Tag Archives: Oaxaca


One of the sublime pleasures of living in Mexico is being able to savor her homemade chocolate. Chocolate, the word, comes from the Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. In its original tongue, it is spelled Xocolatl, pronounced show-koh-lah-tel. In reality, the t and the l in the final syllable are slammed together, but for our purposes, this transliteration will do. T

To keep Mexico with me while I am in the USA, I like to prepare hot chocolate with brewed coffee — a mix of about 1/4 to 1/3 hot chocolate and the rest coffee that, of course, I bring back from Oaxaca’s Mixteca Alta or from the Chiapas highlands. Chiapas is known for her coffee plantations and her chocolate beans, which are exported all over Mexico and sometimes beyond. The Spanish brought coffee beans to Mexico in the 1700’s and started cultivating it in Veracruz, likely with slaves from Africa who also worked the sugar cane fields.

Every family all over the country has their own recipe for making chocolate. Usual ingredients are vanilla, cinnamon, sugar or panela. Maybe one family might add a bit of chile for throat tickler. Sometimes, they will add almonds, too. But, the primary ingredients are toasted cacao beans, native to Mexico and used as money or barter in pre-Hispanic times. The chocolate maker will buy the raw cacao beans in the market, take them home and toast them on the comal over an open fire, stirring with a brush so they toast evenly. Then, she will take all of these ingredients to the molina in the proportions preferred by each family.

Ibarra and Abuelita and Mayordomo brands just don’t do it, but if you are hard-pressed to find Mexican chocolate and these are the only available, then go for it. Your local Mexican market might have other options.

The chocolate I’m using today was made in Xochistlahuaca, Guerrero. I bought it from the family who prepared a delicious homemade lunch for our group during our visit to Tejadoras Flores de la Llanura weaving cooperative. What I love about this chocolate is that it has very little (or no) sugar. Each piece of chocolate, formed like an oblong ball or bola, is wrapped in a hierba buena leaf. The presentation is beautiful. The chocolate delicious. I add sugar to taste.

Of course, chocolate is super healthy, with anti-inflammatory properties, especially good for those of us as we age, and it is excellent as a cup of hot chocolate on its own. Remember: In Mexico, we drink hot chocolate with water, never adding milk! In Oaxaca, we dunk a concha into hot chocolate for breakfast or for a pre-bedtime snack.

Come with us in January 2025 on the Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour, and buy your own authentically made Mexican chocolate!

Oaxaca to New Mexico, a Contrast

I arrived in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Thursday afternoon. After getting up at three o’clock in the morning to get in the taxi at four o’clock to arrive at the airport forty-five minutes later, I’d say the trip was pretty easy. It was a mere six hours plus from Oaxaca through Houston to get here, with the added pleasure of going through immigration and customs.

Where have you been? the agent asked. When I answered, we engaged in a four minute conversation about the beauty of Oaxaca and how much he wanted to visit. I encouraged him. The next question was, Are you bringing in any fruit, vegetables, or alcohol?

Yes, I answered, two bottles of mezcal for my son. He smiled and waved me through.

When I left Oaxaca, it was over ninety degrees, oppressively hot, and this reaffirmed how important it is to stay sheltered. By nine in the evening, the house was hotter than outside, and I stayed under the palapa outdoors until it cooled off enough to climb in bed with all the windows open and two fans providing air movement.

Butch and Tia, my two dogs, were splayed on the patio under the palapa for eighteen hours, their underbellies on the cool concrete, keeping their body temperatures regulated. Fur coats are not required for this level of heat.

In the last week I was there, all we talked about was the heat, how to stay cool, and the alarming drought.

It hasn’t rained much in the last two years. My neighbors are drilling wells to get water to their corn fields. I read last week that the temperatures were eleven degrees above normal. Delivery of drinking and household water was delayed by as much as two to three weeks. I went to the beauty salon in the city to get my hair washed so I wouldn’t use water unnecessarily and deplete the levels in my tinaco (rooftop water tank). The honest truth was that I was looking forward to returning to New Mexico for some cooler air, and I got it.

I’m back in Taos where daytime temps are hovering in the low-fifties, and at night it’s getting down to a delightful twenty-six degrees. Snuggling under a pile of blankets is heaven after Oaxaca’s oppressive heat. One marvel of returning in early spring is that I can still enjoy the view of Taos Mountain still covered with a bit of snow.

Now, I’m hunkering down to do my taxes and then take care of medical appointments in preparation for late May right knee replacement. I’ll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, Shop Oaxaca Culture should open up by early next week. We have lots of beautiful clothing, baskets, and folk art from everywhere: The Oaxaca Coast, Michoacan, Chiapas, and the Mixteca Alta. Stay tuned for shop opening announcement.



Lament of the Dog Catcher

Butch came to me six years ago, joining Mamacita and Tia, to form a tribe of three. At the time, he may have been six years old, sleek, muscular, a commanding presence.  Today, he is an old man, thick in the middle, graying almost beyond recognition, limping from time to time on his back left leg, a sign of arthritis or just plain aging. I have sympathy for him and commiserate with his circumstances. Still, when the front gate is open, he can bring up enough energy to the chase the occasional moto-taxi that plies the dirt road in front of the property where I live out in the campo, in the outskirts of the village.  In that moment, he is fast, running like a two-year-old, and it is a marvel to see that he still has it in him. When he re-enters the property, he’ll stop to take a sip of water, then curl up like a baby and go to sleep for a while.

Once, this was all farmland, planted with crops of corn, squash, and beans that we call The Three Sisters here. Not too long ago, I took pleasure in watching the team of two huge bulls pulling hand hewn wood plows through the fields to turn up the rich brown earth fertilized with dung that would yield a year’s worth of corn, enough to feed a large family and a herd of livestock. Now, many of the fields have become homesites.

What remains has been given over to the cultivation of espadin agave, a cash crop that when mature in seven years can bring in much more income than subsistence farming provides. Row after row, field after field of these sturdy, tall, spiked plants line the paved highways and rocky dirt back roads throughout Oaxaca where mezcal production has skyrocketed in the last several years.

This is where the feral dogs roam. Many are born in the campo, but some are abandoned there when they are no longer cute puppies, when they grow to be larger than desired, when there are limited resources to feed and care for them, when they are born hembra (female) and owners don’t want to be bothered with taking care of generations of litters.  None are spayed or neutered, so the numbers of dogs increase exponentially each year. These dogs are hungry. Chickens, turkeys, and wild rabbits are fair game.  Farmers don’t like their henhouses to be raided, but the dogs elude attempts to be captured. To control the population in the campo, sometimes they are poisoned, the fatal pill wrapped up in a tempting piece of meat.

Mamacita dropped two puppies in the field behind my casita seven years ago. Who knows how long she had been living in the campo. She was starving and could not hunt because she was nursing these two. I took her in, fed her, and found homes for the two cachorros when they were old enough. It was during this time that Tia showed up, at first hanging around on the periphery, then tempted to come inside the patio with a bowl of food. We named her Tia because she was extra attentive to the puppies, nurturing them when Mamacita was disinterested. We assumed she was an offspring from an earlier litter, which is why she was connected to Mamacita.  A couple of years later, we found Mamacita in an adjacent field, lifeless, likely poisoned by a neighbor who would have accused her of being a chicken-killer, though I don’t know this for a fact.

It was last October that a young, sleek, black, long-legged dog showed up in the patio. My neighbor told me then that she had recently birthed a litter of pups, likely her first, but all had died of starvation in the campo. Butch and Tia adopted her as a playmate, and I was ready to take her in, though two dogs seemed like just the perfect number, and three would be a hand full.  The color of raven, I named her Zopilote, and nicknamed her Zopi. To adopt her first meant that I would need to get her spayed, but she was illusive. I made a veterinarian appointment, trapped her in the patio and locked the gate, but she squeezed through the metal bars and escaped. I called the vet to cancel, and shortly thereafter returned to the USA.

Zopi showed up in January, four months later, with nine puppies in tow, all about a few weeks old. She didn’t enter the patio but hovered nearby. As the puppies grew, I reminded myself that this dog has years of breeding ahead of her, and each dog then will beget others.  Zopi was now coming into the patio periodically during the day to sleep with the other two, and I knew it was time again to try to capture her.  I talked to a village friend who operates a spay-neuter clinic about how to get Zopi to the next clinic. The friend recommended tranquilizers to capture her and gave me two, with instructions to put them inside a piece of cheese or meat and feed this to her.  She would then relax sufficiently for me to be able to lift her into the car and transport her to the clinic.

On the morning of the clinic, Zopi showed up. I wrapped the pills in a pocket of beef and held it out to her. She demurred and backed away. The other two dogs were in the patio and came up to sniff the meat, which I then held higher than they could reach. Zopi was now outside the patio beyond the gate. Impulsively, I decided to throw the packet of meat outside the gate and quickly close it before Butch and Tia could escape.  I threw the meat, closed the gate, but not before Butch wiggled through and in one fell swoop, gulped down that packet of tranquilizer laden meat. I grabbed the scruff of his neck, trying to shake it loose, but to no avail.  Zopi ran away. Soon, Butch began to collapse and did not come to his senses for twenty-four hours. His eyes glazed over, then closed completely; his breathing was light and barely perceptible. Zopi was nowhere to be seen. Butch was zonked. I was back to Square One.

In the meantime, I have gotten two more pills and I’m ready for the next attempt. But it’s been days since Zopi has shown up again. It’s as if she knows what I have mind for her. I’ve learned my lesson and think I can succeed with a new plan: first close the patio gate, then lure Butch and Tia into the house with a tidbit of cheese and close all the doors of the house so they can’t get away. The next step, with Zopi trapped in the patio, is to throw her the pill infused meat packet. She is too skittish to allow me to get close enough to her to feed her directly. Hopefully, then, she will relax before she has the strength to break through the river reed gate reinforcement. I would then capture her and transport her to the clinic.

If I am successful, this is only a small start to nab and fix those other nine puppies before they can reproduce. A daunting task.

Do you want to help dogs and cats in the Oaxaca campo? Donate to Teo Tails. They need support to capture feral animals safely and to get them spayed and neutered.

Note: I just published this essay on my creative writing Substack site. We organize a Women’s Creative Writing Workshop/Retreat in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, from January 2-8, 2025. Perfect for all levels of writers, from beginners to experienced. We invite you to participate! Writing takes practice. We aren’t born with these skills, they develop just like practicing a golf swing or tennis stroke or doing yoga!

Xi-Guia: Making Handbags in Teotitlán del Valle

I spent the morning with Estela Montaño and Edith Montaño Martínez at their home and workshop in Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca. Xi-Guía is the name of the town in Zapteco, the indigenous language here. We were filling out a grant application to WARP (Weave a Real Peace). They needed my help since they are not native Spanish writers, they don’t speak or write English, and their education did not take them beyond elementary and middle school.

Despite limited opportunities, these are very talented weavers and seamstresses, and they established a cooperative of twelve women fifteen years ago. They adapted traditional rug weaving done by men to weave small size tapestries. These are then sewn into beautiful handbags of all sizes, from coin purses to back-packs and overnight bags, using industrial strength sewing machines and old Singer treadles.

When I found them over ten years ago, what I noticed first was the quality of construction: the tightness of weave, the impeccably sewn lining with two pouches, the zippered closure, and the securely fastened fine grain leather straps. The colors they use are derived from natural plants and cochineal. These bags are built to last a lifetime! It’s true.

When I sat with them today, we talked in depth about what it takes to operate their business and what they would accomplish if they were to get funding from WARP. We set about creating a budget for their request, and a justification for support. But, in the process, what I discovered was they are not charging enough per bag to cover their costs–labor and materials.

Each weaver is getting paid about $3 USD per hour — hardly a living wage. Their materials expense includes wool, dye materials (indigo and cochineal costs upwards of $300USD per kilo, a 40% increase in the last two years), fabric for linings, zippers, leather, and metal hooks and grommets. It takes about 20 hours to make one bag, start to finish.

So, I ran through the numbers with them and we determined that their actual costs to make a large bag is 2,198 pesos, not the 1,400 pesos they have been charging, and this does NOT include even a small mark-up. It’s no wonder they have no reserve to reinvest in materials and why they need support. I have counseled them to raise prices to cover costs, plus make a small profit.

I have also asked them to consider how to find more venues where they can sell directly. In addition to selling from their home, where they get occasional visitors, they sell to three galleries in Oaxaca City. However, each one asks them to sell the 1,400 pesos bag at a wholesale price of 920 pesos. If they try to negotiate, the gallery managers will tell them they will invite other artisans who will sell for less. In addition, if they agree for tour operators to bring people to them, the operators charge a 30-50% commission on any sales.

Their workshop is usually on our Tlacolula Valley Folk Art Tour, and because the quality of what they make is extraordinary (and, they are very good people), we try to include them whenever we can.

Many visitors still come to Oaxaca hoping to score a bargain, even when pieces are priced fairly for the amount of work and quality that goes into making them. Today, I was astounded that my friends have been working so long and they are paying to keep their business going out of pocket, never receiving any financial counseling, and caring more about making something beautiful.

We talked about justice and setting a price that is just for them — in other words, we talked about fair trade — what is fair for the maker and what is fair for the customer. Such an important topic now.

Jump Start Summer Blouse Sale: Oaxaca + Chiapas

Stay cool and fresh as spring is here and summer is just around the corner. Preview sale of Oaxaca and Chiapas cotton and linen blouses before we put them in our shop. The shop won’t open back up until mid-April. Buy before March 29 and we will take these back to the USA when we return on April 4. We will mail to you by April 7, just in time to get a jump start on the hot weather.

The workmanship on these blouses is outstanding— impeccable quality, detailed embroidery, most of the pieces are hand finished. Some have extraordinary embroidery joining the seams.

How to Buy: mailto:norma.schafer@icloud.com Tell me the item you want by number. Send me your mailing address. Tell me the payment method you prefer and your phone and email address. Choose either one of two ways. Be sure to measure carefully. There are no returns or refunds. Thank you.

You can pay 1) with a Zelle transfer and no service fee; or with 2) a credit card (4% service fee). For credit card purchases we send an invoice from Square. The request will include the cost of the garment + $16 mailing. If you want more than one piece, I’m happy to combine mailing. I’ll be mailing from Taos, NM, when I return to the USA after April 8, 2024. Thank you very much.

#1. Hand-guided, machine embroidered on cotton, this lovely rose and red blouse is from Oaxaca’s Isthmus of Tehuantepec, where hot, humid weather means women dress to stay cool, cool, cool. This blouse measures 19″ wide across the front and 21″ long. This is equal to a size Small-Extra Small, but the label is mismarked and indicates a size Medium. The embroidery designs are drawn by hand and the machine embroidery needle is hand-guided, making this a handmade process. Machine wash gentle, hang to dry. Press lightly. Price: $165

#2. Hand embroidered on white window pane linen from the village of Chenalho, about two hours beyond San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas. This easy flowing crop top is perfect for summer heat, drapes beautiful and the embroidery is impeccable. Wear with a skirt or slacks and transition from day-time to evening wear. Elegant. Size Large. Measures 29″ wide and 24″ long. Price: $185

#3. Linen blouse with finely detailed embroidery made in the village of Huixtan, Chiapas, is a punch of color with blue, gray, white, and wine colored embroidered flowers on hot red. Notice the detail of the stitching around the neckline, sleeves and down the front. Size Medium. Measures: 25″ wide x 26″ long. Price: $195

#4. Chambray blue and white linen fabric embroidered with detailed cross-stitch makes a perfect pairing with jeans or a denim skirt. The embroidery on the back is equal in detail to the embroidery on the front. Made in Zinacantan, Chiapas. Size Small. Measures: 21″ wide x 25″ long. Price: $295

#5. Snow white linen embellished with finely honed cross-stitches, all made by hand! A subtle, yet impressive blusa for spring and summer wearing. Embroidered in Zinacantan, Chiapas. Stay cool and comfortable in this wash and hang-to-dry beauty. Size Medium. Measures 25″ wide x 26″ long. Price: $295

#6. From Oaxaca’s Isthmus of Tehuantepec where hot, humid weather demands comfortable, light weight cotton, this rust colored blouse is just what you need to get a jump start on spring and summer. It is hand-guided machine embroidered, meaning that it is truly a made-by-hand garment. Size Small-Extra Small. Measures 19″ wide x 21″ long. $165

#7. Coral colored linen with embroidered red and white flowers accent this beautifully made blouse from San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas. It is a size Medium and measures 24″ wide x 26″ long. This riot of color will lift your summer spirits as the weather turns from mild to hot. Wear it in style and comfort. Price: $185