Tag Archives: new year

Welcome 2021! Really? End of 2020 Goodness Letter

It’s the time of year, in years past, to drink champagne, make New Year’s resolutions, watch the Times Square clock, and anticipate the joy to come. Dressing up for a New Year’s Eve party is but a distant memory. Fancy frocks adorn our closets. My body is clothed in blue jeans and a Patagonia t-shirt for warmth. The warmth of a Oaxaca December looms large in my recollections of years past when we would gather on my patio for chicken mole negro, tamales and mucho mezcal under the Sacred Mountain Picacho, the winter sun warming us. I dream of those 70 degree days.

Teotitlan del Valle atop Zapotec temple

I may still drink champagne tonight, a birthday gift from my sister. But, I will be alone with no one here to celebrate with. We are still in lockdown. Really? YES. Just because we are leaving 2020 behind us, it’s not the time to lower our defenses. Not much has changed except for the anticipation of a vaccine (that will be slow to be administered to most of us).

This year I received one annual holiday letter. You know. The many times duplicated letter that recalls all the milestones of the year, life updates (divorce, marriage, death, sickness, babies, children at play) along with photos of family and far-flung, exotic travel destinations. This usually arrives in the mail a week before Christmas, though not this year during a severely curtailed USPS funding breakdown. I’ve never written a holiday letter, but some still do.

For me, instead, I am communicating more and more, for better or worse, with WhatsApp, text and occasionally email. I can hardly keep up with FaceBook Messenger and Instagram, other sources of personal connection for many (though not so much in my age category).

I’m moved to say that we cannot overstate how difficult this year has been for us. Many of us are alone, separated from our children, grandchildren and dear friends, even if they live in the same town. Zoom and FaceTime are hardly substitutes for hugs. I’m trying to think back on 2020 to find the goodness, and there is some.

I’d like to share the Goodness Highlights with you:

  • January 2020: Oaxaca Coast Textile Tour was full with wonderful men and women who met extraordinary weavers in remote mountain areas. We generously supported them.
  • February 2020: In Chiapas, we met Maya weavers in humble homes who create glorious textiles. Their creativity and perseverance is uplifting.
  • On March 12, I left Oaxaca to visit my son for a brief week in Los Angeles before returning to Durham, NC for two months. As Covid hit, I stayed and lived with him in a one-bedroom apartment for two months! It was a highlight of the year!
Remember when toilet paper was like a rare diamond. We survived the shortage!
  • In March, panicked and twiddling my thumbs for what to do, I started the Oaxaca Mask Project. Our Oaxaca Cultural Navigator community raised over $20,000 USD to sew and distribute more than 3,000 face masks throughout Oaxaca and outlying villages.
Natividad with children, Teotitlan del Valle, May 2020
  • Then, we raised enough to buy and ship an expensive vital signs monitor for the Teotitlan del Valle public health clinic.
  • In July, I asked myself how we could more directly help Oaxaca and Chiapas weavers — the women we visit who depend on us for their livelihoods. I asked them to ship me their work, which I continue to resell, sending the proceeds to them — often several thousands of dollars at a time — to sustain them, their cooperatives and their families.
Las Sanjuaneras Cooperative, who we help with textile purchases
  • Whew! In September, I took a deep breath and a break, and embarked on a road trip to the midwest, equipped with face shield, plastic gloves, alcohol spray and plenty of hand-sanitizer for gas station and pit-stops. I packed my own food. It was wonderful to reconnect with long-time friends. Spiritually and emotionally satisfying in this year of emotional deprivation.
Mid-November hike along the Rio Grande River
  • With this experience behind me, and with some foolishness (I admit), I bought a plane ticket to New Mexico to meet up with my son, my sister, and lifelong friends. I fell in love with the landscape. With my boy, we hiked every day in Albuquerque along the Rio Grande River and the Petroglyph National Monument. With my sister, we enjoyed daily urban hiking in Santa Fe. All the while, keeping safe social distancing and wearing face masks religiously. It was a joy to be together.
Rio Grande River Gorge, Taos
  • My last two weeks in New Mexico were in Taos, where I REALLY fell in love, decided to buy five acres of high desert rolling hills dotted with sagebrush and build a casita along the Rio Grande River Gorge, down the road from those lifelong friends.
  • Oh, and a word about Covid-Hair: I decided no haircut until I get a vaccine. And, maybe not even then!

And, here we are, at the end of 2020. I’m selling my North Carolina condo in downtown Durham and will head west sometime this spring. My construction loan is approved and I’m starting to let go. I’ve been in NC for over 20 years. My friendships here are deep, and I expect the separation will be painful.

This has been a year of tragedy for our nation, but also a year of hopefulness with a new government.

My friend Kathryn gave me some reassuring words from the Poetry Fox: You have already made the decision. It’s the action that hasn’t happened yet. I’m anticipating the action and, true confession, I’m also scared. In my walking around Durham, I came across this:

And, this …

And, a favorite: Life begins at the end of your comfort zone!

So, to mark my 75th birthday today, I’m taking deep, healing breaths and continue to plan how and when to return to Oaxaca. Best bet is that I’ll get there sometime this spring or summer post-vaccine. Best best is that you and I will go together on a Oaxaca Day of the Dead Culture Tour (vaccine proof, masks and hand-sanitizer required). Best bet is that we get back to the Oaxaca Coast and Chiapas in January and February 2022.

Happy Birthday, 2021!

Then, who knows.

So, I say HAPPY NEW YEAR with energy, commitment and hope for a more compassionate and caring world, one in which we are all safe and in which our confidence in government returns.


P.S. The comments section isn’t working properly. I can read your comments but others can’t. I’m sorry. It’s a problem with the WordPress template I’m using. If anyone out there knows how to fix this, I’m happy to compensate for services rendered.

Holiday Letter, Season’s Greetings, Year-in-Review, Looking Ahead

Happy, Merry Holidays to all friends and acquaintances, virtual and concrete. I’m winding down my short North Carolina visit and return to Oaxaca on December 24 in time for Christmas Eve village festivities — a midnight supper with extended family.

This year (2018) I received Season’s Greetings letters from long-time friends, written, duplicated, personally signed and mailed to me via the USPS, one accompanied by a family photo complete with obedient dog. It’s catch-up time for those of us who live far away or who have been out of touch for a while.

Oaxaca’s Radish Festival

Usually, the update includes what grades the kids are in (for those still raising them), favorite sports and hobbies for all, everyone’s accomplishments, and far-and-away travel destinations reached.  Reports are glowing. 

One friend, closer in age to me, included a year of what’s ailing her and her husband, and their dwindling animal menagerie. I’m commiserating from my easy chair.  This has been a year-end filled with ailments.

The last Posada on Christmas Eve, Teotitlan del Valle

I’ve never written and sent one of these letters. Today, I can barely remember what I did ten or eleven months ago and I don’t keep a database of everyone who has touched me in my life.  My co-dependence on technology is palpable. 

This is so different from Mexico, where most families and friends still live in close proximity and see each other regularly, sharing in family celebrations, participating in the raising of infants and children, attending birthdays, baptisms, marriages and funerals. Yet, they are becoming dispersed now, too, as young adults seek jobs in faraway cities, often across borders. Do they stay in touch with a holiday letter? I doubt it. 

Nochebuena flower or poinsettia, native to Mexico

This prompted me to think about the year in review and the year to come. And to give you a more personal note of communication.

Before I left Oaxaca for my short return to North Carolina, Itzel Guadalupe aka Lupita asked me what my intentions were for 2019. She had already begun to think about hers: weave and sell five rugs, learn English, study harder to qualify for high school and then college, maybe visit the USA — with my help, she added! And, why not?

Happy New Year from Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

And, I wondered in self-reflection, Is it more important to go over the year past or to focus on the year to come? As a historian, I’ve decided to do a little of both. We must learn what came before in order to build on the future, no?

2018 Highlights:

I went back and forth from Oaxaca and the USA six times and made no across the water journeys to foreign lands. Instead, I visited family in California, and friends in New Mexico, Colorado, North Carolina, Chicago and Philadelphia, making a commitment to sustaining relationships. I developed a new folk art and textile tour to Michoacan upcoming in 2019 that includes visiting the environmentally fragile Monarch butterfly colony. I didn’t read enough. I joined and dropped out of several online dating sites after several unsuccessful attempts at connection. It’s hard to be consistent living a bimodal life.

Lupita and her mother

I helped Omar Chavez Santiago get a 10-year visa and brought him to North Carolina on two separate occasions for rug exhibitions and sales. I made a doggie patio and started walking 10,000+ steps four or five times a week with the four-legged ones. I kept up with writing Oaxaca Cultural Navigator blog and taking photographs. In late summer, I was contacted by an editor compiling stories for a book about women from the USA who choose  to live in Mexico. She invited me to contribute and I dug deep about why I live in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca. That led me to realize the value and importance to me of this commitment and decided it was time to move forward to apply for a permanent resident visa, which I got in November. 

Tlacolula market sky, Sunday before Christmas

It was never in my wildest dreams that I thought I would ever get a parasite, but it took a Oaxaca gastroenterologist to diagnose me after several tests in NC that gave me a clean bill of health. I learned a lot about microbiota, the digestive system, and gut health. I’m getting better. Seems this is a more common occurrence for both Mexicans and transplants than is talked about. 

As the year winds down and I’m regaining energy, I also think about what’s in store for 2019 and what lies beyond in 2020. I’ve always liked to revisit this question at my December 31 birthday, now a number I only fretted about becoming long ago. More important now than before, it seems. So, here’s what I’m thinking:

Downtown Durham, NC — where I live, too

2019 is pretty much locked in:

  • Oaxaca Coast Textile Tour in mid-January
  • Michoacan Folk Art Tour and Butterfly Sanctuary in early February
  • Chiapas Textile Tour at the end of February
  • Personal textile exploration with my sister to Japan in late March
  • Oaxaca Day of the Dead Women’s Writing Retreat
  • Reuniting with family and friends in Durham, California and beyond
Winter on Oaxaca’s coast, warm and temperate

2019 Morphing Into 2020 Intentions:

  • Offer fewer long-distance textile travel programs, reducing the number of winter trips from three to two
  • Stay closer to home; perhaps focus on a mix of local experiences: folk and contemporary art, textiles, pottery, mezcal, jewelry making, cooking, etc.
  • Survey Oaxaca Cultural Navigator followers to determine which TWO places in Mexico to visit in 2020 — new or repeat
  • Accelerate my own personal investigation of international textiles, and perhaps invite a small group to join me 
  • Continue to reconnect with family and friends wherever they are
  • Love and appreciate nature, walk the campo with the dogs
  • Celebrate life, the beauty of Mexico and her people, the gritty streets of Durham, North Carolina
  • Stay politically active and committed to change without burnout
  • Practice “life begins at the end of your comfort zone” and stretch, but differently, with more intention, slower, easier
Happy Holidays from Teotitlan del Valle

I wish for each of you a holiday of satisfying abundance with family and friends, of peace and a year of good health ahead. Prosperity is the blessing of life, deep breath and contentment. More to come in the New Year. 

All my best,

Sunset at Las Cuevitas 2018: The Sacred Caves of Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Beyond the town’s paved roads, back into the hills far from the village center, is the sacred site Teotitecos call Las Cuevitas. It is the third night, January 2, of a weeklong New Year’s observance practiced here in Teotitlan del Valle long before the Spanish Conquest.  For the ancients, the moon set the calendar. A late December -early January super moon would have been an awesome sight thousands of years ago just as it is today.

Sunset at Las Cuevitas, 2018, infused with cooking fire smoke

I arrive by 4:30 p.m. when it’s light enough to find a comfortable seat on a rock outcropping. I am intentionally alone to take in this environment where I live and to do my own meditation about the coming year with no distractions other than the landscape and my neighbors.

The rock mountain has changed dramatically since I was here two years ago. In a beautification plan, I see the steep, stony hillside is planted with young trees struggling to survive this high desert terrain.

Tents are as simple as a large umbrella to protect from wind and sun

The deep holes in which they are planted look like moon craters. Perhaps in ten years this will become a tree-shaded park filled with flowering Flor de Mayo and guaje trees. Ojala!

Dusk brings obscure images of people and distant mounds

But not now. The soil is more hospitable to thorny brush. Careful. A misstep on the rock pebbles will send you tumbling. (It did for me and the protective lens cover of my camera shattered.)

A camp tent and meat on the grill

This third night is less populated, more tranquil with fewer people. Families set up camp and convert the slope to a picnic ground. Some have tarp shelters or elaborate tents, sides tethered to ground with rocks gathered nearby. Ropes anchor tent to boulders.

Extended family gather around the table for a meal together al fresco

Children carry blankets, barbecue grills, wood, charcoal, a bag of meat to cook, a basket of mandarin oranges. I smell charcoal fires and gasoline, the strike of sulphur as a match lights. A wind whips up, carries smoke and cinder. Children hide their faces. So do I. Grandmothers, braids tied with crimson ribbon curl atop their heads like a crown, hover, tend to tender eyes.

Las Cuevitas panorama offer a spectacular valley view

Fragrant greens and wild flowers are traditional here

The language of Zapotec is spoken here. First language for first peoples. People I know and some I don’t, greet me with Feliz Año Nuevo, extend their arms in embrace and a pat on the back.

Packing out the remains of a meal or an overnight stay?

Las Cuevitas is the place to pray for a good year. Mostly, my friend Antonio tells me, people ask for good health. Nothing is more important, he says. In my personal world, God is universal and all human beings are good. It is easy for me to be here, lay a coin on the altar of the Virgin of Guadalupe — Earth Goddess –and pray for a year of good health and contentment. We all deserve blessings.

In the grotto, small caves hold religious altars to accept prayers for good health

A small chapel receives visitors who kneel and pray

Along the rock hill, I see remnants of dreams constructed on the last two nights of the celebration with rocks, moss, fragrant greens, sticks. These are facsimiles of new houses, a second floor addition, a roof, a fence, a stockade for cattle or goats. Dreams come true if you come to Las Cuevitas and build a miniature.

Miniature farm animals are an important part of constructing dreams

Families gather together for the annual celebration

Mostly, it’s about family, intergenerational connection, integration, celebration. Gathering on the hillside to build together, eat together, pray together, play together. Cultural continuity and endurance prevails here despite intrusions from other worlds.

I’m waiting for Sunset at Las Cuevitas

It’s 5:30 p.m. and the sun glows through the clouds. I’m waiting for sunset at Las Cuevitas. Dry grasses wave. Firecrackers are lit and go skyward with a bang. All is illuminated.

The grandmothers, their braids are a crown

Beyond the caves, cows graze on the top of the opposite hill. Families continue to stream in. Women fan cooking fires. Men carry cases of beer, coolers of food. Soon after dark, young men will throw fireballs across the horizon, much like their ancestors did in a test of strength.

I stay until the sun dips into the Sierra Madre del Sur beyond the next village, Macuilxochitl. You can see their church in the distance. Under the mound that rises on the horizon is an unearthed Zapotec archeological site.

Gold glow of the setting sun, Teotitlan del Valle, January 2, 2018

As the sun vanishes, there is chill and I want to get down the rocky slope before the light dims and I can’t find my way.  I want to remember the vast expanse of universe, the valley below, the magnificence of sun, moon, stars and the days that are a gift to make meaningful.

This is sacred space to respect, enjoy and keep clean



Happy New Year — Feliz Año Nuevo — Let’s Celebrate with Pozole

I decided to have a very small New Year’s Eve birthday celebration, invite a few Zapotec friends and the family I live with to lunch, and prepare pozole. I made this in North Carolina for Dia de los Muertos, but adapted the recipe for ingredients I could find there.

Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico — Feliz Año Nuevo

Here, in the Teotitlan del Valle market, I could find fresh Mexican oregano, organic and native corn hominy made by a local family, and tender pork from the local butcher that cost a mere $7 USD for the best cut.

Grilling onion, garlic and jalapeño pepper on the comal to bring out flavors

2 kilos of tomatillos, peeled, disinfected, simmered 20 minutes

After three trips to the car to unload my shopping basket, I sat down at the corner market stand for fortification — a fresh juice cocktail with beets, pineapple, carrot and orange.

Fresh juice respite, Teotitlan del Valle market, with shopping list

Almost everything here in the village market is criollo — or native species. The small heads of garlic come from the neighboring village of Tlacochuaya. You can only buy the heads with giant cloves at commercial grocery stores.

Pepitas on the comal — griddle, toast before peeling

I did have a glitch in my preparation. My search for shelled pumpkin seeds (called pepitas)  failed. So I bought whole seeds in a bulk bag from a spice and chili vendor. When I got home, I proceeded to try to take the skin off. The pumpkin seeds are essential to the green pozole because when ground, they become a natural sauce thickener.

Blend onion, garlic, cilantro, peppers, tomatillo, pepitas to a paste

Then my friend Lupita came over. Much easier, Norma, to toast the seeds on the comal, she told me, then the shell will come right off. She taught me how to toast until the seeds start to pop like popcorn. It took me two hours to yield 1/4 cup of shelled pumpkin seeds, the amount my recipe called for. She sat down to help me and in thirty minutes the amount doubled.

Pozole verde: hominy, pork, chicken bits, spices in casserole

I love green pozole. And, I remembered how easy it was to make this one-pot meal in North Carolina. But, all fruits and vegetables here in Mexico need to be disinfected. I often rinse them several times to get rid of the soil.  Picked fresh organic cilantro and radishes are sold roots and greens. Just to get the ingredients ready was another lesson in paciencia.

Crock pot does the trick for slow cooking pork/chicken with sea salt, garlic, onion

For this Green Pozole (pozole verde) recipe, I adapted ingredients and instructions culled from Rick Bayless, Mama Latina Tips, and Food Network.  I prepared the pork-chicken/onion/garlic mix in a crock pot first, cooking for six hours.

Pozole toppings: radish, onion, cilantro, oregano, cabbage, jalapeño

When lunch ended it was almost dusk. Lunch starts here around three or four o’clock and can end several hours later depending on the quantity of food and mezcal. We had our fair share of both.

A few lunch guests, family and friends

For the next feast we would gather at 10:30 p.m. for a midnight meal with my host family to celebrate the New Year. This is  a long-standing tradition in Teotitlan del Valle, along with the annual pilgrimage to Las Cuevitas.

Pozole, or fresh hominy, rinsed, disinfected and drained

For the interlude, I went up to the rooftop terrace to wait, climbed into the hammock, and gazed at this December 31 Supermoon.  In the distance I could hear the village band playing at the sacred caves — Las Cuevitas. Cohetes, or firecrackers, exploded like gunshot at irregular intervals. Dogs howled. Probably a few coyotes, too.

Vegetarian version with choyote squash, hominy and green sauce

On this first day of 2018, as my Teotitlan del Valle family and I sat around the table at lunch, we each shared our wishes for 2018. I wish for continued good health, for continuing to walk three to four miles a day with my adopted dogs, for nothing more than what I already have, except to see my son more often and perhaps the possibility of a man in my life. Vamos a ver!

Supermoon from my hammock on the casita rooftop terrace, Teotitlan del Valle

As this year begins anew, as we each move through the passage of time, I wish for all of us a year of peace, satisfaction, contentment, love and abundance. There is nothing more important than the support of family and good friends.

Thank you all for following Oaxaca Cultural Navigator, for reading, for joining me to discover and explore textiles and natural dyes, and for caring about Mexico.

Happy New Year. Feliz Año Nuevo.








Happy New Year 2017 From Mexico City

The clock strikes 2017. Yet the Zocalo in Mexico City today is almost empty. All museums and most shops are closed, too. Most Mexican families celebrate the new year at home.  On New Years’ Eve last night there were only a few strollers in the Historic Center as everything closed up by 4 p.m. and people dispersed.

Restaurant Azul Historico patio, Mexico City, festive blue

I had an early birthday dinner with my son Jacob at Entremar in Polanco. After a great fish dinner and superb bottle of Valle de Guadalupe Nebbiolo, we returned to Hotel Catedral and I climbed into bed. It was not yet 8:30 p.m. I did not dream about sugar plums and fairies, but thought about the year past and the one to come.

Organ grinders on Mexico City streets, a dying breed

Tips for Visiting Mexico City Over the New Year Holidays

  • January 1 is a National Holiday. Most museums, shops and restaurants are closed. They begin to shut down at 2 p.m. on December 31.
  • Check hours and make reservations in advance. Do your museum visits on December 29, 30 and 31
  • We were turned away at Casa Azul Museo Frida Kahlo, even though we got there well before it opened at 10 a.m. on December 31. Most in line had bought advance tickets via the Internet, something I didn’t think of. And, the museum closes at 2 p.m. on December 31,  is not open January 1.
  • Use UBER. It’s totally safe and reasonably priced. We did not have to wait more than 5 minutes for a car to take us anywhere.  No cash. Just a payment through your PayPal account.

Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, Templo Mayor, under the Cathedral

No specific resolutions for me other than to walk and live with intention, focus on travel only between Mexico and the USA, spend time with family and friends, walk, reflect and do good in the world. The world needs our help.

Alameda Park, Mexico City. Warm enough for fountain play in December.

My son Jacob has been with me this weekend, the best gift I could ever receive. It was his first time in Mexico City. On our first full day, we explored the Diego Rivera murals at the Secretariat de Educacion Publica and the Orozco murals at the Colegio San Ildefonso, had lunch at Restaurant El Mayor, then pushed on to the Tenochtitlan Templo Mayor archeological site and adjoining museum.

Day of the Dead Altar to Frida and Diego, Museo Dolores Olmedo

On the second day, December 31, we started out for a visit to Casa Azul but when we got there discovered they were closing at 2 p.m. and had sold out all tickets in advance through online sales.

Special exhibition at Museo Dolores Olmedo

While we missed getting into the Casa Azul, we took an UBER from there to the Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño near Xochimilco to see early Rivera works, the hairless xoloitscuincle dogs, and a special exhibition of Pablo O’Higgins, Rivera’s protege. NOTE: All paintings by Frida Kahlo in this museum are on traveling exhibition in Europe until April 2017.

Man, Controller of the Universe by Diego Rivera

Then, we saw more Rivera, Orozco, Siquieras and Tamayo murals at Museo Bellas Artes.  When you get here, pay attention to the second floor mural painted by Diego Rivera, Man, Controller of the Universe. He recreates what was destroyed at Rockefeller Center.

The New Democracy, by David Alfaro Siquieros, Museo Bellas Artes, Mexico City

Art historians interpret the Siquieros mural (close-up above) as liberation from oppression. This was especially meaningful for me as we are experiencing damaging political changes in the USA that could likely effect social justice and environmental causes well into the future.

Close-up, The Torment of Cuauhtemoc, Siquerios depicts the oppressors

Here, art is a universal language and reminds us that we must be vigilant.

Another section of Siquieros’ The Torment of Cuauhtemoc mural, riveting, painful.

On the same day, we visited Rivera’s mural Dream of a Sunday Afternoon on the Alameda at the Museo de Mural de Diego Rivera.

Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Park, 500 years of Mexican history

Gathering for an outdoor Scrabble game on the plaza, Mexico City

Out in front on the plaza in front of this last museum, the chess and Scrabble players gather. I accepted an invitation to join a Scrabble game until I realized they were playing in Spanish and returned my tiles to the bag.

Jacob Singleton takes a photo of an Orozco mural

Museo Palacio Bellas Artes, Mexico City

In 2016, I legally changed my name to Schafer, bought a condo-apartment in Durham, NC, organized over a dozen workshops and study tours, contributed chapters and photographs to Textile Fiestas of Mexico book, volunteered at the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, commemorated the anniversary of our mother’s death, traveled to India, and went back and forth between Mexico and the USA to vote, attend to health care, visit family and reconnect with friends.

Cathedral candles, Mexico City

In 2017, I want to stay put more and be present in Durham, North Carolina, and Oaxaca, Mexico. I have friends who dream of becoming vagabonds, taking to the open road, living with more freedom and unpredictability.

Aztec sculpture, Tenochtitlan, Mexico City

I want to think globally and act locally, make a difference in North Carolina, USA to effect change and make a difference, continue to bring people to Mexico to understand her art, history, culture, textiles.

Happy New Year to all. May we each participate in creating a world we are proud to live in, with respect for family, diversity and uniqueness.