New kids on the Block

Our last chiva (goat) finally gave birth this week and it is with pride that I announce our new kids’ arrivals. We have all sorts of genetic diversity this year. Jason Boer is the daddy to all, but the mommies are rather distinct, giving us a good mix. As a result, we have kids with little bitty ears, some with long ears and others with long, floppy ears. We have kids with campanitas (skin tags under the chin that look like bells) and kids without. We have white, brown, black and a variety of color combinations of the three. We have twins and singletons.


Los bandidos short ears, Carl and Mel.

In all, 14 kids were born during a month-long birthing extravaganza. The first chiva, Caramela, had twins. She was nearly a week ahead of the other goats because Joey had knocked her over when he was misbehaving and the fall brought on an early labor. Both male kids, Carl and Mel, were fine, just a little small. We call them los bandidos (the bandits) collectively since we can’t tell the two apart.





Jason Boer

Shortie had a huge male kid that is the spitting image of dear old dad, only with more brown. We’ve named him Junior. Moya (Blackie) had a huge female kid that is just like Jason Boer but in black and white, like a cow. We’ve named her Bessie.


Front to back–Bessie, Junior, Clyde, No name royalty, Spot

Queenie presented us with twins, a boy with campanitas and a girl without. No surprise there. Queenie is pretty predictable with her twin births. The boy seems to have something wrong with his front leg. It appears to be slightly longer than the other one, so he walks and jumps and runs with a limp. It hasn’t had much effect on his mobility though and certainly not his sunny disposition. We have yet to come up with fitting royal names for these two. We’ve already used Duke/Duchess, Lord/Lady, Prince/Princess, King/Queen combinations. Any suggestions?



Princess had some difficulty. This is her second baby, so we thought she would have less problems however, her baby boy’s head was too large to exit the birth canal unassisted. He’s got a striped tail like a raccoon, so he’s called Coon. He really is monstrous in size.

Princess’s daughter, Princesita surprised us by being pregnant as well. Well, like mother like daughter I suppose. Princess had Princesita when she was less than a year old, so Princesita started in early too. Her little guy, Whitey, is on the small side and tires easily, but otherwise healthy. Junior has taken the role of trainer upon himself and hustles Whitey around the corral to build up his strength and endurance.







La hija de Queenie (Queenie’s Daughter, she never did get a proper name) had a fluffy little girl Bunny. Brownie cloned herself and birthed Brownie 2. She’s become best buddies with Bunny.


Venada had twins, a boy and a girl. The boy has campanitas and girl doesn’t. These are the second set of los bandidos, Bonnie and Clyde. They are darker brown with floppy ears and like to play Olé with Bunny’s mom. She doesn’t want her daughter playing with the roughnecks and chases them away. Los bandidos think it’s great fun!

Nanny goat was the last to have her babies. She also had twins, a boy and a girl, Spot and Mancha. Mancha was positioned foot first, so delivery was assisted. Good thing my husband was home to lend a hand. They are bigger than all the other kids, but seem a little slow on the uptake, being so much younger.

Right now, when the parents are taken to pasture, the babies stay in the corral. It gives the moms a well-deserved break and allows them to eat without trying to keep track of offspring. The kids love “recess” time and play tag, hide and seek, butt heads, Ring around the Rosie and even tap-dance on an old chest lid. Of course, they all start to holler when the milk trucks come home.

With so many new residents, my husband had to make a new feeding trough. The new trough has become quite the place for our new kids to show their WWF Wrestling skills!

We did get way more machos (boys) than hembras (girls) in this batch. All 5 girls will be kept without question. The 9 boys will be traded or sold as they get bigger. My husband wants to hang on to Junior, Coon, and Spot–but I don’t see how that will be possible. One macho per herd is plenty. Guess we’ll just see what happens.

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Playing Tourist–Patzcuaro, Michoacan


Ex-monastery of San Agustin in Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, Mexico

Patzcuaro, Michoacan is yet another Pueblo Mágico within easy driving distance from La Yacata, so there was nothing to be done but go. It’s original name was Tzacapu-Hamúcutin-Pásquaro which roughly translates as Donde están las piedras (los dioses) a la entrada de donde se hace la negrura (where the stones of the gods are at the entrance to where they make the blackness) which sounds ominous. A better English translation would be ‘The entrance to the gates/entrance of Paradise’ or some such idea. The indigenous of the area held the belief that lakes were entrances to the otherworld so it comes as no surprise that there is a lake just outside of Patzcuaro proper.The Purépechas founded the town sometime before 1300 mostly as a religious center. The Spanish arrived in 1522 and the town remained a


Fountain in the center of Patzcuaro, Michoacan in honor of Bishop Vasco de Quiroga.

The Purépechas founded the town sometime before 1300 mostly as a religious center. The Spanish arrived in 1522 and the town remained a religious center with a very small population until about 1539 when the bishop Vasco de Quiroga dedicated himself to the repopulation and revitalization of the area. He was well received by the native people, even earning the nickname Tata Vasco.

In 1776, the indigenous of the area staged a revolution which was put down in 1777. In 1886, the railroad Morelia-Pátzcuaro was finished and in 1899, Patzcuaro had its first electric lights. That amazes me since La Yacata is still waiting for electricity in 2016!


Since then, it has been a popular tourist area, known for its pottery and basketry. It really is a beautiful little town, done up in the red and white style, with cobblestone streets, much like Cuitzeo.

Our underlying reason for visiting Patzcuaro was my quest for a foot-pedaled sewing machine. Someone told me that these could be found there. So there we went. The road was clearly marked, unlike our trip to the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary and we were able to take the libre (free) road the entire way.

There happened to be a tianguis (flea market) in the centro (downtown), but there wasn’t much of interest for us. Most vendors were hawking new toys and boxes of cookies for Los Santos Reyes. We did enjoy some gorditas de nata and fresas con crema (strawberries with whip cream).

Around la plaza, we noticed that there were a number of American-styled coffee houses instead of the more typical taco stands. It really smelled heavenly, but was pricey, so we opted not to buy any. In line with the town’s tourist popularity, there were quite a number of gringos (white English speaking people) enjoying their cups of joe, playing chess or reading. The stores were chocked full of delightful artesenia (arts and crafts) but at prices that were not accessible to the average Mexican or to us, for that matter.

cam04112.jpgWandering around town, we came across the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Salud, built on a Purépecha/Tarasco pyramid platform. Notice the sign by the fence warns against tieing up your horses or leaning against it. I didn’t see much in the way of horses for that to be a current problem. There, outside the Basilica, vendors were selling prayer cards, rosaries, statues and peyote/marijuana cream for arthritis. Nuestra Señora de la Salud seems to be the same virgin found in Soledad, so I expect pilgrimages are made here as well to petition her curative powers. Tata Vasco’s remains are also housed within the Basilica.

We finally found the Singer Sewing store and they had a foot-pedaled machine on display. However, the elderly owner would not sell it to me because she said it was a piece of crap, China made rather than hecho in Mexico (made in Mexico). My son pointed out that was just as well since if we did buy the machine, how would we get it in Myrtle (the VW bug) and back home? Good point.


We stopped at a yonke (junk yard) and picked up some pieces for the revitalization of Myrtle and had a late lunch at Las Jacaranas just outside of Cuitzeo. A nice day trip if rather uneventful.

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Filed under Mexican Cultural Stories, Religion, Tourist Sites in Mexico

The History of Moroleon for Kids ebook

Today is the last day to download FREE The History of Moroleon for Kids by yours truly and the fabulous illustrator Claudia Guzes!

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How much do you really know about Moroleon?

***Why is there a celebration every January 15 in Moroleon?

***Did Moroleon support or resist the Cristeros?

***Which indigenous groups peopled the area?

***When did the first European settlers arrive?

***Why is the main Catholic church called El Templo del Señor de Esquipulitas?

***How did Moroleon get its name?

***Who attacked Moroleon in the early 1900s?

***Why are businesses closed on Thursday afternoons?

Find out the answers to these and more about the history of Moroleon in this book artfully designed with children in mind.

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Filed under Mexican Cultural Stories, Published books available, Tourist Sites in Mexico

Las Fiestas en Enero–Jaripeo

feria 2016.jpg

January has come around again and it’s time for the annual festival in Moroleon. Although the events seldom vary, our own experience with the festival has.

This year, our now 13-year old young man begged and pleaded to go to the fair with his friends rather than with us. Our schedule remains complicated so he had to wear his school uniform, rather than ‘cool’ clothes, but he said he had fun. The first week was 2 x 1 admission which included endless rides and the circus, now with no wild animals performances. They did add the log flume to the ride repertoire, although getting drenched in frigid January temperatures isn’t ideal.

william at the fair

At the fair

I’ve decided that I’m too old for amusement park rides–my equilibrium isn’t what it used to be. My husband has an extremely weak stomach and never was a big fan of rides. So he and I decided we’d enjoy the festivities by going to a jaripeo (rodeo) instead.

When we found out that the jaripeo would be in the Lienzo Charro Nuevo, which was specifically dedicated to el Sr. de Escapulitas, and had free admission–there was nothing more to do but march our little fannies across the road from La Yacata and attend.

Our son decided that he wasn’t interested in attending, so just my husband and I set out.

Even though the rodeo was less than a five-minute walk from our house, my husband insisted we take the truck. Apparently, walking to such events is just not done. Sure enough, we saw several of our neighbors with their trucks there.

My husband clarified that this was not a jaripeo, even though that’s how it was announced, but a charreada–a skills presentation rather than real rodeo, but I didn’t care. The nearest I can figure is a true jaripeo is fairly dangerous to bull, horse, rider and audience and may result in death of any of the aforementioned participants. Whereas a charreada seldom results in death, although injuries, sometimes severe, do occur.

The charreada became popular when there were haciendas in Mexico, adapted from traditions brought from Spain in the 16th century. Originally, the charreada was a competition between the families of neighboring haciendas. The charreada is made up of 9 events for men and one event for women, all involving horses and cattle.

I had some mixed feelings watching the charreada. I enjoyed watching the horsemanship and rope tricks, however, I felt bad for the undernourished yeguas (mares) that were roped and tripped and harassed. Most seemed to be about the same age as our Joey, but so thin and small, with large patches of hair missing from their hindquarters. I asked my husband what happens if one of the horses is injured in the fall. Sadly, they are fed to the lions. Yes, Moroleon has lions at the local zoo. Unmanageable, sick, unwanted, injured horses and donkeys are bought and served up fresh to the small lion pack at Los Areas Verdes.

Partying in honor of Las Fiestas de Enero continued on until the wee hours of the morning on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. We opted to steer clear of that again this year. It’s cold, noisy, smelly and just not a whole lot of fun for us old fogies. The fair is here 2 full weeks and events such as the jaripeos are randomly interspersed in between. The “trastes”(dishes) stand also comes to town but no longer sets up with the circus. It rents an open area near Soriana for their tents now, probably cheaper. Dishes, glasses, pots, pans, cooking utensils, dish towels and the like can be found there. They aren’t less expensive than the regular stores, but there is more of a selection.

I have a special treat for those of you from Moroleon. My friend Claudia and I worked up a little book for children that highlights some of the more interesting historical tidbits about Moroleon.

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This week, you can download it free!

If you miss the deadline for the free book, you can still get it here: The History of Moroleon for Kids (Kindle)

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Have a Christmas or New Year in Mexico themed blog post?

Link it up here! An InLinkz Link-up

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Filed under Carnival posts, Cultural Challenges, El Alma de México, Mexican Holidays

Driving Hazards–Vehicles without brakes

red line on road

On our way home from visiting the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in Michoacan, we were intrigued to see a painted red line in the middle of the toll road. Just a little bit down the road, there was a sign that instructed vehicles without brakes to follow said red line. It went on quite a ways before crossing the lanes to the right into a truck stop ramp.


About the time we reached the rampa de frenado (truck stop ramp), we hit major traffic and began moving along at a crawl. Thus, we were able to watch a riveting drama unfold. A small pick-up truck appeared from apparently nowhere at the top of the truck stop ramp. It approached oncoming traffic in the wrong the direction. The driver decided to turn around and turned onto the ramp, which seemed to be made of asphalt. Much to our surprise, and most assuredly the surprise of the driver, the truck sank up to the wheel wells into the “asphalt.” When the driver climbed out to see what was going on, he sunk up to his knees. The “asphalt” was really black sand set up so smoothly that it looked to be a solid surface. The driver got back in his vehicle and attempted to back up. That wasn’t happening. By that time, 3 of his tires were stuck and the fourth looked as if it would pull off the axle at any moment. He tried going forward and no sir, nothing doing. His wife began gesturing furiously. We could just imagine what she was saying about the current predicament. Well, I have to say that the truck stop ramp worked quite well. It stopped that truck dead in its tracks. As traffic advanced, we slowly crept passed, leaving the truck hopelessly mired in the pit of despair.

sand pitRampa de frenado after being used.  Notice how deep the sand is!

Just a little way further down the road, we noticed the red line continued. This time, the line curved to the left. I suppose that the second ramp would be in case the vehicle without brakes was unable to enter the first truck ramp on the right. There, on the left, instead of a ramp, we saw a gravel lane at least 1/2 mile long with large gravel speed bumps. In case the speed bumps weren’t enough, there were at least 20 barricas (barrels) full of water (or maybe stones) to slow the vehicle down before a stone wall right loomed up which was in front of a 20-foot steep drop-off. That ought to do the trick.

I think the traffic sign indicated it was a franja, which literally translates as fringe, but if anyone out there has the correct name, I’d be interested in learning it!

toll lane

As we inched along toward the toll booths we saw the red line reappear. If the vehicle without brakes was still running wild, the center lane had been set aside for its passage, right through the toll booths. In order to keep the center lane traffic free, a brave, brave man stood there with a red cloth, waving the cars and trucks to the side.

All these precautions seemed to be adequate in case of brake failure except for the fact that the toll booths backed up traffic to some point BEFORE the first truck stop ramp, pretty much making it inaccessible. Only in Mexico would toll booths be built at the bottom of a steep hill that required two emergency stops. Maybe the toll road isn’t such a feasible option after all.

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Playing Tourist–Monarch Butterfly Sanctuay


One Sunday morning during the long Christmas vacation, we up and decided that today was the day we would go see the mariposas (butterflies). We had high hopes of seeing active butterflies since the numbers were reportedly up this year (2015) as compared to previous years.

Why the low numbers?

Well….Illegal logging of the oyamel tree has caused over-wintering habitat loss. Pesticide use and the excessive planting of corn and soybean GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in the United States have threatened the milkweed plant, a prime source of food for the migrating monarchs. Even global climate changes have impacted the life-cycle of the monarch. In 2002, a severe winter storm killed millions of monarchs. The total area occupied by monarchs in their over wintering habitats in Mexico dropped to an all-time low in 2012-2013.

I had heard that the hike was not an easy one, so in addition to the “better go and see the butterflies before there aren’t any to be seen” reason, I figured it would be better to make the hike while I was still youngest and ablish–and not wait until I had trouble getting around. As you will see, that ended up being a pretty good idea.

Adult monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) found east of the Rocky Mountains migrate to the central, volcanic region of Mexico, specifically in the area bordering the states of Michoacan and Mexico. And that’s where we aimed to go to see them.

There are only two sanctuaries open to the public in Michoacan, El Rosario and Sierra Chincua. We set out with El Rosario as our destination. Outside of Morelia, we got on the toll road, (133 pesos) but inadvertently headed in the wrong direction. After an anxious 10 minutes, we were able to get turned around.

The directions and maps I had printed out seemed pretty straight forward. However, Mexico road sign makers had other ideas. We were to take the Michoacan highway #765 outside of Maravatio. There was a big road once we exited the town, however not one of the road signs had a number on it for verification purposes. We ended up asking and asking which way to the butterflies? Of course, everybody had a different answer to that, but we were able to head in the right general direction.


At the end of the road Michoacan highway #34, we came across an official-looking dude and a big sign that said THIS WAY TO THE BUTTERFLIES. We stopped to talk to the chaleco (vest) wearing man and he gave us directions to El Rosario and a map. I’m sure the Michoacan state tourism board gives these maps out for free but well, he had one and we didn’t so we donated 10 pesos para el refresco (for a soda).

We continued along, asking questions in the little towns we entered. Again, everybody had a different answer. One said to turn right at the high school. A right turn there took us to the parking lot. Then another said turn right at the Telecable–again, there was no right turn available. Up ahead, we saw a big old tour bus, like from the 70s. A tour bus must be heading towards the butterfly sanctuary, so we hitched our wagon to the bus and headed up the mountain.

It was an incredibly steep drive, but spectacular! Good old Myrtle (our Volkswagon bug) did her best and soon we were driving through Angangueo, another one of Michoacan’s Pueblo Magicos. The tour bus did take us to the butterfly sanctuary, but not to El Rosario. We ended up in Sierra Chincua. Well, butterflies were butterflies and since we were here, might as well go to this reserve.

We pulled in and paid for parking (30 pesos), then drove another 2 km or so to the lot. We headed to the ticket booth and bought tickets (45 pesos each). In line, I overheard some Mexicans trying to negotiate the price with the ticket seller. Was there a student discount? Was there a discount for the tercer edad (senior citizen)? Nope.


The price of the ticket included a guide. As we were a piddly group of 3, we were assigned Fernando, who looked to be about 10 years old. Well, that was fine. It took us longer than we had figured and we were ready for lunch, though. Fernando took us to the next to last Cocina Economica (Economy kitchen) where his sister worked. We invited Fernando to eat with us as well. We had blue corn tortillas quesadillas con champiñones (mushrooms) and atole de zarzamora (a blackberry flavored corn based hot beverage). It was delicious!


We also were right under the Tirolesa cable (zip cable) and enjoyed the screams of several high-flying riders as we ate.


Then we were off. This particular reserve offers a horse ferry for part of the hike. We opted to not ride the sturdy fellows and walk. Twice, before we arrived at the base of the hill, I was offered a ride up at a discounted price. Apparently, I looked like I might need it. But I declined. Well, it was a hike and a half. I’m sure about half way up, my face was tomato red. One of the horse leader guys, at least 20 years my senior, called out “Anima Jefa” (You can do it lady) as he passed at a high-speed sprint up the hill. Well, if there’s one thing I am, that’s determined (or pig-headed) and I made it up the hill. But for future reference, it isn’t a hike for senior citizens or for children under the age of 6.


At the top, there was a scenic view, which was quite scenic, before the actual trail. Horses are not allowed on this section of the trail, so it’s on foot or not at all. The trail was about 8 inches wide and was both the coming and going trail, which meant frequent stops to allow other hikers to pass. It was not nearly as steep as the first section, but it was muddy, especially the closer we got to the actual nesting site. Both my son and I slid part way down the mountain while gawking at the trees. Wear hiking boots.


Here’s another future reference tip. The butterflies are most active between 9 and 10 am. After that, the temperature drops (it is definitely winter jacket weather) and the butterflies settle down for the day in a sort of suspended animation. It’s still amazing!  However, the butterfly’s underwing is white, not orange and black, so it’s not what you might be expecting. Several of the hikers were quite disappointed. Not me, by golly! The reserves in Michoacan are one of the 13 Natural Wonders of Mexico and I got to see it.


We headed back–the hike in took about 30 minutes, then another 30 minutes to get back to the scenic overlook. The steep hill trail was much easier going down than up. We gave our tour guide Fernando 20 pesos as a tip and went to the souvenir shops. There were lovely hand knit sweaters, hats, mittens and ponchos for sale. Quite handy if you happened to not have dressed appropriately. There were also some commercially produced monarch memorabilia. Unfortunately, every store had the same merchandise for sale, so that was disappointing. The bathrooms had stone floors and although you had to bring in your own bucket of water to flush with, they were nice and clean. Toilet paper is 3 pesos like most other public restrooms.


And that was that. Our adventures for the day were not over yet, however.

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Christmas in Mexico–Villancicos

singing to baby jesus.jpg

Villancicos are religious songs now primarily sung and performed during the Christmas season in Mexico. Quite a number of the villancicos performed nowadays are just Spanish translated versions of English Christmas carols. However, there are some quite unique songs. Many of these songs came from Spain and were brought to Mexico during the conquest.

One of the songs that I was delighted to hear this past Christmas was  Los peces en el río en el río–literally The Fish in the River. The students at the school I work at did a delightful performance this past Christmas Event. Actually, they performed the song twice since there was no communication between the program coordinator and the music teacher prior to the evening’s performance. That does seem to happen a lot where I work. Anyway, in the song, the Virgin Mary calmly goes about her pre-birth preparations while fish jump in jubilation in the nearby river in anticipation of the event. She brushes out her hair, she washes the diapers and washes herself.

The English translations are my own, so it probably won’t match anything you might search out on Wiki. The translated versions I came across didn’t really make any sense.

Los peces en el río

La Virgen se está peinando
entre cortina y cortina.
Los cabellos son de oro
y el peine de plata fina.

The Virgin is combing her hair
you can see her between the curtains.
Her hair is golden
and the comb the finest silver.

Pero mira cómo beben
los peces en el río.
Pero mira cómo beben
por ver a Dios nacido.
Beben y beben
y vuelven a beber.
Los peces en el río
por ver a Dios nacer.

But look how they drink
the fish in the river.
But look how they drink
to see God born.
They drink and they drink
and come back to drink some more,
the fish in the river,
to see God born.

La Virgen lava pañales
y los tiende en el romero,
los pajarillos cantando,
y el romero floreciendo.


The Virgin washes diapers
and hangs them on rosemary branches.
The little birds are singing
and the rosemary is blossoming.


La Virgen se está lavando
con un poco de jabón.
Se le han picado las manos,
manos de mi corazón.


The Virgin is washing herself
with a little bit of soap.
Her hands are irritated (or sore)
the hands of my love.


Another song that isn’t in your typical English Christmas carol list is Campana sobre campana (The Bells of Bethlehem). Again, this song was repeated twice during the Christmas event at my school, but hey, who’s counting?

In this song, it talks about the bells of Bethlehem rung by angles when the Christ child was born. Of course, there is no more historical evidence for the heavenly bell ringing than the drinking fish of the previous song, but when has that ever stopped anyone?

Campana sobre Campana

Campana sobre campana
y sobre campana una
asómate a la ventana
verás a un niño en la cuna.

One bell after another
and after another–one (1 o’clock)
Come to the window
to see a child in the crib


Campanas de Belén
que los ángeles tocan
que nuevas me traéis.


Bells of Bethlehem
that the angles ring
What news have you brought me?

Recogido tu rebaño
a donde vas pastorcillo?
Voy a llevar la portal
requesón, manteca y vino


Among your flock (or with your flock)
where are you going little shepherd?
I’m taking the path (or way)
bringing cheese, lard and wine.


Campana sobre campana
y sobre campana dos
asómate a la ventana
porque esta naciendo Dios


One bell after another
and after bell –two. (2 o-clock)
Come to the window
because God is being born.


Caminando a media noche
¿donde caminas pastor?
le llevo al niño que nace
como a Dios mi corazón


Walking at midnight,
where are you walking to shepherd ?
I bring my love to the child that
was born as God


Campana sobre campana
y sobre campana tres
en una cruz a esta hora
del niño va a padecer


One bell after another
and after bell –three. (3 o-clock)
On a cross at this hour
the child will suffer.


I’m happy to report that the art of composing villancicos has not died out. I have been fortunate enough to work with maestro Sergio and have heard his original compositions performed. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

Video 1

Video 2

Video 3


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Filed under Carnival posts, Mexican Holidays, Religion

Christmas in México–Elementary Event


After the morning’s kindergarten event, I went and hid in my classroom awhile to rest. The elementary event was scheduled for 6 pm the same day. It made for an extremely LONG day.

Originally, I thought I would be singing with fourth, fifth and sixth graders, so I picked the song “We wish you a Merry Christmas.” I imagined a mini-skit. A group of carolers arrives at a house and a couple comes out to enjoy the singing, afterward rewards the singers with a little food and drink. Seems simple enough, right?

I expect you have read enough of my posts to realize by now that things don’t often go as I imagine. The principal informed me on December 1, that I would be responsible for teaching the carol to third grade as the rest of the students already had parts in the Christmas play. That only proved my suspicion again that he doesn’t like me. Third grade is a particularly difficult group. I have been struggling to teach them since the beginning of the school year. They are all very intelligent but so concerned about other students in the class that they spend most of the class either insulting other students or getting up to hit the insulter, making discipline very challenging.

Of course, the first rehearsal went poorly. I sent for the principal. He’s a big guy and makes quite an imposing sight. When he entered, the class quieted down enough for me to explain what we were going to do. I had to redesign the skit. Now instead of a couple in the house, I would have the girls be the householders. There are only 3 of them. The rest of the class are boys. So the boys would be the carolers.


Now we needed a house. I asked my art friend Claudia to make me a house. She outdid herself on this project. I ended up with a nearly club house-sized gingerbread house. I told the kids that they were in charge of protecting the house from the other students as kind of a reverse psychology. It didn’t work. The first time I showed the third graders their house, various adornments were damaged. I had Claudia come again and fix it. I didn’t take it out of hiding until the dress rehearsal, then I hid it again, just in case. I wanted it to at least survive the event. It did cost me a pretty penny after all.


I also had the kids cover a cup with aluminum foil for the “cup of good cheer” and make a music book with the words inside–just in case they couldn’t remember the song when they were actually in front of a crowd.

We spent 2 weeks rehearsing daily. Oh, the agony of it! I had the boys form two lines, short and tall, and put the most troublesome at the head of the line. Every single day, I had to remind them what they were supposed to do. Line up, enter the scene, spread out, say Merry Christmas, look at me and my finger counting to begin and sing. Then pause after the request for figgy pudding and a cup of good cheer for the girls to bring their refreshments. Look at me again, watch for my finger counting, sing the last verse and exit stage right. It felt like I was trying to teach a herd of cattle ballet.

I only agreed to continue if the principal was present in each and every rehearsal. He didn’t have any choice to agree. That helped some.

Two days before the event we had the full rehearsal. It was just plain awful. We waited around 40 minutes before it was even our turn. By that time, the kids were running around much like chickens with their heads cut off. I finally got them more or less arranged and then the clown in the back started to sing as fast as he possibly could, throwing off the rhythm of the rest of the singers. I threw in the towel with that. I just walked off, told the coordinator that 3rd grade was not able to participate at this time, and hauled my gingerbread house off the scene.

The next morning, I gave it another go. They did everything exactly right! I was so hyped! Now, to just get through that afternoon’s performance!

I arrived early. Actually, I didn’t ever leave. No one came to pick up little P after school, so I stayed with her until I was able to get ahold of someone at 4:30, three hours after school let out. As the kids began arriving for the event, I positioned myself right next to my gingerbread house. I was determined to see that nobody knocked it over and trampled on it prior to the event. I glared at every little brother or sister who dared approach. The school kids gave me a wide berth as well.

The event started late, as expected. The play part went just fine–no major mishaps. Suddenly it was my turn and I wasn’t ready! I hurried over to the kids and marched them around the audience. We had a pile up at the gingerbread house. The boys wanted their own music books. I kept telling them that it didn’t matter whose book it was, the music was the same, but it did delay things a bit.

All three girls were present, however, more than half the boys were missing. Well, it couldn’t be helped. We’d perform as we were. They did fine–singing acapella rather than with music–everybody was happy–especially me now that it was over. I marched them back to their places and sat down to enjoy the next few songs performed by the music teacher.

Santa Claus made an appearance again–this time with Mrs. Claus. She read a longish letter that asked for health for all the teachers and the director for Christmas. The kids received a bag of candies. Fights broke out in the receiving line and Santa had to step in and settle the kids down. Then it was officially finished.

The director invited everyone to enjoy corundas and ponche, only the corundas hadn’t arrived yet. I went and made myself useful serving ponche while keeping an eye on the gingerbread house. Three-fourths of the attendees left after their cup of ponche, off to their own posadas. The corundas did finally arrive and those of us that remained enjoyed them immensely.

I headed home at about 7 pm. My frigid moto ride was considerably longer due to road closures and posada parades. I nearly wrecked when I met a procession headed by a giant illuminated star on a stick at the corner. As I got further out of town, there were less hazards to contend with. I got home and went straight to bed.

See why teachers aren’t big fans of school events?

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Christmas in México–Kindergarten event

christmas play

Have I mentioned that I’m not a big fan of school events? Well, I suppose I am when I’m a parent watching comfortably in my seat while my child performs. In that case, I think school events are the bomb. But as a teacher, it’s not quite the same experience.

For the Christmas event at the school that I work at, I was given two assignments, one from the kindergarten and one from the elementary. I figured Christmas carols would be the easiest to teach. So I set about practicing on December 1 for the December 18 event. Three weeks should be good, right?

I teach three groups of kindergarten, or rather it’s more like preschool. I chose Jose Feliciano’s Feliz Navidad as our group song. Here’s how it went.

Pre-k and first grade are the littlest and are 2 or 3 years old. They love everything. They are always excited to see me–often hollering “Teacher” from across the school as I arrive. They get down and boogie with their maracas. They laugh when I get down and boogie with them. Everything was going great.

Then during the second week of rehearsal, R arrived. He is just barely 2 and still in diapers. He is also a crier. Not just a sniffler, mind you, but the open mouth screamer type of crier. He didn’t want to be in my class at all. He cried the entire class, every single day. But it wasn’t me, just the class, because when it was time for me to go to my next class, he wanted to come with me and would begin a new set of howls. He seemed to really like music, though. The only time he wasn’t crying was when we were dancing. So I decided that since it’s the time to be jolly, I’d put Christmas carols on while we did our classwork. It worked like a charm! They say music soothes the wild beast and R was perfectly content as long as there was music playing. If there was a pause between songs, he’d run right up to the cd player and push buttons so that the music would start again. When we went into the basketball court to rehearse, he ran back to the room and carried the cd player out to me single handedly. All righty then!

Then there is the next group. Second-grade students are 3-5 years old. There are only 4 students in that class, so I teach them together with the 12 first graders. One student, A refused to enter my class. He claimed that the class was too noisy. Well, when R was hollering, I suppose it was. It didn’t help that his mother is one of the kindergarten teachers. He ran to her and hid behind her skirts. I’m not about to carry a kicking and screaming kid into my class, so I left him alone. His loss, not mine.

Then there is M. He has some sort of language issue. He’s been diagnosed with Asperbergers and Autism and delayed development and a host of other neurological problems. He definitely needs special attention and I’m still learning how to work with him, but I seem to have less problems than his regular kindergarten teacher. The joy on his face when he is singing is worth all the effort. He loved his maracas. One day, after we had begun rehearsals, I passed M on the way to another class. He was sitting alone on the step and looking quite dejected. Through mime, he managed to get me to understand that it was about his maracas. Then I asked where his maracas were and he pointed to the office. I asked what the problem was and he put his face in his hands. I went and asked the teacher what was going on. She told me that she had taken his maracas and hidden them in the principal’s office because he wouldn’t let go of them. So I knelt down and told him that the maracas were for English and that tomorrow when I came, he would have his maracas again. There hasn’t been a problem since.

The third-grade group are all 5 or 6 years old. They are so self-contained that even if I’m literally doing a song and dance routine in the front of the room, they aren’t paying me the least bit of attention. There is one exception. T is a super singer and dancer. He needs only hear the song and see the routine once and he’s got it down pat. It was his singing and dancing that got me through the third grade lackluster rehearsals.

Two days before the event, I wanted to have a full rehearsal with all the groups. So after the elementary lunch was over, I lined up all 25 students in the basketball court and had them sit down to put on the music. However, the principal of the elementary school had all the elementary students in the basketball court lined up for a “rehearsal” as well. He knows very well that I am not able to practice with the kindergarten except for that particular hour. He knows because he set up my schedule. Here I had all the kids ready to go, maracas in hand, and we wouldn’t be able to practice. I marched the kids back to their rooms and stormed into the kindergarten principal’s office to demand to know the reason why I couldn’t practice when I had cleared this time slot with her. Apparently there is no communication between the elementary and the kindergarten and as a result,  the shared space has become a battle zone with each school fighting for control

So the second day, I cleared the practice zone again. I had everyone out and lined up, maracas in hand. I gave the principal my memory stick and guess what? The speaker would not read it. Great! Just great! So I went on a mad dash to find a cd player so that we could connect it up and get going. There wasn’t a single cd player to be found, not in any of the nearby classrooms, not the principal’s office (and he always has at least 2), nothing. So I ran over to the farthest room of the elementary school where my classroom is in order to bring my cd player. I gave it to the principal, but there was still the hunt for the connecting cable and the setup. Meanwhile, the kids who I had left sitting orderly on the floor had joined up a free-for-all demolition derby race. There were broken maracas, crying babies and angry five-year-olds. Rehearsal didn’t go very well.

I gave my memory stick to the principal to make a copy, because her memory stick worked just fine, and scheduled a rehearsal in the afternoon at 1 pm when I had finished my elementary classes and before the kindergarten went home. I arrived to find that the kids were still gluing the eyes and nose on their Rudolph project. I lent a hand to get it done. Sticky hands and all, we went out to practice. It went marginally better. The routine is pretty basic. The kids sing and during the Feliz Navidad part, we shake the maracas. When the English part comes on, we put the maracas on the floor and do the twist, ending with open arms “from my heart.” Then we pick up the maracas and repeat.

That rehearsal wasn’t so great. R didn’t seem to get the choreography and shook his maracas through the entire song. The second graders didn’t pay attention and shook when it was time for the twist. The third graders bopped each other on the head with the maracas. Sigh.

The event was scheduled for Friday morning at 9 am. I arrived a little after 8 figuring I could help with the setup. The principal arrived at 8:40 and seemed surprised that none of the teachers had arrived. They trickled in one by one just before 9, which is when the event was scheduled to begin. But, this is Mexico and everything begins late. We started at 9:30 even though one of the three wise men hadn’t yet arrived. The kids enacted a little pastorela, the reenactment of the birth of Jesus. The missing wise man arrived just in time for his lines. After which they sang two villancicos (Christmas) songs. Then it was my turn.

I had collected the maracas in a box beforehand and the teachers handed them out while I lined up the kids. I thought it went pretty well. Here’s a clip for you to enjoy–

So afterward, we served the parents corundas (triangle shaped tamales cooked in corn leaves) and ponche (hot fruit beverage). Santa made an appearance. Each child received a gift from Santa. The gifts had been brought ahead of time by the parents and hidden away. The pinata was broken. And as the kids left, they were given an aguinaldo in a foamy slipper from Los Reyes Magos. And that was that!

Stay tuned for the dramatic Elementary School Event–coming soon!

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Mexican Educational Reform and Political Wrangling


The last Friday of every month during the school year, except December and Semana Santa, is the dreaded CTE (Consejo Technico Educativo) meeting for teachers formerly known as Organo Colegiado Escolar (OCE).

The now redesigned CTE meetings are a direct result of recent educational reforms passed into law by the esteemed Mexican President Pena-Nieto. In theory, additional teacher training is a good idea. After all, the Mexican educational system definitely has room for improvement. But…..

The CTE forum is based on a teacher training program used in Chile, modified to suit the Mexican government’s agenda. Instead of open and frank discussion and problem-solving, the content of the CTE meetings is carefully orchestrated by the Ministry of Public Education (SEP). Each meeting is to focus on a reglamento (statute) and there is no room for individual school differences based on the assumption that the teachers, students, and schools in Oaxaca and those in Mexico D.F. are equal in every way. Everybody must be on the same page as the program progresses. (Educational Reform and State Power in Mexico)

In addition, each school is to submit a proyecto escolar (school project) complete with short and long term goals. Again, in theory, that seems reasonable. However, the school projects must be approved or the school risks losing accreditation. So it’s no surprise that the projects are, more often than not, chosen from a government approved list rather than designed by each school to meet its needs.

As if that isn’t enough, individual teachers are required to submit el plan de maestro (teacher’s plan) which demonstrates how each teacher plans on incorporating the school project and reglamentos (statutes) set up by the CTE into his or her teaching.

control education

So we have this 3-tiered plan of action in school reformation which sounds progressive, to be sure. However, government control is rampant. Subject matter is carefully monitored. Textbooks are issued by SEP and both teachers and schools must render an accounting at the end of the school year. The CTE meetings are yet another way the federal government of Mexico is exerting its influence on the educational system.

The national news has been highlighting some questionable activities on the part of teachers to support the new reforms. One practice that surprised me was the passing on of teaching degrees to the children of the teachers who had obtained them. The teaching credentials are considered an inheritance much as a title of Don was under Spanish rule. But that age-old tradition took a back seat to other “concerns.” Probably because nepotism is alive and well here in Mexico.

Fun Fact for ya–Did you know that the current president is related to four former governors in his state and that his cousin took over his governorship when he was elected as president?


Another less than kosher practice was discovered when a census of current teachers was conducted. There were thousands of teachers throughout Mexico that were receiving government pay for teaching at non-existent schools. Reportedly there were even 70 teachers nationwide earning more than the President himself. I find that hard to believe. Perhaps the dean of UNAM could be raking in those big bucks. But really, even the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMCO) reported that the average teacher’s monthly salary at only about $2,000 USD. Being a teacher myself, I find this estimate still too high.

poor teacher

Looking at another source, the World Salaries comparison reports Mexican teachers earn between $651 USD and $1,018 USD. That seems to me a far more believable figure since my own teacher salary is under even that amount. The inflated IMCO figures have been used to prejudice the general public against teachers. Based on those figures, the agency reports that teachers are the highest paid occupation in Mexico. That’s an eye opener for ya! I’d like to see the census of politicians receiving excessive pay and compare their paychecks before I make any judgment on this particular issue. (See Mexican Officials Feather their Nests while Decrying US Immigration Policy)

Just as an interesting side note—Did you know that the current president of Mexico receives somewhere between $13,307 USD and $20, 857 USD each month before taxes? Nobody seems clear on the exact figure of Sr. Pena-Nieto’s salary. Did you know that the current president will continue to receive a lifelong pension after his term ends? Did you know that there are currently 5 ex-presidents receiving this lifelong pension?

Then another 1,440 teachers in Hidalgo all had the same birthday and were over 100 years old. Those dastardly teachers! However, the state officials clarified that those marked with the birthdate December 12, 1912 have child support deducted from their salaries and the birthday is a way of noting that.

Another little tidbit–Pena-Nieto has been accused of being a deadbeat dad. He fathered an illegitimate son in 2005, while married to his first wife (who died under mysterious circumstances in 2007). He claims he pays up, but the mother of his child disagrees and outed him on Facebook in 2012.

Finally, there was the recent arrest of the former president of SNTE teacher’s union for embezzlement. Elba Esther Gordillo even made Forbes Most Corrupt People in Mexico list. But don’t worry, it’s not just teachers that are corrupt. Pena-Nieto’s own uncle, Arturo Montiel Rojas, also made the list.


So based on these questionable teacher practices, the federal government has stepped up their vigilance. There has been extreme resistance to reforms from the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE) and the National Committee of Education Workers (CNTE), but not for the reasons that are often publicized.

For instance, one of the new requirements will be the mandatory testing of all teachers, principals, counselors and staff. The assessment designed by the National Institutes for Educational Evaluation (INEE) must be satisfactorily completed during a two-year period. If teachers do not pass, they will no longer be allowed to teach, but will be assigned administrative positions or be forced to accept voluntary retirement. A teacher that does not take the test will not be allowed to continue in his or her current position.


The SNTE and CNTE are not opposed to teacher testing but insist that this will not solve the underlying problems in the Mexican education system. One teacher described the situation in this allegory paraphrased below:

‘The government has seen that our students are in an educational “bus” that is in poor condition, like the trambillas (chicken buses). The shocks are gone, the brakes don’t work, the steering wheel is loose, the floor is rusted through and so on. The government sees that our children take this bus over a rough road, hardly even a road, full of dangerous curves, holes, steep cliffs and so on (Mexican society) So the government’s solution to this is to take the driver of the bus (the teacher), give him a new suit, a fancy cap, train him to fly planes even. Then, after all that specialized training put him back in the same bus that runs over the same road. The problems that the educational system face are not being addressed in additional teacher training.’–Professor Alberto at the November 27th CTE multi-grade meeting in Moroleon.


Another issue that protesting groups highlight is the top-down approach to educational reform as demonstrated in the CTE sessions and the national exams. The teacher unions insist that exams should be created from the bottom-up with teachers in the classroom contributing to state-administered exams that take into account the disparity of income, culture and even language found throughout Mexico.

While Mexico has eliminated the yearly national exam called ENLACE, the National Institute for the Evaluation of Education (INEE) began implementation of another exam administered to sixth graders in elementary school, third-year secondary students (ninth graders) and third-year high school students (12th graders) called PLANEA.

At our last CTE meeting, we were given a chart that showed the results of the PLANEA from last year. Guanajuato state was next to last for the results of this exam. The top performing district was Mexico City, followed by Colima.

Ok, looking at just that information–

Mexico City is the 8th wealthiest city in the world. Schools within the district are under the domain of the federal government rather than State control. So it would be safe to bet that schools are more than adequately equipped with all the modern doodads that make learning interactive and fun. Federal teachers are paid much higher than State teachers, another incentive there.  And as the federal curriculum comes from the same source the PLANEA, students taught that curriculum are in a good position to score well on the exam.

Colima, ranking in a #2 on the PLANEA exams is Mexico’s fourth smallest state and the second-lowest population but is considered to have the highest standard of living and lowest unemployment rate in Mexico. Again, it seems that the prize goes to the elite. Within the state, there are only 307 preschools, 510 elementary schools, 131 middle schools and 57 high schools.

Now let’s look at Guanajuato, ranking next to last on the PLANEA exams. This state has over 4,000 preschools, 4,600 elementary schools, 1400 middle schools and 650 high schools. Aren’t we comparing apples to oranges here?

shame teachers

All in all, based on the results of the PLANEA only 12% of students in Mexico have adequate academic skills. At the last CTE meeting, teachers of Guanajuato, me being one, were berated for the low scores because it has to be the teachers fault, right? (See Mexico Public Education: New Student Achievement Test Finds Elementary and Middle School Students Still Perform Poorly)

big story.png

But what’s this all about really? Here are some headlines that you might not have seen with all this publicity on educational reform–

Mexico Plans to Eliminate 246 Social Programs in 2016

Nearly a Dozen Dead After Violent Few Days in Mexico’s Guerrero

Mexican President Has Spent Almost $1 Billion in Publicity
Mexican Lawmakers Demand Peña Nieto Declare Financial Assets
Violence, Impunity in Mexico Put Governance, Democracy at Risk

Drug Violence Fueling Displacement in Guerrero, Mexico

Mexico readies for 2016 Domestic Drug Policy Debate
Leaked Intelligence Points to Top Level Corruption in El Chapo Escape

Pemex: Oil Theft Up by 44% in Mexico

Mexico Local Officials Behind Mass Grave in Morelos

The Implications of Mexico’s Rising Deportations

No Keystone, No Problem: TansCanada Turns to Mexico Expansion

Violence, drugs dash Mexico Triqui people’s dream of new start far from home

Yes,’ Carlos Slim Is Linked to Drug Trafficking


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