Scattershot Blogging

Trip Start Jul 29, 2012
Trip End Aug 01, 2013

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Flag of Mexico  , Oaxaca,
Friday, November 2, 2012

There are many things that our family has done or experienced in Oaxaca that are worthy of reporting, but have not yet been included in a blog entry.  So, I'd like to devote this "Scattershot Blog" to filling in a handful of the gaps left by my other blog entries.  

First, a progress report.  I had the pleasure of reading Leah’s first completed chapter a couple of weeks ago.  It was engaging, informative, and well written.  I admit that I sometimes view reading Leah’s work as, well, work.  She has given me the job of reading for substance, jargon, flow, and general readability.  I also look for typos and the like.  Well, reading this chapter didn’t feel like work.  It drew me in.  I think she’s off to a great start!  Since we arrived in Oaxaca, she has also completed a 35-page journal article, separate from her book, and submitted a grant proposal.  Ah, productivity.  Sabbatical sure is nice.

Swimming - A month or so ago, we went swimming at the equivalent of a Mexican water park in San Augustine Etla with our friends, The Trillin Lee family from San Francisco.  My brother has long lamented the disappearance of all of the fun (unsafe?) structures at the waterfront where we have our family reunion each year.  Well, OSHA hasn’t found San Augustine Etla and Micah took the opportunity to jump off of his first two meter platform.  Zola reveled in her repeated descents of the long and winding water slide.  I nursed a couple of skinned elbows after scraping them on the bottom of the shallow pool at the end of said water slide.  It serves me right for trying to go as fast as I could. Leah swam and enjoyed some food and good conversation with our friends.  Of the five pools, one of them was gently heated, so after lowering our body temperatures in the cool water of the water slide, we enjoyed the relative warmth of the heated pool.  When clouds and rain rolled in, all eight of us piled into our Nissan Sentra, Zola on Leah’s lap in the front seat, and drove back to Oaxaca.  Don’t tell the safety police.

Driving in the Park - Micah and Zola have been enjoying going for drives on weekends.  That might not seem very interesting except that they are the ones at the wheel.  On Saturdays at one of the parks near downtown Oaxaca, small electric cars are available to rent.  We’ve gone there on a couple of occasions and the kids have had a lot of fun tooling around the park in their own cars.  When Micah is at the wheel, he looks like one cool dude.  Zola loves the independence.  A glimpse into the future?

Leah’s 10K - Leah ran her first 10K in Mexico a few weeks ago.  Her race was bigger than the one I ran in September and the field was loaded with talent.  We missed the deadline for registering Micah and Zola for the kids’ race, but we were told that it would be fine for them to run without race numbers.  Zola opted not to run, but Micah hopped in the race and gave us his play-by-play of the race for hours afterward.  Leah looked great at the halfway point and picked up some places in the second half.  The race was chip-timed and we found the results online.  Leah finished 7th out of 40 masters women.  There was a strong Kenyan contingent at this race.  I got a kick out of seeing the name of Leah Schmalzbauer listed close behind the names Eunice Kilu Kavuu and Tzatzil Ayala.   We were very proud of her. 

Mountain biking – I’ve met some other "gringos" (An interesting word with a long, nuanced history. Please see the discussion below.) here in Oaxaca who enjoy hiking and mountain biking.  Two of them invited me to join them on a mountain bike ride to a town just a few miles away as the crow flies.  They provided all the gear, including the mountain bike.  The ride there and back took all morning as it was very much an exploratory adventure.  My friends had ridden it before, but they remarked numerous times how different everything looked between the dry season and the rainy season.  We rode through fields and on steep, narrow trails; we carried our bikes up and down gullies and over streams; and we pedaled on seldom-used dirt roads and over historic retaining walls. As technical mountain biking is not a skill I’ve honed over the years, I pushed the edge of my comfort zone a little.  When I strayed out of that zone, I clipped out of the pedals, got off the bike, and walked.  I had fun.  I’m sure I’ll head out with them again sometime.

Language – Micah is soaking up the language like a sponge and is using Spanish words and phrases regularly.  Zola seems a bit more resistant to learning Spanish, but is certainly learning a lot in school.  Leah says she feels “fluent, but with grammatical errors”.  I’ve taken a total of seven three-hour language classes.  My language ability is definitely improving, but I felt like I needed to take a break to let it all soak in.  In the months ahead, I’m looking forward to doing language exchanges with Mexicans trying to learn English.  What has been particularly mindnumbing about learning Spanish is that I have been speaking a fair amount of German.  Who'd a thunk?  I feel like I often have a deer-in-the-headlights look about me when first engaging in conversation.  My mind is trying to figure out which file cabinet to go to for vocabulary.  And, slowly.  

Cooking class – Last month, I joined some of my language school mates and took a cooking class.  The day’s menu was mole negro, mole verde, “Azteca” soup, and freshly made tortillas.  The class was made up of three Americans, two Dutch, and one Brazilian. After a brief introduction, we were all assigned jobs – grinding spices, crushing peppers, dicing tomatoes, stirring the pot, cutting tortillas, blending herbs, paring … now what were those vegetables called … You get the idea.  The result was a delicious lunch and a solid base for future culinary exploration.  I was most excited to learn how to make basic tortillas (following the class was when I purchased our own tortilla press).  I also began to appreciate what a really good mole has to offer.  I am definitely becoming a fan of mole. (Special thanks to Brian and Jordana for sending me their photos)

Gary’s visit – Leah’s dad, Gary, just paid us a week-long visit.  It was a great visit all around. He stayed with us for part of the time, but also stayed in a nearby hotel for a few nights which gave us all access to the pool and tv.  One of the highlights for all of us was the kids’ sleepover with Grandpa.  Gary offered to watch Micah and Zola on Friday night so that Leah and I could have a date.  All week long, the kids looked forward to their sleepover at Grandpa’s hotel room.  While the kids watched Spanish cartoons and ate pizza with Grandpa, Leah and I had a romantic, delicious meal at Casa Oaxaca.  One of the parents at Micah and Zola’s school is the famous head chef at Casa Oaxaca.  When we arrived at the restaurant unannounced, he greeted us, showed us the kitchen, and got us a table.  When a couple of mezcal and passion fruit cocktails showed up and we told the waiter we hadn’t ordered any, he told us they were a gift from the chef.  Dessert was also on the house.  The rooftop candlelit dining next to an illuminated Santo Domingo Church provided wonderful ambiance, the food was incredible, and knowing the kids were having a great time with Grandpa allowed us to soak it all in.  An evening in heaven.
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Uncle Bob on

You mentioned the presence of "gringos." A big population there? Anyway, what's the origin of the word, "gringo"? And does it have the negative connotation that the word seems to carry north of the border?

Uncle Ralph on

Oaxaca looks like a fun destination resort. Are you SURE you are returning to Bozeman one day?

srbruner on

Good question, Uncle Bob. That word barely made it through Leah's read-through after she asked a similar question. I had thought of "gringo" as simply referring to any fair-skinned foreigner (yes, there seems to be a fair sized contingent of foreigners, many of them American retirees, in Oaxaca). In fact, I thought my German friends would also be considered "gringos". It turns out the meaning of the word is much more nuanced. Leah says one of the negative connotations comes from U.S. Military presence in Latin America. Her research participants would instead use the term "guero", which is more polite, and just means "fair-skinned". Thanks for the question. I've learned something.

Heidi on

This all sounds like such a great adventure! We miss you all the more reading about your experiences and seeing the photos. Leah, you must be so disciplined to get so much work done. Do you wish you had more than a year? Still looking for tickets that are affordable. Stay tuned!!

Jennie on

What amazing experiences you're having! Keep taking those cooking classes, Steve--we look forward to dinner at your house when you get back!

Jennie, Mike, Isaac and Elena

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