Monthly Archives: April 2011

Zapotec Fashionistas Know — It’s All in the Apron

Katie wrapped in apron and head scarf with market apron vendor

What does the stylish Zapotec woman wear?  Why, an apron, of course!  Aprons with ruffles, embroidery, scalloped detailing, lace, deep pockets and a secure button closure with waist tie are the ubiquitous fashion statement in the Tlacolula valley of Oaxaca.  The center of apron fashionistas is the Sunday Tlacolula Market.  There, an entire aisle is devoted to the apron and accompanying colorful headscarves.  Aprons come in all variations on the theme of checkered, gingham-like, cotton or cotton/poly blend fabric.  They can be simple straight edge or more complicated, heavily scalloped at the hemline and bodice.  Price depends upon complexity of style and amount of embroidery.  Aprons can be magical, embroidered with figures of birds, flowers, animals, and fruit.  The fancier the apron, the more it costs.

Polly chooses hers, and ...

Gringas like aprons, too.  After we buy ours and wear them, we get big smiles from the locals.  The fun is in the fashion show for each other, shopkeepers and passers-by. Almost like dress-up when we were girls 🙂  What’s amazing is that you can be wear any plain ‘ole thing underneath, and a great apron from Tlacolula just adds color, fun and spark to life.  When you come to a village in Oaxaca you will see that the apron is just part of everyday dressing.  For us, it’s a way to enjoy another dimension of Oaxaca.  Now, we are ready for cooking class!

Robin finds one that suits her at the local market in Teotitlan del Valle.

Helen loves this one with brown tones.

Upcoming Oaxaca Cultural Navigator Events in 2011 (Stay Tuned for More!)

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Oaxaca, Mexico Women’s Yoga Retreat

Oaxaca Women’s Yoga Retreat with Beth Miller, July 5-11, 2011 — for beginners and all levels of yoga practice

Deepen your awareness and expand your perspective as you join us for this 6-night, 7-day retreat based in the Zapotec village of Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico.  This women-only program is perfect for mothers and daughters, sisters by birth, marriage, friendship and relationship, and any woman who wants a magical getaway to reconnect with self and others while exploring the majestic beauty of southern Mexico’s high-desert.

During the retreat we will explore the two complimentary modes of spiritual awareness — “mukti” and “bhukti.”   “Mukti,” or liberation, is the upward flowing consciousness that releases us from worries, plans, fears, fantasies, and limited identities … until we become space itself.  This is the experience of the seeker on the mountain top: transcendent and blissful.  “Bhukti,” or enjoyment, is a rooted state of fully embodied presence that allows us to take pleasure in the life of the senses. We allow ourselves to feel and become solid on the earth as the unique beings we are. We welcome the complexity of emotion and the dualities of physical existence, while cultivating the refinement of our senses. Oaxaca, with its potent sights, sounds and scents, is an ideal location in which to celebrate and explore.

Our morning practice will focus on yoga asana and movement. It will be a strong and grounding physical practice, and variations will be offered for practitioners with different levels of experience and ability. Alignment, presence, and breath consciousness will guide and anchor us.  Afternoon practices will invite play, as we explore partner yoga exercises. This will be an opportunity to observe our patterns in relationship to others and to have fun together!  Evening practice will be more restorative and will include sonic/vocal meditations and breath work.

All levels are welcome–individual consultations will be scheduled for those of you who would like feedback on your practice and yogic journey.

Additional activities are included in the cost. During the week,  a variety of additional activities planned that are included in your registration fee:  a visit to a local permaculture farm with yoga session under the palapa followed by lunch, yoga on the mountain top at the ancient archeological site of Yagul followed by a guided discussion with a renowned anthropologist, a day at the famed regional Tlacolula market (no yoga here!), and visits to local artists and artisans.

We are offering options to partake of a traditional temescal women’s sweat lodge, a one-hour Zapotec massage with a local bodyworker, study Spanish with a local teacher and to stay a day longer to immerse yourself in the local cuisine with a traditional Zapotec cooking class taught by Reyna Mendoza Ruiz.

Location is in family-centered Teotitlan del Valle. We will be here during the annual village saint’s day celebration. A highlight of this festival is the “Dance of the Feather” or “Danza de la Pluma” which is held on July 5 and July 6 in the church courtyard.  A troupe of local dancers who have practiced together during the year will re-enact the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, performing for 10-hours straight in traditional regalia.

Our bed and breakfast/retreat space is located within walking distance of the church, the village market, hiking trails, and some of the best weavers and artisans in the world.  The food is delicious and prepared fresh each day.

About Your Retreat Leaders

Beth Miller of Boulder, Colorado, is our yoga instructor who specializes in Vinyasa-Hatha yogic traditions.  She employs sonorous yoga practices as an approach to help women of all ages to give voice to their lives.  Beth is an experienced workshop leader and meditator who combines yogic practice and philosophy with creative expression through sound.  She has a background in Holistic-Health Counseling, working primarily with teen girls and young women to inspire healthy lifestyle habits.  In addition, Beth is a vocal artist, performer and teacher of Western classical and sacred music.  She holds a B.A. in music from Westminster Choir College, is a Certified Holistic Health Counselor, and completed the chef training program from the Institute for Culinary Education.

What Past Participants Say About Beth Miller:

“Beth is a wonderful and supportive teacher.”

“It was deep and delicious work in a very supportive environment.  The yoga was extremely rich.”

What a wonderful opportunity to be surrounded by such an inspiring, intelligent, centered, supportive and eclectic bunch of women.  Thank you.”

“Beth gave me tools for greater contemplation and a way to honor myself.  Excellent.”

“The community of creative women was extremely supportive and inspiring.”

“This was an amazing experience.  Beth is a beautiful, beautiful teacher.”

Norma Hawthorne has produced arts and educational programs in Oaxaca, Mexico, through Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC since 2006.  She has offered creative writing, tapestry weaving, natural dyeing, painting, documentary filmmaking, and photography workshops that have been attended by participants from throughout the U.S., Canada and from as far as Australia.  During her 25-year career in higher education, Norma has organized national award-winning continuing education programs for Indiana University, University of Virginia, and George Washington University, and has raised more than $20 million for The University of North Carolina School of Nursing.  She holds the B.A. from California State University-Northridge and the M.S. from the University of Notre Dame.

What Past Participants Say About Norma Hawthorne:

“We got tons of helpful info from Norma before the retreat, and all during the retreat Norma was busy shepherding us, explaining life in Oaxaca, and seeing that all our needs were met.”

“Norma’s knowledge of the culture as well as her generosity of spirit are remarkable.  Not replicable, I think!”

What Past Participants Say About Questions of Personal Safety

“I would say you are often as safe as you think you are and that bad media, amongst other things are only trying to feed your fears.  That safety is not a concern in Oaxaca, just to be wise, as you would anywhere and trust your gut, come well-informed and open your arms and heart to the beauty of the incredible place.”

“Not a problem.  We felt perfectly safe in Teotitlan del Valle.”

“There are some simple precautions to take regarding food, but I have always felt safe here and that the people are very helpful.”

“I would say – ‘you are missing an awesome (in the real, not slang sense of the word) experience.’ ”

“It’s a wonderful place.  I did not feel threatened in any way.  It was safe and people were kind, patient, friendly.”

“I felt more safe here than in many U.S. cities.  I saw and heard no violence, no drunkenness, no homelessness.”

Lodging/Accommodations. To keep this experience affordable, we have selected accommodations that are clean and basic.  If you prefer luxury accommodations, please consider a different program.

Cost:  The basic cost for the retreat is $1,095. USD. This includes six nights lodging double occupancy with shared bath, six breakfasts, four lunches, six dinners, local transportation associated with the retreat, and all instruction.  Most programs of this type, length and quality cost more than twice as much! The cost does NOT include airfare, taxes, gratuities, travel insurance, liquor/alcoholic beverages, some meals, entry fees, and transportation to/from the airport.

For the base price of the trip, $1,095, you will share a double room with shared bath.  Please indicate your preferences on your registration form.

Option 1: Double room with shared bath; $1,095 each. Deposit to reserve: $550.

Option 2: Double room with private bath; $1,295 each. Deposit to reserve: $650.

Option 3:  Single room with private bath;  $1,495 each.  Deposit to reserve: $750.

Option 4:  Add one night lodging on July 4, $40 each.

Option 5:  Add one night lodging on July 11, $40 each.

Option 6:  Add cooking class on July 11 with Reyna Mendoza Ruiz, $65 (includes lunch).

Option 7:  Add temescal women’s traditional evening sweat lodge, $45

Option 8:  Add on-hour traditional Zapotec massage with local bodyworker, $40

Reservations and Cancellations. A 50% deposit is required to guarantee your spot.  The final payment for the balance due (including any optional supplemental costs) shall be postmarked by May 31, 2011.  Payment may be made by check or PayPal.  We will be happy to send you an itemized invoice.

Please understand that we make lodging and transportation arrangements months in advance of the program.  Deposits or payments in full are often required by our hosts.  If cancellation is necessary, please notify us in writing by email.   After May 31, no refunds are possible; however, we will make every possible effort to fill your reserved space or you may send a substitute.  If you cancel on or before May 30, we will refund 50% of your deposit.  We strongly recommend that you take out trip cancellation, baggage, emergency evacuation and medical insurance before you begin your trip, since unforeseen circumstances are possible.

Questions and to Register: or call (919) 274-6194.

Oaxaca Shopping Mania: Take Advantage of My Weakness

Gold + Silver Leaf Mirror by Talleres Zegache, $125 + shipping

I’ve just published a number of new items for sale on the Gallery–Shop Here page of this web site (see home page, click on button under banner).  I don’t usually shop for and buy Oaxaca art and craft because I need it.  I do it to support the artists and artisans.  The creativity that is expressed through these art forms is extraordinary and often I find myself digging into my pocket or going to the ATM in order to sustain the art, their creators and their families.  You might say, ‘Norma, this is just an excuse.’  Nevertheless, here I confess my weakness.  However, in order to curtail the acquisition in-flow, I am offering a few wonderful pieces for sale that I found during my recent Oaxaca comings and goings.

The piece above is just one fine example.  It is from Santa Ana Zegache, the small Ocotlan area village where famed Oaxaca artist Rudolfo Morales restored and painted an extraordinary church and supported artistic expression through the foundation he established before he died.  Talleres Zegache is a workshop of village craftspeople who restore and reproduce colonial mirrors.  Click on the photo where  I have provided a more complete description.  This particular mirror (above) uses gold and silver leaf, and cochineal red paint.  It is extraordinary!

If you are visiting Oaxaca, please stop by Talleres Zegache.  They are well hidden, not easy to find, tucked way in the back (I suspect because the rent is cheaper), at Plaza Lucero, 5 de Mayo #412. I don’t know much much longer they will be there because business hasn’t been brisk (tourism is down all over Oaxaca because of the drug war scares).  A pity, since the area is safe, family-friendly and gorgeous.

So Easy Recipe for Homemade Organic Corn Tortillas + Yummy Mini-Quesadillas

Mini-quesadilla on a Talavera de la Reyna plate

Who would have thought that making fresh corn tortillas would be so easy?  I have watched for years as Magda takes her organic corn kernels to the local molina (corn grinder) in Teotitlan del Valle, then adds lime and salt, mixes the dough, tenderly pats out the little corn circles by hand, and tends them with her thumb and forefinger at the hot comal in the garden kitchen.  I make a mental note:  Too much trouble.  Easier to buy them. But it doesn’t have to be like that!

I discovered the simplicity of homemade tortillas during the cooking class I recently took with Pilar Cabrera Arroya, chef of La Olla Restaurant in Oaxaca.   She bought the masa (corn dough) already prepared fresh that morning at her local market.  Back at class, we used the tortilla press to make 6″ tortillas that we used for mini-quesadillas — a perfect botana (appetizer).

Testing the masa (dough) for pliability

So, back home in North Carolina I bought a similar tortilla press at my local Mexican tienda, stopped at my local organic market and purchased a bag of Bob’s Red Mill Masa Harina (not organic), followed the recipe on the bag and went to work. (Readers recommend using Gold Mine organic masa harina.)  Of course, the comal (griddle) you see below is a thin steel one that I picked up from the Tlacolula market, hauled home and then seasoned.  You might be able to find a comal like this at your local Mexican store, too.  Thinner is better for making tortillas and roasting peppers, garlic, onions, tomatoes, etc.  Season it first before using!

I use Bob's Red Mill Masa Harina (organic)

Steps for excellent, fresh and easy tortillas:

1.  Mix the dough according to package instructions.  Let it rest for an hour in a covered bowl.  Test the dough with your thumb to be sure it is soft and no cracks appear on the surface.  If needed, flick water on it, then knead to absorb moisture.  Your thumb should make a nice, soft impression!

2.  Take a small thin plastic bag that you have used to package your vegetables from the supermarket.  Be sure it is clean has has no veggie residue on it.  Cut it in half and trip off any excess.  Lay one half on the bottom of the tortilla press.

Dough ball is centered on plastic

3.  Heat your comal on a medium-high burner.  Do not add oil.  The comal should be dry.

4.  Form a 1-1/2″ to 2″ ball of masa with your palms.  Center it on top of the plastic.  Lay the second sheet of plastic on top of the ball.  Press.  Flip the plastic covered dough to the other side and press again.  Flip and press again (3x).

5.  Lift the plastic encased dough off the press.  Gently remove one side of the plastic.  Careful, don’t tear the edges of the tortilla!  Then, remove the second sheet.  Place on the hot comal.

Gently peel the plastic from the tortilla

6.  Good things come in 3’s!  Pilar says to cook the tortilla on one side for about 30-45 seconds, turn it, cook again, and then turn it and cook one more time.  I like a little color on my tortilla, so you can watch to see how well you like it done.  There should be little bubbles on the surface of the first side, then the second side should be smooth and a little puffy.

Cook tortilla until it begins to puff, turning 3x

Lay tortilla onto hot comal (no oil)

7.  Make a little quesadilla:  use Oaxaca string cheese (quesilla) or a slice of Swiss or Monterrey Jack cheese.  Put the tortilla back on the hot comal.  Add the cheese, a tablespoon of green salsa verde, chopped onion or scallion, a sprig of cilantro, and Buen Provecho!

Quesadillas with fresh corn tortillas hot off the comal

And the taste is so much better than what you could buy in the store.  Plus, this would be a great party activity — make your own tortillas!

P.S.  Come to Oaxaca with us for the 2011 Day of the Dead Documentary Photography Expedition led by Bill Bamberger.  Register today!