Give the People What They Want

A few blog posts ago I mentioned that R and I were testing out some new dance moves to try and earn a few extra bucks. As part of that hustle, I've been pitching articles to anyone who will listen about what a great idea it is to move overseas and how the daily chores that I did in the U.S. and that used to cause me to curse my fate because everything was so stupid and annoying are now so cool and easy.

No one will me pay for an 500 word essay on grocery shopping at Harris Teeter in Alexandria because it is too familiar and boring.  But transplant that shopping experience to an outdoor market in Mexico and it's worth a couple hundred bucks.

Of course, any story needs flowery adjectives and slight embellishment to make it sound just like what people want to hear, and a story about shopping in Mexico is no exception.  But, the latest thing that I came up with gave my daughter Coconut some pause.  She didn't go so far as to call it fiction, but she did ask that I add a few more elements of truth. 

Now, I'm not going to do that with the article that I submit for publication, because people don't want to hear the truth.  But I didn't see the harm in going behind the curtain on a free blog that nobody reads anyway.

The text that follows in regular type is what the people want to hear.  The italics is slightly closer to the truth.

Dinner at Home in Mexico

Living in the U.S. with its more hectic pace of life often meant that dinner for my family of four was a thrown together affair.  After working a full day, slogging through the evening commute, and then running around dropping off and picking up the kids from their different activities, my wife, R, and I were often too tired to prepare a balanced and healthful dinner.  Take-out pizza, pre-packaged, processed foods, or a mediocre restaurant meal that cost far too much too frequently ruled the day.

I read once that you can only truly write about things that you know.  So, a story I write about Sunday dinner at Grandma's would be more believable than a story I write about the right type of door lock for your home. With that in mind, you can trust that the first paragraph, or at least the first sentence, of whatever I write is the truth.  This paragraph is the exception.  When we lived in Alexandria, R usually prepared balanced and thoughtful meals, except for the few occasions where we had fried chicken or frozen raviolis.  But that's not a tale that's going to sell.  So I set the table this way. 

Since moving to the more relaxed pace of life in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, however, our evening meal has become more intentional.  We enjoy having the time each morning to plan what we will have for dinner, shop for fresh ingredients in the local market during the day and spend time together as a family each night preparing our meal.

"Enjoy," in the second sentence, might be too strong a word.  And, I have to admit, I counted R preparing the dinner, Coconut and J sitting on the couch looking at their screens, and me sitting on the roof tapping out some inane story on the computer as "spending time together."  We are  in the same house, after all. 

Not only are these heads of tasteless Iceberg lettuce, they look like hell.

Not only are these heads of tasteless Iceberg lettuce, they look like hell.

The local fruits and vegetables in the daily market are always fresh, and it is informative and fun to speak with the vendor - often the person that grew what we are about to buy - about the seasonality of the produce or whether the mangoes are particularly sweet that day.  There is even a street full of butcher shops - we call it the “butcher block” - where we can get environmentally sustainable and socially responsible meats, at a fraction of what it would cost in the U.S.

Aside from the fact that not all of the fruits and vegetables are always fresh - every once in a while the six-fingered man (one of the vendors) will try to slip me a broccoli head with yellowed or mushy leaves - this is a pretty accurate paragraph.  

Each morning after walking the kids to school, Rebecca and I stop for a fresh squeezed juice.  Her favorite is the green juice - orange juice blended with celery, parsley, and nopal cactus paddles - while I prefer the earthier beet and carrot juice.  Total cost - 40 pesos.  About 2 dollars. 

Again, not a total bullshit paragraph.  Though, we don't stop for juice every day.  Lately, we spend a lot of time after dropping the kids off standing around and watching our dog Charley run around with a bunch of other dogs in a dusty parking lot.  We do this so we can ignore her the rest of the day - she's too tired to bother us.

With juice in hand, we set out through the narrow, cobblestone streets of this UNESCO world heritage site city, to the local market where I practice my beginner’s Spanish, asking for the freshest vegetables and sweetest fruits, while Rebecca goes off to purchase meat for the grill from our favorite butcher shop.  

Our big, beautiful goblets of juice.

Our big, beautiful goblets of juice.

Walking down our street on the way to the gym.  I can't afford to put on any weight.  I wouldn't be able to squeeze past the light poles on the sidewalk.  

Walking down our street on the way to the gym.  I can't afford to put on any weight.  I wouldn't be able to squeeze past the light poles on the sidewalk.  

First of all, we are too environmentally friendly to get the juice to go in a plastic, disposable cup.  We sit at the counter and take our juice in these big, beautiful glass goblets.  Second, the streets are actually too damn narrow, choked with cars with bad exhaust, strewn with trash, and with side walks barely wide enough for one person.  It's hard on the knees stepping onto and off of the sidewalk every time someone is coming the other direction or because someone put a telephone pole in the middle of it.  And the gaps between cobblestones are great places for chicken bones, rinds of bread, and all manner of other disgusting crap to lodge for Charley to find and eat with no questions asked and that I will have to pull out of her mouth.     

We’ve come to appreciate the Mexican siesta - relaxing indoors during the hottest part of the day.  It’s a perfect time to catch up on emails with friends, to touch base with the business clients we’ve maintained in the U.S., to read and write, or to deal with any issues that have arisen with our rental property in the U.S. 

It's getting really hot here lately - mid 90's each day.  Who wants to walk around narrow, cobblestone streets in heat like this?   We'd rather take a nap.  All that other crap can wait. 

When the kids come home from school, it’s nice to be able to help them with homework - something we weren’t always in a good frame of mind to do in the more stressed environment in the U.S. If we are feeling totally indulgent, we may even watch an afternoon movie on Netflix.

We know that Litchis are in season because we asked the vendors why they are currently for sale all over the place.  

We know that Litchis are in season because we asked the vendors why they are currently for sale all over the place.  

The kids never seem to have homework until the night before it is due.  Go figure.  And I have never watched a movie on Netflix during the day and would totally berate R if she ever tried.  Too indulgent.    

No one likes it more when we prepare dinner than our new puppy - who waits patiently for all the scraps.  The kids help chop the vegetables and set the table as we talk about the day.  The smell of grilled meat begins to make our stomachs rumble in anticipation.

Lies, lies, and more lies!  Puppies do not wait patiently - especially when food is involved.  They beg, howl, put their paws on the counter, and make a total nuisance of themselves.  Trying to get the kids to walk or play with Charley during this time is like asking them to drive a nail into their own hand.  They'll do it, but boy will they bitch and complain.  I think I saw Coconut chop vegetables once.  J will set the table - one place setting for himself.  He has to be reminded we all plan to eat as well and need a plate, fork, knife and cup.  The only thing true about this paragraph is that we all do like the smell of grilled meat.    

And, one of the nicest features of our slower lifestyle - if for some reason time has gotten away from us during the day and we weren’t able to plan and purchase our ingredients for dinner, it doesn’t break our budget to dine out at one of the many restaurants in town offering tasty, international fare, or at our favorite taco stand.  We are in Mexico, after all!    

If we went to the taco truck for dinner every night for a week we would still spend less than we would on one meal at a sit-down restaurant in the states.   But that doesn't mean that my angst over spending money unnecessarily has diminished any.       

So, there you have it.  It isn't that hard to give the people what they want.  And really, it isn't that far from the truth.  You just have to be willing to see things slightly differently.  For example, I'm sure each of the events I put in the article happened at least once, just not all on the same day.