Sunday, May 24, 2020

Food for the Soul

My friend Trina sent me an email on Friday and she talked about Food for the Soul. I have missed being in the kitchen, so today, I spent my day cooking.


I mostly learnt how to cook from my maternal grandfather. He was a chef in the military and then ran food service for an old age home. Sundays as a child meant church and then to their house for a visit and always, always food. In my mother's family, food and family and love are all mixed together in a big bowl and served up in hearty portions.

My father was a line cook and was more french trained. Smaller portions and never much leftover, you cooked for the pleasure of eating. He was a cook at the science station in Alert Bay for 6 months, and I bet that suited him well, as his cooking was scientific.

Cooking for me if like putting love on a plate. I love food, and I love flavours and I love to eat. Part of our tour business always includes a home made lunch for that reason. There is something nurturing about having someone make food for you. Nurturing for the soul, not just the body.

Ralph's Peanut Butter cookies.
Soul Nurturing.


Mostly I wanted to be back in the kitchen today because I wanted to make a care package for my friend Martha who lives here in Oaxaca. Martha and I's routine is to go for lunch or brunch and get caught up on life. Seeing as there is no place to go for lunch or brunch, I have dropped off a care package a few times. She is vegetarian and so I am practicing some menu ideas for the new vegan restaurant I will open.

On the menu in Martha's Care Package:


  • Nut-free Pesto
  • Quinoa Vegetable Salad 
  • White Bean and Orzo Soup
  • Whole Wheat Loaf (use this recipe generally but with warm water, and substitute flours, never more than half of the flour being non-white)
  • Half of a Rye loaf, because it would be impossible to choose 
  • Dark chocolate espresso cookies
Now I get to be excited to eat all week.




Friday, May 22, 2020

The Photography Workshop

Over a year ago now, with the help of a good friend here in Oaxaca (Martha), I planned, organized and attended a 9 hour Smartphone photography workshop. taught by The Karen Otter.



If you have an opportunity to ever take such a course, DO IT. I am actually thinking of asking her if she would be willing to try to do one online as I would adore a week of a fun class. Interested? Let me know...

But I wanted to tell you why I loved this class.

First, it gave me confidence with some photography basics and my own "eye", what I see and how I see it.



Second, it gave me permission to play with my phone. I don't know about you but in the past when I got a new phone I basically set up email, made sure that worked, and I was good to go. To actually take the time to learn what features my phone had, what they did, and how to best take advantage of them, was a gift!!



Next, it really pushed me to see things differently. The class was with about 9 other people, and we would go to the same place or walk the same path for our photography time, so trying to see something differently was a great challenge

It led to lots of play. I love having these skills in my pocket, quite literally. The class has brought about fun adventure on vacation in Mexico City, and our guests for Go Well have reaped the benefits.



I have developed some of my photos and framed them for a friend at her request, which was such a compliment! They looked great and that taught me to crop things a little differently, because the frame takes space I had not previously considered.



Things I want to learn next: food photography and dog/pet photography. A while back I thought I had lost 6 years of pictures when my computer crashed, so I also want to order, sort and backup all those great memories, and develop some, too!






Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Eternal Optimist

Many of you know that I am an optimist. I am the glass half full girl. Even at times in my life when things were the most difficult, I trusted that eventually things would work themselves out the way they are supposed to. I try to not hang on too much to an ideal solution. Things will work out the way they are supposed to. I trust. Be that in God or in The Universe, but I trust.

This glass was very full. And then, very empty.

I suppose being this way has its disadvantages, but being an optimist, you see, I try not to focus on that.

Many of you also know that I strive to live my best life, and a part of that best life was running Go Well Tours over the past 5 and a half years. I love running my business. All aspects of it. I love the early mornings, I love the days when I think I sweat so much on a hike it will take me 5 days to re-hydrate. I love the guests and the friends, the questions and the research. I love Oaxaca.




During the pandemic, the time at home, the day when we finally put our tour picnic table and chairs away and into storage (this past Sunday, where they have been since March 12th) , during the walks with the dogs on quiet streets and the Zoom calls with friends, during breakfasts and cooking and dog refuge days, I have wondered what exactly I would do AFTER. Some of my friends have continued to work, maybe from home, maybe remotely, maybe they are going into an office or a shop. My business is tourism. Which means, zero work.

We've talked, Ralph and I, lightly, about what we would do, AFTER. I would like to consider feeding people, running a small vegan restaurant here in my area. So many people don't really know what vegan food is here, and we are spoiled in Oaxaca with the freshness and availability of our fruits and vegetables. It will have an international bend to it, to celebrate what I believe connects us globally, the traditions of our food.

Oh, sexy produce...


And today we went bird watching. And we talked about building a birding tour day at Yagul. It is the first time we have really talked about our business actually surviving, growing. And it filled my spirit with joy. As much as I understand the concerns, about travel, about enclosed spaces, about deaths and disease and so many unknowns, I really hope that someday I get to show people this beautiful land I immigrated to.


Wednesday, May 20, 2020

What's playing at the movies?

What's the thing you miss most? What can you live without forever and be just fine? 

I've been thinking about this on my daily walks, for which I am so grateful. What am I finding the most difficult to do or not do during quarantine (aka Sparkling Isolation) and what are the things that are absent that I can live without forever.

I miss just being able to go for tacos at the corner when I don't feel like cooking.

I miss the local, coming home and deciding to walk down and sit with my neighbours and listen to Leo play and have some wine and some food.

I miss hugging my friends. So much.

I miss going out of the house and not having too much thought around wherever I am going. What time is it, what day is it, will there be a lot of people there, when did I go last, do I have my face mask, do I have my hand gel, alcohol spray? How many times did I wash my hands. I was talking to Ralph about this and he equated it to the logistics of having kids and leaving the house with those kids. Stroller, diapers, food, snacks, bottles, wipes... I laughed. He said what he missed the most was that, just leaving the house. JUST going out.

I asked Carlos today (we were at the dog refuge) and he said what he disliked the most was the fear that he was bringing something home to his Mother. That every time he went out, each time he was back home, he was afraid he was going to make him Mom sick.

But, there are also things absent that I am really OK with. The bar that shares our wall at the house is closed. I am loving that. LOVING IT.

I am LOVING that there is less traffic in the city. 

I am LOVING that being in Sparkling Isolation has allowed me to reconnect with friends and family I have not connected with in ages. I LOVE THIS.


Monday, May 18, 2020

Proceed with Fear, or be fearless?

It is Day 60 of practicing isolation, of physical distancing, of being very selective about the places and times I go out.

Do I still go out? Yup.
Do I go to the corner store? Nope.

I saw an infographic about disease spread at the very beginning of the pandemic, which basically said if you reduced the amount you went out of the house, then you reduced your impact on society and reduced rate of infection. Of course, looking for the infographic now, 2 months later, was hysterically almost impossible. Try it, Google : reduce infection infographic. Click on images. Wow. Wow. People made a ton of money designing these. I did find the one I was looking for on this site.


It was simple and impactful and I have basically tried to live by this principle.

In Oaxaca, and in Mexico, we are about a month behind our northern neighbours. As the US and some parts of Canada begin to talk about opening shops and restaurants, all I feel as fear.

Years ago when I was working in International HR, I was working with an office in a country where there had been a series of car bombs outside of cafes, killing many innocent people. I was on a call with a woman who I knew well enough to ask, "How do you go about life, after...?" I grew up in Canada. I am 45 years old. I have traveled, sure, but the idea of going to get ice cream and being blown to bits was a little foreign. She considered my question and gave me an answer I will never forget. She said in the first few days, you are afraid and don't leave the house. But then you need things, and so you go out quickly, looking over your shoulder and rushing to get back inside your home. And then after a little while when nothing new has happened, you start to feel normal again.

During the pandemic I have always gone out. I walk every morning with the dogs and then in the day I take them out into our alley. We go to a grocery store once per week and the market once every three or four days. The corner store not in 6 weeks, it is too small, no face masks. The dog refuge once or twice per week.

So, as I listen to friends talk about how we are all grappling with our new reality, I am concerned. There is a good chance so many of us will get this disease. I am not running out to lick a handrail and I am not quite ready to go dancing with a crowd of people. But in a few more weeks, I think I might be ready for a glass of wine at the local. With or without a pool noodle.




Sunday, May 17, 2020

A Day at the Dog Refuge

I was procrastinating a little about writing about my day yesterday at the dog refuge. I was pondering my blog all day. I know I want to share some recipes. I want to write about The Cocos and their story. I want to ponder my idea for a new vegan restaurant here in Oaxaca. But in spite of all that great material and fun ideas, my mind kept coming back to my day yesterday.

We started out at 8:30 hauling more than 60 kilos of meat into the van. We have two butchers who donate meat scraps and bones to the refuge each week. We use these with bags of rice and a 25 kilo bag of kibble and make the dogs a soup. The meat adds protein content and in theory lets us use less kibble. I'll be doing a fundraiser for a freezer in June, after we get through the next adoption event and the sterilization clinic and vaccinations done in the next two weeks.





On the way we stopped for Allison, she is the VP of Puppies. She had stacks of cardboard for the puppies to chew on and lie on and pee on, and they did not disappoint her. She has been working with us for a few months and is getting used to the rhythm of the Refuge. She is learning that we can love the puppies, but not too strong because they are fragile little things in a tough environment and often die. We had one little one this week that was not well and will likely pass over the bridge before we go back in a few days. I make soup for the puppies the night before, boiling big beef bones and soaking kibble in it overnight. Puppy mush.



We also stopped to buy ice to keep the meat for an extra day, some bleach, a rake, and up to the wood yard for some wood to continue to reinforce the fences.

Arriving at the refuge around 9:40, we haul in meat, puppy soup, bags of kibble, the rake, the bleach, and my "dog refuge bag", which holds an assortment of medications, leashes, collars, muzzles, syringes, wet wipes, gloves. I suppose what one might expect to be in a bag for a dog refuge.

We go to help Allison to get organized with the puppies. In spite of us telling Tia Migue that the puppies should not be in her rooms, they are. I find this frustrating because the floor is dirt and not clean, which just means the puppies get sick and die. In spite of my saying this about 20 times, there is no change, so I don't waste my breath any longer. I observe which little ones were in there, and I send up a little prayer and then I expect the worst.

In going to the back where the puppies are, we find a new arrival. Luna. She is terrified. She has three puppies with her. I am never sure really how they arrive. I suspect Tia Migue goes to get them. In God's honest truth, I would have rescued Luna. I have been doing this type of work, fostering and now in Oaxaca working at the refuge, for years now, and every now and again, there is a case that is more than I can harden my heart against. So Luna and I had a talk. As I washed her wounds from her neck where someone had tied her up with some sort of wire that cut into her skin, I told her she would be OK. As I washed the open wounds on her little head and wondered if the scarring and lack of fur was a burn or if it was mange, I said a little prayer. As I gave Allison parasite medication and antibiotics to mix into a big bowl of food for Luna, I asked for forgiveness for hating in my heart the person who did this to this poor girl. Her puppies will likely die, but I gave them parasite medication and we fed them puppy soup and cuddled them and played with them.




We also gave a name to a puppy that Tia MIgue had brought in last week on Tuesday, Penelope. She has a bad back injury which I was not sure she could recover from. She is very lovely, so we had a talk on Tuesday. I offered to put her down, but if she wanted to give life a try, she needed to be walking by Saturday. So, I went over and picked her up on Saturday, this little Penelope, and stood her up and whispered to her, "Like this, little one." She is so skinny my small hands cradled her ribs, but she had a good appetite and one of Luna's puppies was snuggling with her.She can make it if she wants, little Penelope. She walked around the pen when Allison was in with her, and I smiled. She is a good dog, that little one.

I could hear Carlos working and so left Allison to move on to heavy work. We have found that the safety doors we put in have swelled with the rain and are now not closing well, and what are supposed to be "heavy duty hinges" are shit, and we'll need to investigate a different hinge. So maddening. We put hours of work into hanging doors (my most hated renovation work) and to see these "heavy duty hinges" broken makes me want to write a strongly worded letter to the manufacturer. Just say on the packaging "not for ongoing use of any kind. Good for doors you will open once or twice a year".

While we were working I could hear this mewing. So I walked over to the corner of the refuge by the door and sure enough, mewing. I was TERRIFIED that there were kittens that someone had dumped, but no, after moving two dog houses, we discovered two premature puppies. How was this possible?? Only the new dogs that had come in recently were not fixed and they had not had time to go into heat. Not only do these two premature puppies mean I have a bitch that is not sterilized, it means I also have an unsterilized  male waltzing about. Tia Migue did not help or care, other than to say that it was the female that I had worked with that had mange for a year. She is terrified of me, but I managed to lure her in with food to give her medication for the mange. About 2 years ago, an entire team of us went out and worked to try to sterilize every single dog that was there at the refuge. She was missed. I was upset. We cornered the female and in spite of trying to put her in a kennel, she was having none of it and at best we cornered her and put the two babies in with her in a dog house. She killed the two little ones, and escaped again. It is normal for the mother dog to kill the babies if they are not healthy, but it doesn't make it any easier to bear witness to.

We went back to work, moving the dog houses back and wrapping the fencing to the wood framing we had installed. As we were inspecting one of the shitty hinges, we watched a dog scale the fence. I will try to get this event on video, because it is truly frustrating. But there she was, this little fluffy cute girl, up and over. Just in case the 5 dogs in the area on the other side of the fence had better snacks.

We decided to leave the next part of the fence for our next visit, and took some time to talk about what we were going to do with one of the doors that a dog had gotten their head stuck in and Don Felix (Tia Migue's partner) had cut the fencing to get him out. Now another repair.

We packed up the van, tidied the wood for next visit and I went back to tell Allison we were getting ready to go and decided to sit a little with Marveila, she was abandoned to the refuge about three weeks ago. She is beautiful and once fixed I will try to find her a home. She is the future of the Refuge. She is a breed of some sort, and I am sure she was a cute adorable puppy that someone decided now that she was 70 pounds they "didn't have the space for her". She sat beside me and I scratched behind her ears and showed her a little love.



As I was headed out, I heard Tia call me. A man had showed up on a motorcycle with two dogs in a large sugar sack. He had taken/adopted them from the refuge, but the dogs had eaten a neighbour's chicken and the neighbour had threatened to poison the dogs. Could we take them back? I looked at the squirming bag. Saying "No" meant I was condemning them to either being dumped in a ditch tied in that bag, or if the man was soft enough to take them back home, the chicken lady would poison them. I took them bag. I carried these two dogs back to where we could isolate them and we took them out of the bag and cut off the rope that the man had tied around their necks and we all stood there looking at each other. They were two little unsocialized dogs and they are now here. Two more to fix, to chase, to maybe be adoptable but after how much work?



Getting organized again to go, a "vet" arrives with maybe his grandson. He is an older man that I guess Tia Migue asked to look at Panda's eye. Panda had a tumor in his eye, and I was going to ask Dra Sonia to remove it on Saturday, but I guess Tia wanted it done sooner. He had come to give Panda a shot of antibiotics. Panda is not only the largest male dog at the refuge, he is also a biter. He bit Carlos. Only time either of us has gotten bit. This "vet" arrives with nothing other than his syringe. No muzzle, no collar, no leash. And fear. Panda is a good dog, he just has boundary issues. Carlos goes to the van and gets a choke chain, a leash and then. after I see how afraid the "vet" is, the muzzle. I put the choke chain on Panda, then the muzzle, Carlos holds the leash from the other side of the door, and the vet manages the injection as I hold Panda's head. I left my equipment there, as this guy was supposed to come back every three days. I expect it will be gone when I go back.

It's now 2:20. We head back to the city. When I arrive home, Ralph says, "How was your day?".

"It was varied.", I say. How else to describe 4 and a half hours?




Saturday, May 16, 2020

Bird Porn

Four years ago, on a tour, one of our guests asked us if we did birding tours. Ralph and I replied in unison, "No!".

Then we went up hiking in Capulalpam with my sister-in-law and her husband, and Leon, our guide, asked if we were birders. "No!", in unison, we chanted. He then proceeded to make me think that maybe we could do a birding tour. Over the next five hours of hard hiking through pine forest, he would point out the occasional bird and show us in his well thumbed bird guide. He would lend us his binoculars and take a picture and zoom it in. I started to ask him questions. Bird watching behaviour questions. I am a hiker. Not a speed hiker, I love to stop and look at vistas and mushrooms, flowers and smell the forest around me. But a hiker. Taking 3 hours to walk 2 kilometres was not my ideal of a great outing.

Almost two years ago, we started bird tours. Ralph had gone out with our friend Gail and got hooked on birding, and so we started offering outings. I was the chase vehicle, lunch setter upper, driver and assistant for all things bird related, but Ralph took our guests and together he and the guests always saw a bird that was "Worth the trip!". Like the Vermilion Fly Catcher, for example.

Vermilion Fly Catcher. Photo Credit Ralph Gault.
May 2020. Yagul.

I quickly realized birding was a competitive sport. From long intense binocular discussions to camera debates, to theoretic debates about using an app to "call" the birds with different bird sounds. Which app to use to track, find, look up... endless. As part of building new tours, the "homework" involves going out to new places to consider if it would be worth building a tour to that location, and also figuring our ideal timing, stopping, walking distances. all those good things guests like you to know before you take them walking in the bush.

During this quarantine period we have gone out to bird (once we had the car back!) to Yagul, my most favorite archaeological site in the valley, and taken the side trails to see what birds were hanging around. Last week there were two great horned owls, which were amazing and I could have set up a chair and watched them for hours.

This week, I really enjoyed this little guy, who I named "Betty" before really thinking through that I should pick more masculine names for these fine featured fauna. Betty is a Rufus Capped Warbler. Super sexy, no?

Rufus Capped Warbler. Photo Credit Ralph Gault
May 2020 Yagul

Rufus Capped Warbler. Photo Credit Ralph Gault
May 2020 Yagul

Last year we went birding with a woman from Texas who was talking about when she started birding 30 years ago. In my head I was thinking, "Crap, that is so much experience!" but then I realized that when I am 75, if I started birding today, I could say the same thing! I am enjoying myself. And the Lesser Road Runners.

Lesser Road Runner. Photo Credit Ralph Gault.
May 2020. Yagul.