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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Christmas in April

Home again. Home again. What can I say? It's mostly good to be here. It's raining and freezing as promised. It feels like December. We have socks on and a fire going and we just opened all of our Christmas cards. (Thanks to those of you who kept us on your Christmas list. As for the rest of'll be receiving an email.) The kids wasted no time getting back to school and were over the moon to see their friends and teachers. Soli was so excited to wear her favorite footie pajamas and play with her long lost toys. Dave and I are, well...I think we're a little homesick. We just spent the last hour watching Sayulita videos on youtube. Is that a bad sign? And we both have indigestion. How ironic is that? Six months in Mexico and no problems. One greasy In-N-Out burger on the way home from SFO and we're hatin' it. Anyway, we're glad to be home safe and sound and we're so happy that our "Sayulita Experiment" was such a smashing success. Now back to real life... you know, where you have to wear undergarments.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Zippity - Do - Da

Well, it's 2:30 in the morning, and I think I've been packing for about...a year. Anyway, it's our last night (day?) in Sayulita. Sigh. So sad. But, we've had a great weekend and here are the pictures to prove it.

Cupcakes to school on the kids' last day. Cole opted out pleading "too cool". Whatever.
*disclaimer - I didn't make the cupcakes. And, I only feel a little guilty about that. 

Evie and pals - Jimena, Samuel, and Lupita.

Me and my girls.

Evie with her first grade class and Maestra Tania.

Emerson getting "caked" by pals David, Victor, Yoel and Manuel.

And after school, to celebrate a job well done, I took the kids ziplining. They deserved it.
P.S. Is Cole almost as tall as me? What the @#$%? I was on a hill...

 "Look, Mom! No hands!" Indeed.

Emerson in the treetops above the Sayulita jungle.

Cole coming in for a landing.

How cute are we? And, I'll have you notice my burly neck muscles which are directly related to the head stands that I can now do in yoga without falling on my arse. Ahem.

Soli, Em, Evie with Jade and Astrid

We have such delightful friends here in Sayulita (which makes it extra hard to leave). And a few of these delightful friends "strongly encouraged" us to leave our packing for just a brief while and join them on the beach for a farewell and a mai tai. Thanks you guys. You made us feel loved! See you in November. 

Donna, Treva, and Me

Justin, Dave and Nick. Dave forgot his fidora...

Uh-oh....roosters just started crowing...good night.

P.S. I'll meet you north of the border.

Monday, April 19, 2010


We recently met a neat family from Hawaii who is spending two years sailing, surfing, homeschooling, and cruisin' the Mexican coast on their trimaran, Meshach. (drool) And, as they were passing by Sayulita, they called us from their Iphone (I love that movie) and said, "Meet us at Playa de los Muertos. We're dropping anchor." So we did just that. And we spent the day sipping cerveza and swappin' storm stories while children dangled from the rigging above. We had such fun! So much fun, in fact, that they sailed north and we drove north and we all hung out some more in San Blas and Matanchen Bay. I just uncovered the pics from our "little" camera and had to share a few. Fair winds, Meshach. And, thanks for letting our kids trash your boat.  Sorry about the paddle...

Tristan showing Cole and Em "the ropes".

Evie's our bravest...

This man...never more comfortable than on a sailboat.

Sienna, Soli, and Evie playing beads in Sienna's "room".

Em and Tristan building lego creations in the aft cabin.

How gorgeous is my sister...and my nephew?

Cole "skurfing" behind the dinghy.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

More on that...

I know my post yesterday was painfully long, but I thought of some other things I wanted to say about that. The kids aren't quite fluent in Spanish, but they have a solid foundation. They can understand about 80% of what is said to them and they can communicate pretty well. It's music to my ears to hear them "habla", but they're shy to speak in front of me so I only get to hear them when I'm eavesdropping (or when I threaten to ground them for all eternity).

To test this theory I just asked Evie what she would say at school if she needed to use someone's pencil and she said (with perfect accent I might add), "Me prestas un lapiz?" Will you lend me a pencil? That is not something I taught her. I love it. Then I asked her how she would say, "I want an horchata." And she said, "Yo quieres un horchata." - I wants an horchata. I'll take it. Then I asked her how to say, "My mom went to the store." She said, "Mi mama la tienda." (My mom go...goes the store.) Not bad.

This morning I asked Emerson to ask his teacher if he wanted me to come teach English today. Later when I asked him how he had asked (and threatened to ground him for all eternity when he said he was too embarrassed to tell me) he said,"Usted quiere mi mama venga aqui para clases de ingles?" If you speak Spanish you know that this is a rather complex sentence including the elusive subjunctive tense (venga). And he said it almost perfectly. I could cry.

Dave and I got permission from the principal of Cole's school to take him out of regular classes for the three weeks before Spring Break in March so he could attend intensive Spanish classes at a language school here in town. Believe it or not, of all of his U.S. classes (we've been supplementing after school the whole time down here) I felt like he was falling behind in...Spanish. He was getting nouns and fluency at school, but he was missing the basics. Anyway, since his intensive stint his Spanish has become quite good. He says he understands most of what is said to him now that he understands verb conjugation. Yeehaw.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Mex Ed

Our clock is running out on our time here in Sayulita (pesky clock - always running). We have just 10 more days. So sad. But, while it's all fresh in my mind I want to document our experience in the Mexican public education system both for posterity's sake and for anyone who care's to know the details. Here are my observations and comparisons. Prepare for a long post...or just skip to the pics.

The kids have been in the public schools in Sayulita, Nayarit for 5 months now. Evie and Emerson are at the Primaria (1st and 4th respectively) and Cole is at the Secondaria (7th). The primaria (primary) goes from 1st - 6th grade and the secondaria (secondary) goes from 7th - 9th grade. Preschool (called kinder and pronounced "keen-dair") is for 3, 4 and 5 year olds although the public preschool here in town doesn't have a  3 year old program. After the secondaria kids here in Mexico have the opportunity (if they're lucky) to attend a preparatoria or prepa which is the equivalent to high school, although I get the impression that it may be more like a tech school. And for a lot of kids this step from secondary to prepa is like our step in the U.S. and Canada from high school to college. Not all of them go on to prepa and many kids enter the work force after completing 9th grade. The nearest prepa to Sayulita is in La Cruz (I think) which is a 20 minute bus ride away.

Our experience has been surprisingly positive. I have been impressed with the education available to students should they choose to take advantage of it. Each student receives about 6 textbooks, 1 for each basic subject. The textbooks here have soft covers and look very similar to thick workbooks. The basic subjects are math, history, Spanish (language arts - a reader and an activity book), science, and geography. The information is quite good. For example, Emerson just finished up a section on African Bees (previously know as Killer Bees, but they prefer to be called African Bees. It's pc, you know). It was actually a language arts activity. So he had to read a 5 paragraph passage in his reader and then in his corresponding l.a. activities book he had 3 or 4 pages of activities. One was to discuss the main topic of each paragraph. Another was to discuss the "job" of each type of bee in the hive. Another was to identify the title and subtitles of the passage and discuss what could be deduced about the succeeding paragraphs. Now he's an expert on African bees and bee hive management (and I am, too). Again, I believe the education available through the Mexican public schools to be quite good should a student and his/her family take advantage of the education available. The same is true in the States. If the students do the homework and study for the exams and the families encourage those efforts then education will happen. I can only speak from our experience here and in public schools in CA, but I think the biggest difference in educational opportunities between "here" and "there" is the involvement of the families and the overall importance put on education. In the States many communities and families (not all) have the luxury of prioritizing education very highly for their kids. Here, many kids have to work in order to help provide for the basic needs of their families and education is secondary to that, rightfully so. I know that's not an original discovery or anything. Again, the education is quite good if families are able to take advantage of the opportunities.

Now, don't get me wrong. Things are, of course, different than what we would expect of an educational setting in the States. For example, at the primaria and secondaria the classrooms are pretty barren. There may be alphabet placards above the dry erase board, but that might be all of the decor adorning the walls (except for scuff marks and scribbles and peeling paint). But all of the classrooms have dry erase boards. As in CA, my understanding is that public schools here receive a small amount of money from the government and the parent groups supplement. There are continuous fundraising efforts for the public schools. For example, the secondary school had a fundraiser selling calenders with pictures that some of their students had taken at a photography camp last summer. But, most (if not all) classroom supplies are provided by the parent co-op of each class (called a salon). There is a parent meeting once every couple of months and the "room mom" collects money for things like drinking water, plastic cups, and any thing else needed in the classroom. Also, during these parent meetings the teacher discusses anything pertinent to the class like behavior issues and homework deficiencies. For example, one time Emerson's teacher mentioned that one of the girls in his class who wears glasses was being picked on by the boys and asked if we could all talk to our kids and remind them to be kind. A typical parent/teacher meeting. Also at these meetings the teachers pass out the trimester exams and progress reports. So it seems that there are finals at the end of each trimester and grades (calificaciones) are based on the results of these exams as well as behavior, attendance, and class participation.

As with every school, teachers have strengths and weakness, schools have areas in which they can improve and the dynamics between the students sets the tone for the work environment of a classroom. For example, Emerson's salon has a large number of high energy boys. You know the ones. And, apparently, they have been that way since first grade when they were originally put together. Even though there are about two classes per grade (1st - 9th, with 25 kids per grade), the kids stay together in the same group as they move from grade to grade. So this class is the "high energy" class. Anyway, they have burned through teachers since their start together, and the teacher they had in November was a sweet, docile gal who had absolutely no control over the class. It was always totally chaotic and ear-piercingly loud. (p.s. Everything is louder in Mexico - music, fireworks, cars, kids, everything). Their new teacher is very strict and keeps very good order in the classroom - a much better learning environment. The same means of discipline are used here as in the States, ie; name on the board, staying in at recess, etc. Although, it seems to be acceptable for teachers to shout at the kids and tell them to "Callense" ("Shut-up") when necessary. Whatever works. Another difference (which is cultural as well) is that the kids throw trash on the ground, inside the classrooms and out in the school yard. Needless to say, by the end of the day the classrooms look like pigsties. Then at the end of the day they are responsible for doing "el aseo" - the cleaning. At least in Emerson's class each day there is a group of kids assigned to sweep out all the trash and put it in the trash bucket and then mop and clean the windows and the dry erase board. Brilliant, I say. No custodial engineer on campus at all (isn't that what they like to be called these days?). Emerson does the aseo on Mondays. In Evie's class, because the kids are so little, the parent group of that salon pitches in and has hired one of the moms to come every day or so to do the cleaning. Also, Evie's teacher doesn't seem to tolerate (as much) the throwing of trash on the floor. Their classroom is usually tidier. But, again, part of that is cultural (throwing of trash on the ground is somewhat acceptable in Mexico) and part of that is how the teacher runs the classroom. Certainly, in CA there are a couple of teachers that come to mind at our elementary school, that by the end of the day their classrooms are pigsties. Right?

At both schools the kids have P.E. (phisica) once or twice a week with a special P.E. teacher. Evie goes once a week and Emerson and Cole go twice a week. They do fun P.E. activities like in the States, ie; dodge ball, around the world basketball, etc. The kids love phisica and on those days they get to wear their blue shorts or skorts. The secondary kids have special P.E. uniforms.

Substitutes are a funny thing down here, because...there are none. If a teacher can't make it to school there's simply no school that day for that class. So I learned quickly, especially for Evie, that it is imperative to get a visual on the teacher during the morning drop off. Otherwise the director will dismiss the class and the kids are expected to walk home. That's fine for the older grades, but not so much for the youngers. I suppose the up side of no subs is that it cuts down on the expense of what often amounts to be a wasted day in education.

The schedule for the primary is 8-12:30. The secondary goes from 7-1:30. All three kids have homework pretty much everyday including Fridays. Cole will usually have a math assignment and then something from language arts, history, or geography. There are significantly more big "projects" assigned for homework than what we are used to in CA. For example, one day for "tarea" Emerson had to build a model of the earth out of clay and a styrofoam ball on a stick. Evie's class is studying animals and they recently had to build a model of a zoo using a foam board and clay, etc. Cole had to do a report on ethnic languages in Mexico and make a map of the locations of the different native peoples on a big poster board. Often times for homework the kids will have to collect (or buy) the items needed for a science or art project for class the next day. If a kid doesn't bring in their supplies they either can't participate (which down here, there is no shame in that) or they will buddy up with someone and share.

There aren't many field trips to speak of (of course we only have field trips in CA because of our parents' group) although the kids did do a beach clean up before the festivities of Semana Santa (free). They were also invited to go and hear the president of Bahia de Banderas give a speech in the plaza (free). And, of course, there are the parades (free). Half of the school marches in the parade for the Dia de la Independencia in November and the other half marches in the parade for the Dia de la Bandera (Flag Day) in February. Each school has a little color guard who wear special uniforms on Mondays when the schools do their formal flag ceremony on the basketball courts. The color guard also has a special place in the parades.

At the secondary I have been very impressed with the amount of, what I would call, extra education opportunities available. They have a huge computer lab with Wi-Fi. The kids have art once a week where they create lovely masterpieces (one of which I have framed in our casita) and everyone gets English. At our middle school in CA we have a tech lab the same size, no art, and Spanish is optional (and every year our language program is on the chopping block). The kids at the secondary here also have a class called Opcional which seems to be a class in life skills and manners. They learn how to set goals and attain them. They teach the kids the importance of being respectful to others. They remind them to use their own good judgement and not follow what their friends do, etc. I like it. I'm not really sure about organized sports at the secondary. I know kids can play soccer and baseball on organized league teams here in town. And a few months ago there was a volleyball tournament at the secondary and teams from other towns came to participate.

As is true when comparing two schools from any two different places (districts, states, countries) I found some aspects of the Sayulita public education to be better than our CA district and some aspects to be not better. But in the end I found them to be quite comparable. And I'm so glad our kids were able to have such an enriching experience.

Cole and Dave

Evie doing P.E. with her class.

Emerson and Evie with cousins Savannah and Sienna. They went to school for a day during their visit check it out.

Parading down Revoluccion.

Cole doing "tarea".

Emerson and his model of the layers of the earth.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Vacation From Our Vacation

If you've been following our adventures in Mexico you probably know that, contrary to popular belief, we didn't come down here "on vacation". We came down here to live a different life, learn a different culture, teach ourselves to surf and eat fish tacos. Oh, and torture our kids by sending them to Mexican public schools where they would learn to sink or swim in a total immersion situation. My point is, aside from the fish tacos (note to self: Fish tacos and a Corona, does not constitute a low-cal meal, even if you forgo the tortillas. Nice try.) our time in Sayulita has not been vacation. Don't get me wrong. It's been amazing. AMAZING. But it hasn't been all poolside-pina-coladas, people. It's been school, and homework (in Spanish), and work, and building a house, and more homework (in English), and, well, it's been normal life with four kids, just sweatier. So let me just tell you, with the house finished, my sister in town for a visit, the kids out of school for Semana Santa and pina coladas aside our new pool, we feel like we're on vacation. Ahhhhh. Heavenly.

And, as you may also know, we love a good road trip. And since we have hardly ventured further than Home Depot since arriving in Sayulita last November, we decided it was high time to hit the road and take a vacation from our vacation. So we packed "el burro" with surf boards, sunblock, and Skin-So-Soft, and headed for San Blas and the "world's longest wave" in Matanchen Bay. Here are some pics from our Semana Santa. Salud.

We had a pool party potluck at the Barefoot House (do you see the foot shaped pool?) for Easter.

The Dads - Terry, Dave, Nick, Ed, and John. How cute are they all "dressed up" in their board shorts and collared shirts?

Dave on an everlasting wave in Matanchen Bay. It just kept going...

                                          ...and going

...and going....

                               ...and going. He learned to "hang five" on one of these waves. Dude.

Jumping on the "Brincoline" in San Blas with new friends - Soli, Zada, Evie, Tristan, and Sienna.

                                                      "Step into my office".

We went on a real life jungle tour in San Blas. It was so fun. We saw tons of wildlife - birds, turtles, huge iguanas, and even crocodiles. They assured us there were no crocs in this swimming area. Hmmm.

                 I didn't even have to pay for this pose.

This one, I did. These huts were built to make a movie, Cabezas de Vacas. (Heads of Cows?) Supposed to be a comedy.

   "El Burro" in front of Matanchen Bay.

"Holiday Ro-o-o-o-o-o-oad"
A Mexican Family Vacation

The End.