Saturday, August 8, 2015

I'M BACK!!!!

To say I am bad at this blogging thing is like saying the ocean is big - a huge understatement.  Can you believe its 2015, that I have left for the Peace Corps over 3 years ago, that's right, and the last time I blogged I was still living with a host family!!

Part of why I stopped blogging was because my Peace Corps service wasn't what I (or most people) expected.  I don't live in a hut without electricity or running water, I don't have to poop in the ground, I'm not eating only weird-sounding/looking foods.   I don't struggle to find internet or cell phone service.  Instead I live in the 4th largest city in Mexico, work in an office and  have a beautiful apartment (all to myself) with running water and electricity and HOT water.  At one point I was regularly eating SHARP cheddar cheese and I can find/make pretty much whatever I want to eat.  I have great cell service and internet in my home that I can actually afford!  And the kicker my life just feels normal!  That is other than the fact I have to speak in Spanish pretty much all the time, but hey that is much better and easier after 3 years in Mexico.

That being said I am really going to try for the last 9 months of my service - yep you heard that correctly I extended for a little longer through August 12, 2015 to finish my projects and give myself time to really think about what comes next, but more on that later.  However this time around it's going to be different a little more focused on my kitchen, which while tiny makes me so very happy, and also my secondary projects working with in Clavijero with Dulce and Club Mariposa and my big project with the Mountain Rescue Team.

So here's to my re-newed blog and the stories I get to share!

Banana Muffins with Dulce

Back in August 2013, I started helping Dulce Karen learn English and at that time I would leave the park early every Tuesday and head to her family's fruit and veggie stand at the temporary market nearby and we would sit in the family's truck and have English class. After a couple weeks, they started sending me home with enormous bags of fruits and veggies.  One of those times they sent me home with a huge bunch of bananas and what do you do when you have lots of bananas?  You make banana bread of course!  And the family loved it and wanted the recipe.  So finally, this past August we did it, we made banana muffins (since they take 1/2 the time to bake) and they were delicious and fun.  However, I did make her work for it she had to translate my english recipe into Spanish

Dulce taking the second 1/2 batch out of the oven

Delicious partial whole wheat banana muffins
Whole Wheat Banana Muffins
(adapated from this site This recipe yields anywhere from 16-19 muffins

1 stick butter (mantequila)
1/2 cup regular sugar (azucar)
1 tsp vanilla (vainilla (no extract for us!)
3/4 tsp baking soda (bicarbonato de sodio
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (canela molida)
1/4 ground nutmeg (nuez moscada molida)
1/2 tsp salt (sal)
3 mashed, ripened bananas (~1.5 cups)
2 eggs (huevos)
1/4 cup honey (miel)
1 cup white flour (harina de trigo)
1 cup whole wheat flour (harina integral)

15 large pecan pieces (nuez)
(cup= taza, tsp=cucharita, tbsp=cuchara)

1. Ripen the bananas by baking them in the oven at 350F for 30 minutes, I found this

2. Preheat oven to 350F (175C) or in our case we tried setting 5 on their oven.

3. Mix together the butter, sugar and vanilla until smooth, then mix in the baking soda, salt cinnamon, nutmeg.  Next add in the banana, eggs and honey and mix until smooth. Then add in the flour 1 cup at a time and once again stir just until smooth.  Spoon batter into lined muffin tin filling them only 3/4 of the way otherwise you will have a hard to clean muffin tin.  Finally, push a few broken pieces of pecan (or chocolate chips) into each muffins.  Before placing them in the oven it is a good idea to let them sit for a few minutes, though I have no clue why I just know that's what every recipe says.

4. Bake for 20-35 minutes (they are ready when a toothpick or knife stuck into a muffin comes out clean).  The time they take will depend on your oven and how accurate the dial is. Remove from oven and allow the pan to cool for a few minutes before removing the muffins so you can resuse the tin for the second partial batch.

5. Enjoy!

(This was actually blogged on October 10th, but backdated to August 8th))

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Holy crap I'm 32!

It's hard to believe that I can no longer tell people I'm 31, that I now I have to tell people I'm actually 32.  In fact, at the doctor's office they asked me how old I was yesterday and I had to stop and think before I gave my answer (and not because the question was in Spanish).

Last week was quite a week, there were many great things that happened during my last week of being 31 that almost made up for one really bad thing - my camera getting stolen from the park (thus my pictures may be a bit subpar for a little while).  But hey a girl can't stay sad for long, especially when she gets to celebrate her birthday for three days (and if you think about it even more than that because I know I have a couple birthday cards in the mail).

Sunday January 6th
This is a day that isn't really celebrated in the US, it is the day when the Three Wise Men (Reyes Magos) arrived to meet baby Jesus.  Here in Mexico it is huge and in fact it is they and not Santa Clause who bring the kids presents.  Thus, the night of the 5th it is very important for kids to go to bed early so the three kings will bring them presents.  From what I understand instead of leaving cookies for Santa they put there shoes outside with hay/grass in them for the wisemen's animals.  Thus, the morning of the 6th is spent opening presents and playing with all the new toys.  A tradition associated with this day is eating los roscas de reyes (pictured below), which is a very old tradition that comes from Spain.  Inside the bread there are plastic babies, which represent Baby Jesus and if you find one in your piece (or one falls out while you are cutting your piece) it means that you are blessed.  It also means that you are supposed to throw a party February 2nd and/or provide tamales and atole for everyone.  And of course who found a baby in here piece, this girl.  Thus, I will be bringing tamales to work on the 2nd to share with my coworkers.

Los Roscas de Reyes

Guess who's bringing Tamales to work February 2nd?  This girl!

Tuesday January 8th
I can't remember the last time I played soccer, it could very well be back when I was in high school which was quite a while ago.  Well, Tuesday some of my coworkers invited me to play soccer after work and despite many misgivings/doubts I thought why not, the worse that can happen is that I make a complete ass of myself.  However, it turned out okay I think they were a little surprised that I could kind of play and I even surprised myself by making a few goals.  However, this old lady is definitely out of shape and I'm pretty sure I would have passed out if we had used the whole field instead of a shortened one.  The best part of playing soccer with the boys wasn't realizing how out of shape I am or even having beers (though beers are always great) with a few of them afterward or even teaching them a bit of english while I learned a few new Spanish words.  Instead, it was the next day when people I normally only say good morning to, chatted with me about the fact that I could play soccer, where I was living, why I was here, etc.  Yeah for integration!

Thursday January 10th Celebration Day 1
Birthday Cake!!!  All week long we've been preparing for the new Secretary of the Environment for the state of Puebla's (the ultimate boss of everyone who works in the park) visit on Saturday, thus because Friday was going to be super crazy with last minute things and I had my actual birthday off my co-workers got together and bought me a birthday cake.  I will have to say that the birthday song in Mexico (check out the words and tune here) is way more cool than singing Happy Birthday.
Birthday Cake!!!

Getting the first "bite"
However even better than being sung the Mexican birthday song is taking the first "bite."  Thankfully  we celebrated a few birthdays during training so I knew what to expect and knew not to let anyone stand behind me so they could attempt to shove my face in the cake.  So while everyone chanted Mordita, Mordita (which means to take a bite) I put my hands behind my back and lunged in for the first bite.

Friday January 11th Celebration Day 2
Normally my host sister Talia and I both have Saturdays off so before we found out the Secretary changed his visit from Friday to Saturday we made plans to celebrate my birthday Friday night so we could sleep it off Saturday morning.  Unfortunately, the Secretary changed the date of his visit and my coworkers had to actually go to work earlier than normal on Saturday, but yet still came out to help me celebrate until the wee hours.  We grabbed a few beers in the center of Puebla and then headed over to a salsa club.  Many years ago I learned how to salsa, unfortunately I didn't remember and after you've had a few celebratory drinks is not the time to learn.  However, I somehow managed to learn a little so I could keep up with all the great salsa dancers I didn't know I knew and had a blast!  Can't wait to learn for real and go dancing some other time.  Here's a group shot from the end of the night (although one of my coworkers Luis was nowhere to be found).  And of course because I'm Shayna and deep down don't want to believe I'm 32, the night didn't end there several of us continued the party at a coworkers house until ?????  All in all it was a great night that reinforced how lucky and blessed I am to have made so many new friends in such a short time!

Mis amigos!

Saturday January 12th
My actual birthday was pretty low key, I did not continue the party as one of my coworkers suggested I should do.  Instead I slept most of the morning (to make up for not sleeping hardly at all the night before).  Chatted with my parents, read lots of fun birthday messages on my Facebook, and just relaxed.  The highlight of the day was when I finally decided to get dressed and head into the center to have a birthday lunch with my fellow volunteers Chelsea and Neal.  Then to top it all off my host mom fixed one of my favorite meals, which we ate for dinner that night!  All in all I have to say turning 32 turned out not to be so bad, can't wait to see what my 33rd year (thanks Chelsea for making me feel even older) has in store for me.

P.S.  Most important Spanish I learned (or rather relearned) this week the huge different between using the phrase tener calor (have hot) and estar calor (be hot).  The proper way to say I am hot is to say Yo tengo calor, however I was a little mixed up Friday and asked my coworker (because it was freakin hot in the club and they were wearing jackets/sweatshirts) "Tu estas caliente" which doesn't mean are you hot, instead it means are you horny.  Thank goodness someone corrected and I'm pretty sure I will never forget the difference again.  Also thank goodness the room was really dark because I'm sure I blushed a deep, deep red.  Oh Spanish, how you trip me up and make me laugh!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

I have a new address

Today I got my first bit of mail here in Puebla from the very awesome Jenni Propst and it was awesome.  It also made me realize that I haven't updated my mailing address so here it goes

Peace Corps Shayna Sellars
(Lic. Ramon Juarez Garcia)
Carril a San Bartolo S/N. Exhacienda 
San Bartolo Flor del Bosque, 
Colonia Casa Blanca. Amozoc de Mota, 
Puebla. C.P. 72360.

So friends and family if you're feeling a bit bored or come across an awesome card you think I might like send it my way because getting any kind of mail really makes my day!!  Plus, if you send me mail that means I have to send you something as well and who doesn't like getting mail from another country.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Merry Christmas!!!

I can't believe that Christmas Day has already come and gone.  Despite having to work Christmas Eve and Day in the park I count myself as one very lucky girl this holiday season.  And as the new year approaches, I have many things to be thankful for:

1.  My family and friends back in the states who supported me when I made this crazy decision to join the Peace Corps and head to Mexico.  Those same family and friends who send me letters, emails, messages, and even packages so that I still feel like I am a part of their everyday lives.

2.  My new families here in Mexico, both my host family from Queretaro and my host family here in Puebla.  Both of these families welcomed me with open arms, immediately letting me know I was a part of their family.  In fact, I spent Christmas Eve here with my host family sharing their dinner, conversation, and bottle of tequila.

3.  My Peace Corps family, man it's nice to know there are people going through or who have already gone through the same things that I can talk with about my frustrations.

4.  While working Christmas Eve in the park was not ideal (mainly because we had 8 visitors all day), the good part about working that day is that one of my fellow volunteers, Emilie, who was in town for Christmas came to hang out for the day.  Her visit and our chats reminded me of how lucky I am to have been placed in Flor del Bosque.  The people here are really nice and have been really helpful and understanding (especially with my Spanish).  In fact, when my counterpart realized that the apartment Peace Corps had already approved might be falling through he immediately talked to a couple folks about helping me look for a place and everyone is now actively helping me search for a new place to live.

5.  And finally my Spanish is getting better and better everyday!!!!  I actually surprised myself Christmas Day by answering visitors questions instead of waiting for someone else to answer them for me.  While I am nowhere near fluent (yet?!), I am feeling more and more confident and am ready to really get started working.

I hope everyone has had a Merry Christmas and wish y'all a Happy New Year!

P.S.  Not only is my Spanish speaking improving, but I am learning lots of new words almost everyday.  My newest favorite word is TABLE that's right my new favorite "spanish" word is really an english word.  However, TABLE isn't referring to the piece of furniture, but rather is short for table dance and is a stripclub.  So if you are ever in puebla, mexico and someone asks if you'd like to go the table, remember they aren't referring to the piece of furniture, but instead are asking if you'd like to go to a strip club.  And of course your response should be, Hombres or mujeres?  (men or women?)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Too many goodbyes to count....

Last week was a week full of ups and downs for me.  It was great because I was finally sworn in and thus can call myself a volunteer, our days in training were much shorter, and I didn’t have to think about my language proficiency test because I was done with it.  However, last week was also a week filled with hugs and goodbyes and lots of good lucks.  Of course most of those goodbyes are only temporary because at a minimum I’ll be seeing folks when we return in late February (?) for some more training.  However, the hardest goodbyes were those with my host family. 

It’s amazing to me that people can come to mean a whole lot to you in such a short amount of time (11 weeks), especially when you don’t really speak the same language.  But it did happen, by the time I had to say goodbye I was truly sad to have to leave, not only because Lupita (my host mom) had spoiled me, but because they had embraced me and included me as if I was child #6.  
Lupita and me after the swearing-in ceremony
 They didn’t just provide me with a place to sleep and food to fill my belly or help me with my Spanish.  They worried about me, chatted with me, laughed with (and probably at) me, included me in family events like baby showers and birthdays, shared their tequila and mescal, and gathered together for one last comida my last night just to say goodbye to me.  
One example of how wonderful this family was, is that when the grandmother heard that all my stuff wouldn’t fit in my suitcases she brought me a bag so I wouldn’t have to go buy one and then on top of that gave me a pair of awesome Mexican doll earrings (picture coming later).  Another is when I had to go to the hospital to get an xray of my foot (because it turns out I broke my pinky toe), Lupita offered to take me even though her life was already crazy with having to help Manuel, her husband, with pretty much everything because at the moment he isn’t able to walk.  Further, not only did she gather her family for my last night, but spent hours in the kitchen that day preparing a wonderful comida.  I can’t wait to go back to Queretaro and share with them my experiences here in Puebla and wow them with my (hopefully) awesomely better Spanish.
Mi familia!
 So while I had to say more goodbyes than I liked, I’m ready for the next part of my journey.  I’m ready to be one step closer to living on my own again and cooking for myself, not only improve my Spanish, but also learn how to talk about climate change in Spanish, make new friends here in Puebla, find ways/things to get involved in outside of work, and determine how I can best contribute in El Flor del Bosque (the park I’m working with).  So here’s to not having to say goodbye for a while and instead lots of hola’s, and much gustos. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Okay, so I am really bad at this blog thing, there are so many things I want (and have wanted to share), but by the end of my very full days of training my brain is complete mush and doesn't want to cooperate.  Thus, I will summarize a few things that have happened since my last entry.

Piedra Grande (October 15-26)
I left October 15th, along with the other environmental education (ee) folks, for a very small town in the state of Mexico called Piedra Grande for our almost 2-week practicum.  One of my main focuses as an ee volunteer will be to work with folks in the communities surrounding my park on understanding the purpose of ecotecnias (green technology) and helping them get them into their communities.  Some of the ecotecnias I helped build and took extensive notes about were a rain cistern, a more efficient wood-burning stove, solar (food) dehydrator, and a couple family gardens.  I now have a pretty good understanding of what is needed to build these things - in the case of the cistern lots of mixing of cement, sand, gravel and water - and in a couple cases think that with a little help I could actually be in charge of the building process.  So friends whenever you're ready for a large-scale, backyard food dehydrator, I am your woman.
Me inside the cistern watching the master at work

While we were there we also put on an ecoferia (eco-fair) at the local primary school.  This for me was even harder than the physical labor involved in building the cistern.  While I do have some experience teaching and working with kids I've never done that in Spanish.  Preparing to teach our short lesson on water (The Incredible Journey for all my ee friends in the states), was good in that I learned lots of new words in Spanish and realized that I needed to change my teaching style a bit to make things work.  That is I needed to do way less talking, ask short-answer questions, and make things very hands-on (and of course in the perfect world always have someone around who knows Spanish to help me).  I think that Greg (another trainee) and I did a great job leading and along the way adapting the activity and the kids really seemed to enjoy traveling the water cycle.  There are many things I took away from my experience in Piedra Grande such as talking to people doesn't have to be as scary or intimidating as it can sometime seem, building things for people is way more fun when they help and you get to interact with them, casual conversations can help you learn a lot about a community, and I want to continue working on my Spanish so I can have even more conversations and be an even better teacher.

Dia de Los Muertos (November 2)

Celebrating dia de los muertos or day of the dead in Mexico was both a beautiful and a slightly sad experience for me .  It was beautiful in that it is a time set aside for families to not only remember their loved ones who are no longer with them, but to actually get together, clean and decorate their loved ones graves, and reminisce.  Some of these gatherings were quite simple, while others included hiring large bands to play graveside.  The sad part for me were the forgotten graves, the graves of people who's families lived far away or they themselves were no longer around.  In fact, a group of us went to the cemetery to see what this was like and ended up cleaning one of those graves.  While we definitely got lots of stares (most likely due to our obvious gringa-ness), someone at a nearby grave let us borrow their brush so we could really clean the grave.  The other sad part for me is that I actually had someone to think about and mourn for because a wonderful woman - DEB TYMAN - who helped with my high school year group and went to the Presbyterian Church in Whiteville with my family, and who was just an all-around awesome lady passed away while I was in Piedra Grande.  So as I laid those flower petals on this unknown grave all I could think about was Deb and her beautiful smile and how lucky I was to have known her.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Death by Deodorant!

Or at last almost death...

Now that might sound like a funny title to you, but as I found out earlier this week for me it might just have been possible.  For those of you who don't know I am very allergic to soy and by that I mean back in college within one week I went to the ER twice because I couldn't breathe (anaphylaxis).  A couple weeks later I found out this was because I was very allergic to soy and that I needed to avoid anything with soy in it. Over the last 11 years I've managed to mostly keep my body happy by not eating soy, religiously reading the ingredients in all the food I buy, lotion, and shampoo.  Last fall, to my utter dismay I discovered Burt's Bees had changed the ingredients in two of my favorite products (their chapstick and some awesome hand lotion) and sadly they now contain soy.  However, for some reason I had never thought to read the ingredients in deodorant, sadly I learned this past Monday night why I must now add deodorant my long list of things whose ingredients I must read before purchasing.

Honestly I assumed at some point during my first few months here in Mexico that I would have an allergic reaction and probably need to use my inhaler, however I assumed it would be because of the food I ate.  However, Monday night when I got the splotchy, super itchy rash on the top half of my body I was shocked because I wasn't having any problems breathing instead I couldn't stop itching and my skin just looked gross.  It wasn't until Tuesday morning, when I started going over what other than food (by now I knew food wasn't my culprit) was new in my life and the only thing I could think of was the deodorant I had just started using that I bought right before leaving the states.  So then I read the ingredients and sure enough it contains hydrogenated soybean oil.  I can't believe it that now makes two "natural" products companies that since being purchased by much larger corporations that have changed the ingredients in their products to include soy - thanks a lot Burt's Bees and Toms of Maine.  Thank goodness for Benadryl and soap and water, which helped clear up my rash in about 36 hours.

Don't worry friends I brought more than one thing of deodorant with me and thus will still be smelling fresh and clean with the help of my Arm & Hammer deodorant.