Tag Archives: Oaxaca

Living in a Sea of Sagebrush: Taos, New Mexico

It’s been two months since I left North Carolina and arrived in New Mexico, where life is more like Mexico than I ever imagined it would be. Spanish is a predominant language here. Indigenous Native American culture and artistry is powerful. Time moves slowly. There is no urgency and many people here say Taos means mañana. I am constantly reminded of the mantra told to me years ago in Teotitlan del Valle by my host family head Federico Chavez Sosa: Calma. Patiencia. Tranquila.

Life takes on a different meaning when the focus is on landscape and the whirl of city life is in the past. I’m utterly astounded by how the vastness of sky and horizon opens life to a defining purpose of expansiveness, the natural world, and infinite possibilities. Even as human life is finite, there is a sense of timelessness here that offers peace and solitude.

As I write this, a lone coyote dances through the sage brush traveling east to west toward the gorge. Only moments before, a white tailed rabbit came up to my patio door and peered in, ears and nose twitching in unison. A flock of magpies chatter on the fence posts. Small pleasures.

Out here on the Rio Grande River Gorge Mesa, I find comfort in budding friendships with people who are drawn here with similar vision, purpose, politics and lifestyle. I am also comforted by dear friends Karen and Steve who live a mile up the road from my rental house. I have known them for almost 45 years. She and I raised our children together, opened and closed a gourmet cookware shop and cooking school, remained constant and supportive. Their land has become mine. We walk the gorge rim trails, smell the sagebrush, look for Big Horn Sheep, comment on new construction taking shape.

This is a soul-satisfying place.

It is a small town. There is no Whole Foods. (There is Cid’s.) There is no shopping mall. My drive to town takes a good twenty minutes. One could say I’m isolated. And, this would be true, more or less. It is perfect for writers, photographers, creatives who find sustenance in simplicity. For my city fix, I drive 75 minutes to Santa Fe. I’ve been going regularly since I’ve had a steady stream of visitors. I’m not sure when the feeling of being on perpetual vacation will end.

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

I’m here because of Covid. Sequestered for over a year in my Durham, NC, historic renovated tobacco warehouse condo gave me plenty of time to reflect. I felt trapped in an edifice of impenetrable brick with a view to the high school across the street, electric lines above, and elevator access to the outdoors. It served me well before Covid when I was spending more time in Oaxaca. Was Durham where I wanted to grow older? The question of values kept coming up. So, while my decision to move here was, by many accounts impulsive, I realized I wanted direct access to nature and a long view. After spending a month in New Mexico in November 2020, even before I was vaccinated, I realized that life here could be almost normal even in the worst of circumstances.

That’s not to say, I wasn’t scared of making this move — leaving good friends behind, a network of the familiar, with the best medical care in the world at my fingertips. I lived in North Carolina for twenty-two years, the longest sojourn of my life except for growing up in California. Fear is powerful. It freezes us and keeps us from exploring. It is also liberating if we allow ourselves to move through it and have confidence in our ability to adapt and thrive in new circumstances. I also realize I have the vagabond gene in my family. I have lots of practice making change. This is learned behavior. Over the years I have pried myself out of my comfort zone. This propels me forward.

Still, I continue to wait. Buying land and building a home is a process and anxiety provoking. After months, we have still not broken ground because the county has not yet approved the building permit. Lots of moving parts. Lots of puzzle pieces to fit in place. The bank cannot finalize the construction loan until this happens. The site cannot be touched until the loan is signed. Infrastructure needs to be put in place. The road I will live on, Camino Chamisa, needs to be grubbed out. A trench needs digging to hold the lines for well water, electric and fiber. Poco a poco. This is the main reason I cannot get back to Oaxaca. I’m waiting for this to start.

Covid Bonus: being closer to family.

In September, my son and his wife-to-be will move to Albuquerque. This is a gift beyond my imagination. When I committed to buying land and making the move, this was a dream, not a promise. He has approval to work permanently from home, and we know now that home can be defined as anywhere! My sister and brother are in California. They will visit in August. Durham was not on their travel radar.

When will I get back to Oaxaca?

It’s Dark Sky here. I am star-gazing. The Milky Way and North Star provide no clues for me, although the ancients grounded their beliefs in such spectacular displays. I know for certain I will be in Oaxaca in mid-October to lead our Day of the Dead Culture Tour (three spaces open). Returning this summer depends on timing to certify the construction here. Time will tell.

I guess the next best thing to being in Oaxaca, Mexico, is being in Taos, New Mexico. They call it New Mexico for a reason!

Fun, Cool Cotton Summer Blouses from Oaxaca

I asked Rosario, my friend from Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, to work with me on creating hand-embroidered blouses on machine-washable cotton — perfect for summer wearing. She said YES. They just arrived and are ready for purchase. The embroidery floss is cotton, too. These are whimsical floral designs. Each piece is very different. You can wash them on gentle and hang to dry, then give them a light pressing only if desired.

Blouses measure 25″ wide by 24-1/2″ long (more or less). They will fit most size Medium to Large. Take your measurements across the widest part of your torso to be sure. Even if you are size small, you could wear this as a very loose top that drapes beautifully. Good for casual wear with jeans or hiking pants, over a swimsuit at the pool or beach, or with a skirt. Take your pick!

In addition to the embroidered flowers, the cloth is sewn together with a randa. This is beautiful needlework that is almost like needle lace, intricate and stunning. You can see this detail in one of the photos below.

Blouses are $58. USD each.

To Buy: Please email me at norma.schafer@icloud.com with your name, mailing address and item number. I will mark it SOLD, send you an invoice to purchase and add $12 for cost of mailing. Let me know if you want to buy using PayPal. Venmo or Zelle. I can also send you a Square invoice (+3% fee) if you don’t use these payment methods. All sales final.

Rosario is a talented seamstress and embroiderer. She has very little work these days and I ask her to make these blouses and the shoulder bags I have offered before to keep her employed. She and her family live very simply in a humble home. Thank you for considering this purchase.

Norma

New Treasures in My Etsy Store

It’s a laid-back world here in Taos, New Mexico. The dress of choice is either blue jeans and a T-shirt or hiking pants with elastic cuffs to keep out the noseeums. I’ve adapted my dress to put a Oaxaca or Chiapas blouse or huipil over pants to be able to wear some of the textile treasures I have brought with me into this new life. I’m trying to balance the vibe between Woo-Woo and Shi-Shi. Santa Fe is a mere 60 miles away, but it’s a different world, where visitors and those with second homes wear layers of Navajo and Kewa jewelry.

Last week, I went to an opening at the Millicent Rogers Museum. Most of the women were casually dressed (more or less), but adorned in magnificent Squash Blossom Necklaces, laden with turquoise and silver. This level of jewelry is not in my wheelhouse. However, I managed to fit in (somewhat) with my hiking pants and boots, topped with a naturally-dyed gauze Oaxaca huipil from Khadi Oaxaca. The task at hand for me now is to continue to downsize and edit my collection. Living in the land of hiking trails has its benefits, but also demonstrates that the social life is pretty low-key.

So, I’ve listed some treasures on my Etsy Store.

If you are interested in any pieces, you can either contact me directly to buy from me direct or you can purchase on Etsy. If you contact and buy direct from me, I will offer you a 10% discount. Just describe the piece you want. No discount with direct purchase from Etsy. norma.schafer@icloud.com I will send you an invoice and you can pay with Zelle, Venmo or PayPal. It will include $12 mailing cost. Thanks very much, Norma

Oaxaca Hand-embroidered Shoulder Bags SOLD OUT

SOLD OUT. I will reorder these. Thanks so much!

I love this bag style. I’ve been using one like these for walks, hikes, and just everyday wear for the last year-and-a-half. It’s functional and versatile and colorful and cheerful. Just about everything fits — a coin purse, credit cards, lipstick, pen and notebook, hand sanitizer and alcohol spray, lipstick and moisturizer, kleenex, and even pepper spray — just in case!

So, before I moved from Durham to Taos, I designed and commissioned my Teotitlan del Valle friend and sewist/embroiderer Rosario to make 10 bags that Janet brought with her from Oaxaca. They got packed away for the move and now, I’ve unearthed them and they are for sale here.

Each bag is durable and one-of-a-kind. They are cotton, lined, have an inside pocked, a zipper closure, a 41″ cross-body shoulder strap. They can be washed inside-out in the washing machine on gentle cycle. Each bag body is approximately 9″x 9-1/4″ in size. Priced at $45 each. Buy 2 for $80.

Remember, these are hand-made and there may be slight imperfections. All sales are final. No exchanges or refunds.

How to Buy:  Please email me normahawthorne@mac.com with your name, mailing address and item number. Tell me if you want to purchase with PayPal, Venmo, Zelle or Square. I will mark your choice(s) SOLD, send you a payment link and add $12 for cost of mailing.

Eating in Oaxaca: A Culinary Paradise

Norma’s Note: Rico. Delicioso. Sabroso. I again invited Carol Lynne Estes to contribute a blog post about her experiences living in Oaxaca. Carol isn’t a visitor; she is a resident who knows the ins and outs of eating — from humble comedors to the finest upscale restaurants. Her impressions and recommendations are here for you to savor and enjoy.

Carol’s Restaurant Recommendations

Of the many joys of Oaxaca, food tops most lists. The variety and freshness of vegetables and fruits plus excellent quality meats make this a culinary paradise.  Combine that with the creativity and imagination of Oaxacan cooks, and there’s a treat around every corner. The documentaries running on the TV leave most viewers ready to hop on a southbound plane, and rightly so.  The joy of it all are the many “levels” of dining, from street food and carts with seats welded on the front, to roof top dining in five star, famous restaurants… and all in between.

After seven years, I am not a tourist, and so I approach my meals as though I’ll be here a while with no need for a blow out meal three times a day. My apartment has a beautiful kitchen, and so unless I’m dining with friends, I generally eat at home.  Rarely will I eat on the street carts unless it’s a fresh peeled grapefruit that I cannot resist or tamales. Any time my friend Gail arrives to meet me,  she’s munching on some treat she’s bought along the way from hamburgers to potato chips. She’s the expert on what to buy where from a cart. Many Oaxacans do not have kitchens and eat all their meals at these street stands. Food is plentiful and reasonable.

A great pleasure are the “squat and gobble” spots. Often on our way to the gym of an early morning, my husband I would stop by our favorite tamale lady off Garcia Vigil to enjoy a tamale stuffed into a fresh bolillo roll and a cup of atole. Total cost, $2 each. Occasionally as a weekend treat, we wandered to the Zocalo around 9pm when the trailers set up along the streets outside the large mercados. The Compadres are two groups of young men with stands next to one another.  They start the evening with two roasted pigs’ heads, and when the evening is over, they’re all gone, including the oink. They are poetry in motion, and we all have a great time. We love taquitos or pozole there. Delicious beyond your dreams and about $4 for both of us. At both these places, we  were the only white faces and welcomed generously.

Also in abundance are tiny restaurants for three or four-course lunches (comida corrida) served around late afternoon. A menu at the front door lists what’s on offer for the day, usually fresh produce that was available that morning at the market. Always offered will be a soup or salad, an entrée, and a dessert plus an agua fresca (fresh fruit drink). These meals range from $70-90 pesos, less than $5. Some of the best soups of my life have been these simple broths prepared well.

Coffee shops and bistros… Gourmand, Nuevo Mundo, Boulenc, Brújula, and my new favorite where my Australian nephew works, Onnno Loncheria.  There are amazing bakeries in all of these, plus wonderful Oaxacan coffee. Each is a very nice place for a simple, healthy, delicious meal.  Locally-owned Oaxacan coffee shops are on every block where most roast their own beans, often from family owned coffee plantations.

Next up are what I call the mid-level restaurants that garner $$ on Google. Most are excellent.  One of my favorites, and for many expats here, is El Quinque, now located on the west side of town and two blocks from our previous apartment on the way to Mercado Abastos.  David and I had our first date at their original restaurant near Cruz de Piedra. Many of us get the hamburger “itch” satisfied there. They also offer wonderful seafood dishes (especially on Friday), and I’ve never been disappointed in their salads. I was there last week, and the shrimp and rice was generous and delicious. El Olivo is next to my apartment on Calle Constitucion and has delicious charcuterie and extensive wine selection, and a rooftop with music that I enjoy from my courtyard. Chepiche in Barrio Xochomilco is another breakfast treat, my favorite meal out.

Close by is El Tendajon with creative, delicious huevos rancheros, but then the taquitos de cerdo are as tasty as they are beautiful. La Levadura serves “criollo” (original/indigenous) food, especially tomatoes, that amaze.  The tomato salad boasts nine varieties of tomato in every size and color. It is served on a 10” plate with a bed of beet purée. Here words fail. Yesterday one of my tiny lady friends ate TWO of these. My tamale came to me on a bed of smoldering corn husks… oh my! Almost always I have enough food to carry home for mañana.

Finally further on down the Alcala is Los Danzantes, a place I love. It is located in a classic interior courtyard between Allende and M. Bravo. Enter next to Oro de Monte Alban. The ambiance is special. One can dine under the stars next to a beautiful waterfall fountain. When I went there recently, I enjoyed a thunderstorm that accompanied a ribeye steak with a chocolate “gravy” that I remember still and cannot describe. Another place with lots of stars and wonderful, gracious service, is La Catedral, one block from the Cathedral. Breakfast there is a special treat, and the place is “old world” beautiful. Many professionals here have what seem to be business meals here. Ambience is great and the food never disappoints. 

This past year has been a challenge world over, and Oaxaca had covid pains as well.  But as this place is no stranger to tough times, they responded with grit and creativity.  Most all places hustle deliveries to whoever calls. Food arrives fresh and packaged carefully. Most restaurants are still here. In fact, La Biznaga, a favorite of many expats, moved to a larger place with a nice patio, and La Zandunga (creative Isthmus fare) next door expanded into their old space.  Both seem to be thriving. La Biznaga is famous for their margaritas, and never let anyone convince you that two is a good idea.

As I write this piece, Oaxaca still reels from the pandemic, but gradually life is returning. Restaurants have opened carefully with well-spaced seating, and the vast majority of people wear “cobrebocas.” Most stores and restaurants take temperatures and hand out squirts of sanitizer before anyone enters. Poco a poco….

Other foodie recommendations from my goddaughter Janet Chavez Santiago who is visiting me in Taos and lives in Oaxaca. She’s a local who travels the Cheap Eats circuit:

  • Dururu for Korean food. Best for carry-out since they are tiny, tiny with only two tables. Corner Manuel Doblado and Colon.
  • La Popular has great tacos de cochinita pibil and sopa de guias.
  • Gourmande for Oaxaca-brewed draft IPA. Their brewery is in San Sebastian Tutla.
  • Tacos Don Juanito. Try the tacos el vapor!
  • Arugula on Calle Miguel Hidalgo offers all organic and vegetarian choices for Comida Corrida (the 4-course, fixed priced lunch Carol mentions above).

Want your own culinary adventure? Sign up to take a tasting tour with Oaxaca Eats.

See the Facebook page, Taste of Oaxaca, for dining recommendations from locals and visitors.