Archive for the 'Cultural Musings' Category

Laundry in Mexico

Doing the laundry has been a bit different since we have been traveling in Mexico. And since we are still using cloth diapers we end up with tons of laundry and I basically have to wash every two days.


One of the things I like the most about doing laundry here is that you get to hang it up on the roof to dry! I really enjoy going on the roof, and since it’s sunny and warm in the afternoons, everything dries really quickly. It is a HUGE difference from Germany, where it’s usually cold and rainy, and where even indoors it takes days for laundry to dry.

I like hanging out the laundry so much that I’m even willing to brave the stairs of death to get up to the roof to do it.

The laundry basket doesn’t really fit while you’re walking up the stairs, making it even more difficult. But hey, I admit that that’s part of what I like about it.

We have a washing machine, but we also have something else which makes my life a million times easier:

This is not just your ordinary wash basin, as you might think. It is tilted at a slight angle so that water runs down over the ridges, similar to the old fashioned washboards people used before washing machines. You are supposed to rub the clothes over the ridges, and since some of the water stays in the ridges, it makes washing by hand super easy. I use this every day to get out the dirt stains on Olivia’s pants, since she loves to crawl all day and by the end of the day the knees of her pants are almost black. It’s also great for diaper stains, which are a huge pain in the butt even if they are pretty rare for us (since we practice EC). This simple washbasin may not seem like much, but believe me it is a million times better than the bathroom sink, which is what I have to use at home. Every Mexican home has one, even if they have a washing machine.

A few days ago it actually rained (during the dry season, heaven forbid!) and we ran around grabbing all the laundry down from the roof so it wouldn’t get wet. Since the volcanic ash always “drops” more after a rain, it would have not only gotten wet but also covered in a fine layer of black dust, which would have meant washing it again. Obviously, we’d rather not have to do that, so we took it all in the house.

The only problem is, since this is Mexico, there is no where to hang laundry inside the house. (They normally don’t have to worry about the rain.). So instead we took the laundry to a laundromat to be dried. They charged 9 pesos per Kilo, (so about 2 Euros for the whole load) and when we picked it up, it wasn’t just dried, but FOLDED as well! It’s crazy what you can get for your money here.

Nevertheless, I will stick to hanging my laundry on the roof just because it’s more fun.


We have been “traveling” for more than a month already, and yet I am sad to say that we have hardly done anything touristy at all! Mostly we have been visiting family and taking care of various “work” that has to be done every time we visit our home countries. (Renewing driver’s licenses, paperwork, etc). I have to admit that I have been getting pretty bored being at the house with Olivia all day and hardly going out. But finally last week we got the chance to take an afternoon off and we went to the neighboring city of Atlixco.


Atlixco Zocalo

Atlixco is on the other side of some mountains and has a nicer climate than Puebla, so it is famous for it’s farms and plants. Most of the flowers sold in Puebla are grown in Atlixco. It also has a beautiful Zocalo (town square) filled with palm trees and small vendors selling balloons and plants. But we wanted to get a little more exercise and see some nice views, so we decided to climb the mountain to the chapel of San Miguel.

There were no signs, so we asked several people for the best route to get to the top, since there were a lot of stairs going through winding neighborhoods. As always, everyone had a different opinion. This way will be longer but has better views, that way is easier to climb but “uglier”, the other way is difficult to climb (aka steps falling apart and lots of holes) but is shorter. We asked one person weather there were bathrooms at the top, and he said yes, but they are probably bad, so he actually offered to let me use the bathroom in his house! “Just close your eyes” he said. (Since he had dirty laundry everywhere) Even after marrying a Mexican and spending tons of time in Mexico, the hospitality of this country continues to amaze me.


Outside of the Ex-Convent


Inside the Ex-Convent

Halfway up the mountain there is an ex-convent, which we took the time to explore. Even though it is falling apart it has a certain mystical beauty about it, at least on the outside. The inside was beautiful too, but it had a lot of very graphic and gruesome statues and relics. The first thing to greet you when you walk in is this statue of Jesus carrying the cross.

. There was also a life size statue of a saint lying in a coffin complete with very realistic looking hair. But if you can get past those things without feeling sick, the church is really very beautiful, especially the ceiling.

20130120-131641.jpgFrom here we continued up the winding pathways until we reached what appears to be government owned land, complete with signs telling us about the native plants on animals. The views from the mountain side are fantastic, and from here you can really see the volcano Popocatépetl. We made a pit stop near the top of the mountain to give Olivia some food (potato-vegitable patties and cereal). 20130120-131518.jpg


The Volcano Popocatepatel

The chapel at the top is very cute and well kept.


I also really liked the tree full of prayer flags.

We decided to take a different route down the mountain, which we thought would be shorter. Everything went fine until we turned a corner and were suddenly met with this “staircase” of crumbling rocks and 50% incline:

20130120-132247.jpgBeing the adventurous people we are, we decided to pick our way down in, baby and all! On the way down we also had a nice view of the city as the sun was beginning to set.


We had a great dinner at a restaurant in town – I had a Pueblan specialty called Pollo Huitlacoche which is chicken breast filled with the fungus which grows on ears of corn. It sounds strange but was soooo good, I highly recommend it. Even Olivia ate some!

Three Kings Day

In Mexico, Three Kings Day (January 5th) is the day when kids get presents, rather than Christmas. We spent Three Kings Day in Puebla, with Oscar’s brother and his family. For Oscar, this was something extra special since it reminded him of his childhood, and seeing the joy on his niece and nephew’s faces on the morning of the 6th was something he was really looking forward to. For me, this was somthing totally new, since even though I had heard of Three Kings Day, I had never experienced it and really didn’t know any of the traditions that go along with it. So it was very interesting for me!

20130109-192056.jpg On the night of the 5th, each of the kids wrote a letter to the three kings (telling them that they had been good and which presents they wanted). Then we tied the letters to balloons and sent them off in the sky. Olivia’s letter was pretty difficult to read, but I guess the three kings must have understood, since along with a few other gifts, they also brought her three bendy straws!

Getting ready to let the balloons go.jpg

Us getting ready to let the balloons go (I am taking the picture)


Olivia”s cousin letting his balloon go from on top of a jungle gym

Afterwards, we each put out a shoe in the living room, and went to bed. The next morning the shoes had been moved up on top of the couch, and by each shoe was a small pile of gifts. Appearantly the three kings don’t like wrapping paper, but that’s ok since it cuts down on the waiting time!

Shoes left out on the sofa.jpg

Aside from her bendy straws, Olivia also recieved a shape sorter, some clothes and two books of Mexican stories complete with original Mexican art. I am especially excited about those books, since I have had a really difficult time finding any children’s books in Spanish which aren’t just translated versions of American books.

Olivia also enjoyed playing X-box which her cousin Emiliano received! I was pretty impressed that Emiliano not only tolerated her grabbing the controller, but actually even has been trying to incorporate her into his play. They have been playing X-box together peacefully for several days now without any problems even when the race-car gets run off the road by Olivia.

Olivia playing X-box with her coursins.jpg

Later in the day Olivia’s Abuelita (grandmother) came over and we had a “Rosca de Reyes” together, which is a special sweet bread made specifically for Three King’s Day.


Rosca de Reyes (Wreath of the Kings)

Hidden inside the bread are 4 or 5 small plastic dolls, and if you get one in your piece, you are responsible for making Tamales for breakfast for everyone else on another day. Since we have quite a but of family and friends around here, we have already been part of three different “Roscas”, but so far I haven’t gotten a single doll, which is probably a good thing since I have no idea how to make Tamales…

Chicken, Apples and Leeks – the German Pizza Experience

Today I had planned to make my usual rounds to our neighborhood butcher, baker, and produce stand while taking a walk with Olivia. Our morning started out just fine, and we got lots of stuff done.  We got back at around 2pm, giving us plenty of time.

Or so I thought.

After nursing Olivia I couldn’t get her to burp. And from there things descended into belly pains, and after some time she was all out screaming. I couldn’t hold her in any position except for tummy down on my arm (the classic “colic carry”). This went on for two full hours.  Strike all plans for dinner… There was just no chance.  So I decided to order pizza.

Now, I’ve been living in Germany for six years, and the weirdness of their pizzas is nothing new to me. I’ve seen everything from cauliflower to potatoes on Pizzas, and no one even thinks it’s strange. In Paderborn, where we used to live, eggs sunny-side-up was very popular on pizzas. (It’s actually really good, and I ordered that a lot). But today I ordered a pizza that is strange even by German standards. It was called “Pizza Take That” from  “Hallo Pizza Karlsruhe“, and had curry chicken, leeks, bacon chunks, Parmesan cheese, apple slices and almonds! And to top it all off, the cheese was Gouda, not some cheapo “pizza cheese”.  It was one of the best delivery pizzas I have ever eaten.

Pizza "Taste That"

Pizza “Taste That”

But there is something I’ve stumbled upon since moving to Karlsruhe that is even stranger yet.  At first I thought it was just the restaurant in my nieghborhood, Bombay Palace / Pizza Weiherhof which is an Indian restaurant and Italian Pizza place in one. (they have two names, but only one building, one telephone number, and their menu has the Indian food on one side, and pizzas on the other.)  And then I noticed that they ALSO sell Mexican food ( it runs under the pizza side of the business).  Well, OK.  maybe it’s a good business model for them, and I suppose that Naan bread could probably make a good pizza bread too.  But then we started getting ads for more delivery places in the mail:

Wok Man Menu

Wok Man Chinese and Italian Delivery Service. Say what?

Pizza Point Menu

Pizza-Point – at first glance it seems like they just sell pizzas. So far so good.

Pizza Point Inside the Menu

But wait… what’s this I find on the inside of the Pizza Point menu…? American style burgers and “fingerfood”? Chicken Wings? Chicken Strips? Huh?

Pizza Turbo Menu

But the best is yet to come… Pizza Turbo… looks innocent enough…

Pizza Turbo Menu Inside

But inside the Pizza Turbo menu… after all the pizza… “Gyros”, “Indian Specialties”, “Mexican Specialties”. That’s four different countries! My eyes are hurting.

By the time my Pizza comes, Olivia is feeling a bit better; enough to sit on my lap, but not enough to be put down. So I hold her with one arm, and try eating with the other. But it is sooo hard to cut pizza with only one hand. After about three bites I realize what an idiot I am. Why the heck am I using a fork and knife?! I’m American! We eat pizzas with our hands! (like, duh!) Astounded at how quickly I’ve begun to lose my heritage, I quickly pick up the pizza and stuff my face with it.  Ahhh… Now that’s better.

Cottonwood Season

The weather here in Karlsruhe is fantastic. No, it’s BETTER than fantastic. Summer started weeks ago, at the beginning of May. We have already had plenty of days around 27-30°C (That’s the high 80’s to low 90’s in Fahrenheit) It was even sunny in the WINTER. Everytime I look back at the weather in Paderborn, where we used to live, I laugh a little.

Oscar throwing his hands in the air in front of the Karlsruhe Palace with a huge blue sky in the background

Oscar enjoying the weather in Karlsruhe

It isn’t really Schadenfreude since I do feel bad for the people left behind there. They don’t know what they are missing. But then again, so many Paderborners claim to actually *like* the weather there, so I guess it’s ok.

You have to understand that Paderborn is in a rain black hole. It literally sucks the rain out of all the surrounding regions and doesn’t let it leave Paderborn. It’s not the kind of rain I was used to from Michigan, either, where there is a big storm for an hour or two, and then the sun comes back. Or when the clouds are out that there are some variations in the clouds allowing the sun to peak through. No, in Paderborn the sky is an endless sea of grey, and the rain is just a light drizzle which goes on for days and days. (Who am I kidding? it is more like *months*.)

Balcony full of rain

the view from my old apartment in Paderborn

It is grey all the time, to the extent that in the winter time you don’t even know weather the sun is rising or setting. Add that to the extra short days in a German winter and you have one big recipe for dreariness. Even in the summer it doesn’t always get that much better. Last summer (2011) we had like 1 week of really nice hot weather, but the rest of the time it was too cold to even go swimming. And it rained a lot then, too. We all kept wondering when spring would end and summer would arrive. But then we looked at a calander and it was already the end of August. ?!what!!??

You wouldn’t think that the weather in Michigan would be anything so special that one would miss it. But compared to Paderborn, Michigan weather is like a shining rainbow. In the summer it’s hot, broken up by some very violent thunderstorms which then pass and give way to glorious sunshine. In the winter it’s bitter cold but the sun still comes out often, glittering on the ice and snow like crystals. In the fall the trees all turn colors and the air is nice and crisp. In Paderborn all the seasons just kind of ran together and most of the trees just turned a dull brown.

And of course, Oscar, who is from Mexico, obviously really missed the sun – I probably don’t even have to go into details for you to believe me.

But we moved to Karlsruhe in January (one month before Olivia was born) and it really is bliss. Karlsruhe is right on the edge of the Black Forest, and is the sunniest and warmest region in Germany. People even plant *palm trees* in their yards!! (Albeit they have to heavily protect them in the winter since they do get snow.)

All this is simply to say, that we are very happy here. And of course, to finally come to the point of my post, which is that I am keeping all the windows and doors wide open to enjoy the nice weather right now, which means that all of the cottonwood seeds are blowing in all over the place. They are all over the floor and I even found them in the toaster. So it’s a little bit annoying, but still definitely worth it. I would take the cottonwood seeds over a constant drizzly rain any day.

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