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If you give a boy a dollar…

20 Jul

As I may have mentioned before, I love going to yard sales. I’m not sure what it is… the hunt, the thrill of finding a bargain, the voyeurism of going through other people’s stuff…

I hadn’t been to any for a while and decided to hit one this weekend. As I gathered a few stray dollars I had around the house, z-baby patted his chest and asked, “Bebé monini?” (monini = z-baby’s word for money. I think it’s a mash up of “moneda” and “money.”). So I gave him a dollar and told him he could spend it one whatever he wanted. He was looking for a pocket to put it in but didn’t have one. He was wearing his caballo botas (as he calls his cowboy boots), so I told him to just put it down one of them.

I didn’t find much at the yard sale, but z-baby got the deal of the day. Mixed up with some other stuff were two little figurines, and he started yelling, “¡Caballo! ¡Caballo!” (horse) as soon as he spotted them. When I got a closer look, I realized they were alebrijes, a Mexican wood sculpture usually of animals (both real and fantasy). They weren’t exactly horses, but who was I to argue? There was another larger, signed alebrije, as well, but it was missing a few pieces.

So I had z-baby take the pieces to the woman running the yard sale. He handed them to her and I asked what she wanted for them. In a grandmotherly southern drawl she replied, “For this cutie? I reckon a quarter each.” I told z-baby that if he wanted them he would have to pay her with his monini. He set the alebrijes down quickly and fished his dollar out of his boot and handed it to her. I swear it’s close to the top of the list of the cutest things he’s ever done and it was really hard not to laugh. The woman, however, about fell out of her chair laughing and it only got worse when she gave him his change of two quarters and he promptly stuck them back down his boots. Priceless.

Alebrijes

Z-baby's yard sale find: alebrijes

The next day we went to the flea market, because they run a close second to yard sales and because I’ve found several Mexican produce vendors who sell things I can’t otherwise find around here easily. Not to mention their produce is better. I talked my mom into going with us and she gave z-baby a dollar as we were getting out of the car. He wanted her to carry it since he wasn’t wearing his boots.

We walked around and around and looked at all kinds of junk, including toys, and never heard a peep out of z-baby. Then, as we were rolling past the first produce stand, he started making all kinds of a big commotion, asking for his monini. My mom gave it to him and we both stood there watching to see what he wanted and he went up and gave it to the produce vendor. I asked him what he wanted and he said, “ananana, plat-no.” Bananas. The boy wanted a banana. And that’s just what he got. 🙂

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Little surprises

19 Jul

Sometimes… actually most times… it’s the little things that put a smile on my face and make my heart soar.

Sig-o had to go away on an overnight trip this weekend, and I asked him to bring back a few things I can’t get around here. That in itself made me happy.

But he surprised me with one my favorite treats: litchis! It was so totally unexpected. Small but made me melt.

Litches

Not the prettiest I've seen, but sooooooo good!

Ahhhh, litchis! Or lychees. Or whatever. I love them. A lot. When we lived in Mexico, in my husband’s childhood home, we had a big litchi tree growing in the side garden. And I didn’t even know it. The avocado tree? Heaven. The banana tree? Worth the wait. That tree in the side garden? I’d never given it a second thought.

Then one day we were driving through town and I saw a guy selling litchis on the side of the road. I squealed in excitement but sig-o just rolled on by. “Al rato,” he told me, later. Later that day he came through the house carrying a bucket and yelling for me. He told me to follow him and took me to the side garden. And there it was in all its glory. The tree, ripe fruit filled its branches, just waiting. Waiting for me.

You’d think I’d won the lottery. We picked buckets full and I think that’s all I ate for days on end. I planted myself under a ceiling fan and ate… and ate. My fingertips hurt from peeling so many of them, but it was glorious. That is, until I got an inexplicable rash all over the outsides of my lips. It looked horrible and itched like crazy and hurt in the sweltering, summer heat. I finally had to go see a doctor but they couldn’t explain it and nothing they gave me helped. It eventually went away on its own, but my gorging on litchis had come to and end. The doctor seemed to think I’d probably had too much of a good thing. I was convinced it was poison ivy or something like it from when we were picking the litchis… but it didn’t matter. They were gone.

Fast forward a few years. We were living in the US again and I bought up a bunch of mangos at the farmers market. Soon after eating them, I got that same miserable rash on my face, only worse this time. A visit to the doctor again and some nosing around and I learned just how allergic some people can be to mangoes (the sap/oil in the peel and bark on the trees). And apparently I’m one of them. Because I tried it a few more times and it got worse each time. The last time I had a bite of mango was six years ago (six sad years). I really wanted some mango and asked sig-o to peel and cut it for me. He made the nicest fruit salad… and within minutes I could feel it starting. But this time it was in my throat, too, and my co-workers had to take me to the pharmacy to grab some Benedryl.

Only later did I put it together. Mangoes and litchis come into season around the same time in sig-o’s hometown. And prior to discovering the tree of all things good, I had been munching on mangos. Not the big mangos you usually see (petacon) or even the yummy ataulfo, but little bitty, yellow mangos that you pop in your mouth, peel and all. Delightful. And a nightmare for anyone allergic to them!

So now, I don’t buy mangoes. I don’t eat mangoes. I can’t even touch mangoes. I dare say I’m afraid of mangoes.

But litchis? Bring ’em on, baby! And that’s why sig-o’s little surprise meant so much. Despite my love for them, I somehow forget about litchis. Maybe because they’re in season so briefly and not easy to find. But sig-o? He thinks of me and that summer each and every time he sees them and buys them for me without fail. How could that not make a girl’s heart soar?

Going with your gut

1 May

For those of you visiting from the Multicultural Awareness Blog Carnival, welcome to The Vaca Loca! I’m so glad you could stop by and hope you enjoy your stay!

I’m originally from Kentucky, and besides Speedy Gonzalez and The Three Amigos, I didn’t grow up hearing much Spanish spoken. I started taking Spanish in high school, and it was there that the universe started opening little windows for me and laying out paths that would ultimately lead me to where I am today — married to a man from Mexico and trying to raise a bilingual baby.

I consider myself fluent in Spanish, but not fully bilingual. I think in both languages, dream in both languages, feel in both languages… but English is still by far easier for me. This became especially apparent after having my baby. I spoke to him in both languages, but when it came time to comfort him, coo at his cuteness, and play baby games with him, English dominated. Complicating matters was the fact that I had postpartum depression, which utterly exhausted me and left me with an abysmal emptiness. And it’s when I’m tired and weak that my Spanish suffers the most.

My husband and I had talked early on about how we were going to go about teaching both languages to the baby. The one-parent-one-language method felt forced to us. And since we now live in the US we knew the baby would be getting an overwhelming amount of English no matter what. So we planned on just using Spanish in the home and with Spanish-speaking friends and family. The effect that my postpartum depression had on this plan only exasperated me more and fueled my feelings of inadequacy when it came to raising a bilingual baby. But we pressed on, adamant that he learn Spanish. We quit worrying about the “right” method, and just did what felt right in our guts.

My little z-baby is now two years old and his language skills are really starting to blossom. My husband speaks to him almost only in Spanish, and I speak as much Spanish to him as I possibly can. Some days this means no English. Others it means about half and half. And z-baby? He understands both beautifully. And he speaks some of both, though he has yet to string sentences together in either. He picks and chooses the words he uses. For some things he only uses Spanish — the alphabet, numbers, colors. For other things, it’s only English — parts of the body, apple, move, bed. And for yet other things, it’s what suits his fancy in the moment — ball/pelota, agua/water, kitty/gato, comer/eat, basura/trash. He’s let loose a perfectly conjugated verb or two in Spanish (cayó and ¡ya voy!) and chastises the dog in English (Bad gur!). And I’ve even noticed recently that he asks my husband and me to pick him up in Spanish, but asks my mother in English.

My heart explodes as such displays of bilingual communication. And it’s those moments that make all the hard work worth it, and make it easier to put up with the daily aches and pains of what it’s really like to try and teach our baby Spanish and English. So what does the daily grind feel like anyway? Well, a little something like this….

  • It means translating for grandparents and abuelos
  • It means walking through stores and jabbering away in Spanish while you get stares from everyone (both Latinos and non-Latinos)
  • It means actively seeking out books and activities in Spanish (this is the only gift we ever ask for from Mexico now)
  • It means learning the words for things you may never have had to use before
  • It means getting your Spanish corrected more frequently
  • It means learning songs in Spanish and making up new ones
  • It means always being aware of the balance between how much you use each language
  • It means not beating yourself up when you slip into English
  • It means second-guessing e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g you say — “Did I say that right? Is that masculine or feminine? Is my accent off?”
  • It means loosening up, letting go, being persistent, and having patience

But most of all, it means trusting yourself and going with what feels natural in your gut — and isn’t that the ultimate lesson in parenting, no matter what language you do it in?

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A big Thank You to Bicultural Mom for hosting the carnival!

Foodie Friday: Chicharron en Salsa Verde

22 Apr

Chicharron

Chicharron en salsa verde is a common Mexican guisado, and one that is simple to make. Sig-o requested it for the menu this week so I thought I would share it with you. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy finding fresh chicharron where we live, so I use the packaged stuff in a pinch. This particular kind turned out particularly well — it holds it’s body well in the sauce.

When we lived in my husband’s hometown in Mexico, I spent most of my free time in the kitchens of any of the Doñas who would take me in. I learned a lot from them, including the fact that there is no one way to make even the most typical of Mexican dishes — everyone has their own special touch or secret. I was recently talking recipes with my suegra and she told me how she makes picadillo. When I told her that her closest comadre makes it fundamentally different, she was in shock (maybe because she didn’t know… or maybe because I did!). And so it is with salsas. Salsas vary by dish, of course, by region, and by individual. So here is one that I picked up along the way, served with chicharron.

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Chicharron en Salsa Verde

Tomatillos (~25)

Jalapeños (~3, or to taste)

Dried chile (1-optional; I used a chipotle this time)

Onion (1/2 large)

Garlic (2 cloves)

Peppercorns (~6)

Clove (~1)

Chicken broth or bouillon (Knorr Suiza)

Oil

Tomatillos and chiles

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not the best at measurements. You can play around with this until you get the taste that best suites you — we like things pretty spicy around here.

Remove all the husks from the tomatillos. In case you’ve never seen one naked, here’s what they look like once you removed the papery husk.

Tomatillo husks

Rinse well and then place in pot with chiles and just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and remove from heat once they begin to soften. You’ll notice in the picture below that I threw a dried chile in the mix, as well. Not a must, but I think it gives it a little extra kick and another layer to the texture of the taste. But note that it will also turn your “green” salsa a little more to the orange side.

Boil tomatillos

Toast the garlic, cloves, and peppercorns. I usually also toast some whole cumin seeds, but I realized I’m out today, so I just left it out. Once toasted I also usually grind the spices (not the garlic) in my molcajete (mortar and pestle), but z-baby woke up from his nap just as I was at this step so I threw it all in the blender instead.

Tostando ajo

Puree the tomatillos, chiles, garlic, and spices using the same water everything was boiled in. Don’t throw out that extra water yet — it’s the golden rule! Heat oil in pot and add onion. Allow it to brown and soften slightly, then add it to the blender and puree it in with the salsa.

Cebolla

In the same oil the onion was cooked in, add the pureed salsa. Add some of the additional water the tomatillos were boiled in if the sauce seems too thick. Bring to a boil. Add the Knorr Suiza. How much? I say start with just a pinch and work your way up. Remember, the chicharron will also add salt. I err on the side of “less is more.” My suegra, on the other hand, about gives me a heart attack every time I see her add in her querida Knorr Suiza… but then again, she’s the one who has had multiple successful restaurants in Mexico (no pressure, nuera!). So try a little, then add some more!

Salsa

Once the salsa is up to a boil, add the chicharron. Cook on low until the chicharron has softened. This usually doesn’t take longer than around 15 minutes (it’s still not quite to that point in the photo below).

Chicharron en salsa verde

Serve with fresh corn tortillas, or spoon it into hot gorditas… the possibilities go on and on. ¡Provecho!

On borders and growing up

20 Apr

Borders. They have caused sig-o and I much grief over the years.

In our early days, the problem was usually separation. Either I was in the US and he was in Mexico, or I was in Mexico and he was in the US. At one point we even found ourselves to be ilegales in each other’s country, he in the US and me in Mexico — ¡qué cosa! But we were young and distance did make the heart grow fonder and we weathered the bumps together.

After living in Mexico for over three years, we came to the US to finish out a long and drawn out process to get sig-o permanent residency and ultimately citizenship (which we are still in the process of). Then the issues turned more towards family. No matter where we decide to live, one of us will always be separated from family. Luckily, sig-o’s mother, sister, and brother all live in the states now. But it has caused many headaches, heartaches, and punches to the wallet to both get them and keep them here. This is an on-going struggle, and one that gets harder and harder with the passing of every new piece of racist legislation.

Now that we have a baby, matters feel even more complicated. We’ve always known that we would return to Mexico at some point. We want our child(ren) to spend part of their childhood in both countries, to not just hear our stories but to know in their heart and feel it in their gut what it is to be Mexican, what it means to be American.

Borders. They have separated us, united us, and taught us lessons in patience and humility. They have watched us grow into adulthood.

When sig-o and I first met, he was a mere 19 and I was only 21. We have been together for almost 13 years now. And in those 13 years we have literally watched each other grow up. Some of the change has been subtle over time. But sometimes you can see it unfold before you in an instant, catalyzed by events beyond our control.

This weekend we learned that one of sig-o’s young cousins passed away after a difficult battle with leukemia. Sig-o was understandably upset, and as he is an extremely sensitive soul, he took the news quite hard. It’s these moments that borders make you feel so helpless, so far away. Mexico isn’t even on the other side of the world… but it may as well be when you can’t be there.

But it’s not just about the border. Technically, sig-o could have hopped on a plane and been with his family within six hours or so. But we really couldn’t afford it. And it was at that moment that I saw the change, saw the pain in my husband’s face and felt his heavy heart as he made the sacrifice for his family — for me, for the baby — and stayed. I watched, my own soul troubled, as he came to terms with his decision, growing up just a little bit more before my very eyes.

It’s hard straddling a border. It’s even harder growing up.