Monthly Archives: February 2014

Little Koal

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Six years ago today I was at home in Oak Bluff baking a cake for Koal’s birthday. Where had the years gone? Our puppy was now fifteen years old. Every year on his big day I would bake a confetti cake with no icing. He knew it was for him and that tail would wag until I thought it would fall off. Sparklers on the cake and birthday napkins were in place at party time. Just look at the anticipation on that little guy’s face!

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And here he is enjoying his birthday treat!

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Little Koal came our way in 1993. My kids found an ad in the paper for silver toy poodle puppies. It was several months after our apricot toy poodle Kelsey went to heaven, and we were finally ready for a new pet.

So off we drove to Gimli. Koal was born in Winnipeg Beach, but the breeder had a pet shop in Gimli. Koal had two very rangy sisters, whom my kids went crazy over. I was reluctant to take on one hyper poodle, never mind two. Koal just sat there, barely moving. The clincher was when we found out his birthday was February 25th. Kelsey’s birthday had been June 25th. It was a good omen.

We had brought along a blanket and Koal sat between my kids very quietly in the back seat on the drive home. He was obviously very frightened at being separated from his sisters and the only environment he had known since his birth.

For the first few days, he clung to my daughter Kimmy. She would lie down on the floor and he would sleep on her tummy. As time passed, he became braver and began to explore our house. But his kennel under the desk in the kitchen was his security blanket. If the doorbell rang or he felt scared, he would retreat there.

His favorite toys were Dolly, a soft plush doll, and a red ball.

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He was quite mischievous when he was young. He loved to run into my son Kyle’s room and steal his socks. He would grab the toilet paper in an upstairs bathroom and run all the way downstairs to his kennel.

He was also a very intelligent animal. My kids taught him many tricks including jumping through hoola hoops. Koal loved to jump, and he could really jump high. But when he was quite young he slipped a disc and had to be carried around for several days while his back healed.

Occasionally my kids would tease him. They would tell him he was just a dog, and not a real child like they were. They’d tell him I wasn’t his real mommy, and that he was adopted. Feelings hurt, he would always run to me for reassurance.

Koal really was more like a child than a dog. He had a seat at the dining room table. He had a wardrobe of t-shirts and bandanas. My mother had knit sweaters to keep him warm in the winter. Here he is in costume on his last Halloween.

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Koal had lots of squeak toys and plush toys to play with. They were always scattered everywhere throughout the house. I had special hampers and boxes for them, but he would pull them out and leave them all over the house. He also loved to chew, and could demolish a rawhide in minutes. This was very uncharacteristic of a small dog. We once returned a Kong to a petstore. This was a chew toy with a lifetime guarantee. It didn’t last a day with Koal!

Koal was a vegetarian which is also unusual for a dog. When we went to a fast food drive through, I would order him a salad. We had to drive to the United States to buy him the vegetarian dog food he liked as it wasn’t sold in Winnipeg. He once hid a large bag of salad I bought at Costco in his kennel while I was unloading the groceries. He went crazy over onions and onion rings, and he loved VJ’s french fries.

Koal was a very special member of our family. My kids referred to him as their baby brother. And Koal knew that Kyle was his brother and Kimmy was his sister. When my kids moved out, I would tell Koal that his brother or his sister was coming over, and he would plant himself in the living room window watching for them.

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The final months he was with us he faced many challenges. His hearing was going and his eyesight was failing. Koal also really struggled with anxiety. He didn’t like to be left alone. I bought a Snuggly and carried him around with me quite often when I had to go out. He was a good little traveller and loved car rides.

I will never forget that Sunday morning when I was awakened by Koal. Instead of sleeping soundly at my side, he was having a massive seizure. Later that afternoon I held him in my arms when the vet gave him that final injection. My children were with me and we all had an opportunity to cuddle him and bid farewell to our beloved little boy.

We all have fond memories of Little Koal that we treasure in our hearts. We all miss that amazing unconditional love we felt from our little guy.

Happy Birthday in heaven Koal! We love you and we miss you. Always.

Kimmy and Koal March 2007

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Clutter Free And Carefree

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For the first time in my life, I am truly free! What an awesome feeling! And this is how I accomplished this feat………………

In another lifetime, I was the most sentimental person you could imagine. This dates back to my childhood when I was unwilling to part with dolls and toys that I had outgrown. In fact just this past summer I finally bid farewell to “Pinky”, my faithful pajama pal since I was in kindergarten.

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Letting go is a process. I took comfort in “things” for a variety of reasons. Of course it took time before I realized and finally understood why I became so attached to “things.”

Definitely there was security when I had familiar items surrounding me. I would take comfort in them and recall happier times whenever I felt down.

Pinky is a good example. I remember going to Ashdown’s with my dad on a Saturday afternoon. He was looking for a tool and I discovered Pinky. My dad passed away thirty-eight years ago, but I always felt that he was there with me because I had Pinky.

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My mom passed away eighteen years ago. I treasured all the silver, china, antiques and knickknacks that came my way. And I wrongfully assumed that my children would appreciate having these items.

Apparently something got lost between generations. That something can best be described as “sentimentality.” My children vehemently refused my offers of what I considered to be treasures.

When my marriage ended, these items found their way either into auction houses or thrift stores. And this past summer I disposed of everything that had been in my storage unit since I moved to Mexico more than three years ago.

I must admit that getting rid of the first few items was extremely difficult. But then it gradually became a frenzy of activity in emptying all the bins and boxes of their contents. And the more I got rid of, the better I felt.

I did take photos of many of the items. My friend Carolyn is enjoying the footstool my mom made years ago.

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This is the rocking chair I nursed my babies in. This was left behind at the house I rented last summer.

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This cup and saucer were always very special to me. Whenever my children and I went to my Aunt Jan’s for a visit, she served tea and dainties. When she passed away, this was one of the treasures she left me.

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This Cloisonne urn was a wedding gift to my parents. I sold it on Kijiji to a collector.

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I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. I don’t have a home in Winnipeg anymore, and a storage unit is just too costly. Let’s face it…..things are just things.

The other day my friend Donna sent me a picture of her granddaughter sitting in my childhood rocking chair. While I had always envisioned one of my own grandchildren sitting in that chair, it gave me great joy to see Donna’s grandchild rocking in that chair.

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So how did these feelings of sentimentality evolve into feelings of ambivalence that enabled me to give away or sell items that had been in my family for years? Aside from the economic issues involved in maintaining a storage unit, my children also adamantly refused to store any of these treasures. They made it crystal clear that they had no interest in the antiques and collectibles.

Kudos to my son Kyle, though. I was able to convince him to store the family photo albums and framed pictures. And I did leave him a couple of small storage bins containing mostly gifts that my children had given me over the years. These I just could not part with. Perhaps they will grace my room in a nursing home later on in life, unless by some miracle I actually settle down somewhere for more than just a few months at a time.

And I have also spared my children the heartache of disposing of years of clutter when I am gone. I have vivid memories of doing this when my parents and two of my aunts passed away.

So here I am in Mexico with my life in two suitcases. And it feels great! There is absolutely nothing to tie me down anywhere anymore.

Things are temporary. But what is most important is very portable, and that is the love I carry with me in my heart.

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You Will Find It In Tonola

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This past weekend I made my annual visit to Tonola. I always think of my Mexican family when I go there. Juan and Lucila travel all the way from Culiacan to find treasures there. And it is a mere 40 minute bus ride from my house in Tlaquepaque.

Sundays and Thursdays are market days. This means that the main street and all the side streets are packed with vendors displaying their wares. This also means that the streets are barely passable with the throngs of tourists and locals who frequent the market on these days.

These figures greet you when you first step off the bus.

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Tonola is known for the many distinguished artesans located here. Check out this beautiful glassware.

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There are also some quite unusual creations as well.

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Scattered amongst all these vendors are numerous food stands serving Mexican specialties from tacos to gorditas and everything in between.

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There are also vendors selling fruit, juices, nuts and candies.

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And if you prefer something other than Mexican food, there is always KFC.

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If you are interested in shoes, clothes or accessories you are in the right place. I won’t guarantee the quality of some of these items though. They are definitely not in the class of Liverpool, a high-end department store here in Mexico.

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Pictured below are some adorable baby items.

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Flowers are also popular, whether real or artificial.

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Many vendors have an array of religious articles for sale.

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And a market just wouldn’t be complete without jewelry.

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Whatever you are looking for, you are sure to find it in Tonola. Now if I only owned a home here and had somewhere to put everything I would like to buy………….

Home Is Where Your Heart Is

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This is my fourth year teaching in Mexico and my third year living in Tlaquepaque, a suburb of Guadalajara. When I return to Winnipeg to visit, people often ask me if I get homesick. An interesting question as it is often the topic of conversation among foreign teachers here in Mexico.

I believe that home is where your heart is. Born and raised in Winnipeg, I have also spent most of my adult life there. But I have discovered a new life here, one that I have freely chosen, and Guadalajara is where my heart lies now.

Yes, there are many things I miss about Winnipeg. But each time I return to visit, there are so many more things that I miss about Mexico.

My nickname for Mexico is “the land of manana.” I lead a far less stressful life here. I do not miss hectic time schedules carved in stone. I enjoy being able to walk to my favorite restaurants and shops. Here is one of my favorite “tiendas”.

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I love strolling down the streets in Tlaquepaque and total strangers always smile and say “Buenos dias.” In Winnipeg people hurry down the streets and seldom even make eye contact.

I admit it. The transit buses in Winnipeg are superior to the dilapidated vehicles in Guadalajara. But nothing runs on timetables here. I go out on the street and wave my arm and a bus stops. There are very few designated bus stops here, unlike the computerized stops in Winnipeg.

 

When it comes to groceries, I actually do most of my shopping at a “tiendis” or local market, rather than at a larger chain supermarket. Here I can buy anything from fresh fruit and vegetables to tools. Not only is the produce of superior quality, but the prices are more reasonable as well. And it is just too much fun bargaining with the vendors!

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My kitchen boasts a vintage gas stove with four burners, a small fridge, a microwave oven and a two slice toaster. There is no dishwasher, no Kitchen Aid, no Keurig, no kettle, no electric frying pan, no electric can opener, no toaster oven, no breadmaker. The dishes and cutlery don’t match. There are a couple of pots and a frying pan. There are also minimal cooking utensils. Cooking here is definitely a challenge, but it is amazing what you can conjure up with such limited resources.

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Eating out is inexpensive.  Two blocks away is Vic’s hamburger stand. Three nights a week he grills a delicious cheeseburger with ham, bacon, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, spicy pickled vegetables and a variety of sauces. It comes with a side of taco chips con queso. The price for this culinary delight is 25 pesos (at roughly 12 pesos to the dollar). He also cooks hotdogs that have all the above condiments for a mere 10 pesos.

Vic at his hamburger stand

Across the street a family cooks tacos and gorditas every morning. The cost is 5 pesos each. Every night the tamale truck circles the block with a variety of tamales that cost 4 pesos each. Four blocks away a lady rotisseries chicken. A quarter chicken with a bag of potatoes, a bag of tortillas and salsa is 25 pesos. A lady down the street makes menudo and another lady, pictured below, makes tortas ahogados.

My favorite stand for gorditas, lonches, quesadillas

Centro Tlaquepaque comes alive in the afternoons with a multitude of street vendors selling a variety of foods including salchichas, tortas, pizza, tamales, hamburgers, hot dogs, grilled vegetables and even cotton candy.

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And of course there are a variety of coffee shops and restaurants in the neighborhood as well.  

Fast food chains such as McDonalds, Subway and Burger King offer home delivery. Outback has a presence here as does Peter Piper Pizza, Starbucks and other American chains. I very seldom frequent these places as I prefer the local Mexican fare. However I was recently at an IHOP, where I met a new friend who makes balloon animals.

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Guadalajara has a number of parks and green spaces. Unfortunately, many of the fountains no longer have water due to conservation and cost. But these areas are very tranquil and I often take along a book and read.

Mirador is my favorite with a breathtaking view of the canyon. The canyon is also a very popular place for hikers.

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Zoologica Guadalajara is an excellent zoo. There are trains that take you to the various areas and a sky ride up above for a great aerial view. The Safari ride is a must in this zoo. An amphibious vehicle travels throughout an area where the animals roam freely. The giraffes love to stick their heads into the vehicle in anticipation of the leaves we are given to feed them.

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Guadalajara is also home to numerous museums, historic government buildings and beautiful cathedrals and churches. Many of these are located in the Centro area.

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Guadalajara boasts gorgeous shopping malls such as Gran Plaza, Galarias and Plaza Andares. These centres contain many high end stores such as Bershka and Hugo Boss, putting Winnipeg shopping malls to shame.

If you are interested in sports, professional soccer teams play here and bullfights are also popular.

Music abounds in this city, with everything from mariachi to live rock concerts. Pictured below is El Parian, a huge complex of restaurants in Centro Tlaquepaque that is home to some awesome mariachi every day of the week.

In Front of El Parian

There are several Cinepolis locations, offering all the current movies in Spanish and English. If you prefer live theatre, a great venue is the Teatro Diana in Centro Guadalajara.

Guadalajara is a very exciting city to live in. Now if only the ocean were just a little closer………………..