Wednesday, December 31, 2008

On the 7th day of Christmas (and on New Year's Eve) ... a video from John Lennon. I already posted my year-end reflections (see the post titled Another Year Over) so I won't repeat those reflections here. But this is the song of that post, so here it is.

Brief theological reflection: This song is a little works-righteous-y, isn't it? "What have we done?" Well, it's true, John Lennon doesn't always have the theology quite right. (See: Imagine, which inappropriately blames God-love for our problems.) But what he misses in theological precision - refined edges and all - he makes up for in sheer force of moral truth. (See: Truth, Gimme Some.) And the moral truth for any Lutheran should be clear by the end of the video, when placards are shown saying "War is Over - If You Want It." We do not end the war to be set free; rather, we have been set free to end the war. If we want it. If we want it. If we want it, Christ has set us free to end all of our little wars, little ones and big ones alike. The beginning of a New Year is just one more time to renew that intrinsically baptismal calling.

Well. There's my New Year's Eve sermon (look, I'm on sabbatical here, I don't get much chance for preaching these days :)). Tonight we're headed out to the Guadalajara downtown to hear some New-Year's-Eve mariachi music with the tapatíos. Feliz Año Nuevo a todos!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

On the 6th day of Christmas ... a video by Calle 13, a Puerto Rican group experiencing a rush of popularity lately. Always late to the latest music scene, I first read about them in the most recent issue of Rolling Stone (which my mom thoughtfully brought to Mexico for me :)), where sometime Slate critic Jody Rosen gave their Los de Atras Vienen Conmigo (translation: Those Behind Are Coming With Me) album 4 stars.

So I went and downloaded the album. How did I like it? It used to be that when people asked me what kind of music I liked, I said "Anything but country." But then I discovered Johnny Cash, and then Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings (that's right, the Highwaymen) and now I've rather warmed up to everyone from Jenny Lewis to the Dixie Chicks.

Fortunately, a new musical genre rose up to take the place of country in my hated music category: Reggaeton. The first time I heard a reggaeton song - probably "Gasolina," the massive hit from reggaeton star Daddy Yankee - I thought, hey that's cool, a song on MTV in Spanish! But then I heard another reggaeton song, and then another, and then another, and they all sounded exactly the same. The same beat. The exact same beat. And when your Mexico City bus driver is blasting this mind-numbingly-repetitive reggaeton on his bus stereo, it makes for a supremely annoying bus ride.

But Rolling Stone said that Calle 13 was bending the genre, so I thought I'd check them out. Calle 13's lead singer/rapper (who calls himself Residente) spends the first track on the album telling the other reggaeton-ers to go cry, and then he and Visitante, the instrumentalist, join up with ultra-cool Mexico City alt-rockers Café Tacuba to rip into this gem of a song.

For the non-Spanish-speakers out there, the basic gist of the song is: There are lots of different kinds of things and lots of different kinds of people in the world, but there is nothing like you, my love. Hay x, y, z... pero no hay nadie como tu.

One of the reasons I like this song so much - besides its irresistable flow - is that the Spanish vocabulary is so utterly simple. Everything is in the present tense, which is good, because that's really the only tense I know very well. And really, everything comes from the same verb - "hay" - which means, basically, "there is" or "there are." After "hay" there's just a bunch of nouns, lots of which I know, which makes me very happy.

Anyway, before signing off today, I should probably address this continuing song-a-day deal. The Economist's Christmas issue featured a cherubic angel on the cover with a guitar, with extended feature stories on angels and "Why We Love Music." I've been looking for some new music myself lately, and diving into Mexican music, finally, trying to immerse myself a bit more into my context.

I thought I'd tie it up with the 12 days of Christmas, because, as all of you lectionary-lovers know, this, right now, is really the Christmas season, Christmastide, this time between December 25th and January 6th. And in Mexico it's even more so, though it's a little different, too: Rather than Advent-Christmas-Epiphany, the Mexican tradition goes more like Guadalupe-Navidad-Reyes, sometimes known as the Guadalupe-Reyes season. You've got the festival of the Virgin of Guadalupe on December 12th (see earlier post), then the posadas (see earlier post), then the nochebuena (see earlier post), then Christmas (see earlier post), then Three Kings Day, the Dia de Reyes, on January 6th, concluding the season (see future post). As always, stay tuned for a full report on the Dia de Reyes.

I also haven't been writing a whole lot about what we've been up to lately, mainly because we haven't been up to much. We've been cooking - and, well, eating - lots of labor-intensive Mexican food from our new Rick Bayless cookbook.

Then we went to an uber-fancy mall on Friday and got kinda weirded out by it. We had dinner with our neighbors, who are retired Americans from Virginia who spend their winters in Guadalajara. We did a bit more exploring of the Guadalajara downtown, and went shopping in the Mercado de Libertad again, where I bought a sweet knockoff Chivas jersey and a couple of movies, including, FINALLY, Wall-E. (Wall-E was totally worth the wait, by the way - if you haven't seen it, you should. Really.) And, of course, no visit to the Guadalajaran downtown is complete without ice cream, which we enjoyed on a sunny plaza with a big fountain.

We also went to see a muy Mexicana movie, Rudo y Cursi, which stars Mexican mega-stars Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal (the latter of whom is becoming a worldwide star in his own right) and is directed by Carlos Cuarón, brother of Mexican mega-director Alfonso Cuarón, who made the third Harry Potter movie (our favorite of the Harry Potter movies so far) and most recently Children of Men. We decided that the movie's plot loosely followed that of Talladega Nights, with the main characters making it big in the world of Mexican soccer rather than NASCAR (though with an obviously more Mexican tone - which, frankly, means a more tragic tone) complete with super-regional dialects. That's right, it was all in Spanish, and the language was even harder to understand than the last all-Spanish movie we went to see. Even Chris, who is becoming more fluent in Spanish every day, struggled to understand some of the heavily accented Mexican Spanish in the movie. I mainly watched the images. We still recommend Rudo y Cursi... when it comes out on DVD and you can watch it with English subtitles.

Some of the coolest parts of Rudo y Cursi, for us, were seeing the parts of Mexico City on screen where we have actually been, including a scene in the Tasqueña bus station where I stood waiting for the Cuernavaca bus every single week. It took a lot of self-restraint not to jump up out of my seat pointing, I've been there! I've been there! But I can, you know, exercise self-control. Sometimes.

Monday, December 29, 2008

On the 5th day of Christmas ... a song about our new (temporary) home, the Mexican state of Jalisco.

I stumbled upon this one while working on an all-español playlist, about half mariachi music - the music most associated with Guadalajara - and half modern Mexican alt-rock (Café Tacuba, Calle 13, etc.). I'm calling the playlist Invierno Tapatío, or "Tapatio Winter." While Mexico City residents are known as chilangos, Guadalajarans are known as tapatíos, a word with indigenous origins that is now most closely associated with the Jarabe Tapatío, better known in English as the Mexican hat dance.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

On the 4th day of Christmas my true love gave to me ... another song for this "season of change."

Saturday, December 27, 2008

On the 3rd day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...a new U2 performance!

They sold me a Merry Christmas
They sold me a Silent Night

They sold me a fairy story

But I believe in the Israelite...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Feliz Navidad!

Feliz Navidad a todos!

(We are sporting our new Christmas attire in the photo. :))

We wish everyone a wonderful day full of hope and peace and joy, wherever you are in the wide, wide world. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Santa is in Guadalajara!

Finally! NORAD is tracking Santa in Zapopan RIGHT NOW!

La Nochebuena

We're heading off to Christmas Mass at the little church around the corner, dressed up in the nicest clothes we brought with us.

We can already hear the church bells ringing, ringing, ringing...

Este es la Nochebuena.

Bolitas de Palomitas!

Popcorn balls! Every year my family makes popcorn balls in the days before Christmas. My grandma makes the marshmallow-sauce, and my grandpa leads the charge in sculpting the popcorn with butter-covered hands.

Although this tradition comes from my family, it's become one of Chris's favorite Christmas treats. So, this year we made them ourselves - with one slight modification: We couldn't find any "regular" marshmallows anywhere, only pink-and-white marshmallows flavored with strawberry and vanilla. And they were jumbo marshmallows, no miniatures, so we chopped up the jumbo marshmallows into little pieces so they'd melt better. We emailed my grandma for the recipe, and we set to work.

They were delicious. :)

Nochebuena Dia en Zapopan

Visited Zapopan this afternoon, where we found this really cool nativity scene (which, in correction of an earlier post calling them natividades, are actually called nacimientos).

The nativity scene below is made almost entirely out of corn husks (maize being very important in Mexican culture and indigenous spirituality). The sheep's wool is made entirely of rolled-up corn husks, the people's clothes are made of corn husks, even the angel's wings are made of corn husks. (Definitely the coolest corn creation since the Mitchell Corn Palace.)

Below is the main archway entrance to the Zapopan zocalo, where we spent our nochebuena dia (Christmas Eve day) looking for tamales.

We could only find tamales dulces (sweet tamales), but those are Chris's favorite kind anyway. Now, armed with Grandma's recipe, we're going to try and make popcorn balls...

José, Mejor Usted Que Mi

Hey all, we just discovered this great song about Joseph - here known as José - this morning, featuring not only one of Chris' favorite bands but also Elton John. Elton John! The song is about Joseph struggling to deal with fame, but it's so grandiose, that you'll think Queen wrote it. You can find the lyrics, which are worth reading, here. You can watch the video, with awesome old-movie clips, below.

Casa de Dulces!

This is the little Christmas tree scene in our apartment. Despite the totally-awesome mini-piñatas, don't you think it's missing something? Something like...

...a gingerbread house! Thanks to Chris's family, who sent us a Gingerbread House Kit that somehow made it all the way to Mexico without breaking into a million pieces. Check out the construction - and, er, exterior decorating - of our little casa de dulces...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Getting Ready for Christmas in Guadalajara

"Oh, there's no place like home for the holidays..."

Yeah, scratch that. This year we're in Mexico, on our own, which is pretty awesome except for times like this. Family is all gathered together in Palm Springs, California (Matt's family), which is 1,287 miles away from Guadalajara and Palm Bay, Florida (Chris' family), which is 1,479 miles away from Guadalajara (both slightly closer than 1,686!). And we're in a new place, so we don't actually know anybody here, no friends, no community, nada.

"I'll have a Blue Christmas, without you..."

Yep, it's a real possibility. But we're not about to take it lying down. Instead we've concocted a plan to keep ourselves busy and so happy together (to continue the song theme). On Christmas Eve day, we're going to head to Zapopan and explore the Basilica there. Then we'll come home and make popcorn balls, a particularly delicious family tradition. On Christmas Eve night, we'll head out to the nearest parish church a few blocks' walk away. It's Roman Catholic and entirely in Spanish, but hey, it's the same baby Jesús we're celebrating. Then we'll come home and hopefully eat some tamales, if we can find some tomorrow.

(Brief side note about tamales: Apparently many years ago my family used to eat tamales on Christmas Eve! This was way before I was born, when my mom was growing up in San José in California and her parents were friends with a Mexican family. My grandma would make tamales with her Mexican friend (my grandpa was the taste-tester), and everyone would head over to the open house - complete with tamales - on Christmas Eve. I seriously just learned this about my family last week. The things I don't know about my own family could fill a book... And one more thing: Papa, y'all had traditions of tamales and oyster stew, and you chose to drop the tamales and keep the oyster stew? I mean, I like the little crackers, but seriously?)

On Christmas morning we'll gift-exchange and tear open this little pile of presents Chris's folks sent down to us. At the moment we have them sitting under our little two-foot-tall plastic tree. Then we're going to cook. We're going to cook a lot. And for that, we need food.

So, this morning we walked down the street to the tianguis, little market stands that are set up every week on Tuesday morning. They're kind of like farmers' markets, except that in addition to fruits and vegetables they have everything from fake Abercrombie clothes to pirated movies.
Chris picked up the appropriate fruits and vegetables, and I got distracted by the pirated movies. Feeling nostalgic, I picked up copies of Mi Pobre Angelito (Home Alone) and Santa Cláusula (The Santa Clause). We already have Die Hard (watch it again, it IS a Christmas movie), so that rounds out our Christmas trilogy for the year. We also picked up some Christmas music en español, including Spanish versions of familiar carols as well as stuff that's new for us, like "Peces en el Rio."

Then we hopped on a bus and went to downtown Guadalajara. At the bus stop I picked up a copy of the English-language paper here, the Guadalajara Reporter. Reading the Guadalajara Reporter was a profoundly disappointing experience. I was hoping to find some information on local posadas celebrations, but no dice. Worse, the paper appears to be aimed entirely at the retired American population living around Lake Chapala, about an hour from here. No offense to the retired expat population, but I have no interest in your lakeside properties. Sigh.

Anyway, when we stepped off the bus we stepped into the biggest crowd of people out and about in downtown Guadalajara I've yet seen. It was definitely the last shopping day before Christmas Eve. Like Michigan Avenue in Chicago, but without the snow.

Another difference, as you might notice from the photo above, is that there are photo-op Santas everywhere. Not Salvation Army Santas, mind you, but little kiosk-sized North Poles where Santa sits and welcomes children onto his lap for timeless photos. In the States these are usually in department stores like Marshall Fields and that other evil store that begins with an M- and ends with an -acys. But in Guadalajara these sit-on-my-lap-for-a-picture Santas are on every street corner. The dude above is working alone, trying to invite people, well, into his lap, I guess, but other Santas have helper elves who help to hustle people in and take the photos for them. A little further away from the city center, the Santa and his helper in the picture below are waiting for more customers in a not-very-crowded place. They look a little bored.

There are also nochebuenas everywhere. Nochebuenas are better known in the United States as Poinsettias, after Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico who discovered the plant around the area of Taxco and brought it to the U.S. in the 1830s. At the Lutheran Center we actually had a sprawling nochebuena plant growing in the backyard of our house; here we just bought a little one for our little apartment. Below you can see a more grandiose collection of nochebuenas, arranged into a giant Christmas tree.

Passing through the myriad of Santas and nochebuenas, we made our way into Guadalajara's huge cathedral. It was the first time I'd been inside, and it truly was a cavernous place, with tall white columns and the towering arches so common in these Mexican iglesias. Since we're in the midst of Advent, there was a beautiful nativity scene set up in one corner, draped in Christmas lights.

We wandered around the giant downtown market for awhile, tired ourselves out, and headed back toward our apartment, stopping on the way at Wal-Mart to pick up the last of the food we'll need for our Navidad feast.

Later on in the evening, I got on the computer and started clicking around. I tried calling my family on Skype, but somehow I couldn't make the connection. But our friends Zach and Hannah video-called us, and it was like we were in the same room (one day we are totally getting that hologram chat set up!). I tried my family again, but no dice, so I wrote up this blog post instead, and noticed all the friendly blog comments we've received lately (thanks!). For some reason we've had a Facebook message frenzy in the last week. And my old friends from Chicago, Andy and Eddie, both sent emails tonight.

So maybe we're not so alone after all. Maybe.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Las Posadas al Puerto // Lodgings at the Port

As you, dear reader, know well from last week’s photo journal, we just spent a wonderful week with my parents and brother in Puerto Vallarta. (If you haven't seen them already, scroll down a bit for a whole bunch of photos.)

I must admit, it was quite a change for us: For five months we’ve been immersed in central Mexico, speaking Spanish to everyone we met, eating at taco stands on the corner, checking out the local festivals in public squares.

But from almost the moment we arrived in Puerto Vallarta, things were very different: Billboards advertised golf courses in English (and only in English), our taxi driver spoke to us in English (until Chris struck up a conversation in Spanish, and then the conversation got really interesting), and when we arrived at our hotel we were suddenly surrounded by English-speaking white people everywhere. It seemed like a totally different country.

(Maybe the most fun example of the difference between Resort World and the rest of Mexico: At the resort, you throw your toilet paper into the toilet. Everywhere else in Mexico, you throw it into the trashcan next to the toilet, because the plumbing cannot handle toilet paper. It sounds gross, but you get used to it. You get so used to it that when Resort World does not have the ubiquitous sign instructing you where to put your toilet paper, you think it’s weird.)

In all seriousness, my experience felt like a disorienting cultural whiplash, and I think I finally understand exactly what people mean when they talk about “culture shock.” I don’t even want to think about what this culture shock will be like when we head back to the States next summer.

Anyway, culture shock aside, it really was a blessing to spend some time with my folks – the photos are proof of that. If these really are "Adventures Across the Border," last week we were lucky enough to have some some companions on our adventures, even if only for a short time.

One of our adventures last week was actually called an adventure in an “official” sense: On Thursday we hooked up with Vallarta Adventures, an outfit that runs eco-tours in the Bahía de Banderas (the Bay of Flags, where Puerto Vallarta is located). I was particularly obsessed with taking an eco-tour because this was a special time of year: Each year from December to March humpback whales migrate south from Alaska to Mexico, where they mate and hop around (uh, technical term) in the water to the delight of thousands of tourists like us.

Since it was early in the season, we only caught glimpses of humpback tails flipping out of the water – though they were glorious glimpses – but the good people at Vallarta Adventures know how to give you the full Bay of Flags experience. On our boat ride out into the bay, we ran into a whole group (school?) of delfines, dolphins, swimming and leaping out of the water alongside us, at least 20 or 30 of them or more, which is really a sight to see. Then we arrived at Las Marietas Ecological Reserve, a collection of small rocky islands just off the northern end of the bay, where we donned snorkeling gear and watched brightly colored fish and even a manta ray swimming around in the waters beneath us. The Bahía de Banderas is absolutely full of wildlife.

It was a long day, and at the end of it my family was worn out. But Chris and I decided we were just getting started - we had seen a sign the day before about a public celebration of Las Posadas in Puerto Vallarta’s town square. Las Posadas – translated as “The Inns” – are traditional Mexican Advent fiestas. All I knew about them was that they were based on an acting-out of Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging on the first Christmas Eve (see Luke 2:7). Like most Mexican fiestas, Las Posadas are community-based. Like a vast neighborhood play, different actors play different parts: Neighborhood children and families walk around the neighborhood as if trick-or-treating, knocking on two or three pre-arranged doors, where they are told that there is “no room at the inn.” Finally they reach the last house, where the doors are opened to them – like they were finally opened to Mary and Joseph – and there is a great party inside the last house, and everyone celebrates together with food and drink.

It sounds like great fun, but not being part of a Mexican community ourselves, we were afraid we might miss out on this tradition. Not so, thanks to Puerto Vallarta. Their town-square public Posadas celebration was set to begin at 6:30.


We made our way to Puerto Vallarta’s zócalo at sundown. The zócalo in Puerto Vallarta follows the same layout as the zócalos in other Mexican pueblitos (little villages): a gazebo, called a peña, in the center of the square for live music, a large Catholic church on one side of the square (this one with a striking crown on its highest point), the municipal government building on another side of the square, and some shops and restaurants on the remaining sides of the square. There was one especially notable difference in Puerto Vallarta’s zócalo, however: It only really had three sides. The fourth side was the Pacific Ocean.

As we arrived a mariachi-looking band was playing an instrumental, Mexican-flavored version of “White Christmas” in the zócalo’s central gazebo. (Let’s say the “White” in “White Christmas” refers here to the white sands of Puerto Vallarta’s beaches.) People have already gathered for tonight’s festivities – though, in sharp contrast to most of our other activities in Puerto Vallarta, most of the people gathered here are clearly Mexican. There are lots of families.

After a few more Christmas carols, the band takes a break, then regroups to play a twenty-minute set of a different kind of music: danzón, a traditional Latin dance that is a lot like a waltz. Older couples make their way to the open spaces around the gazebo and move slowly through the dignified two-steps of the danzón. Having heard how seriously serious danzón-ers take the danzón, I am terrified to even try it. But we watch one grandpa dance with his granddaughter, and we smile. There are few places as wonderful as a people-packed Mexican zócalo, especially when there is live music.

Finally it is time for the Posadas to begin. A short, official-looking gentleman picks up a microphone and explains how the night will go down. Chris translates for me. “We will march around the zócalo, singing, in the traditional style of the Posadas, in order to preserve our Mexican traditions.” The official-looking man concludes by announcing that “after the singing, there will be piñatas for the children.” We notice that there are four gigantic colorful piñatas sitting underneath the giant Christmas tree.

Everyone begins to line up. We are given candles about the size of birthday candles, which are then lit one-by-one, along the line. By now the sun has gone down, and the candle-lit crowd is breathtaking. We are given little papers with the words of the posada “play” on it, which will later be sung responsively, half the crowd to the other half.

Three teenagers take their place at the head of the line. One is dressed in white as an angel, and leads; the other two are dressed as Mary and Joseph (Maria y Jose) and follow behind the angel, and the rest of the crowd follows them. We begin walking around the square. A woman sings from the peña (gazebo), and the crowd responds to each line in Latin: ora pro nobis, pray for us. The response isn’t hard to learn, and soon we are singing along with the rest of the crowd, making our way around the square.

Finally we reach the doors of the municipal government offices. A good chunk of the crowd rushes in, and the rest of us wait outside. After a few moments, we – the crowd outside – begin singing our lines, each side singing responsively, litany-style. What follows is a rough English translation; you can find the Spanish version here.


In the name of Heaven please grant us lodging. My beloved wife can’t go any further.


This isn’t an inn and I shouldn’t open the door, go on, you might be a thief.


Don’t be cruel; have pity on us. May God in Heaven reward you.


Move on. Don’t bother me because if I get angry I’ll club you.


We come tired from Nazareth. I’m Joseph, a carpenter.


I don’t care what your name is. Let me sleep. I already told you I’m not going to open the door.


Dear inn keeper, the Queen of Heaven requests lodging from you for only one night.


If it’s a queen who asks, why is she out at night with no protection?


My wife is Mary, Queen of Heaven and mother of the Holy Verb.


Is that you, Joseph? Your wife is Mary? Come in travelers. I didn’t recognize you.


God bless your pity and grant you happiness.


Lucky the house that protects the pure virgin, the beautiful Mary! We all sing with joy, knowing that Jesus, Joseph and Mary came to honor us. I give my soul and heart to the humble travelers, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Come in holy travelers, accept this mansion, that although my house is poor, I give you my heart. Oh thankful traveler. Oh beautiful Mary. I offer you my soul so that you can have lodging.

At the end of the last verse everyone kicks into some final lines that they all seem to know by heart, and we all make our way into the inner courtyard of the building. Everyone applauds, and then we make our way back out of the building, singing

May Heaven grant you happiness for your hospitality. Many thanks we give for the lodging you gave from your humble, loyal heart.

Back outside, the first piñata is waiting for us. It is shaped like the classic Mexican piñata, a furry papier-mâché ball with cone-shaped spikes sticking out of it (click on the link for a picture). A travel brochure I pick up later explains the piñata like this:

In the Mexican Catholic celebration of Christmas, the piñata is traditionally shaped like a seven-pointed star which represents the devil and the seven deadly sins, while the contents are the goods or blessings he is withholding. Striking the devil with faith, symbolized by being blindfolded, releases the blessings.

The short official-looking man uses his microphone to instruct the children to line up by age, youngest children first. The youngest children aren’t blindfolded; they have a hard enough time hitting the piñata as it is. But they have a good time anyway. By the time the older children make it to the front of the line, they are wailing on the piñata. Every time a new child takes up the stick to wail on the piñata, the crowd strikes up a song – “dale, dale, dale” – in the kind of sing-songy tone that makes it sound like they’re taunting the batter.

Everyone seems to be having a ridiculously good time. The man holding the rope that holds the piñata up is laughing constantly, manipulating the rope so that the piñata flies up and falls down, swings around, and generally misses the swinging stick whenever possible. A woman with a microphone who starts up the “dale, dale, dale” chants always end the chant with an irrepressible little cackle.

After what seems like an inordinate amount of time, the piñata finally breaks open, the candy spills out, and within a nanosecond fifty children have piled on top of the candy, grabbing whatever they can and wrestling away their share. When they have cleaned up everything that has fallen – including broken piñata pieces, which they then wear as hats or use to carry candy – another piñata is hoisted up into the air over the tree branch where the last one hung only minutes ago.

After the second piñata, we decide it’s time to go – we don’t want to miss the last public transportation bus back to the resort. Other posada-going families with young children are waiting for the bus too, and when the bus finally arrives we all get on together. Somehow, despite the long line of people waiting for the bus, there is plenty of room for everyone to sit down.

We return to the hotel around 9:00, full of stories to tell about our evening, but my family is nowhere to be seen. We wait and wait, making food, listening to music, watching TV, until finally one of us thinks to check their bedroom. Sure enough – they’re already passed out, fast asleep. So we finally stumble into bed ourselves, visions of piñatas dancing in our heads.


Our week in Puerto Vallarta went by quickly.

We spent loads of time on the beach – I love the waves, even when they’re small, can’t get enough of them – and some time at the pool, too, where my brother won a bottle of tequila in a TV theme song contest.

The digs at "Paradise Village" resort (yep, that's the actual name of the resort) were impeccable even by super-resort standards, and we took full advantage of our temporary luxuries, courtesy of, I'm told, our aunt and uncle (thanks guys!!).

I picked up a sweet cowboy-ish hat that I got a kick out of every time I put it on my head (see the goofy pictures), and Chris bought a lucha libre doll with a parachute and a string attached that you fly like a kite. She loved it.

And, of course, we celebrated Christmas with my family, the closest thing to a family Christmas we’ll get this year. My mom even brought us homemade Christmas cookies, which finally convinced my taste buds that it really was December, after all.

We headed home by bus on Saturday afternoon. In the taxi ride to the bus station, the taxi driver was, like everyone else we met, delighted that Chris spoke fluent Spanish, and they chatted about life as a taxi driver in a resort town. We passed by the Wal-Mart, where we did most of our food shopping and where we discovered one day, to our horror, that the baggers in the checkout line are not actually paid by Wal-Mart but live only on the tiny tips customers give them for bagging their groceries. A few minutes later we arrived at the bus station, and boarded ETN, “the most comfortable line” of buses, and for the five-hour trip back to Guadalajara we watched movies and gradually slept away all our paradoxes.

When we finally got home we dumped our luggage in our bedroom and wandered outside in search of food. We stopped at a little taco restauarant on the corner, where we got the familiar brief stares as the only white people in the room. But of course, the waiter was friendly, the aguas de horchata were huge and fresh-tasting, and the tacos al pastor were cheap and delicious. The Santa Clause with Tim Allen was playing on the restaurant's television set, dubbed entirely into Spanish.

Estamos en Mexico, otra vez.

Los Peces en el Rio

(Above: a mobile of fish - peces - hanging outside our apartment.)

One of our favorite things about Advent is that we get to pull out our Christmas music.

I get to listen to Bruce Springsteen's awesomely epic version of Santa Claus is Comin' to Town.

Chris gets to delight in her favorite, Mariah Carey's perennially popular All I Want For Christmas Is You.

But this year, here in México, we've discovered a new song. Chris told me about hearing it in Guadalajara, and then I heard it for myself when a children's choir sang it inside a mall in Puerto Vallarta. It's called Los Peces en el Rio. It's sort of in a minor key, which makes it my favorite Advent song since Light One Candle to Watch for Messiah (WOV #630; ELW #240). From what I can gather, it's about the Advent excitement of the fish in the river, interspersed with scenes of Mary pondering things in her heart as she prepares for the birth of Jesus.

You can read an English translation of Los Peces en el Rio here, and you can listen to it in the video below ...

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Estamos en Guadalajara otra vez, preparando para nuestra Navidad en México con una nueva escena de natividad...

Y una que es un poco más tradicional... de la mamá de Christina. Gracias mami!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Visions of Vallarta

More pictures from Puerto Vallarta...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Vivimos en Vallarta!

Estamos en Puerto Vallarta! We're celebrating Christmas a little early with my parents and brother, who've come to visit us for a week in the Pacific coast beach town of Puerto Vallarta, which is about five hours west of Guadalajara. We're having a great time, as you can see from the pictures...