Family and Friends

May 24, 2010

Pork Chops with Figs & Chipoltle

One of my favorite activities is cooking. I enjoy making classic dishes but what I really love to do is invent new ones.

My  93 year old mother-in-law has a mature fig tree outside her kitchen window. It isn’t much to look at but the scrawny little thing bears lots of juicy fruit. When I ask her why the plant does so well she replies (with total seriousness)

“A fig tree has to be planted where it can hear gossip. Each story produces a morsel of fruit… the more interesting the tale, the bigger the fruit.”

“Let’s sit by the window,” I suggest “and we’ll see if we can help the production!”

So, a month later I am sitting in my kitchen with a lot of figs… Here’s the recipe I developed.

Pork Chops with Figs & Chipoltle


8 lean pork loin chops (about 1 cm. thick)                      

½ white onion (chopped)

4 cloves garlic (minced)

Salt & Pepper

1/3 cup sugar

8 large ripe figs

1 cup chicken stock

1 cup red cooking wine

2 minced chipotle peppers (with a little of the adobo)


Season the chops with salt and pepper and sauté them in a little olive oil for 5 minutes on each side. Transfer the meat to a baking dish.

Deglaze the skillet by sautéing the garlic and onions in the pan drippings. When the onion is translucent, set to one side

In another skillet caramelize the figs. (This is done directly over medium-high heat by putting the whole figs in the skillet with 1/3 cup of sugar. The heat will cause the figs to seep and the sugar will melt, coating them with a golden crust. This should take about 5 minutes)

Chop the figs coarsely and add the sautéed onion and garlic. Mix lightly and add the minced chipotle. Next add the wine and chicken stock. Allow the sauce to simmer for about 20 minutes then pour it over the chops laid in the baking dish.

Bake uncovered for 45 minutes.


I serve this dish with steamed white rice and fresh asparagus.

Let me know how you like it!


May 19, 2010

Adaptation Issues

Adapting to a new life in Mexico does have its moments!

I have been happily deluged with comments today but not from my own blog posting! I wrote an article called, “Crossing Cultures Respectfully” for the popular Merida website, “Yucatan Living”

It seems that the international residents in Yucatan want to be sensitive to the local community’s needs. Sometimes we commit faux pas because we are totally unaware that we are doing anything at all out of line.

When I first moved to Mexico did I ever flounder around…

Take social greetings as a first example. Initially this seemed absolutely spontaneous and I extended over the top affection to all. But after a little more detailed observation, I began to suspect a concise code of conduct was being followed and it was going right over my head. Very puzzling…

My mother-in-law, Doña Bertha with me on her 90th birthday. Over the years we’ve learned a lot from one another

 The way we dress is another frequent source of misinterpretation. Traditional Yucatecan women do not leave the house in big loose skirts and stretched out T-shirts with flat sandals (especially not cracked leather Birkenstocks or neon colored Crocs!) It is doubtful they even own such attire. Yucatecan women wear bras – always. All but the ultra-conservative, will wear shorts and tank tops at home or at the beach, or maybe to the corner store. But never to town or anywhere else where they’ll be seen.

 I was not at all culturally sensitive when I first came to live in Mexico. I laugh (and cringe a bit) at how I dressed (tube tops that often slipped down way lower than they should have and wrap-around skirts that flew up in the breeze) No wonder my mother-in-law undertook a full scale campaign to change me! But this isn’t the answer either, you have to hold your own and be authentic. You can’t be expected to toss aside your personal style in a desperate attempt to be accepted. It is more an issue of making compromises here and there. (I learned to wear T-shirts and skirts that stayed put.)  

I’ve kept a journal for most of my years in Mexico and I am especially careful to keep track of the funny things that happen. (Oh, there have been so many!) I think a sense of humor is vital and if you can use it to work something out, so much the better!

 I don’t write in my journal every day but whenever I want to or need to, I find it is a tremendous help. If I’m trying to figure something out, I often go back and read about a previous time in my life when I had a similar issue to face. I can then remember how I felt and what I did about it.

Many of the newcomers I’ve met over the years have been very frustrated and impatient with the progress of their adaptation and the options they have open to them. Sometimes in my journals, I’ve been able to find mention of a similar episode that I went through. When I recount my experience, they realize that obviously, I survived and that they too will probably make it through whatever it is they’re facing. The record of how I have felt, what I’ve seen, and what I have done since coming to Mexico helps me on a daily basis. Maybe keeping a journal could do the same for you?


May 10, 2010

Mothers Day


Carlos and Maggie when they were small

Yesterday was Mothers Day in the USA and Canada. Today it is Mothers Day in Mexico. Needless to say these two days are being well celebrated by “Yours truly” and in splendid company.

My place as Carlos and Maggie’s mom is not eclipsed by any of the many great things in my life.

And yet, this celebration has its quiet moments because I am also mother to a child who is no longer here. Our first baby was born on May 4, 1980 and he died of a brain hemorrhage on May 7, 1980. No explanation could be found as to why. He would be thirty years old now…

Losing a child is the loneliest thing that can happen to a person. Even after all these years, when I think of that day, I feel the shock. It seemed so sudden, so unanticipated, and so definite. I appeared to be paralyzed. I didn’t want food or drink or company. I just wanted it to be yesterday. I longed to hold my baby again and to feel his sweet little body. 

Jorge and I dealt with our grief in very different ways. I wanted to talk about Jorgito and I clung to his memory. Jorge could not; he couldn’t stand the pain of remembering. I did not judge my husband, nor did he judge me. Neither of us felt like we were much help to each other. Yet we bore witness to one another’s suffering and vulnerability and I know that sharing that terrible pain strengthened our marriage.

When two people accompany one another through such agony and somehow remain intact, they are better equipped to handle other difficult times and successive trials are less stressful for them.

 Over the years we’ve come to accept this tragedy and it is a bitter-sweet part of our family’s history.

To all mothers of children here, there and everywhere, I send my love. We all know the joys and sorrows that being a mom can bring and this makes us part of one great worldwide sorority: The Mothers Club …  I’m honored to belong!




May 6, 2010

Maggie and Ricardo are engaged…

If I can be forgiven one more sentimental entry, I have some pictures of yesterday’s engagement dinner.

Maggie and Ricardo arrived from Cancun to find to his parents, his brother and fiancée, her parents and her brother all waiting to congratulate the happy couple.

After toasting with champagne, we did indeed eat the Easter ham along with scalloped potatoes, cold asparagus with vinaigrette and almond cake for dessert.

No plans yet with regards to dates or details for the coming wedding but it will be held sometime in 2011.

Jorge and I feel very happy and look forward with great anticipation to lots of time with our now extended family.


May 5, 2010

How Did You Get Here?

On Wednesdays, I ask the question, “How did you get here?”  Jorge and I have not moved physically since yesterday but our sense of time and space has taken a quantum leap. Certainly “here” is now a different place.

Yesterday, we knew both of our grown children would be arriving in the afternoon…  

For the past two months Carlos has been in Ontario Canada working as a photographer at dance competitions. Maggie has spent a year and a half in Vancouver doing a post grad in Tourism Management. What a wonderful coincidence they would both arrive home in Mexico on the same day and in time for my birthday and Mothers Day!

At 6 pm, I went to the Merida airport and picked up my fair haired boy. He’s 29 but to me, he is still that same sweet little guy. We headed home, had a swim, ate and soon heard from Maggie. Her plane had safely landed in Cancun. Her boyfriend Ricardo had picked her up and as it was late by this time, they’d make the drive to Merida the following day – Great!

Four hours later, another call from Maggie came in…  Under normal circumstances, she has a good healthy voice but when the news is BIG, her voice shrinks to a chirp. Barely audibly, she said, “Mom, Ricardo and I are engaged.” A pause… then with more vigor, “I’m wearing the most beautiful ring!”

As I said, we knew this was coming but still the wonder of such moments is overwhelming. And we find ourselves in this new happy place where we’re on the verge of so many new and amazing experiences.

  Tonight, in our house… where Carlos and Maggie grew up, an engagement supper will be held. Ricardo and his lovely family will join ours for “the Easter ham.” It didn’t get baked on that traditional Sunday because none of us were here to share it. It seems like the perfect meal for this occasion.

After all, we are in the midst of a sort of a rebirth… the start of a new stage in our family’s story.



April 29, 2010

We will always be friends…


Hanneke &  Joanna: still friends… 34 years later


When a person leaves one place and moves to another, it’s exciting and fun.  There’s so much to look forward to and a promise of discovery is in the air.

It also seems painful and sad because the move necessitates leaving people we love. We have to say goodbye to friends who have been so important to us.

I went through this when I left Canada and came to live in Mexico. “I will miss you so much!” I would wail. My friends would lock me in their arms and say things like, “Oh I know… I’ll miss you too!”

But one friend acted differently. When I told her about my plan to live in Yucatan, she smiled and said, “We will always be friends!”

Hanneke was a little older than me. She’d travelled a great deal and in many ways, she was one of my great mentors. She told me she’d learned through the years that great friendships never die… and she was right on. We’re still great friends; in fact she and her husband visited us in Merida just this past winter… 34 years later.

Tonight my daughter is wearing the same shoes. For the past year and a half, she’s been in Vancouver doing a post-grad specialization and now has to say goodbye to her classmates and other people she has grown to care for.

She called me and said, “Mom, I’m having a real hard time with this.” I thought back and repeated Hanneke’s words, “You will always be friends.”

I reminded Maggie of all the great friendships I have and she agreed that because my group  has made an effort to keep in touch; our relationships have endured the time and distance that separates us. When I see these women, it never feels like years have passed. We pick up as though we’d seen each other yesterday.


Lest we forget

November 11,2010

During World War One, a Canadian artillery officer, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, was killed during the Second Battle of Ypres on May 2, 1915. A friend of his, and he was asked to conduct the burial service because the chaplain was not at the camp. The story is that later that evening John McCrae wrote his famous poem ‘In Flanders Fields’.

Douglas Armstrong in 1940    

As a child, I recited the three beautifully crafted verses every year on November 11th. My dad, uncles and all my friends’ dads and uncles had been “in the war”. Something our mothers warned we shouldn’t ask about.

But in later years these men finally brought the war years into the open. Once they began, many found they couldn’t stop talking about that time. Often one of the old men would pull me aside and say, “Let me tell you a little story about the war…”

All but one, Uncle Doug Armstrong are gone now. He’ll be down at the cenotaph in Nanaimo, Canada tomorrow. A much younger soldier will push his wheel chair and everyone will exclaim over the medals that he proudly wears – once every year. He’s deaf as a post but he’ll understand every word they are saying. In honor of my dearest Uncle Doug and all those good men who have gone to their reward, I transcribe this poem.                                       


 Jorge & me with him (at 98) last summer                                                                                             

In Flanders Fields

by John McCrae, May 1915

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

“Lest we forget…”

 Read “In Flanders Fields” and others on this link:

The photo of the poppies is from:  

8 responses to “Family and Friends

  1. Steve Shewchuk

    Where was the photo for the cover of your book taken? We are photographers and would love to find that place when we are in Merida.

    • Thanks, it is a lovely photo, isn’t it? Actually it was purchased from a photogaphy agency and was taken somewhere in Guanajuato. Although you won’t be able to visit this exact spot, there are many similar ones.

  2. Steve Shewchuk


    My wife and I will be vacationing in Merida at the end of Dec. (staying at the Villa at Merida..the place looks amazing).

    We are from Thunder Bay Ontario, Canada and are seriously considering moving to Merida or at least buying a vacation house.

    We just placed an order for your book.

    Thank you for your time
    Steve and Janice Shewchuk

  3. Tracy Coates

    Joanna, I am at T in your alphabet from the book Tomando Augo de Poza. What a wonderful and insightful bookk and very helpful. So many of the comments you have made I have experienced on my 3 trips to Merida since November. My husband is there trying to start a business and we want to renovate some of the lovely colonial homes. I am in the process of pondering the big jump from leaving a very well paying job here in Toronto to be with him as I miss him terribly. Your book has helped. I am down for a visit on the 26th August to the 10th. I do hope I get the chance to meet you. I also look forward to your new book. Congratulations and thank you. I think I will leave this one for my Dad to read it will help him understand why I want to go to such a beautiful part of the world.Loved Uncle Doug in your book and hope he is still with you. I have an 87 year old great uncle who is the only one left and fought in that war too. Regards to you and thank you for sharing your family with us. Tracy (fellow Canadian – working on my espanol!).

    • Tracy, I am so pleased that my book has helped you… I wrote it for those who wonder “What if…?”. It seems very scary to leave the familiar world but if your heart tells you that you need to do so, I’d suggest you follow it. But do so slowly… don’t sever all your connections and take baby steps. I am on holiday just now but will be in Merida while you are still there. Please contact me again after Sept. 4th… it would be a pleasure to meet you. My best wishes…

  4. Maggie Mears

    I am loving reading about your experiences. So glad to hear of engagements. I cannot believe Maggie had been 1 1/2 years in Vancouver already! I have wonderful memories of my time with you in San Miguel! The photos taken by Carlos are AWESOME! Such a talented young man. I read portions of your book-in-progress.Fantastic, descriptive words, Joanna.I can hardly wait to read the whole book!
    Love to you and Jorge

    • Thank you so much Maggie! I too have extremely fond memories of our time together in San Miguel. Let’s hope we can get together again soon. I’m attending a writers’ workshop in Zihuatanejo in January 2011… can you come? Thanks too for your encouragement with regards to the new book. How’s your writing coming along? Love back to you from our whole family!

    • Thank you Maggie… I know you are in Vancouver visiting Mary. I wish I could be with the two of you. Why don’t you come on the trip this year? I’d love that! We’ll stay in touch.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s