Mexican Chicken Soup

The word of the day is “la gripa,” cold or flu.

Even though it is sunny and warm, it is cold season in Mexico, just as it is in the States. And just like everywhere, when one person brings home a cold or the flu, they generously share it with other family members.

When Irma was under the weather recently (now there is one of those “what does that mean?” expressions), I thought I would make chicken soup to help her feel better faster.

I was busily chopping onion and garlic while the chicken was starting to simmer in the pot when she appeared to fulfill her duty to make lunch. When she insisted on handing me the alphabet macaroni (something I was never fond of except for spelling practice), I had to explain that I was making “sopa Americana por la enferma” (American soup for the sick) or she would have nothing of it. Later when the hot, fragrant broth was set before her, she gingerly tasted it and declared it “muy bueno” very good.

Here, the treatment for what ails you — whether la gripa, a broken bone, anxiety, depression, or anything in between — is sopa made with alphabets in a tomato broth. Apparently, they believe in the healing capacity of alphabet soup as we do in chicken broth.  Science just might disagree though, as this article from Web MD points out.

It is not like Mexicans do not make chicken soup, as this photo of a recent lunch will attest to.

Mexican chicken soup

“Look mom, there’s a foot in my soup!”

I always wondered what they did with these.

Chicken foot sculpture, market, Chilpancingo, MexicoAs an amusing anecdote. An American friend of mine once told me about when he and his wife first moved to a small town in Mexico. Chicken feet were highly valued, and chicken breasts were almost given away. They said they never ate better.

To each his own.

My grandmother always preferred what she called the “Shteets,” those two tiny specks of meat “that jump over the fence last” (the tail bone). I was never really sure if she liked that part best or she was making sure that everyone else ate high off the bird while she was satisfied with a bite or two.

By the way, they do not eat the chicken feet, they just flavor the broth with them. (I stand corrected, many do eat them. Eeeeew!)

What is your favorite remedy for a cold?


So the kids are stuck at home due to a blizzard that has brought everything to a halt out East.

Ever try to explain snow to a Mexican, or anyone else for that matter, who has never seen it? Doesn’t work, believe me.

Nieve y mucho viento (snow and much wind) just does not describe a blizzard even when I raise my hand to the 3, 4, or 5 foot level to indicate how high. They will whistle or cluck their tongues but they really cannot grasp the concept.

Popapetepel, Mexican volcanoPictures of snow on the volcano are about as close as most people come to the real thing.

Stay safe and warm everyone.

Ahorita now

I love it when my readers can shed some light on the meaning of some of the things I see and hear in a foreign place.

Sun"s rays streaming through the clouds, Taxco de Alarcon, MexcioMy mystery word has been demystified! It is ahorita.

Now that I see the root word ahora (now) it makes perfect sense. Since “ita” means little, ahorita actually means in a little while.

As my lovely and very gifted daughter, who lived in Peru for a time, explained, it could mean, now, in a moment, etc. or in the case of an impatient patient at the doctor’s office, in a little while, which may stretch to 10 or 20 minutes or more. It is used in a similar manner as our saying right now (which also makes no sense taken literally.)

I have gathered from friends here that it could also be used as a blow off statement, with a meaning similar to “I’ll get around to it,” which is where the “perhaps, sometime” comes in.

English words and expressions can also create confusion in non-native speakers. She told me about a Peruvian friend who was a hostess in a restaurant and couldn’t figure out why people reacted strangely when she greeted incoming patrons with “Good night.” Afterall, night and evening mean the same thing, no?

Sometimes I think it would be nice to go back to the time before the Tower of Babel, when everyone spoke just one language. But then again, I’m not too fond of sackcloth and I would really miss my computer. Better to look forward to the whole world having one language in the future. In the meantime, I will keep studying my Spanish.

Pyramid of Sun - TeotihuacancanDo you think the builders of the ancient temples of the Aztecs and Mayans, like this Temple of the Sun at Teotihuacan, outside Mexico City, are related to those in Mesopotamia who built the Tower of Babel and other ziggurats?


The word of the day is escalera — stairs, in English.

Stairs, MexicoAs you might remember, I live on the 4th floor. To get from my room to the main level, I must descend one spiral staircase and two long sets of regular stone or tile steps. And, of course, for every trip down, I must also climb back up.

For some reason today was an especially rigorous stair climbing day. I went down for breakfast, up to get dressed, down to meet someone, who was late, so back up again, and down to meet them later…

And on and on it went — 22 trips altogether. And that does not count the set of stairs outside the house to reach the calle (street.)

Here is a sampling of some of my “favorite” Mexican escaleras. Some old, some new, some fancy, some not, and some when you come to them you just say, “Whoa!”

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Who needs a Stairmaster when you have the real thing?!!!


After nearly two months of being very careful about my water usage, washing shirts, skirts, pants, and undies, every day in the bucket of cold water that precedes the hot through the shower pipes, and airing out my sheets in the sunshine and breeze, I decided with more water at my disposal, it was time to do the laundry –  the sheets, comforter, my towel, all those big or heavy things that don’t easily fit into a bucket — although I have managed from time to time.

Laundry on the lineThough there is an automatic washer, it is not like in the States where you put in the dirty clothes, add soap, turn the machine on, and walk away, returning later to clean clothes. No, here you have to watch the machine.

First, you grab a hose and fill the tub of dirty clothes with water from the cistern, then you turn the washer on and let it wash. When you hear it start to spin the clothing, you intercept it before it starts to refill with rinse water and repeat the water from the hose procedure once more. Then you let it go through the rinse and spin cycle, and when it is all done, you hang the clothing on the roof top lines.

Even when I wash my clothes in the bucket, I have it easy, I can use the machine to spin the clothes, so I do not have to wring them by hand. It also happens that my roof top lines are attached to regular t-shaped clothes poles on the room sized balcony outside my room, so I have easy access.

At other houses, they wash and rinse the clothes by hand in a concrete “tub,” wring them out, and carry them to the roof, where they pin or string them from cords tied to the re-bar, sticking up from the floor below, and maybe the TV antenna. And, sometimes they just “hang” the clothes from whatever is handy including a railing, fence post, or even a shrub or tree.

No matter how you hang ’em, there is not much that smells sweeter than laundry dried in the sun and breeze.

Doing laundry in MexicoDo you hang your clothing outside and breathe deeply the scent of sunshine and fresh air when you bring them in?




Ya, no!

Tools for learning Spanish“Ya, no” is an everyday Spanish expression that is a bit of a conundrum to me.

Where I come from, “ya” is slang for yes and “no” is no, so to me, what the speaker is saying is “yes, no.” Yes, no, what? Which is it? Yes or no?

Even though I now know that “ya, no” means not anymore or no longer (literally “already, no” or “no already”), I still hear “yes, no.”

This is just one of a number of confusing expressions such as:

  • La manana de la manana – the first manana means the morning, and the second manana means tomorrow. I don’t know how many times I have tried to say I was going to do something in the morning and we ended up in a whole conversation about tomorrow? No, I meant today. Esta manana.Now really, you’d think they could come up with a different word for one of the two!
  • And why is it you say, “Buenas dias,” instead of Buenas Manana Heaven forbid you should say, Buenas dias (literally “Good day”) past noon. Are Mexicans so fanatical about their greetings because the listener would not know if you were wishing them “Good morning” or “Good tomorrow?”
  • There are similar words like caro and carro. The first means expensive, and the second is actually a cart but is used to say car. The difference is the two rrs are rolled or trilled, which I cannot do (yet anyway). So I could be talking about a car or something expensive, unless I am talking about a caro carro.
  • Words that look exactly like an English word but are pronounced totally differently really throw me. Try getting your mind around the word idea pronounced “e DAY ah” starting with a long E. Same word different pronunciation.Or sea – that is not sea as in  “sea to shining sea,” it is “SA ah” a form of  ser (to be.)
  • Perhaps my favorite word of all is pronounced “au REE ta;” don’t ask me how to spell it though, because I could not find it in any dictionary. I was hearing it all the time in conversation and asked what it meant and the answer I received was that it could mean: now, right this second, in a moment, wait a minute, in a short while, after a while, sometime, and even, perhaps, maybe, but not likely anytime soon. Or something like that.

Ya no?

What is an example of your favorite language conundrum?

Water Woes

In Mexico, you cannot just turn on the faucet and expect that water will flow out. The city sends water, on a schedule that only they know, to different neighborhoods at different times, when they feel like sending it. And sometimes, during dry spells or when workers are off during holiday periods, maybe not at all.

To make sure that they have water when they need it, everyone here has a cistern or a water tank or two or more, or both a cistern and water tank(s), so when the water “falls,” they can capture it for use later. Some in poorer, less serviced areas even fill their yards with various containers to capture rain water, lest they run out. And when the water “falls,” you capture as much as you can.

In this house, the city water fills the cistern for the rest of the house first, before it fills the tank on the roof. This is adequate most of the year, since my room is vacant, but can be a bit problematic when I am here. If the city does not send enough water to fill the cistern, the water never makes it to the water tank on the roof, and I have no water! I have to resort to carrying buckets up the spiral staircase for washing and flushing the toilet. A might inconvenient.

Ready to take a bucket shower, MexicoAs happens at least once every year, I ran out of water recently. No problem. I heated water on the stove, carried it upstairs, and took a bucket shower. Sounds a bit primitive, but actually a bucket shower is a very efficient and water saving way to bathe.  All you need is a bucket of warm water, a bowl, and your soap. You simply pour a bowlful of water over your body, soap up, and use the bowl again to rinse off.  You can even wash yesterday’s clothes or your underwear, all in a gallon or two of water. The average American runs more than that down the drain just brushing their teeth.

When I came back at noon the next day, I found the front door wide open (very unusual), pvc  pipe and tools all over the front room, and a burly plumero and several younger ones (most likely his sons) pounding, drilling, and running in and out.   Irma said something about water and Rotoplas (the water tank on my roof) but I didn’t fully understand her flurry of Spanish.

Shortly thereafter someone was pounding on my roof and I heard water running into the tank. Appears there will be more water and fewer dry spells in my future.

What is your “water sense?” Check here for 100 ways to conserve water useage.

How do your conserve water where you are?

Sunrise in the Mountains

If you have followed my adventures for any amount of time, you know that I love sunrise. To me, there is no better way to start the day than in the peacefulness of the early morn, as the birds awaken and begin to sing, hearing  the breeze rather than the rush of traffic, feeling the lingering coolness of the night as the day slowly brightens.

Sunrise over Taxco de Alarcon, MexicoThe variety of that early morning palette never ceases to amaze me. Vivid or pastel, cloud filled or mostly clear, the changes that occur between darkness and sun up are always a wonder to ponder.

Sunrise, Taxco de Alarcon, MexcioSunrise, Taxco de Alarcon, Mexcio Sunrise over Taxco de Alarcon, MexicoSunrise over Taxco de Alarcon, MexicoSunrise, Taxco de Alarcon, MexcioSunrise, Taxco, MexicoLiving at the top of a four story house on a hill overlooking the city gives me a great vantage point for watching the sun come up. Being in the mountains though is a different experience than being at the seashore.

At the shore, the sun rises over the horizon culminating in that glorious golden globe painting the sky and turning the sea to a golden rivulet surrounded by diamonds.

Sunrise, Cocoa Beach, FloridaIt comes up right on time, when the almanac says it should.That is not true of sunrise in the mountains.

In the mountains sunrise is slower. By the time the sun actually breaks the horizon, the actual sunrise is long past — maximum beauty occurs a good 10-15 minutes before that golden orb lifts above the mountain tops. When it finally crests, all that usually happens is a mighty brilliance that just makes an already bright and beautiful day complete.

Occasionally though the clouds and the light work out just right, like this day:

Which do you prefer? The slow awakening of a mountain sunrise or the instant gratification of the seashore?

How do you greet the sunrise where you are?