand of bagged milk without reading the packaging carefully (all I checked was the date).  I mistakenly assumed it was actually milk, but when I got home, I noticed that it proudly proclaimed that it contained 73% milk.  So, yeah, it doesn't always work.  And if you're looking for bagged milk in Mexico, skip the Nutrileche.

Last week I bought some inch-long mangoes.  I prefer larger mangoes just because they're easier to peel and eat (I don't like mango peels), but the pit inside those baby mangoes was soft and they we fun to try.

Today I got some Yakult.  It's a probiotic that I've seen sold in lots of places (not just in Mexico), but I've never bought it before and since it's really popular here, this seemed like the place to try it. I can't say I'll buy it again because it has way too much sugar, even though it's supposed to be healthy for me.  I'll have to find a less sweet way to get my probiotics in.  If I decide they're worth it.

And I learned a little about Japanese-Mexicans after finding out about the Yakult.  Interesting.

Not Really Back to Blogging

The great big huge project that's been sucking up my life for the last two months is finally finished and submitted.  But that still won't get me back to regular blogging because summer is starting and regular life won't be happening.  I'm hoping for September.  I'm also working on another photo project with my husband that I hope to get going soon, and I'm even thinking of being a lemming and doing a contest about where we're going next.  I've always just said where we're going, usually because it's on fairly short notice, but this time we'll know way in advance.  So watch for that, if you want.


18 June 2014

Keeping the Conversation Going, International Version

Even though Kate Kelly, the leader of Ordain Women, is facing possible excommunication, I keep seeing that we're supposed to keep the conversation about women in the church going (here, here, and here).*

But I have no idea how to do that, especially as an expat. Most of the times I've lived in other countries, my priesthood leader has either lived thousands of miles away and been inaccessible, or I haven't spoken the same language he does. I cannot speak to my Relief Society President right now, and I certainly didn't have anything like a Relief Society President when I was in Central Asia.  There has been no one I can talk to about my concerns.**

I share many of the concerns others bring up about women in the church, but my biggest ones are a little different because of my personal experiences in places with few or no priesthood holders.  So, in the spirit of bringing up my questions and concerns, here they are, even though I'm just talking to myself.

My biggest concern is that women cannot participate in the sacrament if there is not a priesthood holder there to give it to her.  We always hear that the priesthood is used to bless others, and that is true, but a man can bless the sacrament for himself and therefore never has to go without it unless he chooses to do so.  The sacrament isn't a saving ordinance, of course, but after the saving ordinances of the temple, it is the ordinance that is most highly emphasized in our church and it is important.  Worthy women need access to it no matter their circumstances.

I am also concerned about the effects of having so many callings that can only be filled by men in wards and branches with limited priesthood leaders.  There are many people talking about this, but it has been a problem in a different way in our current ward.  Active priesthood holders are needed to fill a certain set of callings.  Because of that, they are not available to fill callings that are open to both men and women. I'd love for my Primary-age son to see both women and men teaching children as much as I'd like my teens to see a woman as ward mission leader.

In our area where there are many wards and branches with few active priesthood holders, the area has, logically, directed that some callings not be filled unless there are a certain number of people in the unit who need that type of leadership.  So, for example, our ward will not call a Young Men's President unless there are at least 10 young men in the ward.  Since we only have about 5 or 6, there is no young men's program in our ward which has been a disappointment to our boys.  There is, however, not the same restriction on calling a Young Women's president and even though there are fewer than 10 young women in our ward, they have a young women's program because there are plenty of capable women in our ward. If more callings were open to both men and women, I truly think that more could be done as a church.

Even more personally, my older children are having a hard time at church because they don't speak much Spanish.  There are men in the ward who speak Spanish well and would be happy to translate for them, but they are busy with their Sunday callings and unavailable.

It also hurts me so much every time I hear that missionaries are encouraged to focus on finding men to baptize.  I know some people think that this is a solution to the problem of units with "too many" women, but I think there are other, better solutions.  And there are never, ever too many women in any unit.  EVER.

I also have a hard time hearing that we're doing so much better because women are participating much more on a local level and have a greater role in the leadership of wards and branches.  While this is true in many ways, it did nothing for me when we lived in Central Asia and had no organized church unit.  There were no women in leadership positions in the church unit we were assigned to and having ward councils in other places with women participating (and able to advocate for women in the ward) did nothing for me.

Again, these are just a few concerns I have.  I'm not looking for women to be ordained; I don't think that's the only (or the best way) to solve the problems I've listed above.  But there is a vast chasm between what women's role is defined as now and ordaining women.  Let's explore what's in there and find what works.

*I'd just like to be clear here that even though I have questions and concerns, that doesn't mean that I am not an active and believing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I'm not going anywhere.  Please don't assume that having concerns means that I want to leave, or that I should leave, or that I should just keep my mouth shut.  I'd like to think the conversation is important, even if I'm just having it with myself right now.

**I am fully aware that even if I were in the US right now and went to my bishop about these things, that there is absolutely nothing he could do about them.

17 June 2014

Most of the Posts from the Last Few Weeks

Racism.  Sorry, but it's present everywhere, even if it's not talked about in many places (like Guadalajara).

Something I really don't like about being the type of expat I am now.  Most of the expats I hang out with are middle class people.  They'd have normal homes in the US, send their kids to public school, and drive normal cars.  But the idea for a lot of expats seems to be to reproduce middle class life in their home country, not middle class life in the country they're living in.

So to get a decent, middle-class American public education in Mexico, you have to send your child to the most expensive private schools.  To have a neighborhood like you'd expect as a middle class American, you live in a gated community with extremely wealthy neighbors (much wealthier than you are).  You and your children are surrounded by the wealthiest people in the country you're living in and that, my friends, is not a middle class existence, nor what I want to teach my children is normal.

Rape.  It's stupid for me to walk down the street of a large city with an iPhone in my hand because it might get stolen.  But even if I choose to do that, it doesn't mean that the thief couldn't help stealing my phone, that I was asking for it to be stolen, that I don't deserve help because I was foolish, or that I bear some of the responsibility for the theft and the thief bears less.  The same thing goes for rape.  Victims of rape might have been doing something foolish, but no one asks for a crime to be committed against them.

Arabic.  I was going to post about Frozen being dubbed into Modern Standard Arabic, but never got the post finished.  If we get to go to an Arabic-speaking country next, you'll hear a lot more about Arabic, but I'll just say that while I do think it's not unreasonable to have some children's literature and media at a fairly high level, it's very important to do everything possible to help children love to read.  Making it accessible is a huge part of that, and MSA is not accessible.  Also, media can be dubbed into different Arabic dialects if you can produce different Spanish and Portuguese versions.

Rajas and crema.  I'm not really a fusion cooker, but I did put them on pasta and it was amazing.  If I'm going to mix cuisines, it'll be with different dishes on the table (like a mango salad with bulgur pilaf- I'd never look for a way to combine mango and bulgur in the same dish).  Also, I'm loving the crema in general.  So flexible.

Flooding.  Our basement keeps flooding and I don't think anyone will do anything about it.  At least our huge house has plenty of storage space so the basement doesn't need to hold anything.  I can't even figure out where all the water is coming from because the rain doesn't fall within 10 feet of the stairs to the basement. But I still LOVE that the rainy season is here.

Where we're going next.  We still won't know for a few weeks, but I did find a European country I would be willing to move to with a language I would be willing to tackle.  The Middle East would still be delightful though. Other family members are hoping for one place in east Asia, but I just can't face the idea of learning Mandarin.

I still have one more big thing to write about, so hopefully I'll get to that soon.

16 June 2014

Chocolate Pudding Cake, Chocolate Cobbler, Self-Saucing Chocolate Pudding...

I've been making this for years, but it's way, way, way too sweet.  All the recipes online had as much sugar, or they were different enough that they didn't work for me (like calling for good chocolate, and all I have is cocoa).  Usually I'd just cut down on the sugar, but this recipe is so weird that I never quite dared.

So last night I finally got brave and only put in half as much sugar (and made ice cream too in case the cake was a mess).  It worked perfectly and I didn't  use brown sugar which I can't get here very easily.

So here's the new recipe:

Preheat the oven to 175/350.  In a 9x9 baking dish, combine:
1 cup flour
1/4 cup cocoa
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

Then add:
1/2 cup milk
2 T oil

Smooth that out, then combine 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 cup cocoa and sprinkle it over the top.  Pour 1 1/4 cups water (hot, cold, or straight out of the tap is fine) over the whole thing and bake for 30-45 minutes.

14 June 2014

Mastering the Art of French Eating

When I checked this book out of the library, I didn't realize it was by the same author as Kitchen Chinese which I read recently.  I liked this one better than I liked that one even though the first was set in China and this was non-fiction in France (I'm always griping about France travel books here).

There were some annoying parts here.  I'm deciding that travel books by women are a lot more likely to blather about relationship stuff than those by men.  This is unfortunate.  Given the title of this one and the fact that the author is happily married, you'd think it would skip the relationship stuff, but no.  Shortly after she and her husband move to France, he volunteers to work for a year in Iraq and she, obviously, misses him.  I'm glad she did; it would be awful to ship your husband off and realize you don't care that he's gone.  But when I get a book about French food, I don't really want to keep hearing about how your husband completes your life and how you're barely functioning without him .  It also was ever so slightly irritating to read about her pitiful state when most people whose spouses head off for Iraq are left on a tight budget in the US and taking care of several children.  She was living rent-free in Paris with no children and able to Skype with her husband every single night and see him several times during the year.  You never know what's going to knock you flat, but I'd rather read about people getting knocked flat in circumstances that really are flattening.  I'm probably terribly insensitive though.

Anyway.  Let's get to the food part.  It was fun to read about the regional food of France and that's what made this book really worth recommending.  Get it for that.

10 June 2014

Local Cocoa

So it turns out that the local cocoa works great.  I had been buying imported Hershey's cocoa for $8 a pound (at the very cheapest) because that's all I'd really found. Sometimes you end up buying something more expensive just because you know what it is.

But when we went to Abastos a couple of weeks ago asking for cocoa, we found some that was 75 cents a pound.  We got a kilo, hoping it would be good and then we'd have a good stock, but it was cheap enough that it wasn't the end of the world if it was awful.

And it really is good.  I've mostly made brownies with it which seems like a good test since the cocoa is so important in them.  Another small victory. :)