Guest Bloggers

June 11, 2010

World Cup 2010, South Africa vs Mexico

Normally, I do not watch sports on TV. I do not go to games and as my friend Marianne says, “I have nothing to do with actually playing any sport that involves a round object of any kind.”

 But I do make exceptions. In February, I considered setting up a shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe and praying for her intervention in the final Hockey game of the 2010 Winter Olympics. After all, my home and native land’s honor was at stake! I wonder if those good old Canadian boys could even imagine that in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico there was a group of fervent fans rooting for them every bit as hard as those who attended the game in Vancouver and sat at center ice. Fortunately, for the ego of Canucks far and wide, our position as “Number One on the Ice” was confirmed and the whole world would not ever be allowed to forget that “Hockey is Canada’s game.”

Today an equally important match is to be held. My other country… Mexico will play South Africa in the opening game of the 2010 World Cup to be played in South Africa. Mexico must win this game if it wants to have a chance at the ones to follow. They should win… The FIFA ranks our nation as No. 15 and South Africa is… ahem, 86th. For the record, Mexico did make it to round two in the following games: against USA in 1994, France in 1998, Japan in 2002 and Germany in 2006.

But this IS the opening game and it is to be played on South African turf. The stadium will be filled with fans from every African nation… this is the FIRST World Cup game to be played on the African continent – ever! The Rainbow Nation’s players will be super pumped and La Rasa had better blow extra, extra hard on their Mariachi trumpets to be heard above the beat of many African drums.

The faithful fans back home can watch the transmission, starting at 7 am. I predict the country will be virtually shut down until the game is done.  If our muchachos , led by “El Chicharo Hernandez” do their bit… the celebrating will go on all day and into the night.

Wow, in Mexico and all over the world  there’s nothing like sports, especially  futbol to ignite national pride!


June 08, 2010

Third Annual Latin American Bloggers Conference

TTT College of Tourism and Modern Languages

In mid-May, three Merida bloggers announced that plans were underway for The Third Annual Latin American Bloggers Conference.

Well the rumor’s true… Here are the confirmed details:

Conference Blogsite:

Dates: Friday November 12 – Sunday November 14, 2010

Venue: TTT College of Tourism and Modern Languages

Calle 57 No. 492 Entre 56 & 58

Colonia Centro Histórico

Mérida, Yucatán, México

Cost: The events held at TTT will be free of charge. Participants will need to cover their personal expenses (food, lodging, transportation etc.) Perhaps some of the presenters may require you to buy copies or whatever… more about that as it comes up.

Registration:  At the official site:  At this point in time, we are asking that all those interested in attending send an email to:

The message should include: Your name, e-mail, mobile number or landline, address, your blog’s URL or domain.

Even if you’ve already been in touch with one of the conference organizers: (Theresa, Debi or Joanna) we still ask that you send us a note to be sure no one is overlooked.

Shortly, a list of hotels and other information will be posted on the conference blog site:


June 4, 2010

The Way It Was… For Me

Chichen Itza… Before the vendors invaded!

Lately, much has been written on different blogs about the good and not so good old days for international residents in Mexico. Certainly there’s a lot nostalgia attached to the memories I have of my first months here  in Merida, but truly… most of the time I felt like I was on a roller coaster!

On one hand, I likened myself to a romance novel heroine. On that first evening in 1976, the dew settled early and the heat was diffused by refreshing breezes that swept into the city from the Gulf of Mexico. The moon tipped at a different angle than up north and familiar constellations looked higher in the sky. Fallen flamboyant blossoms carpeted the ground and reminded me of saffron. I sensed a tangy smell everywhere.

But as I settled in, my sensible side began twigging to the fact that adjusting to life as full time a resident of Merida would be more than I had allowed myself to consider. One morning, sleepily rubbing my eyes, I padded bare-footed into the kitchen looking for coffee. I felt something slimy ease between my toes. Confused and distressed, I was confronted by six large, white ducks in our living room. They’d wandered over from the neighbor’s yard and in through the open back door. Freaked-out by duck droppings – EVERYWHERE, I was down on all fours with Clorox and a stiff brush. To his credit, Jorge quickly saw he was going to have to help me – and with a lot more than cleaning up after the wildlife!

Our little house was tucked away on a quiet street. Before I got here, Jorge assured me it had been fully furnished. It had, for his needs. A new bed and a cane rocking chair in the master bedroom; no furniture in either of the other bedrooms; a vintage fridge, a miniscule stove, an old wooden table, and two mismatched chairs in the kitchen; a Formica-topped dinette suite in the dining room; a lime green couch, two matching armchairs and a cast-off coffee table in the living room. No curtains, no lamps, two towels, no art, no decorations of any kind – and no toilette seat! One set of pink sheets, cutlery, china, and glassware for four, two pots, a can opener, a corkscrew, a cutting board, and one knife… and oh yes, two hammocks and two ceiling fans! That was the entire household inventory.

Nonplussed, I figured I would soon acquire the many other things I’d need. I had no way of knowing that many items I felt were indispensible were hard to come by or terribly expensive. I managed to overcome the dearth of necessary basics. However, parked outside, I saw my Waterloo. Jorge had a brand-new canary-yellow VW bug that he expected me to drive. I had never driven a stick-shift in my life!

I did not want to drive – not ever – not for anything in the world! I quickly learned to take the bus downtown and all the shake, rattle and roll,  endured on rock-hard bus benches was preferable to putting my life in the hands of all those Nikki Lauda wannabes. I observed that the locals were truly split personalities – so polite until they got behind the wheel of a vehicle! But Jorge didn’t accept my absolutely valid arguments. He cajoled me and finally resorted to bribery. He said if I’d go with him to get my driver’s license, afterwards he would buy me whatever I wanted.  He assured me the process would be a mere formality; I had a Canadian license so I’d automatically get one here.

Ha! Not so! “You know I can’t drive a standard!” I hissed at him as the officer escorted us to the waiting VW. Reluctantly, I got in – the policeman beside me and Jorge in the back. We lurched and squealed around a few blocks and when we returned to the starting point, the examiner turned to Jorge and said sternly, “You have to let her practice more.” Then he smiled at me and said, “You’ve passed!” Now, if it was that easy to get a license, I truly understood why the majority of the people drive so badly.

Life was pretty laid back

But before long, I could maneuver that little bug with the best of them. I mastered all the Mexico moves – I held my own at intersections, spun around traffic circles, and parked any-which-way, on any-old-street. Once I got used to it, driving in Merida wasn’t that difficult or scary and many possibilities opened up to me. That sunny Beetle became my ticket to freedom. I could go wherever I wanted to, whenever I chose.

* Photo of Chichen Itza taken by Mary Lumby


Ellyne Basto

It refreshing to read about fond memories of Merida that are not at the expense of others. Many of these memories exist for me as well, only it took me longer to acquire the “guts” to drive…. Well that and a car with an automatic transmission!


2010/06/05 at 7:40 pm | Joanna In reply to Ellyne Basto.

Thanks Ellyne, I feel that most of the long time international residents have a certain sense of satisfaction at having learned to navigate through a new culture and eventually contribute to the community in positive ways as you have.


The Way It Was… For Me
4 #
 Leah Flinn

I love the nostalgic posts!

When I came last year I had two large suitcases full of personal belongings and a small SUV full of the rest of the things we would start out life in Mexico with. We’ve acquired more since then, but I try to be mindful not to get things I don’t really need. I don’t want the hassle of the extra maintenance.

The Way It Was… For Me
4 #

How right you are Leah… we don’t need all those electric appliances that break down on a regular basis. In the long run, all the bells and whistles don’t save much time.


How right you are Leah… we don’t need all those electric appliances that break down on a regular basis. In the long run, all the bells and whistles don’t save much time.


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The Way It Was… For Me
4 #


June 03, 2010

Santa Lucia

It has been hot in Merida Yucatan… and THAT is the understatement of the day!

I am often asked by Yucatecans if I am “used to” the hot humid weather. I smile and say, “No, are you?” They have to laugh. Absolutely everyone suffers the heat…

But tonight (and every Thursday) there’s a way to beat it. Try going to “La Serenata de Santa Lucia”…  At 9 pm, the city administration sponsors regional entertainment…  jarana dancing, Trova trios, other singing artists, and poetry reading… The program takes an hour and is usually very pleasant. Bleachers are set up around the raised stage but we prefer to sit further back. ..

One of our favorite hotels in the city, “Hotel Lucia”, located across the street from the plaza places tables and chairs so that their customers can have a drink and nibble a little, while the performance proceeds.

When the official program is over, a delightful guitar duo sit down on the park benches in front of the tables, smile broadly and play wonderful Mexican ballads and sexy soulful  Latin rhythms. Compositions by Miguel Rios, Fernando Delgadillo, Miguel Bosé, Compay Segundo, Juan Luis Guerra and others are all part of their repertoire.

We order another glass of wine or sometimes a “solito” and watch all the happy people… and the romantic ones too. Somehow, once you’ve lived in Mexico for a while, there’s nothing quite like a serenata to make you feel “like you did years ago”…


Community Development:      May 31, 2010     Santa Elena

Mexico:      June 1, 2010      Bicentennial IX     Miguel Aleman

Writing:      June 02,2010    Starry, Starry Night


4        Comments on “Santa Lucia”

1     Leah Flinn Says:

June 3, 2010 at 6:44 am e

In Veracruz we have toritos – flavored liquor drinks, very good. But when the heat & humidity is as insufferable as of late, I love a cold Sol beer. And I hideout in my bedroom


2     joannavdg Says:

June 3, 2010 at 7:15 am e

I hear you Leah! There are many things to be said about the merits of a cold beer. And whoever invented AC deserves a Nobel peace prize!!!

3     Elizabeth Says:

June 2, 2010 at 10:45 pm e

What is a solito?


4    joannavdg Says:

June 3, 2010 at 5:25 am e

A “solito” is a shot of hard liquor… often tequila.

May 27, 2010

Heat… Heat… Heat… Heat!

How do I deal with the hot summer weather?

Everyone’s humor seems to hang by a tether.

And attitudes just get worse and worse,

Tempers sour and  foul mouths curse.


Half of my friends take a long holiday!

Even the locals want to travel away

As far as they can from this tropical place,

They aim to find a cooler space.


How do I manage to stay happy and calm?

Every one asks, do I have a balm?

Ah…  when the heat makes my temper fly

To the pool I go and sink down with a sigh


Hours pass by, I’m very content

Enjoying cool water in my tub of cement

A lucky girl am I, this I know

The heat after all, is better than snow


May 26, 2010 

SoHo Gallery

SoHo Gallery near Santa Ana Park

The word appears to be out – many artists of every medium, are packing themselves, their loved ones, their talent and their entrepreneurship and putting down roots in Merida. New shops, studios, restaurants, B&Bs and galleries are starting to line the streets… the city seems to be going through a cultural renaissance    ¡ BIENVENIDA!

Today I spoke with Adele Aguirre and Nic Lavroff, owners of the SoHo Gallery on 60th Street, close to Parque Santa Ana. Adele had not yet settled here permanently when she met Nic, who’d been living in the city for a number of years.  At a party they discovered their mutual passion for art and… one thing led to another.

They found a property, renovated it and opened SoHo Gallery in November 2008. Since then they’ve hosted numerous shows and exhibitions. They have the work of many local artists such as David Reed on display and also Nic’s wonderful photographs.

A Cuban friend introduced Adele to the art of her island home and the former New Yorker says, “I was so impressed with intensity of the work.” She made enquiries as to how she could show some of the pieces.

“It took about four months to arrange everything,” she says, but her persistence paid off and the first paintings arrived. Since then she has successfully imported about 25 paintings by important Cuban painters.

Currently the gallery is featuring the work of Carlos Camero, Roberto Diego, Harry Sam and Eduardo Abela Torras. The styles of these Cuban artists vary greatly. But, as Adele says, the pieces are “intense.”

Her excitement about the art is contagious and her changing lifestyle and attitude are common to many women I meetthese days.  In New York she acheived the success she sought in corporate America and now her desire runs more towards surrounding herself with beauty and art, “I’ve always loved art and I’ve collected but my taste was more whimsical, now I find that is changing”

Walk on over and take a look at the current exhibition, “The Art of Change.” When I spoke with Adele, I forgot to ask about the gallery’s exact hours but you can call to find out:  928-5710.

Photographs by Nic Lavroff


May 20, 2010

The Third Annual Latin American Bloggers Convention Cometh…

Mark your calendars!

The Third Annual Latin American Bloggers’ Conference will be held in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico from Friday Nov. 12 – Sunday Nov. 14, 2010. The event is open to all Bloggers but in order for us to get ready, it will be necessary for you to pre-register. Stay tuned… in the next few weeks, we’ll create a form and post it.

This year our venue will be a downtown college campus ( that comes with wireless Internet, garden space and lecture hall.

Theresa organized the 2009 Convention and is looking forward to being involved with the event this year

The activities will start on Friday evening, November 12th with a Cocktail-Social to Meet & Greet your fellow Bloggers.

On Saturday, November 13th we will have a full day of conferences/talks/workshops… lunch, more topics, and more opportunities to eat.  Some of the ideas we have are:

  • Identifying and keeping your blog’s Focus
  • Adding Photos – Uploading, effectiveness and continuity
  • Using you Blog to market your product / service / whatever
  • A Beginner’s blogging class
  • Advanced HTML techniques

Do these interest you? Do you have other suggestions?

Would you like to do a presentation for yourfellow bloggers?  Do let us know because we want this conference to be as good as it can be.

Saturday will also provide an evening opportunity to see some of Merida’s clubs and bistros… There are a number to choose from.

We’ll say goodbye with a Sunday morning breakfast, unless you decide to stay and enjoy Merida for a few extra days.

Please email and let us know if you want to come and join us. Invite other bloggers you know and by all means, post this information on your blog.  We hope to have as many Latin American Bloggers attend the conference as possible. The more the merrier!

Debi and Joanna are poised to answer your questions about the convention

In a few weeks, we will be compiling a short list of hotels, restaurants and other places of interest located close to the conference site.

For further info contact…

Theresa at:

Joanna at:

Debi at:


 May 17, 2010                                             

The Lovely Harp

 Ruth Bennett

No doubt most of you have seen the hauntingly elegant film “The Piano.” Well, as lovely as it was, this evening I saw and heard something even more beautiful. I attended a harp recital. This was the first time I’d ever experienced the instrument played on its own and I had no idea of its versatility. The young soloist, Ruth Bennett looked and sounded like an angel.

                The program consisted of two parts, each with three selections. During the first half of the program, we were treated to a Sonata by John Perry; a second by Bach and two other compositions. Following the intermission, we heard another Sonata by Paul Hindemith, followed by six preludes for harp by Michael Mauldin and finally the breathtaking “Rhapsody.”

                Ruth Bennett was born in Whitstable, Britain. She moved to the USA when she turned nine and studied there with her grandmother Gertrude Handelsman  who was also a harpist. Later on she studied music at the University of Potsdam. She now lives full time in Merida and plays with our symphony.

                Her fellow symphony colleague, Elizabeth Arnott another Brit confirmed what Ross and Ben had told me …


Ruth has won first place in the  Second National Harp Contest in Mexico. Her prize includes a trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where she will be a guest performer in a Harp Festival. Quite an honor for a young musician.

                As always our hosts, Ben Ramirez and Ross Russell were, wonderfully hospitable and we their guests…  so appreciative their efforts. The ambiance they create is unique.

                I feel very fortunate tonight. I was able to spend time with my friends and hear a marvelous concert. Indeed we are lucky to live here in Paradise.



Monday May 3, 2010

You know You’ve Been In Merida A Long Time When…

Over the weekend,  while paddling in the pool with a group of friends,  Ellyne said, “I have something important to ask people via your blog!”

Now what could this be about? World peace… The environment… The economy?

Nah… nah… nah! This question is far more profound. Actually it is a “leading statement” more than a question. And it is this:

 “You know you’ve lived in Merida for a long time when…”

 What did my friends have to say?


Ellyne herself said, “You know you’ve lived in Merida for a long time when… you encounter some hard-to-find item in the store and you do NOT e-mail your 30 best friends to let them know of your find.”




Colleen said, “You know you’ve lived in Merida for a long time when… you no longer remember why on earth you weren’t thrilled with the place when you first got here.”

 Rainie said, “You know you’ve lived in Merida for a long time when…  the light peach colored paint you bought for your house turns out to be bright orange and you think to yourself, ?Oh well, it will fade!”




Juanita said, “You know you’ve lived in Merida for a long time when… you can somehow manage to live through your neighbors renovation mess in YOUR house … TWICE … and figure, ‘It’s just part of it…” 



Valerie said, “You know you’ve lived in Yucatan for a long time when… the small things stop irritating you and you just can’t be bothered with the biggies.”

And how would you complete the sentence, “You know you’ve lived in Merida for a long time when…”

Make a comment below and let us all know…


April 28, 2010

How did you get here Valerie Pickles? 

Joanna and Valerie at “The Pickled Onion”
Today is Wednesday and I’m asking the question, “How did you get here?”

Meet my friend Valerie Pickles who hails from in Nelson, Lancashire, England.  However she spent much of her life in Ontario Canada where the winters are so-o-o cold. She felt ready to leave and find a sunnier place, never dreaming she’s soon be opening a restaurant.

Why did she choose Mexico? She’s one of the many who says, ” I didn’t really, it chose me!”

She says that when she went to school, “eons ago”, many opportunities were just not available.  She continued wanting to learn a second language but being married and divorced, with two children to raise didn’t leave much time or money for continuing education. But Valerie’s children eventually left home to begin their own life journeys which gave her the time to take a different path.  After taking a TESOL course (teacher of English as a second language), she traveled from Canada to Progreso, Yucatan to complete a practicum course in teaching. From there, she took some side trips on the weekends, one being to Merida.

On this trip, she met a Canadian lady by the name of Rose. The two had seen each other while eating breakfast at the small hotel where both were staying. They started a nice conversation about each other’s lives and what they planned on doing in the future.

Valerie told Rose about her wish to teach English somewhere in a Spanish speaking country. Having previously visited Guatemala and Panama she was looking to travel to places that were unknown to her. She entertained thoughts of going to South America.


Rose asked, “Why not teach here in the Yucatan?”

“Because I never thought of it, “ said Valerie

Rose then proceeded to say she could put her new acquaintance in touch with a lady named Martha who, come September would be looking for someone to help her, in her little private school where Rose herself had taught English. Rose told Valerie she was returning to Canada with her mother after settling the affairs of her parents  property in Ticul.

Valerie says, “You see Rose’s late father and her ailing mother had lived in the small town of Ticul , south of Merida for over thirty years. They too had immigrated to Canada and after raising their daughters there, they’d worked their way south to Yucatan where they set up their home. They taught some of the local children to speak English and Martha was one of them.”

It was April of 2004 when Rose gave Valerie Martha’s contacts, Valerie decided to write an email when she arrived home in Canada. When she did, she received an immediate response.

And so Valerie’s journey began. She decided to sell her home putting a sign on the front lawn without a real estate agent and within three weeks it was sold. “M-m-m-m…” she thought, “This is meant to be because things are going along so smoothly.” Onto selling furnishings and other “stuff” which left her pared down to two suitcases (She says she now has three!)

She admits to leaving a couple of boxes of favorite books, family photos and personal memorabilia with her daughter and with that taken care of, she set off towards her new adventure.

As arranged, in September of 2004, without difficulty and without speaking Spanish, she arrived at her destination, Ticul. Valerie tells of her arrival…

“Martha met me at the front gate. A sweet tiny Mayan woman , she wore a look  of complete shock on her face. Dropping my bags on the ground outside, I was whisked in to be shown  a portrait of Martha’s mother (now deceased) who had long blond hair ( as I ) and blue eyes ( me too).”

Upon seeing her new English teacher for the first time, Martha said, “How much you look like my mother I cannot believe it!”

Valerie continues, “From then on our relationship was cemented. After a couple of days I became aware that the reason I was in Ticul was to be Martha’s mother. We had long discussions about life in general and her longing to find a North American husband and to have her own  family . She had guilty feelings about leaving her family behind to pursue her dream, which did indeed come true in 2008. She is now living happily married in the USA and gave birth to her first child 2009.”

Valerie worked in Martha’s school for nearly two years but recognized the time to move on loomed near. She didn’t know what she wanted to do but she did know she didn’t want to return to Canada.  She continues with her tale, “Most of my life I have been self employed, running a business in England and then in Canada. I felt the time had come to go it alone again. Through help from a local person I was able to secure the buying of land in St Elena.”

Valerie had been told by a local business owner that the town had a desperate need for a  decent restaurant  to which Valerie says she told him, “Oh I don’t mind cooking …” Next she says, “The location just fell into my lap, so to speak. Friends showed me a great piece of land right on the main highway, between two bed and breakfast places.”

She began clearing the land, building the restaurant and a place to sleep. Money was not going as far as she was led to believe it would,  so a typical palapa style house for her was just “fine and dandy.”


The opening was on Christmas Day 2006. Valerie  worked without electricity for six weeks . But it was quite romantic in the restaurant with only candles to light the way. She remembers, “This worked well until the winds came and blew out all the candles… but it was fun!”

She had lamps in the kitchen and cooked by gas. Every day she shopped for supplies and blocks of ice . The day electricity got connected; she gave a big sigh of relief. And it was onto the next challenge: getting a liquor license.  This took another six months and lots of red tape but finally it happened .

“Phew another relief,” said Valerie.

She tells me that now, “everything is running fine and well” and she is able to continue building infrastructure, such as the swimming pool. (A great addition! ) She has built a meditation circle which could also be used to seat overflow guests and for sacred spiritual ceremonies.

The next things on Valerie’s list are new Palapa houses, that she can rent by the night and a gift shop where she can sell the local women’s hand made items.

When our interview is over, Valerie very understatedly says, “And that’s how I got here!” 


April 23, 2010

Merida’s International Womens Club

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun! IWC members at Red Cross Carnaval Dance

Life isn’t always a day at the beach, is it? No matter what your circumstances may be, there will be challenges…

In Merida, many clubs and associations have been formed to help new residents adjust to their new surroundings. You’ll find people like yourself and belonging will present you with a chance to help others. You have a lot to share and the more you give, the happier and better adjusted you’ll be.

When I first moved to Mexico, I was plagued with discontent. My period of adjustment was not easy. I believed we needed an English speaking women’s club, where women from different countries could meet and make friends. I especially thought such organization would be a great venue for Mexican women who had spent time in the U.S.A or Canada, and wanted to keep up their English language skills. I knew the American Consul in Merida, Mrs. Ginny Carson-Young. She turned out to be a marvelously supportive person and when I told her about my idea, she immediately offered the use of the meeting facility at the U.S. Consulate compound.

In October 1984, I chaired the first meeting of the “International Women’s Club of Merida”. A friend from Cancun, Ginny Browning had started a similar group there, and she agreed to be our first speaker. It was decided that we would have three aims: social, informative, and community service. Twenty-two women attended that first meeting and our club has grown ever since. I’ve been so gratified over the years when members have approached me and said, “I don’t know how I would cope with my issues if not for this club!”

The International Women’s Club (IWC) seemed to be an instant success. By 1984, many foreign women had come to live in Merida and many Mexican women were interested in making new English-speaking friends. Our club developed special interest groups: gourmet cooking, reading, women’s issues, and so on. We raised money for needy groups in the community and visited orphanages and old-age homes. We involved our own children in these activities and they learned to share with others. We had many interesting speakers at our monthly meetings and we held many, many great parties! In very meaningful ways, we became one another’s family.

In those years, the IWC special interest group that had the hugest impact on me was the English-speaking children’s play group. Through this activity, I met some of the best friends I’ve had in my life. And the kids! My friends’ children became my nieces and nephews; I no longer see a lot of them (they are now grown and on their own) but in my heart, I’ll always hold such a special place for them all. I watched these children grow up and I know more about them than they realize. We moms would organize events to mark the special occasions from our countries that were not celebrated in Mexico. We had Easter egg hunts and went trick-or-treating; we had a Teddy Bear’s picnic and made Christmas cookies. We took the kids on many outings, and we taught them about serving others.

The International Women’s Club (IWC) is now 25 years old.  One long time member has compared “the ladies of the club” to a smorgasbord!  She says, “There are a whole variety of women you can meet. Some will not be to your liking but others will become your good friends.”  The IWC’s special interest groups (SIGs) provide members with activities they can enjoy and where they will be presented with ways to help others.  Different club members host monthly teas, coffees and breakfasts in their homes and these events allow members to meet in smaller groups and get to know one another.

In the past, the IWC has held fashion shows, sightseeing trips around the country, bazaars, art shows, and a host of other fun, fund-raising activities that support its many causes such as the young women’s scholarship fund and the Red Cross Cancer Hospital.

How can you find out more about this group? It’s really easy… Check out the website:  or just come to a meeting. In fact there will be one tomorrow (Saturday April 24th). It begins at 9:30 am at: Calle 57 No. 492 Between 56 and 58, right in “El Centro” . You don’t need an invitation…

Show up and you’ll be welcome!


April 22, 2010

Joanna, how did you get here?

During the thirty-four years I’ve lived in Merida, I have met so many people! Very soon into our initial conversation, the question, “How did you get here?” is mutually answered. The stories are so diverse – some funny, some sad, some are romantic and others, quite frankly… are the stuff of fiction!

Everyone enjoys a good tale and so each Thursday, I will be writing about how different people managed to “get here.” Sometimes this will be in reference to “how” they made the actual physical journey. Or I might explain “the circumstances” that led to someone’s decision to make a move here. Other weeks, I won’t talk about the distance covered in kilometers or miles… I’ll be talking about the “emotional distance” and “here” may have nothing to do with Merida and everything to do with a state of consciousness.

I’ll allow myself to go first… “Joanna, how did you get here?”

          Joanna in 1976

          Thirty-four years ago, I surely did not sense that my life would veer radically off course. I had no idea of all that lay in store for me for the rest of my days. I ambled along, completely unaware and tumbled headlong through the door that opened.

In January 1976, I resided in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. I rented a one bedroom apartment near Stanley Park, in one of the lovely old ivy covered buildings that have since been torn down to make way for sky scraping glass and concrete towers. My place would fill with friends and family on the weekends and when I could, I’d drive two hundred miles in my powder blue Honda Civic to see my parents who lived in Princeton, a small interior town. I dated guys I’d meet through girlfriends but at the time, there was no special romantic interest in my life.

A few years previously, I had learned Spanish while teaching English in Peru. I felt so lucky that my new language helped me to land a job with a company that pioneered Canadian tourism packages in Latin America. As part of my customer service position, sometimes I’d be asked to guide familiarization groups of travel agents, journalists, and other media types to the company’s vacation destinations. I felt elated when asked to take thirty people on a seven-day swing through Cuba, followed by six days in Merida and Guadalajara, Mexico. What a great gig in the middle of the west coast Canadian winter!

Our group enjoyed seeing Fidel’s Cuba but were anxious to move on to the next destination, Merida, Yucatan, Mexico.

Arriving in the Yucatecan capital made such a contrast to our previous touchdown. As we disembarked, the sultry tropical air enveloped us like a warm blanket. Smiling, efficient Immigration officials greeted us and off to one side, a guitar trio strummed a romantic welcome… No travel agency representative met us, but a young airline employee assured me the bus waiting on the curb had to be the one we should file onto. We obliged and after a circuitous drive through extremely narrow streets, we were dropped off at the fully-appointed “Hotel Merida” in the historic center of the city. The receptionist promised that our guide would be in the lobby the following morning at 8:30 to take us all to Chichen Itza, an hour and a half’s drive from town. We spent the next few hours strolling the streets and people watching in the plazas. Almost immediately, I longed to belong here. From a pleasant, plump vendor, I bought a brightly colored crimson balloon, shaped like a heart and a bag of salty popcorn. I felt that something very magical and meaningful was in store for me in this place.

The next morning we assembled in the reception area and collectively smiled at the handsome man in a red shirt who was rushing through the door. We figured he must be our tour guide. Jorge was his name and did he do a double take when he saw me! Gazing into my eyes he crooned, “Estoy a tus ordenes” – “I am at your service.” Things were getting better and better! Sitting beside him on the bus, all the way to the archeological site, I learned that Jorge was single (promising…), had a law degree (how interesting…), and he spoke five languages (Good God!)  He had worked for two years in a Mexico City legal firm but missed Merida and his work as a guide… he returned home and never looked back.

The next three days brought one delightful surprise after another. Jorge showed us the treasures of Mexico but somehow led us to believe we were the ones discovering secret pleasures. We devoured the delicious Yucatecan cuisine – the fragrant poc chuc, crispy fried plantains, and creamy caramel flan. We imbibed considerable amounts of a wide variety of spirits and afterwards, were revived by drinking rich, aromatic coffee – gallons of it. A woman from the group remarked slyly, “You and Jorge are like Suzanne Pleshette and Ian McShane in that movie “If This Is Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium”… She proved to be right on. Our last night, as we sat together in a romantic patio restaurant, he took my hands in his and asked, “Do you realize that you and I are going to be married?”

I nearly fell off my chair and yet, somehow as outlandish as it sounded, I knew what he said had to be true. Flattered but flustered, I asked how this could possibly come to pass. “It just will,” he said…

The following three days in Guadalajara were full of Mariachi music and more regional fare – pozole, tortas ahogadas and churros. I also shopped seriously in the artisan markets of Ajijic and Tlaquepaque… (Two onyx chess sets and blown glass stemware for eight) Yet much of the time, all I could think of was Jorge and his pronouncement.

Seriously, could I really call it a proposal? On the way home, my arms groaned as I carried my weighty purchases through the long airport corridors. But the load was light compared to the heaviness in my heart as each flight took me further and further away from Mexico.

Upon my return to Vancouver, my boss congratulated me. Despite the adverse conditions in Cuba, the group enjoyed the people and the experience. Many of them were spreading the word that Canadians should travel to Cuba and Mexico. This kind of publicity was just what the company wanted.  I was asked, “Would you consider taking six more back to back groups?” Six more trips to Cuba? Six more three-day stays in Merida?  ¡Si, si, si!

I definitely had big reservations because I had no way of letting Jorge know I would be returning to Merida so soon. In 1976, the Internet could be found only in the pages of science-fiction novels and the best option we had – telegrams were notoriously unreliable; mail –  hopelessly slow, and telephone calls, prohibitively expensive. I figured, if Jorge seemed less than pleased by my surprise arrival, I would have the necessary answers to some hard questions. Maybe I would find he was less than fully available to me? My anxiety knew no limits as I took my new group through the paces in Cuba. The week’s scenario mimicked the previous one. I wondered if the Cuban tourism department figured we were all actors in a Kafka play.

Finally the day arrived. I would travel to Merida again and to my knowledge,  Jorge had no idea I’d be coming. I second-guessed my decision over and over again. What would he think? Would he view me as a naïve girl who believed all his flowery words and made too much of them? Would he be put-off by me returning so soon and did I look too eager? I reviewed different scenarios over and over in my head. It seemed like torture to be this unsure! Never in my life had I acted in this way – what could I be thinking?

As I walked through the Customs area I could see into the main terminal and who did I see? I saw Jorge… waving with flowers in hand and blowing kisses! How did he know I’d be here?

I smiled straight into his eyes and walked entranced into his arms. We kissed as my group looked on. They’d heard little confidences about Jorge for a whole week and I know they were as relieved as I that he seemed to be on the level. Once settled, they waved Jorge and me away and we went for a long walk along the Paseo de Montejo Boulevard. “How did you know I was coming?” I asked.

Apparently, just that morning while reading the passenger manifest, he saw my name listed as tour conductor. He confessed to being as overwhelmed as me. Things were certainly moving very fast and yet he sensed our chance meeting had to be Destiny at work. “We are meant to be together, it’s as simple as that!” said Jorge.

He suggested many scenarios that would help to make this happen but none of them involved him moving to Canada. A true Meridano to the core, he’d lived away once and didn’t like it. He really hoped I didn’t expect him to uproot his life. Fine with me!  I readily agreed to live in Mexico. As mentioned, a few years earlier, I’d spent time teaching English in Peru. I figured that compared to the services available in that Andean country, Mexico would not be challenging at all. Certainly my future involved a perfect life with Jorge!

On the city tour that included a stop at the zoo, I watched a couple of swans turning together in perfect circles. I thought they were like Jorge and I. In my besotted state, I grasped only one absolute certainty. I had fallen over-the-top in love. At the time I totally rejected the possibility that any serious difficulties could possibly lie ahead…

Just before Easter, I finished with my sixth group. It had been an idyllic three months with me traveling back and forth between Mexico and Cuba. Our time together had certainly fulfilled every one of my romantic fantasies. Now though, decision time loomed. Jorge had seen the light by this point and had begun to consider all the ramifications a continuing relationship would bring into our lives. He urged me to honestly and carefully assess the next step. But we had fallen totally in love, what could beat that?

I told Jorge I would go to Vancouver, say goodbye to my friends and family, quit my job, let go of my apartment, sell my car, and be back in a month, which is precisely what I did.

Were we too hasty? Yes… Did we think things through enough? No… Did we have difficulties along the way? We certainly did.  But, has it worked out? Would we do it again? You bet!

And what about you? Send me your story… If you’d like, I’ll interview you for one of the future articles.



Aprill 21, 2010

I got here as fast as I could…


Helping Hands

Do you believe in the importance of inclusiveness? By this I don’t mean opening your home or joining in every needy cause that comes to your attention. But from time to time, do you get a gut feeling that says, “This is probably pretty important… I should help out.”

Last week I wrote about the kindness extended to a friend who suffered a sudden life threatening illness. The response to her need was overwhelming. Her friends, acquaintances, hospital staff, doctors and even complete strangers all did what they could.

Now that she is home and convalescing, a large number of people have signed on to stay with her 24 – 7. They do her shopping, prepare meals, take her to doctor appointments and feed her cats. To me this speaks volumes about the community we live in and I applaud everyone who is making an effort – large or small.

To me, the measure of a person is generosity of spirit. When I meet a new person, I don’t just look at how he or she treats me. I look at the interaction I see with others. When I observe giving, outreaching behavior, I become interested in getting to know more about this person.

Today, as well as giving well-deserved acknowledgement to the persons who came through for my friend in her time of need, I would like to take things a step further and talk about the Yucatecans and their sense of giving.

They are generous in small but consistant ways. I have seen obviously dirt poor women stop on the street, set down their heavy load… dig down inside their blouses to retrieve their change purse and hand over a precious coin to someone who is obviously worse off than they are. In restaurants when the off-key guitarist comes inside to “serenade” the patrons, a small donation always lands in the hat when passed around. I see them helping elderly climb up into the bus and they rarely send someone away from their door without a smile and a donation of some kind.

My mother in law used to make a few sandwiches every day, stuff them down in her purse and then would dole them out as need arose. When she would give alms, she would always squeeze the beggar’s hand or touch his head and say, “God bless you.” Indigents would sometimes arrive at her home and she would feed them. My relationship with Doña Bertha has been far from easy but she taught me what true giving and solidarity with the community is all about.

And I have seen this kindness extended to local residents by our international ones. A couple of days ago I was driving and out of the corner of my eye I spotted a woman I had recently met. She was helping a very old, obviously quite crippled woman to climb up a stoop. The stoop was the entrance to a bar but it didn’t look like S. was making judgments about that… she was helping out where she saw need. I like that.

Through everyday acts of solidarity the international community shows they truly want to belong to the Yucatecan society. By way of courtesy and respect, we show we belong here.  It’s like saying, “I wasn’t born in Yucatan but I got here just as soon as I could!”


sharron mcgrath

Hi Joanna:
I just read your warm comments on what we talked about at the IWC meeting today and am very touched. I was very happy to have helped in some way, however little it may be, and it is totally against my grain to just stand by and completely ignore a person whose life I could have made a little easier by offering a helping hand. I have always strongly believed it is not the big things that make life hard because there is nothing you can do about them, but it is the little things, those things which reduce the sand in the daily machinery of life that help the most and usually it is so easy and painless to do. I wish you all the best with your blog which is so informative and helpful.



April 19, 2010

A is for Attitude – Do you have the right one?


Crossing the bridge into a new life can be daunting!


A is for… ATTITUDE – What’s yours? Are you viewing things differently than they really are? Are you obsessing? Are you discouraged? Are you questioning yourself all the time?

 Adapting to life in any new place is all about attitude and Merida is no different. Most of us come to live in this city with high hopes for a new life and new experiences. We are positive and we’re very enthusiastic. It’s all so exciting and stimulating… for a time. Then, for some of us, the differences become very overpowering and culture shock can set in. It becomes difficult to stay optimistic. Every day events seem like huge obstacles. For example, the tradesmen don’t show up as they said they would, or their work is sloppy… The new friend you met doesn’t call back, or if she does, you discover that some of her opinions are, quite frankly – just short of weird… the heat & humidity are a lot more intense than you believed they would be… and so on, and so on. What do you do about this?

I was plagued with unhappiness when I first came to live in Merida. I missed everything I left behind and I was not excited by the options I had here. I was in a dismal state when I finally met the person who helped me see the error of my ways. Susan Jones was not from Merida either and to make matters more challenging, she didn’t even speak Spanish. Her husband worked on an offshore oil platform and was out of town more than he was with her. Nonetheless, this woman did not mope around all day. She joined a gym and learned some crafts. She was happy with herself and when her husband came home, they had wonderful times. I began to emulate her and with a more positive attitude, my quality of life improved greatly.

I knew that my newly-developed fill up the day activities would not be satisfying in the long term but I didn’t worry about that too much. I have always believed that the future takes care of itself… it’s getting through the meanwhile that is challenging. No one expects that every day will be perfect. Utopia is not a place on any map. However, culture shock is a very real phenomenon and can be daunting. When faced with this in any degree, we need to understand what’s happening and then work through it. This calls for keeping busy and being proactive. What you keep busy at is not even that important. Given time, even somewhat inane activities will evolve into ones you really enjoy. The vital step is to not sit around feeling sorry for yourself.

To dispel any degree of malaise, you first need to feel a sense of accomplishment. Let’s use the scenario of the tradesmen. First, you must realize that these men come from a completely different background than you do; many times they’ll not understand what it is you want or why on earth you want it. Do you show the crew that you appreciate good work? Take a positive interest in what is being done for you and encourage the workers. Learn the basic Spanish vocabulary necessary to compliment their efforts and to explain what you need. A little extra money paid directly to them when a detail is well-done, providing a hot meal sometimes, and a safe work environment, always… will go a long way towards making them feel more disposed to pleasing you. Challenge them to take pride in what they’re creating for you. Manage this and you’ll have the satisfaction of getting the quality you want. You’ll be purging the negativity and in turn will contribute towards purging some of your unhappy attitudes.

Forming new friendships takes time; the instant varieties usually have short life spans. Take a while getting to know people. Meet them in neutral places and watch how they react to your views. You don’t want to be judgmental, diversity is a good thing and acceptance of different viewpoints can add a new dimension to your social circle. But, you want to see your acquaintances responding in kind… it’s a two-way street. When I first meet new people, I don’t just focus on how they treat me. I watch how they interact with others – the waiters, the people asking for alms, the shopkeepers. When I see respect extended to all, I become quite interested in my new acquaintance.

As well, it’s so important to take each day as an entity on its own. If you have a confusing or negative experience, don’t get too upset; don’t be afraid the next day will be as bad or worse. Lick your wounds and move on. You have undertaken a huge change in your life and you will certainly take some wrong turns as you find your place here.

Although the key is to keep busy, it is also good to look at your experience with an eye towards the future. Take advantage of new opportunities; Merida has a very rich cultural life. Even if you’ve never done so before… go to the concerts, to the symphony, try new cuisine, take a class or join some of the volunteer groups. Don’t be hesitant to be a part of things just because you have never participated in such an activity in the past, or because you are not sure you’ll really enjoy it very much. Give it a try and then form opinions about it.  Be as upfront and open as you can be. Most people enjoy being asked for their opinions and advice.

Adapting to a new home in a new country does not happen overnight. There will be times when you’ll wonder what you were thinking when you made the decision to move to Mexico! However, with a sense of humor and a positive attitude, finding the true answer to these questions can be an adventure in itself.



April 17, 2010

Is this really mid-April in Merida?


Wet Oleander

I can almost hear the plants in our garden singing. The unusual rain during the past few days has given them a mid-dry season reprieve they (nor us) expected.

Usually by mid-April every living thing is wilted and waiting for the rainy season. I thought you might enjoy thispicture of just HOW happy my orchids are feeling

Merida’s human inhabitants are also into the swing of this soggy laid back day. I hope you’re taking advantage this happy circumstance as much as we are!




 Have a great weekend!



April 15, 2010

Did You Ever Imagine?


Did you EVER imagine you would be performing at a charity dance in front of thousands? In Mexico, it can happen!

Yesterday I attended the International Women’s Club monthly tea. Held at Debi Morre’s lovingly restored home in the Santiago area, we ladies had a wonderful time enjoying our friendship. Some of us have lived in Merida for many years and some are relatively newcomers.

Of course much talk revolved around our friend Nancy and her medical ordeal. Personal distress was minimal because each one of us feels involved and has the peace of mind that comes when you know you’re doing what you can. When there is a crisis either the best or the worst comes out in people. Fortunately, in this case, the “best” is pushing the “worst” into oblivion.

What a positive group we were… there was no measured malcontent and definitely no outright whining and complaining. We felt part of the community where we live.

At one point, I found myself sitting with a group of women who are new to Mexico. One asked me,

“Joanna when did you finally feel at home here? And what made you feel that way?”

 If I had a peso for every time I’m asked that question, I would be a wealthy woman! But I’m always pleased to answer. I told her,

“I felt at home when I realized that I had become a part of the community, when I had a LIFE here, not just an existence.”

As luck would have it, I’m currently preparing a second edition of my book. TOMANDO AGUA DE POZO – A Guide for the Neophyte Yucatecan and I’d been working on that topic just the day before. Following is a draft of how I will address this very important question in the new book (which will be called, “MAGIC… MADE IN MEXICO”)

“By the mid eighties, after some very rocky times, I felt very comfortable living in Merida. I now understood this place. During the previous ten years, Jorge helped me learn about Mexico’s history, customs, art, literature, music and of course the archaeology. He always made sure I caught the nuances of the current political and social occurrences. I spoke Spanish well and had permanent residence papers. And of course, I had two young children who kept my feet planted firmly on the ground. There was little time for melancholy introspective musing.

 To be fully immersed in Mexican life, I believe it is very helpful if you can find someone who will slowly teach you what you need to know. Where will this person come from? Don’t worry, if you’re open to it, he or she will show up. It is also imperative that your immigration status be up to date and that you understand your rights, obligations and privileges. In our new country everything is different and if you’re ever involved in an altercation of any kind, you will be very glad you took the time to gain this understanding. Obviously, it will also be much easier for you if you learn some Spanish.

 You need to choose to be happy and not allow negativity to spoil your life. This includes being tolerant of neighbor’s dogs barking, periodic trash burning, chickens, roosters, revving motors and car alarms that shriek in the night. The irksome invasions of your peace and quiet are just a part of the reality of living here. BUT… so is the marvelous music, the aromatic authentic cuisine the opportunity to do things you never imagined you’d get to do and the true kindness of the people who live here.”


Adaptation to life in Mexico is not an overnight occurrence. It does require effort, a positive attitude and tact. Ah-ah-ah but the rewards are HUGE!


April 14, 2010

Heartfelt Thanks

Nancy Walters

Last week, our good friend Nancy was admitted into Star Medica to treat a leg ulcer. She seemed to be doing well but then on Friday, a critical situation occurred and suddenly her life was hanging by a thread.

Anxious days followed.

Doctor Felicia Millan and her team followed the medical protocol to the letter and saved her.  Daughter, Connie and son,  Matt have come from the States to see their mom, which of course, has given her a tremendous lift.

But it’s all of YOU, the international community in Merida who have created this miracle. Your generosity and donations have made it possible for Nancy to receive the medical treatment she needed so badly. She’s not quite out of the woods but she’s much improved. We have every reason to hope for a complete recovery.

I have written this little poem in gratitude and in acknowledgement of your kindness.


I’ve been totally amazed at your heartfelt reaction.

The crisis came, our friend needed compassion.

I gratefully watched and tenderly observed

The great generosity, of all who served.

Far away family, friends, doctors and nurses

Prayed for La Princesa and opened their purses

But the bill is a steep one and if we hope to spring her

We need to widen our net and dig a bit deeper

For those who have done all that they can

I thank you sincerely, every woman and man

What goes around, comes around when intentions are pure

You will all be rewarded, of this I am sure.

**** Donations are still being gratefully accepted at MELL, by Cindy Wagner in Progreso and by Beth Knepp. Donations from outside of Mexico are also possible. Let me know if you need the info.


Comments: 3 Comments Edit


April 12, 2010

Joanna fixed the bad, bad thing…

Posted April 12, 2010 by joannavdg
Categories: International Living

 Hacienda Ochil

It seems the issues with the blog have been resolved. Thanks once again to Debi Kuhn for her wonderful help.

I’ll have a new post up tomorrow. (Bicentennial II)  Meanwhile, I thought you might enjoy this photo of Hacienda Ochil.

Comments: 1 Comment Edit

Joanna did a bad, bad thing…

Posted April 10, 2010 by joannavdg
Categories: International Living

April 12, 2010

Lily pads at Hacienda Yunku

Update: Hopefully  today, I’ll get this fixed and back up to speed. Thanks for checking in!

April 10, 2010

It seems I got too confident managing this blog and I have lost most of it. How did I do that? I dunno…

So no more entries until I have consulted with the blog guru.

I’ll try to be back ASAP…


Comments: 5 Comments Edit

April 4, 2010


Elton John Electrifies Chichen Itza


Joanna at Elton John’s concert in Chichen Itza

Have you ever felt the hum of thousands waiting? They’d buzzed in from all over the globe to see Sir Elton and as the tropical wind wafted through the star-lit night, we filled several empty hours with serious people watching.

Elton John’s sun-glassed face smiled from a faded T-shirt passing by and the paunchy owner proudly proclaimed, “I see him in Vegas every year”… “I was at the launching of the Yellow Brick Road Tour” said a sweet southern man all dressed in tight white…  With a trumpeting tone, one sequined diva declared, “I’ve done this so often I’ve lost count!”  But my heart beat in time with an intense twentyish guy who could not keep his eyes from the stage.

Sitting expectantly in the seats we’d selected when they went on sale last December, Jorge and I had no grand claims to make… we felt like a virgins! This was our very first Elton John concert and it would be held at one of our favorite places on earth, Chichen Itza…  This happy circumstance, the program we’d received at the entrance and our over-the-top expectations set the bar pretty high.

Finally at 8:30 the musical magic began; Merida’s beloved symphony orchestra was up on Elton’s stage. They played their hearts out! Excited applause followed their captivating composition, the perfect prelude for what was to come.

Not wanting to see them depart but knowing they needed to in order for the main event to proceed, we again waited. But not for long! Elton John was on stage wailing… and “Saturday Night” was definitely “Alright”.

In the ensuing two hours, I heard almost every one of my favorites. His songs took me back to ecstatic youthful days and yes, a few heartbreaking nights.  I belted out “The Blues” and my voice broke (as did Elton’s) during “Tiny Dancer.” I swooned and watched the night stars, expecting “Rocket Man” to make an appearance any second… No one could sit still when “Bennie and the Jets” grabbed us by the toes and the “Crocodile Rock” had us jiving in the aisles.

The sweet southerner in spandex lost himself to joyful gyrations while the sequined diva and faded t-shirt dude “hooked-up.” Meanwhile the soulful youth across from us was immersed in total rapture. He knew every single word of every single song.

And the setting… I could barely believe such beauty! Chichen Itza is always magnificent but last night, it was simply stupendous. Constantly shifting hues were like (forgive me please…) “A Candle in the Wind.” Towards the end of the concert, the half moon, sliding out shyly on the left side of El Castillo seemed to look “Sorry” for not appearing sooner.

Then… it seemed to be over. Elton and his band waved and left the stage. Heartbroken, I shouted out, “Our Song! Please play Our Song!” The man in front of me, turned around in sympathy and said, “No se puede todo …” (You can’t have it all) But “Yes Viginia, there is a Santa Claus!” Our boy was back and he played so sweetly. “I arranged that just for you,” Jorge said.

We drifted arm in arm through the throng of contented souls, found our friends and returned to our hotel rooms at the delightful Dolores de Alba. Gisele, our “new best friend” from Peru; Juanita & Jan our great Merida buddies; brother and sister-in-law Raul & Lupita and neighbors, Rebecca & Javier were as besotted as we were.  Ah-ah-ah-ah… we are so lucky to live here.


4 responses to “Guest Bloggers

  1. sharron mcgrath

    Hi Joanna:
    I just read your warm comments on what we talked about at the IWC meeting today and am very touched. I was very happy to have helped in some way, however little it may be, and it is totally against my grain to just stand by and completely ignore a person whose life I could have made a little easier by offering a helping hand. I have always strongly believed it is not the big things that make life hard because there is nothing you can do about them, but it is the little things, those things which reduce the sand in the daily machinery of life that help the most and usually it is so easy and painless to do. I wish you all the best with your blog which is so informative and helpful.

  2. Colleen Leonard

    Is Nancy still accepting donations? And if so, where?

  3. Vanda Morris

    What a wonderful evening you both had, thought you were kids again, remember we are always kids at heart.

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