Ten Reasons Why I Love Mexico

#1) The alto signs.

For those of you who don’t know, ALTO means STOP. However, in the state of Baja California, alto signs have their own creative nature. You see, when an Alto sign is broken or destroyed (which somehow happens to the majority of the signs), the government does not replace them. Instead, the people in the community make new ones.

Here’s a nice, new alto sign that’s on my street.

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Here is one that is folded in half. How did that happen? No clue.

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And another one that is cut in half. Again, no idea how that happened…

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And here’s a hand-made alto sign on white pole.

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And a homemade tin alto sign.

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And last but not least, my favorite one. An alto sign painted on a rock.

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And if the alto sign is missing, well you’re just supposed to know to stop.

 

#2) Everyone always waters their dirt.

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#3) No one can spell my name.

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And my friend Abraham wins for my favorite spelling of Kelsey.

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#4) They sell GIANT bags Cheetos.

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#5) There are cute puppies everywhere.

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#6) Everyone is always late. Which means I can be late too.

One night we went to a wedding. The mom told me it started at 7. We showed up at 8:15 and literally no one was there. Yes, of course it was awkward. I should have known people weren’t going to show up until 9:30!

Church starts at 10:30. But that actually means 11:15.

But you know, because of “Mexico Time,” I can be late. Which means that when there is a sunset, we can stop and enjoy the view.

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#7) Everyone puts Chile on EVERYTHING.

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#8) There is no maximum number of people or things you can fit in your car.

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And I fit all these kids in my mini-van at one time! THIRTY people in a seven passenger van.

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#9) The speed signs all refer to when all the roads were dirt roads. So, they really don’t serve a purpose.

And sometimes they even fall upside-down.

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#10) Mexican babies are actually the cutest.

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A Typical Day in Mexico

All the groups have returned home and it’s finally back to normal here in Mexico. Although it was great to see my friends, it’s nice to be back to normal life. I really enjoy my life here. It’s slower-paced than American life and every day I have time to work-out and read. Life here is very enjoyable and the slower-pace (in contrast of the busy American life style) allows me to make time for myself, take care of myself, and rejuvenate. Let’s just say, my anxiety levels have dropped tremendously since I’ve been here.

 

A normal day looks like this:

Teach English at the Elementary School: 8:00am – 10:00am
Work-out/Shower/Make lunch/Read/Relax: 10:00am – 2:00pm
Orphanage: 2:00pm – 5:00pm
Church: 6:00pm – 8:00pm
Dinner: 8:30pm
Hang out with friends or Perez family
 

This morning we woke up early and finished our lesson plan for the day. In the 3rd grade classes, we have been working on Animals, Family, and Body Parts. They are learning really quickly and I absolutely LOVE watching them learn. The teaching experience that I have had here in Mexico has completely confirmed that I want to pursue a career in Education.

I don’t know why HEAD and EAR were backwards, but it was too cute to correct. :)

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When we got home from teaching, I did yoga in the little house. Then we made tacos, cleaned the house (because we have to clean every day because of all the dirt!), relaxed for a while, and then headed off to the orphanage.

We helped the kids with their homework, made each other word searches with Spanish words, made bracelets, read magazines, and colored.

As we pulled out of the orphanage to head home, I spotted Antonio running towards my car. With desperation, he asked if we could take an old man to the big town (about 10 minutes away) to buy paint. Of course, I said yes, because I can’t say no to cute old people.

So Mr. Arturo, an 88-year-old man who lived his life as a cowboy traveling all over Mexico with his horses, hopped in my car. We took him to Victoria, the main town, to buy two big buckets of white paint, because his white house needed a new paint job. Everything was painted white, the doors, the fence, the window trims, everything. He told me that it’s the only white house in the neighborhood and he seemed very proud of it.

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He also told me that he LOVES plants. And so when we returned from buying the paint, he showed us around his property.

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But the best story of all is this:

When Don Arturo got in the car to go to the paint store, Antonio told me, “Hey Kelsey, guess what? Don Arturo got in an accident and got 50 stitches in his head.”

And so I asked, “What!? What happened Don Arturo?”

He looked at me and said, “I climbed a palm tree to cut down some fruit and fell out of it.”

“Wow,” I said. “When did this happen?”

“When I was eighty-three.”

When we got to his house, I asked him, “Hey, Mr. Arturo, which palm tree did you fall out of?”

And he pointed to the tallest one in his yard. So of course, I had to take his picture in front of it.

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Mr. Arturo wants to have us over for a meal to thank us for taking him to the paint store.

Later this evening, we went to church in Oaxaca and then made dinner with the Perez family. I learned how to make Chiles Dulces con Queso.

First you have to cut open the Chiles and stuff them with cheese.

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Then you fry them in oil until they brown. (We used avocado oil!)

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And of course, everything tastes better with lime.

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Potluck with the Kids

Last night Jessica and I had a big potluck with all of the kids from Francisco Murguia. We picked them all up from their houses (and of course they all stuffed themselves into my van) and we went to the park to eat and play volleyball. The week before, the kids had decided that on Monday afternoon they wanted to have a potluck and they all decided what they were going to bring. Jorge was going to bring rice, Brissa was going to bring a fruit salad, Antonio was going to bring beans, Raul was going to bring tortillas, I was going to bring brownies, and Chepe was going to bring cups. Jessica and I figured that everyone was going to bail and not bring anything. So we made brownies and brought plates just in case someone brought something to eat. Turns out, everyone brought GIANT pots of food! Jorge brought enough rice to feed a village. Antonio brought beans and tons of tortillas. Everyone brought what they were supposed to… except of course Chepe, who forgot the cups.

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Here’s a picture of the yummy beans with Chiles and queso.

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And the main course…

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They had never eaten brownies before… and were very excited to try them.

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I was definitely expecting the fruit salad to be compiled of fruit. But no, it was pretty much just marshmallows and sweet and condensed milk, with a few pieces of canned fruit here and there.

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We all had a great time. We laughed a lot, ate more than enough, and played volleyball for a few hours.

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When the sun was setting, they decided they wanted to do the exact same thing next Monday. Except this time at 4:00pm–an hour earlier so they could have more time to play volleyball. They decided that next week we are going to make tortillas at the park over a fire. We’ll see how that goes! And the night ended with, of course, driving in circles around the neighborhood in a van packed full of screaming kids. And when I dropped them off at Jorge’s house, they picked flowers off their bushes and threw them on my dashboard.

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Mission to Mexico!

Well, my fellow Oregonians came last Saturday– a gigantic group of hundred and fifty people! (This is the group that I have come to Mexico with each year for Spring Break– “Mission to Mexico”). Their time here was wonderful. I loved seeing so many people from my home town, that I love and care about so much.

Photo Credit: Courtney Meili

Photo Credit: Courtney Meili

Photo Credit: Courtney Meili

Photo Credit: Courtney Meili

The team arrived on Saturday morning around 10am, right after the Arizona team left. The Oregon team showed up, set up their tents, and right away began unloading materials.

Photo Credit: Courtney Meili

Photo Credit: Courtney Meili

Little did I know, they assigned me to be a co-leader for one of the construction sites. Surprise! I was co-leading a house that we were building for a family who was living in this bus.

Photo Credit: Courtney Meili

Photo Credit: Courtney Meili

And they had the sweetest two little boys. This cute little guy Lalo…

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And probably one of the cutest babies in the world…

Photo Credit: Courtney Meili

Photo Credit: Courtney Meili

We worked from 7am to 6pm each day on the houses. Lots of painting, insolation, dry wall, framing, and roofing.

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The house turned out beautifully, with a fabulous and unique front porch.

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Here’s the beautiful family at the dedication ceremony. The group was planning to build for another family, but something unexpected happened, so we decided to switch. So Dan Hill, Barry Lind, and I went to tell this family that they were going to receive a house. When I told Eduardo, the dad, he began to cry. And of course, it made me cry! And Dan and Barry, got choked up too. None of us knew what to do and we all kind of stared at each other in awe, but nonetheless, it was a beautiful moment. Imagine if you found out you were going to get a free house 20 minutes before the crews started bringing the materials!

Photo Credit: Courtney Meili

Photo Credit: Courtney Meili

Why Lalo is wearing a Halloween shirt, I don’t know.

On Wednesday night, I took a group of college students out to Juan Lira’s house. We built a house for Juan and his family two years ago. I see him all the time at church and at other events, but everyone else wanted to see him and of course, eat his fish tacos!

Photo Credit: Courtney Meili

Photo Credit: Courtney Meili

Photo Credit: Courtney Meili

Photo Credit: Courtney Meili

And SWEET little Yerania loved all the big kids and the camera.

Photo Credit: Courtney Meili

Photo Credit: Courtney Meili

One of my favorite parts of this week was spending time with the kids in the town of Francisco Murguia. I have known these kids for a long time and have built houses for several of their families in past years. However, I haven’t seen them at all since I’ve been in Mexico this year. Here’s my incredible friend Kayla and I with some of the kids:

Photo Credit: Courtney Meili

Photo Credit: Courtney Meili

Every day I would pick the kids up from their houses and then drive them to the work sites because, of course, they wanted to hang out with all the gringos. My “to and from rides” turned into more of “let’s-blast-music-and-drive-fast-on-the-dirt-roads.” And pretty soon all the kids in the entire town were in my mini-van every day, even if they didn’t need a ride. One day, I told everyone to get out of the van because I wanted to take a picture so I could count how much kids were in the van. Well, including me, I counted THIRTY. Sorry, mom and dad… good thing you wanna sell the mini-van!

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One of the best things about having Americans visit was that we got to eat American food. Just look at those M&M pancakes…

Photo Credit: Courtney Meili

Photo Credit: Courtney Meili

I can’t tell how you many Oreos I ate this week too. Americans just always have so many cookies… and I loved it. And I think I gained 5 pounds.

But I’m not going to lie. One night we had burritos and I ate an American tortilla and I actually thought it was cardboard. I really need to master my Mexican tortilla making skills so I don’t have to eat cardboard when I go home.

It was a beautiful week spent with beautiful people and I am so thankful I got to be a part of it. But for me, this trip was completely different than past trips. It’s very interesting how my perspective has changed about Mexico and these particular towns in the Mexicali Valley. It’s hard to truly understand the people, the culture, and the lifestyle by only coming once a year. And that’s what I had done for 7 years. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to move down here for a few months–to get a real understanding of the life, the people, and the culture. I believe that to really understand someone’s culture, you have to live in it. To really grasp a language, you have to be completely immersed into it. And I have realized that the more I learn, the more I realize that there is MORE to learn.

A Week with Arizonans

Last week, we welcomed a group of Alaskans to work with us here at the Pagiel church in the Mexicali Valley. And this week, a group from Arizona came to help at the orphanage and build a few houses in Francisco Murguia. We welcomed them at the orphanage on Saturday afternoon. As they pulled up in their fancy trucks, about a hundred good-looking blond men, women, and children invaded the compound. We helped them get their camping gear all set up (not many had camped before!) and then we helped them unload the building materials to each building site.

We spent a few days helping the groups build the houses and since one of the construction teams was a little confused, I was instructed to help them out as much as I could, since I’ve worked on these houses before. They worked really hard the entire week!

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A group of the kids from Francisco Murguia, who I love dearly and have known for years, hung out at the work site all day every day. They didn’t help much with the construction, but they loved being there.

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The whole week, I picked them up from their houses and took them home after dinner. Every day, all the kids would cram into my van and we would blast music and drive in circles on the dirt roads. They absolutely LOVED it.

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The Arizona group painted the orphanage as well. They did a great job and it looks so much better now.

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At the end of the week, they had dedication ceremonies for both of the houses, in which they turned in the keys to the family and gave them their new home. The homes turned out fabulous.

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The home decor was out of this world.

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They even had wood floors and baseboards!

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And a back door!

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And the other house looked like a hotel room, with wall paper, fans, and baseboards.

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The whole group did an amazing job and the families who received the houses were so grateful.

While the Arizona group was here, we still had a week full of teaching, church, and youth group. The Saturday before the group arrived, we had a sleepover with middle school girls in our little casita. We blew up air mattresses, which filled up every inch of walking space. We ate junk food and watched Sweet Home Alabama in Spanish. Then we woke up really early, ate blueberry pancakes, and did each other’s hair and make up for hours (because you know, when you have a group of middle school girls, they need a lot of time to get pretty).

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On Tuesday night, we went to church in Oaxaca and afterwards, we went to Los Poblanos, the best taco place in town.

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Yum yum yum… look at that Carne Asada :)

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On Tuesday afternoon, a sweet lady named Nachita invited Jessica and I to her small 300 square foot home to chat with her, eat cinnamon roles, and drink coke. Isn’t she just beautiful? You can just see strength and endurance in her face.

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I helped build her house six years ago and although she did not remember me, she took me in like a long-lost friend, because I had, at one time, helped her. We talked for hours and she told me about her twin sister, who died at age nine and of her eight children, five of them who are still living. Now she survives on a few dollars a day by taking care of some elderly people in the village. Through everything she’s been through, her beauty and strength still remain. I asked her how she kept her hair so beautiful and she said, “I have always used Saliva and Shampoo de Chile.”

Throughout the week when the Arizona group was here, Jessica and I still had to teach every morning. Teaching has been going so wonderfully. We have two third grade classes and a fourth grade class. We just finished the alphabet, numbers, and colors. They also know how to say “What is your name?” “My name is…” Right now they are learning “What time is it?” and “How old are you?” and the responses to both of the questions. I am so proud of all my classes. They are learning so much and absolutely LOVE learning English. And I have also learned that I LOVE teaching. This experience of teaching has only confirmed my desire to be a teacher one day.

Here are some pictures of my fourth grade class. I know I’m not supposed to have favorites, but how am I supposed to not absolutely LOVE this class when they all come running to give me a giant hug when I enter the classroom?

We did some skits last week… and here are Pedro and Miguel performing.

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Because they were making a big deal of working in partners with someone of the opposite sex, of course I had to teach them the word COOTIES.

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And here’s sweet Juan. Not only is he in my class, but he goes to my church and is our neighbor as well.

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This week was crazy busy, but super fun. Next week, the Oregon groups come! I can’t wait to see my friends. Stay tuned for next week’s adventure!

A Week With Alaskans

Last week a mission team from Alaska came to the Mexicali Valley and worked with our church. It was a crazy, busy week. The group was staying with host families in our neighborhood and in K-28 (another town about 20 minutes away). So all week, I helped at Daniel and Mercedes house–cooking, cleaning, and translating. I really love their family and I LOVE learning how to cook Mexican food. I officially know how to make Mexican guacamole and cut a tomato the Mexican way.

Here are some mantaray tacos that we made!

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And some yummy enchiladas!

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Preparation for freshly made tortillas. :)

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Last Tuesday, the pastor of the church in Alaska arrived. We spent the day in Mexicali, shopping for food and supplies to give to the host families. There’s cute little Roxana piled in one of our food carts.

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That night, Jessica, Lydia, and I went to K-28 with Todd, the pastor. We delivered all the food and supplies to the host families and then we went out for hot dogs and nachos with the youth group in K-28. I can’t tell you how many hot dogs I have eaten since I have been here. And I HATE hot dogs! But Mexican hot dogs are a thing of their own. The bread is always warm and delicious. And they add all the toppings you could think of–onions, tomatoes, Chile, all sorts of things. And everyone here just LOVES their Mexican hot dogs.

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Here are the nachos. And OF COURSE, they are made with spicy hot Doritos!

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Here’s everyone at the hot dog stand…

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The next day, Todd didn’t have any plans, so he took the three of us (Lydia, Jessica, and I) to San Felipe to relax. San Felipe is a beach on the east side of the Baja peninsula and it took about 2 hours to get there. The beach was gorgeous and very few people were there, because it was a Wednesday. So we were able to really relax.

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When we got their, we ate some delicious fish tacos…

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And then we sat on the beach and watched all the pelicans fly in and out of the water.

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Then Todd, Jessica, and I walked along the shore for about an hour and explored.

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Then we drove around the town and we ended up on the top of a hill overlooking the beach. Isn’t this a beautiful view?

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We were starving when we arrived back home in Oaxaca, so we met Colleen and Onesimo and the family at a Chinese restaurant. I never would have thought Chinese food in Mexico would be good. BUT OH MY GOODNESS. Chinese food in Mexico is in.cred.able.

And of course, they still eat the Chinese food with Mexican Chile and coke.

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I also thought it was quite funny that the Chinese menu was in Spanish. Of course, it totally makes sense, but it’s just something I’ve never seen before!

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And last, but not least, I received a great fortune.

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Why the fortunes are in English… I don’t know.

We had a really good week with the Alaskan group. We did VBS every day and I did a lot of translating (which I have discovered, is really hard)!

Here’s a picture of the last day of VBS and all the kids. They all just opened prizes, yet some of them weren’t very happy because they only received toothpaste and soap. Hahaha!

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On Thursday night, we had a big fiesta for the whole town at Colleen and Onesimo’s  house. We had American hamburgers and French fries (which of course were made the Mexican way). Here’s Juan Lira making fries in his disk!

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We enjoyed a great last night with the Alaska team. Good sunset, good food, good friends. What more could you ask for?

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Next week, the Arizona team is coming to build houses and work at the orphanage in Francisco Murguia! Stay tuned for some more adventures in Mexico with Arizonans.

¡Mis padres me visitaron en Mexico!

Last weekend my parents came to visit! I met them in Algodones, right on the other side of Yuma. My grandparents live in Arizona, so they came down to visit me as well! It was so exciting to see them.

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We had a great lunch in Algodones and then my parents and I drove an hour south west to my little town. My dad has been to Mexico one time before with the Mission to Mexico group, but my mom wanted to see the town I am working in and living in. So we drove around all afternoon, showing my parents all the houses that we have built in the past. I also showed them the orphanage and Francisco Murguia. Then we went on a walk in my neighborhood later that evening.

For dinner, Colleen and Onesimo made us fish tacos. So delicious! And we all ate way too many tacos and then of course, we went to Ice Cream.

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Such a fun night with the Perez family, my family, and Jessica and Lydia!

The next morning, we woke up really early to teach. Our third grade class sang all their English songs for my parents. My parents loved seeing the school and the kids that we are teaching.

Then we went to lunch at Juan Lira’s house. We built their family a house two years ago and I really connected with their family. When I told them my parents were coming, they invited us over for lunch because they really wanted to meet my mom. And when a Mexican family invites you over for lunch, you stay for hours and you eat, eat, eat.

They taught us how to make tortillas!

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And of course, we had fish tacos again! But I was happy, because fish tacos are my FAVORITE.

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We hung out at their house for about 3 hours, just sitting around and talking.

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This is the house we built them a few years ago. It looks incredible…

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Juan raises baby birds as one of his jobs. Not only is their land in the beautiful countryside, but the birds are always chirping, making it a very peaceful atmosphere.

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They also have pet skunks. But don’t worry, because Juan does surgery on their behinds so they won’t spray bad smells.

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Here’s my dad with the baby Juanito!

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And here’s Juanito’s sweet older sister, Yerania.

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And here’s my dad and Juan!

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And here we are with Yerania and Areli.

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That afternoon we drove back to Algodones, where my grandparents met us once again. Then we decided to cross the border because there was no line. So we spent the evening in Yuma. We went to Starbucks… because of course we really wanted American coffee! And then we had a really nice dinner with the fam. It was awesome to spend more time with my grandparents.

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Thanks for coming to visit me, Mom and Dad!