Oaxaca and Public Health Reflections

I want to be honest. I never thought Oaxaca Cultural Navigator blog would morph into an on-line retail shop to sell Oaxaca textiles and jewelry. This has been an unusual year. No tours. No workshops. No travel. Only worries about getting the vaccine and staying healthy. It seems now that getting the vaccine won’t be enough. We must continue to stay vigilant with masks, distancing, hand-sanitizing for the next years. You may want to read this National Geographic article: COVID-19 will likely be with us forever.

This morning I received a notice from Leigh Thelmadatter, author of Creative Hands of Mexico blog, who has decided to suspend publication. I’ve struggled with this same decision, too, since I’m not in Oaxaca and I don’t have a definitive plan to return. I don’t have anything to write about first-hand, and my commentary, when I feel there is news to share, is filtered through the eyes and ears of others. It’s frustrating to think that life may continue this way indefinitely. I’m grateful to those of you who continue to read … and to shop. You are supporting our artisans and my endeavors to keep Oaxaca in our lives.

I’ve stuck my neck out and I want to be hopeful, which is why I’ve set dates for the Oaxaca Day of the Dead Culture Tour 2021. Soon, I will announce a 2022 Oaxaca Coast Textile Tour and a Chiapas Folk Art Study Tour. The deposit to reserve is modest and fully refundable, just in case we have to cancel. The issues are concerning: Will Mexico be ready to accept tourists safely and will we be able to move in a bubble of safety and security? Honestly, I don’t know the answer.

I’ll have my second vaccine on February 3. Some of you are still struggling to find appointments or you haven’t reached the age threshold yet to receive the vaccination. Hopefully, by summer 2021 we will have a better picture of what’s in store for us for the rest of year.

Life goes on in Oaxaca.

Cloth imprinted with Day of the Dead theme for decorating.

In Teotitlan del Valle, a family I am very close to (not my host family) just had a big fiesta to honor the comprometidos (engagement parties) of their two children. A comprometido is when the two extended families of the girl and boy come together in the altar room to exchange vows of loyalty and commitment to each other, family and community.

I received photos. There were maybe 100 people from both sides gathered together to share respects and give testimony to loving and caring for each other. I saw maybe a handful of people wearing masks. In normal times, this is an amazing celebration. In Covid times, what I saw was alarming and disconcerting, a definite super-spreader health risk.

I sent a note of congratulations to the family, trying to suspend judgment, knowing that tradition is more powerful than science in many indigenous communities. I received a note back from the mom, telling me she was waiting for the vaccine to come so they would be safe. I’ve learned, living in Teotitlan for 15 years, that judging the behavior of others does not bring me closer to cultural understanding or sensitivity. In fact, an attitude of superiority in the “I know best” mentality creates a divide reminiscent of the conquest/evangelizers. Let’s take pause to remember that indigenous and enslaved people mistrust those who say they know what’s best.

Procession led by men and women holding candles, a church officiant with copal incense

Nevertheless, now we know that even with the vaccine (see the National Geographic article above), we need to continue to adhere to safety guidelines. Public health messages are ignored in Mexico, in the USA and around the world as we struggle to curb infections.

Will it be safe to travel to Oaxaca in October 2021? I’m hoping the answer is YES. Many friends are there now. They live there permanently, full-time or are there for the winter because it is too damn cold at home. They are managing to stay safe, stay away from super-spreader events, and stay home. They wear masks when others don’t. They limit contact. They are scared, just like us.

For now, I will continue to write substantively from time to time. And, I will also continue to sell until you tell me you are sick and tired of my using this space to promote artisan craft. I also want to apologize that the blog has turned the corner from travel and culture to something else — an identity I just cannot put my finger on right now. I’m just not ready to let it go. I still have hope in our future.

Also, I’m keenly aware that the comments section isn’t working here. It is a function of an outdated theme — a technical issue that I can’t yet wrap my arms around.

Mostly Mexico Mixed Bag Sale: Textiles, Jewelry

There are 29 items in this sale today. They include earrings, necklaces and bracelets, handwoven and natural dyed wool rugs from Oaxaca, and two beautiful pieces of clothing. It’s a mixed bag! All are reduced significantly as I prepare to make my move to Taos, NM. Prices start as low as $15. I hope you find something you like. Please scroll down to be sure you see everything.

To Buy: Please email me normahawthorne@mac.com with your name, mailing address and item number. I will mark it SOLD, send you a PayPal link to purchase and add $12 for cost of mailing. Please DO NOT SELECT buying goods or services — so we don’t pay commissions. We also accept Venmo, Zelle, and I can send you a Square invoice (+3% fee).

#1 Vintage 1950’s Mexican Sterling and Moonstone, 7″ long. $225 $165
SOLD. #2 Vintage Mexican Silver + Turquoise Bracelet, 7-1/2″ long. $135 $75
SOLD. #3 Vintage Raoul Sosa Designer 1970’s Bone Bracelet, 5″ inside, opening is 1-1/8″ $295 $195
SOLD. #4 20 Centavos Silver 1939 Mexican Coin Bracelet, 7-1/2″long. $125 $65
SOLD. #5 Oaxaca faceted onyx, pearl + sterling filigree. 3/4″x1/2″ $45 $37
SOLD. #6 Mexico Sterling silver filigree and garnet. 1-1/2″ x 1″ $20 $15
#7 Vintage cast sterling silver + pearls Butterfly earrings. 1-1/4″ x 2″ $55 $35
SOLD. #8 12K Gold filigree and coral. 1″x1/2″ $125 $90
#9 12K gold finest filigree earrings. 2″x1″ $235 $155
SOLD. #10 Oaxaca Chou design bead earrings 2-1/2″x1″ $45 $25

To Buy: Please email me normahawthorne@mac.com with your name, mailing address and item number. I will mark it SOLD, send you a PayPal link to purchase and add $12 for cost of mailing. Please DO NOT SELECT buying goods or services — so we don’t pay commissions. We also accept Venmo, Zelle, and I can send you a Square invoice (+3% fee).

SOLD. #11 Vintage 12K gold filigree, pearl, glass. 1″x1-3/4″ $225 $160
SOLD #12 Federico Jimenez Oaxaca signed turquoise and silver, 2-1/4″x1″ $225 $185
SOLD. #13 Mexican onyx and sterling button earrings. 7/8″ x 1″ oval $25 $20
SOLD. #14 Israeli designer Ayala Bar. 3/4″x1″ $50 $20
SOLD. #15 Sterling silver, India. 2″x1″ $55 $45
#16 Vintage Oaxaca Virgin of Soledad Sterling and White Heart Glass Beads, 19″ $385 $325
#17 India Vintage Rabari tribal necklace, adjustable. 26″ $135 $95
#18 Oaxaca, black hand-polished clay beaded necklace, 21″ $75 $65
#19 Vintage Morocco Bedouin Amber, Coral and Metal Necklace, 17″ $295 $195
SOLD. #20 Chiapas Maya Coin Necklace, Ties to adjust length. $25 $15

To Buy: Please email me normahawthorne@mac.com with your name, mailing address and item number. I will mark it SOLD, send you a PayPal link to purchase and add $12 for cost of mailing. Please DO NOT SELECT buying goods or services — so we don’t pay commissions. We also accept Venmo, Zelle, and I can send you a Square invoice (+3% fee).

SOLD. #21 New Mexico hand-cut/inlay turquoise, onyx, spiny oyster necklace, 20″ $185 $135
#22 New Mexico turquoise, coral + sterling pendant, $65 (does not include chain) $40
SOLD. #23 Oaxaca Black Clay Bead Mexican Coin Necklace, 20″ $65 $35

The four rugs below can be used on floor, wall, or to adorn furniture. Woven on a treadle loom by Taller Teñido a Mano in Oaxaca, Mexico, they feature all natural dyes created in the studio. Sturdy and beautiful.

#24 Indigo ikat + zapote negro, 22×33″ $295 $250
#25 Indigo, un-dyed wool, cochineal, pomegranate, 23×23″ $195 $155
#26 Indigo, cochineal, un-dyed wool, 23×36″ $285 $250
#27 Cochineal, indigo, marigold, pomegranate, 23×23″ $195 $155
#28 Chiapas designer Alberto Lopez Gomez, size small, 22″x25″ $495 $420 — featured at 2020 New York Fashion Week
SOLD. #29 Designer Camelia Ramos, Malinalco, Esto. de Mexico,
ikat poncho, 100% cotton, $175 $125

A Nod to Dr. MLK: Dream Big

Dream Big, whomever you are, wherever you are.

“Even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”— from Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963.

Inspiring social justice leaders: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Our dreams this year are a convoluted mash-up of wanting this pandemic to end, wanting protection from it with a vaccine, wanting to make plans to return to Oaxaca, wanting a safe and secure democratic transition of government leadership, wanting the sickness and death counts to trickle to nothing, wanting detained immigrants separated from their families to be treated with dignity and released, and for Black Americans to go to sleep without fear and with access to a fair and equal justice system, want to touch and be with our family and friends.

For my friends in Oaxaca, I wish for a return to normalcy that will guarantee the return of tourists who will support their livelihoods and provide food, shelter, health and well-being for their families.

Dreams are about hopes and wishes. A friend wrote to ask me to identify three wishes for 2021, as the tradition of making resolutions arrived on December 31 and we now find ourselves smack in the middle of January 2021. Have we given any formalized thought to this? Did we write down our dreams and wishes and post them on our refrigerator door? Or fold then in origami paper and light them with a match, sending these dreams skyward to the heavens to ensure they will come true in the Asian tradition.

The Dream, by Marc Chagall

Dreams. We want them to come true. We are still working on the dreams evoked by Dr. Martin Luther King. May his memory guide us in our quest to do better on earth as we work toward healing, justice, and peace for each and every human on the planet.

I’m using this day for reflection and recommitment to the principles that Dr. King articulated, as I walk with friends in the beauty of the natural world, think about those we have lost this year to coronavirus, violence, and starvation. I believe each of us has the responsibility to heal our world and make it a better place.

Dr. Martin Luther King. May his memory be for a blessing.

Hopeful! 2021 Oaxaca Day of the Dead Culture Tour

October 28 to November 4, 2021 – 7 nights and 8 days, starting at $2,795

We are hopeful! Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, Mexico, is meaningful and magical.  Celebrations in the villages go deep into Zapotec culture, community, tradition and pre-Hispanic practice. Some say it is the most important annual celebration in Mexico and here in Oaxaca, we know this is true. A $500 deposit will secure your place. This tour is limited to 10 participants.

At Oaxaca Cultural Navigator, we hope to give you an unparalleled and in-depth travel experience to participate and delve deeply into indigenous culture, folk art and celebrations. Our hope, too, is that we will all be well and it will be safe enough to travel to Oaxaca by October 2021. If for any reason we must cancel this tour, you will receive a full 100% refund. See notes below about COVID vaccination requirements to travel with us.

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Day of the Dead Altar

Now, back to the tour: Beyond the city, in the Tlacolula Valley, the smaller villages are still able to retain their traditional practices.  Here they build altars at home, light copal incense, make offerings of homemade chocolate, bread and atole, prepare a special meal of tamales, and visit the homes of relatives to greet deceased ancestors who have returned for this 24-hour period.  Then, at the designated hour, the living go to the cemeteries to be with their loved ones  — either to welcome them back into the world or put them to rest after their visit here – the practice depends on each village.

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You will learn about this and more as you come with us to meet artisans in four different villages who welcome us into their homes and their lives during this sacred festival.

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Study Tour Highlights:

  • Visit homes, altars and cemeteries in four Zapotec villages: Teotitlan del Valle, San Pablo Villa de Mitla, San Marcos Tlapazola and San Miguel del Valle
  • Participate in presenting altar offerings at each home we visit
  • As a group, build a traditional altar to remember and honor your own loved ones
  • Learn to make homemade chocolate with the Mexican cacao bean
  • See a tamale-making demonstration and taste what is prepared
  • Shop for altar décor at the largest Teotitlan del Valle market of the year
  • Learn how mezcal is an integral part of festival culture and tradition
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We created this study tour to take you out of the city, beyond the hubbub of party revelry and glitz of a Halloween-like experience that has morphed into a Hollywood-style extravaganza in downtown Oaxaca.  We will compare how city celebrations differ from those in villages by participating in city events first.  Our desire is to give you a full immersion experience that evokes what Day of the Dead may have been like 20 or 50 years ago–mystical,  magical, transcendent and spiritual.

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Even so, cultural tourism has found its way into the back roads of Oaxaca.  We do our best to be respectful by limiting the size of our group to 10-12 participants, to give you an orientation about to what to expect and do during our visits, and to offer you an intimate, personal experience.

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You have the guidance of local expert Eric Chavez Santiago who will co-lead this cultural tour with Norma Schafer, founder of Oaxaca Cultural Navigator.  

Eric Chavez Santiago is an expert in Oaxaca and Mexican folk art with a special interest in artisan economic development.  He is a weaver and natural dyer by training, a fourth generation member of the Fe y Lola rug weaving family, who was born and raised in Teotitlan del Valle. He has intimate knowledge of local traditions and customs, speaks the indigenous Zapotec language, and serves as your cultural navigator. 

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Eric is a graduate of the Anahuac University, and speaks English and Spanish. He can translate language, culture and traditions, tell you about practices in his extended family and how they have experienced the changes over time.

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Moreover, he is deeply connected and will introduce you to some of the finest artisans in the region, where you will meet weavers, ceramic artists, apron makers and traditional cooks. You will have an opportunity to see artisan craft demonstrations and to shop for your own collection or for gifts, as you wish.

You will spend the first two nights in Oaxaca City, then you will move to a comfortable Bed and Breakfast Inn based in Teotitlan del Valle for the remainder of our time together.

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Angel in Pan de Muertos (Day of the Dead bread)

Preliminary Itinerary

Thursday, October 28: Arrive in Oaxaca City and check in to our centrally-located boutique hotel

Friday, October 29: After breakfast, explore the city and the Benito Juarez market to see preparations for Dia de los Muertos, and gallery/shop decorations. We will also catch a comparsa – the traditional Muertos parade – along the pedestrian street as our schedule permits. Overnight in Oaxaca. (Breakfast and welcome dinner)

Saturday, October 30: Travel to Teotitlan del Valle and check in to our comfortable B&B, take a chocolate making workshop with a traditional cook that includes a visit to the local molino (mill) to grind the cacao bean mixture. See how traditional mole Amarillo tamales are prepared and have a tasting.  We will talk about family altars, their significance and what goes into making one. You will then enjoy comida (late lunch) in the home of a local family.  (B, L)

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Teotitlan del Valle tamales with mole amarillo, made by Ernestina

Sunday, October 31: After breakfast, walk to the Teotitlan del Valle market to shop for altar decorations to later build a group altar. Bring photos of those you want to remember! Then, we will venture out into the countryside to visit the Zapotec villages of San Marcos Tlapazola and San Miguel del Valle to meet artisans and discuss their family Dia de los Muertos traditions. You will see demonstrations of red clay pottery and embroidered apron making and have a chance to buy if you wish. We will come prepared with altar gifts of chocolate and bread to present to the difuntos. On the road, we will stop at a traditional comedor for lunch (at your own expense). (B, D)  

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Monday, November 1: After breakfast, travel to San Pablo Villa de Mitla to meet weaver artisans who will take us to their family gravesite at the village cemetery and talk about this village and their history and traditions. Visit homes where traditional altars tell the story of ancient Zapotec culture. You will bring your offering of chocolate and bread to put on their altars to honor the deceased of our hosts.  We will take lunch at a local comedor along the way (at your own expense). Then, make a stop on the way home for a mezcal tasting – Para todo mal, mezcal. Para todo bien, tambien.  (B, D)  

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Tuesday, November 2: After breakfast, you will visit the homes of selected weavers in Teotitlan del Valle to experience each family’s variation on altar preparation, and see a weaving and natural dyeing demonstration. You’ll then join a local family for lunch and accompany them to the cemetery to sit with their loved ones as they return to the underworld. After the cemetery, you will have a cena (late repast) of bread and hot chocolate, discuss how participating in Day of the Dead had an impact on you. Compare and contrast this experience with USA and Canadian experiences with death and dying.  (B, L, D)

Wednesday, November 3: After breakfast, the choice is yours for this free-day. You may like some downtime to write about your experiences or take a hike to the reservoir or meander the village. You can also arrange a taxi to take you to neighboring villages or archeological sites. We will enjoy a final goodbye supper before you depart.

Thursday, November 4: Departure. We will help you arrange a taxi (at your own expense) to the airport or you may choose to stay on in Oaxaca or visit another part of Mexico.  (B) Hasta la proxima!

Itinerary subject to change based on scheduling and availability.

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What Is Included

  • 7 breakfasts, 2 lunches, 5 dinners
  • 2 nights lodging at an excellent boutique hotel in Oaxaca City
  • 5 nights lodging at a charming B&B hotel in Teotitlan del Valle
  • museum and church entry fees
  • van transportation
  • outstanding and complete guide services

What is NOT Included

The workshop does NOT include airfare, taxes, tips, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and local transportation as specified in the itinerary. We reserve the right to substitute instructors and alter the program as needed.

Cost • $2,795 double room with private bath (sleeps 2) • $3,445 single room with private bath (sleeps 1)

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Natural dyes have strong color, beautiful and more complex than synthetic dyes

Reservations and Cancellations.  A $500 deposit is required to guarantee your spot. The balance is due in two equal payments. The second payment of 50% of the balance is due on or before June 15, 2021. The third payment is due on or before September 1, 2021. We accept payment using online e-commerce only. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After September 1, 2021, there are no refunds. If you cancel on or before September 1, 2021, we will refund 50% of your deposit received to date. After that, there are no refunds. If we cancel for whatever reason, you will receive a full refund.

The tour and COVID-19: You are required to send proof of vaccination to participate. You must send Proof of Vaccination by email on or before June 15, 2021. You can take a photo of the documentation and forward it to us. All participants are required to wear face masks, use hand-sanitizer and practice social distancing while together. We will sanitize vans and keep the windows open when traveling together. Please note: You MUST also provide proof of international travel insurance including $50,000 of emergency medical evacuation coverage.

Registration Form

Complete the form and Send an email to Norma Schafer.

Tell us if you want a shared/double room or a private/single room. We will send you an e-commerce invoice by email that is due on receipt.

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Red clay pottery, San Marcos Tlapazola

Who Should Attend • Anyone interested in indigenous culture and creativity, who wants a deep immersion experience into Day of the Dead practices and traditions, and who appreciates artisan craft — weaving, embroidery, pottery. If you are a collector, come with us to go deep and find the best artisans. If you are a photographer or artist, come with us for inspiration. If you are an online retailer, come with us to find the stories to market what you sell.

To Register, Policies, Procedures & Cancellations–Please Read

Reservations and Cancellations.  We accept online e-commerce payments only. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After September 1, 2021, there are no refunds. If we receive notice of your cancelation on or before September 1, 2021, 50% of the funds you have paid to date will be refunded. After that, there are no refunds.

All documentation for plane reservations, required travel insurance, and personal health issues must be received 45 days before the program start or we reserve the right to cancel your registration without reimbursement.

Terrain, Walking and Group Courtesy: Oaxaca and surrounding villages are colonial and pre-Hispanic. The altitude is close to 6,000 feet. Many streets and sidewalks are cobblestones, narrow and uneven. We will do a lot of walking. We walk a lot — up to 10,000 steps per day. We recommend you bring a walking stick.

If you have mobility issues or health/breathing impediments, please consider that this may not be the study tour for you.

Traveling with a small group has its advantages and also means that independent travelers will need to make accommodations to group needs and schedule. We include free time to go off on your own if you wish.

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Sitting vigil in the village cemetery, Dia de los Muertos

2021 Jewelry Sale #3: Oaxaca Bracelets, Cuffs, Bangles +

If you have a small wrist you are in luck. Most of these bracelets measure 7″ to 8″ long and will fit a small wrist that is 6″ (more or less) in circumference. Some are vintage, some are new-ish, some are collectible, all are in like-new condition. I want to sell these as I get ready to make my cross-country move, so if you are so inclined, I welcome any reasonable offer.

To Buy: Please email me normahawthorne@mac.com with your name, mailing address and item number. I will mark it SOLD, send you a PayPal link to purchase and add $12 for cost of mailing. Please DO NOT SELECT buying goods or services — thank you! We also accept Venmo and Zelle, and I can send you a Square invoice (+3% fee) if you don’t use PayPal.

#3. 20 Centavos Silver 1939 Mexican Coin Bracelet, 7-1/2″long. $125
#3 Detail: 20 Centavos 1939 Mexican Coin Bracelet
#4. Vintage Mexican Silver + Turquoise Bracelet, 7-1/2″ long. $135
#4 Detail
SOLD. #5 Bubble Bangle, Taxco, Mexico, Sterling Silver. 2-1/2″ diameter opening. $165
#6 Vintage Designer 1970’s Bone Sculpted Bracelet, 5″ inside, opening is 1-1/8″ $295
#6 Detail Raoul Sosa Designs
#6 Detail
#6 Detail
#6 Detail
#7 Copper bracelet, 7-1/4″ long. $35
#8 Bone Cuff, 5″ inside end-to-end, 1-1/2″ opening. $25
#9 Juicy Vintage Celluloid Bangle, 1940’s, 3″ diameter opening. $85
#10 Michoacan Painted Enamel Bangle, 2-5/8″ diameter opening. $55
#11 Pair Beaded Bangles, India. 2-1/2″ diameter opening. $45
#12 Vintage 1950’s Mexican Sterling and Moonstone, 7″ long. $225
#13 Vintage Sterling Silver Filigree, 8″ $55
#13 Detail
SOLD. #14 Mexico Designer Tane Sterling Silver w/Gold Plate. 7-3/4″ long. $135
#14 Detail
#15-#20 Sterling Silver Pins Described Below
  • #15 Top Left. Sterling and Spiny Oyster Pendant, $25.
  • #16 Top Second from Left. Sterling + Jasper pin, $65
  • #17 Top Second from Right. Sterling and Jasper pin, $45
  • #18 Top Right. Elena Solow Design, Oaxaca, pin. $145
  • #19 Bottom Left. Chased Sterling pin. $55
  • #20 Bottom Right. Vintage Mexico Hummingbird pin. $55
#21 Mexico beaded bracelet, 7-1/2″ $5
#22 Mexico Designer Carla Fernandez Bangle, wood. 2-3/8″ diameter opening, $75

A word about these carved wood bangles from Mexico City designer Carla Fernandez: She works with the finest wood craftsman from the State of Mexico to create these pieces. If you notice, they are designs adapted from the parts of the molinillo, which is the wood whisk designed to froth hot chocolate. The moveable parts are what the bangle is made from. All carved by hand!

#23 Carla Fernandez Bangle, wood, 2-1/2″ diameter opening. $55
#24 Carla Fernandez Bangle, wood, 2-1/2″ diameter opening. $30
#25 Wood bangle, 2-1/2″ diameter opening, $20