Monthly Archives: May 2013

Sabbaticals, Cleaning Out, Chiapas Cat For Sale

For the past month that I have been in North Carolina, I have looked around my house and decided it was time to deconstruct my collection.  This includes all things Oaxaca, Mexico, plus art and artifacts from past lives where I have traveled around the world and wanted to bring home the memories represented by something tangible and beautiful.

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You have not heard much from me during this time.  I have focused my energies on editing my collection, selling and cleaning out.  This is in preparation for spending more time in Oaxaca in the coming year, and for my month-long trip to Peru starting in mid-September.  When I retired from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Nursing, my foundation board gave me this trip to Peru as a departing gift and thank you for my service to the school.  I was surprised, amazed, and speechless!  Now, I get to plan the adventure.

And, no, I’m not leaving North Carolina and this home I love.  Merely taking an opportunity to downsize, deconstruct, re-evaluate how much I want and need, and taking steps to simplify my life and go lighter.

I’ve been selling most of my collection on ebay and Etsy, and lots is still there.  This includes ceramics figures from the famed Aguilar sisters and alebrijes by Bertha Cruz, and handmade Mexican vintage sterling silver earrings.

Here is a beautiful stuffed Chiapas Cat I’ve had in my collection.  10″ high and 9″ wide. Do you want it?  $24 plus shipping and it’s yours!

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Here goes Comandante Ramona on horseback (or is it donkey?) with Subcomandante Marcos across EZLN territory of Chiapas.  A great figure of felted wool, embroidery and wood.  10-1/2″ tall and 8″ wide.  $26 plus shipping.

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I subscribe to and regularly read The Improvised Life blog written by Sally Schneider.  This week she posted she was taking a one-week sabbatical and posted a TED talk video in support of this idea.  I’m sharing it here.

For me, this sabbatical is intermittent, unplanned, and I don’t know what I will write or post here or when.  I do know I am doing more reflective and creative writing, writing more poetry, and creating the basics of a memoir that may or may not be published!  I’m taking one day at a time.

How are you doing as you approach summer?

And, have you thought about participating in the February 2014 Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat?  We are accepting reservations now.

Nursing Student Volunteers in Oaxaca Public Health Clinic: Health Care Externships

Aside from organizing arts workshops in Oaxaca, Mexico, I also work with universities to place students pursuing a health care degree in the Teotitlan del Valle public health clinic for student exchange externship experiences.   I started doing this during the ten years I worked at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Nursing.  This gives me a great deal of pleasure and personal satisfaction because of its positive impact on people.  This is international cultural and health care education that can change lives.

In a week from now, Leonora Tisdale, a thirty-two year old second degree nursing student at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will spend a month volunteering in the clinic, which serves the primary care needs of eight thousand residents, plus those who come from smaller villages nearby.


Leonora is bilingual, a trained doula, and holds an undergraduate degree from Guilford College.  She is interested in learning more about the medical culture of Mexico and its standard of care, maternal childbirth practices and women’s health.  After she returns, she will do a North Carolina clinical rotation at a rural clinic that serves immigrant families from Mexico and Central America.  Neither the professionals in or patients accessing the Teotitlan del Valle clinic speak much, if any, English.  This will give Leonora a perfect opportunity to build her medical Spanish vocabulary as she prepares for her nursing career.

When we met for coffee yesterday, Leonora said she is excited and energized.  She has prepared well by reading about Oaxaca health care needs:  the mental health issues around migration and being left behind, why indigenous women choose traditional birth methods, and the stigma of HIV-AIDS.  She wants to build relationships with the people who live in the village and learn the cultural nuances that one can only get by being there.  And, of course, she wants to eat all  seven Oaxaca moles (though, I suspect, not at the same time!).  At the end of her service, Leonora will write a reflection paper about her experience and I hope to publish it here.

One of the public health officials of the village tells me that better health care is a priority for Teotitecos.  The externships not only provide a cultural exchange, they give the clinic doctors, nurses, psychologist, and social worker clinical help in an overburdened system where the population is growing and there are not enough providers.  I explained to Leonora that diabetes occurrence is high in the region and there are health education opportunities working with local people to sustain programs around nutrition and exercise, and maternal and child health, and other chronic illnesses.

Students and/or university faculty members work with me directly to make the arrangements for student volunteer service. I facilitate the residency and make arrangements with those in the village.  Students work directly with their universities for academic credit, travel and insurance requirements.

At the end of June, two physician assistant students — Ben Cook and Meagan Parsons — from Methodist University in Fayetteville, NC, will begin their month-long externship at the Teotitlan del Valle clinic.  They will be joined by Professor Deborah Morris, MD, PA-C, who will be the on-site supervisor of their experience.

I welcome inquiries to arrange for spring break, winter intercession, and summer externships.   We ask that students be enrolled in a four-year academic institution, have at least one year of Spanish language proficiency to participate, be an excellent student, and participate as part of their academic experience for academic credit with the supervision (on-site or remotely) of a faculty member.

For more information, contact Norma Hawthorne at  (copy and paste my email address into your email program if you can’t get the link to work.  It’s funky today!).

Oaxaca, North Carolina: Recipe for Best Pinto Bean Frijoles–Ever!

Not far from Tuxtepec, Oaxaca, in the Papaloapan region  on the Veracruz border lies the village of Loma Bonita just off the Sayula de Aleman-Tierra Blanca Highway 145.  Known as the pineapple capital of the world, the region is home to the famed Flor de Piña dance we see every year at the Guelaguetza. They say Loma Bonita is a great stopping off point between Oaxaca City and Veracruz.  Some claim Loma Bonita was founded by estadounidenses who found it to be a perfect place to camp.  Quien sabe?

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It is also a place from which immigrants come to North Carolina, U.S.A.  I discovered that there is an enclave of Oaxaqueños from Loma Bonita living in the town of Siler City not far from my North Carolina home.  

One young woman I talked with from Loma Bonita says she loves it there, and while there is work here in North Carolina, she dreams of going back.  Many Mexicans want to go back to where they came from, she said.  That’s where we really feel at home.


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Fiber Fiesta is a street fair that showcases the  textile arts of Chatham County, NC.  Spinners, weavers and natural dyers participated.  I was there to represent Federico Chavez Sosa’s wonderful Oaxaca rugs.  The “fiesta” part featured a Mexican food street cafe organized as a fundraiser for the teenage youth group at Saint Julia Catholic Church.   Over 80 percent of the parish is Spanish speaking. Latino parents and teens worked together to create a street cafe much like we find on the corners of Oaxaca, where fresh, delicious food is prepared and served by excellent home-style cooks.

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I looked on as the men volunteers set up tents, cafe tables and chairs, and an outdoor gas-fired cook stove.  The women donned rubber gloves and plastic hair covers, and rolled up their sleeves.  They set to work making spicy shredded chicken-filled empanadas and tacos, refried beans, salsa verde and shredded lettuce salad — making masa (corn dough) from scratch right there on the street and cooking it, just like in Oaxaca!

The refried beans were the most delicious I’ve ever tasted: a version originating from Loma Bonita, I suspect! Here is the simple recipe shared with me.

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Recipe: Refried Beans Loma Bonita Style

  • 1 lb. pinto beans, rinsed drained
  • 1/4 lb. chorizo (Mexican sausage), cooked and drained of all fat
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and sliced thin
  • 1/4 c. cooking oil

Cook pinto beans until soft and all liquid is absorbed (according to package directions).  Add jalapeño pepper and cook for another five minutes.  Mash with potato masher until a paste.  Thin with a little water, if needed.   Crumble chorizo into the mix and mix evenly.  Heat oil in large frying pan.  Add bean paste.  Continuously stir until mixture is thoroughly cooked and begins to bubble.   Taste to correct seasoning (see if it needs any more salt). Serves 4-6.  Store in refrigerator or freezer in covered container.

Siler City, NC, has a population of over 50 percent Latinos.  Most come from Mexico and many are from Oaxaca.  Whenever I want/need a special cooking ingredient or a taste of Mexican soul food, that’s where I go!  Unless I’m in Oaxaca, of course! (smile) Buen provecho. 

Felt Fashion Workshop: Oaxaca Style Art To Wear

We’ve invited Jessica de Haas back to teach this popular workshop again in 2014.  Here is your chance to escape winter, roll up your sleeves and make an extraordinary felted wool garment that will bring ooh’s and aah’s.  For seven nights and eight days, from January 30 to February 6, you will experience the textile culture of Oaxaca, and create naturally dyed felt fabric that you will make into wearable art.

If you ever wanted to felt wool and use it to make a garment that is unique, comfortable and stylish, this is the place for you.  If you want to build upon what you already know and add to your skill set, join us!  We use easy-to-construct indigenous Mexican patterns to show off your design creativity.  If you aren’t confident, don’t worry! The place itself is an inspiration.

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Our expert instructor is fiber artist-clothing designer Jessica de Haas, from Vancouver, B.C., Canada.  She is joined by Eric Chavez Santiago from Oaxaca, Mexico, who will demonstrate natural dyeing techniques.  The wool roving we use is dyed by Eric who works with cochineal, indigo, wild marigold and other local plant sources.

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About Your Instructors

Jessica owns the clothing design company Funk-Shui in Vancouver, B.C. and is an award-winning, internationally known fiber artist, fashion designer and teacher.  Her work is published in leading books and magazines. She recently completed an Arquetopia artist residency in Oaxaca, and taught and exhibited at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca.  See her website for bio and designs.

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Eric Chavez Santiago, founding director of education at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, is a weaver and natural dye expert.  He has taught natural dyeing techniques  in Oaxaca and at U.S. universities and museums since 2006.

I attended the workshop this past year (Feb 2013). Wow! Jessica was a fabulous instructor, practical and inspirational, and a total delight. The village of Teotitlan is an experience in itself and will immerse you in a totally different and vibrant world. The B&B and especially the meals were awesome and conversation around the table with other workshop participants was totally fun and absorbing — a bunch of creative, independent and feisty women! And, you can’t lose — even I made several shawls I’m very proud to wear. Highly recommended! –Leslie Larson

Our Itinerary

Working with Jessica in the courtyard of our B&B, we will first make pre-felts and samples.  Then we will embark on creating lengths of felted fabric enough to make one garment.  You can also choose to felt on silk or cheesecloth that results in lighter weight and beautifully draping fabric. After your fabric is dry, you will have the option to cut and sew it into one of several indigenous Oaxaca styles:  the huipil (tunic), the blusa (blouse), rebozo (shawl), boufanda (scarf) or quechequemitl (cape), or modify the basic pattern into a design of your own.  We give you a pattern book to choose your design!

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This workshop is for all levels of experience!  You do not have to be an artist or experienced felt-maker to attend.  We welcome beginners who have never worked in hand felting and more advanced fiber artists. This is a perfect residency for university students, teachers and artists who may want to explore a different medium, too.

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We will provide you with patterns for the basic indigenous designs that can be adjusted to fit.  If you want to contemporize them, we can help you tweak and make adjustments. If you have sewing or pattern drafting experience and want to experiment on your own, you are welcome to work on an independent design project.

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We are based in the weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle where for generations families have created wool textiles.  During our time together, we will go on local field trips to gain design inspiration, and meet and talk with weavers who work with natural dyes.  Some weave wool fabric for wearable art as well as sturdier floor and wall tapestries.  We will see examples of the types of garments that can be created from the felted fabric we make.

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Supplies to bring (preliminary list):

  • Cotton cheesecloth, preferably pre-colored, 5 to 6 yards (3 to 4 meters) or more
  • Embellishments: beads, sequins, buttons, ribbons, embroidery thread, yarn and other embellishments  (we will also have a supply on hand that you can use, too)
  • Non-stick shelf liner, 20 inches wide x 5 ft. long (minimum length), one roll
  • Sewing kit: sharp scissors, needles, threads, tailor chalk 

Note: The materials listed are enough to make one garment. If you wish to prepare a more complex or elaborate garment, we will offer more dyed wool roving for purchase and we suggest you bring more cheesecloth. We will provide a source list upon registration.

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Here is what is included in your registration fee:

  • all instruction
  • 7 nights lodging
  • 7 breakfasts
  • 6 dinners
  • naturally dyed merino wool roving for one garment
  • silk yardage for nuno felting, enough for one garment
  • pattern booklet and natural dye recipes
  • sewing machine to share with needles, thread
  • selected embellishments, yarns, threads
  • guided visit to Oaxaca textile museum and galleries

Workshop is limited to 10 participants.

Daily Workshop Schedule:  Arrive Thursday, January 30 and depart Thursday, February 6.   7 nights and 8 days with options to extend your visit.

Day 1, Thursday, January 30 – Arrive and settle in to your bed and breakfast posada in Teotitlan del Valle (we send directions)

Day 2, Friday, January 31 – Jump right in to make partial felts and laminate samples with silk and cheesecloth. We will make an actual mini- scarf during this session, as well as fabric samples. (B, D)

Day 3, Saturday, February 1 – Take a morning field trip to the village market and church for pattern inspiration from the local environment. After lunch we will work on designs using the partial felts and inspiration from the morning studies. (B, D)

Day 4, Sunday, February 2 – We take you on a field trip to visit Eric Chavez Santiago for an indigo dye demo.  In the afternoon, Jessica will demonstrate her method for using acid dyes and free-motion embroidery. You’ll then start on making felt for your final project/garment. (B, D)

Day 5, Monday, February 3 – Continue working on your project. In the afternoon Jessica will demo the art of making felt flowers. (B, D)

Day 6, Tuesday, February 4 —  Field trip to visit local silk weavers. Continue to felt, embellish, sew and finish your project.  Completed project Show and Tell with photos before dinner. (B, D)

Day 7, Wednesday, February 5 – Oaxaca City Textile Walk and Shop with Norma (B)

Day 8, Thursday, February 6 – Departure (B)

(This is a preliminary daily schedule and subject to modification.)  

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Workshop Fee:  $1,595 basic cost per person includes shared room and bath, double occupancy. Single occupancy with private bath, add $300.

Extension Options: 

Option 1:  Stay an extra day and take a Zapotec cooking class on Thursday, February 6, depart February 7.  Includes one night lodging, breakfast, lunch, cooking class and recipes.  $115 USD each.  2 person minimum.

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Option 2:  Friday, February 7, Ocotlan Market Day with stops to visit famous wood carvers, embroiderers, and potters.  Excursion includes transportation, 2 breakfasts, 1 lunch, 2 suppers, and 2 nights lodging on February 6 and 7, with a February 8 departure. (Note: does not include cooking class on February 6.  If you choose this option, Thursday, February 6 is on your own.)   $165 per person.  2 person minimum.

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Option 3:  Cooking Class and Ocotlan Market Day Combo.  Combine both Option 1 and Option 2 for a special price of $250 per person.  2 person minimum.


Arrive early or stay later!  Add on nights in Teotitlan del Valle at $50 per night, or Oaxaca City at $125 per night.  Let us know your preference and we make all the arrangements for you.

About Our Workshops, Retreats and Programs.  We offer educational programs that are hands-on, fun, culturally sensitive, and offer you an immersion experience.   Our workshop leaders are experts in their field, knowledgeable, have teaching experience and guide you in the learning process.  Our goal is to enhance your knowledge while giving you time to explore and discover. 

About Lodging and Accommodations. To keep this trip affordable and accessible, we stay in a local posada/guest house. The food is all house made (including the tortillas), safe to eat and delicious. Vegetarian options are available.


Your registration fee does NOT include airfare, taxes, admissions to museums and archeological sites, gratuities, liquor/alcoholic beverages, some meals and some transportation.

Deposits, Reservations and Cancellations.  A 50% deposit is required to guarantee your spot.  The last payment for the balance due (including any supplemental costs) shall be paid by December 15, 2013.  We only accept Payment with PayPal.  We will be happy to send you an invoice.

If cancellation is necessary, please notify us in writing by email.   After December 15, 2012, no refunds are possible; however, we will make every possible effort to fill your reserved space.  Your registration is transferable to a substitute.  If you cancel before December 15, 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.

To register or for questions, contact:  I am happy to set up a Skype call with you, too.  Skype name:  oaxacaculture

Cinco de Mayo, TMM Day of the Dead Photo Workshop Reunion Weekend

For months we have been planning to get back together again.  This weekend we are in Glencoe, North Carolina, a historic 1898 cotton mill village that is on the National Register of Historic Places.  Deby Thompson, a participant in the 2012 Day of the Dead Photography Workshop, who lives in Glencoe organized this reunion of other workshop participants so that we could keep the connection going that we made during our week together in Oaxaca.  Of course, the Tamarind Mezcal Margarita (see recipe below) has something to do with it!

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Who’s here?  Connie and Kathy flew in from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Helene took a flight from Baltimore. Liz drove from Cincinnati.  Deby and I are here from North Carolina.  Of course, we started out with a walking tour of the village, wine glasses in hand.   Not everyone could make it.  Bella is moving from San Jose, California to Northfield, Massachussets.  Erin couldn’t get away from work in New York City.  Debbie and Doug are in Fiji, and Mark is somewhere in Europe.  We missed them but carried on.

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When we returned to Deby’s house, we began making our TMMs (tamarind mezcal margaritas), while we all pitched in to prepare dinner.

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Recipe–Tamarind Mezcal Margarita (TMM): in a blender combine

  • 1 ounce mezcal
  • 1 ounce cointreau
  • 6 ice cubes
  • 3 oz. fresh tamarind pulp (use diluted concentrate if fresh not available and test for taste)
  • juice of 1/4 lime
  • Optional: rub the glass rim with lime juice, dip in coarse sea salt mixed with McCormick’s Fiesta Citrus Salt Free Seasoning

I had the Oaxaca mole coloradito concentrated paste in my refrigerator.  I prepared the chicken Oaxaca style, simmered with sea salt until tender. I used the chicken broth and some of the tortilla masa paste to make the mole.  We made organic blue corn tortillas from scratch, green salad with nopal cactus, pea sprouts, pumpkin seeds and mango, fresh steamed zucchini, rice, black beans flavored with garlic.  For dessert, Deby brought out the fresh strawberry ice cream from Maple View Farms.  And this was only Day One.

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We all brought our cameras, of course, and found some interesting artifacts to shoot in this 1898 traditional North Carolina mill village.

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What is amazing is the camaraderie between us and our wish to stay in contact after our organized workshop ended.  A very special gathering of women, to be sure!  Easy and satisfying.  I can’t guarantee that if you attend the 2013 Day of the Dead Photo Expedition that there will be a reunion, but I do know you will have a great time in Oaxaca, just like we did.

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