26 November 2012

Thanksgiving a Few Days Late

Some things are easier in Mexico than others. Quesadillas are easy. Pies are not. Tortillas are easy. Hot rolls are not. Jalapeños are easy. Sage is not. The list could go on and on, but the beauty of today was that everyone did something that was not easy and we ended up with a real Thanksgiving dinner. We gave thanks, laughed, cried, learned and ate like crazy Americans. It was a great day and we are very thankful to have these good people on every side helping us along the way. The Swapp's are presiding over the Mexico Monterrey West Mission. Morris' are teaching English in the Institute. Lillywhite's are the office couple. Jone's are in the Temple Presidency. And you know the rest. 

One interesting story that came from our gathering today. As a child I attended West Bountiful Elementary School. My principal was Morris Swapp, who later became the Mayor of Bountiful. President Swapp is his son. Another small world encounter. 

Front L-R: Hermanas Swapp, Morris, Lillywhite, Jones
Back L-R: President Swapp, Elders Morris, Lillywhite, Jones , Hoffman

Thanksgiving tables at the Hoffman's set with king-size sheets for tablecloths, tissue paper for color, and center pieces and napkins from previous missionaries. The mismatched glasses and silverware left from years of missionaries don't look so bad if you don't look too closely. The decorations were discovered in a box marked: Cindy and Ed Spencer. They served a medical mission in Mexico City when we were there and apparently had been in Monterrey before that.

25 November 2012



Near the end of our shift Saturday, John came to get me from the laundry room where I was helping “for a surprise.” After waiting in the foyer for a few minutes, a tall good looking young man came out of the dressing room and walked over to us. He introduced himself as Carlos Morales, from Puebla, Mexico. Our nephew, Elder Lea Williams, had served in his ward and they had become friends. Carlos decided to move up to el norte (the North) to Saltillo and and told Lea that his temple would be Monterrey. Elder Williams told him to watch for his aunt and uncle, the Hoffmans, who would be serving in that temple. Carlos started checking name tags and found John after the session. He loves Elder Williams deeply and was so happy to find someone else that loved him as well.

As we were talking, a lovely young woman named Mirna Garcia came up to our group. Apparently, she was the reason for his move to Saltillo. She served a mission in Puebla where they became acquainted. After her mission, they began to correspond and voilá, they will be married in March. 

By the way, welcome home Elder Williams--just in time for a real American Thanksgiving spread!


Saturday’s are always long days because many stakes and wards come by the bus load to serve in the temple. This Saturday was very busy because it was the last day before the two week temple closure. We began our shift at 12:30 and finished at 8:30. The Torres family, from our ward, invited us to stop by for a bite to eat after we got off. What a spread! They had fresh corn tortillas, grilled t-bone steak cut up for tacos, quesadillas, fresh guacamole, buttered potatoes, grilled green onions, yummy salsa and, of course, limes. We were so hungry and it tasted so good! Brother Torres said, “Nothing tastes as good as food after a long day in the temple.” That may be true, but that food would have been good any time! 

23 November 2012

The Good, the Bad, and the Wet


Wednesday night, while working a shift in the temple, two different women came up to me and threw their arms around me. “I love you,” they said and gaving me a long Mexican “abrazo.” What a lift it gave my spirits! I think I just happened to be the nearest woman in white and so I was the lucky recipient of their tender emotions from being in the temple. Whatever the reason, I am grateful. 


Old Town Monterrey: Picture a plate of spinach-filled cannelloni, four-cheese fettuccine, a tomato salad with fresh mozzarella and pesto dressing, thin-crust pizza, fresh lemonade, and flan --that was our divine lunch last Saturday. We went down to Old Town Monterrey with our landlords, the Taylors, to their favorite Italian restaurant: Restaurante Italiano Iannilli. It is now our favorite, too! It is the best Italian food we have had since leaving Buenos Aires. The building, which houses two restaurants, has been renovated and is charming and inviting. There were a few other places in Old Town that had also been restored, but many of the buildings were empty due to the mass exodus of people from the city during the really bad days of the drug wars. That part of the city was also hit very hard by the hurricane a few years back, and it still hasn’t recovered.

West Monterrey: Now picture a tiny little hole in the wall taco stand. There are nine plastic patio chairs around two small card tables and each table has a uniquely patterned plastic tablecloth on it. We are out with the temple presidency. They are bidding farewell to a temple worker who is leaving and welcoming us to Monterrey. We are at President and Sister Machucas favorite taco stand--according to them the only one in Monterrey that won’t make you sick. There are two choices for lunch: Menudo and barbecoa. Menudo is a stomach soup that is considered a great delicacy here. Barbecoa is slow-cooked cow’s head, chopped up and served in a soft corn tortilla. We skipped the menudo and worked our way through the tacos de cabeza piling on the onions and cilantro. In my book they are down at the bottom of the list with chicken-feet tostadas. Not impossible to eat, but no seconds please!  Where, oh where, is the barbecued goat when we need it? 

Downtown Monterrey: So now you know the best and the worst of the food choices here, but there is a middle ground. We went downtown to wander around on Revolution Day and stopped in to Chilos for lunch. This is what we learned: The beans are pinto and come in a soup, not on the side of your plate. The corn tortillas are thicker and larger than usual and hold enough meat to feed a family of four. The norteños (northerners) love their meat--they make the folks in Mexico City look like vegetarians. So food is interesting, different, and way more "exotic" than we expected. 


The weather changed drastically about a week ago bringing us a long series of “misty, moisty mornings” and clouds drifting down to the housetops. It has been very gray and quite cool. Tonight it suddenly changed from a light mist to a serious downpour. Winter is here and we are definitely going to be wet. Humidity is now officially 100%. This is a photo of the cloud cover settling down over the city today. 

You Are Now in Mexico

You are now in Mexico. I was talking with a friend in the temple the other day about some Mexican idiosyncrasy I had discovered.  He held up his hand and pointed to each of his five fingers and said, “You are now in Mexico.” I read something this morning while waiting for some bad news from immigration which I will mention later, and which reminded me of being in Mexico. It is a description written by a soldier during WWII invasion of North Africa as the troops were heading toward Tunis. He wasn’t supposed to put anything in his letters that would provide information about his unit’s activities, so this is what he wrote: “After leaving where we were before we left for here, not knowing we were coming here from there, we couldn’t tell whether we had arrived here or not. Nevertheless, we now are here and not there. The weather here is just as it always is at this season. The people here are just like they look.” 

Had an interesting conversation while serving at the recommend desk on Wednesday. A sister, who was there with some youth for baptisms, approached me in a mild state of anguish. She began telling me about her wayward son and asked what I would recommend she do to try and turn him around. Apparently, he is on her nickel, but spends a lot of money on alcohol and drugs. It seemed like an easy solution to me - cut him off, run him off. Only then would he begin to take responsibility for his behavior. But then, I’m not always the most diplomatic. I did discuss the situation with her in less blunt terms, but the end result was “CHO + RHO.” She looked at me with a sort of “ah hah” look and thanked me. Easier said than done.

LInda is almost completely up-to-speed in her assignments and I seem to be getting along fine, as well, so I guess we're gradually "going native." I was officiating last evening with Linda and it seemed all I could think about was our fifth son, Mitch Santiago. He would be 27 now, probably married, established and thinking about life's next challenge. I look forward to meeting him. I am grateful for that hope.

For Thanksgiving, we had cultural adventure at immigration. We had been told our extended visas were ready and could be picked up. All we had to do is appear personally and answer a few questions about our status and personal stuff (height and weight in centimeters and kilos, etc.). Anyway, we appeared, answered the questions (I had a metric converter app on my phone, thank goodness), and, voila, no visas. Turns out the law has been changed recently and the programming change had not been properly input into the computer, therefore, the new visas couldn’t be printed. The people were very nice, however, and told us we should receive a call in the next couple of days and could come back and get them........  So much for being able to travel to San Diego on the closure break from the temple to see Evia's blessing. We’re still hoping. Really, this type of experience happens every day, even in Farmington.

After we finished making friends at the immigration office, we went to the temple to do our shift. When our family was young, we would always go to the temple on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, but this is the first time we have actually been in the temple on Thanksgiving Day. It seemed like the perfect place to be and the perfect thing to be doing. We have much to be grateful for!

19 November 2012

Local stuff

Greetings, blogger audience. You may not hear a great deal from me, but I will try and give it a periodic go. We were able to visit Old Monterrey this afternoon for some tacos and a look-see. Monterrey is an interesting city. Linda has shown you some of the scenery. The city had a hurricane event a few years back, so the city is still in the "put-back-and-restore/replace-mode." It is a very picturesque place with lots of hills and surrounding mountains.

We have attended just one ward here so far. It is across the street in the temple compound, and is called the Campestre Ward. We will probably look for a more needy ward to attend, probably down in the city, after the temple break which starts next week and runs for two weeks. This ward is at least 6 pianists deep, "pianists" being the equivalent of the Bic-Mac purchase price parity tool used to determine a country's economic development stage. In other words, they don't need us very badly.

We enjoy our work each day at the temple. It is wonderful to see how the temple serves to help develop a person's perspective on life and what's important.

18 November 2012

Mexico Lindo

The Miracle of the Mexican MAC: An Unplanned Adventure with Technology

  1. Apple sends email telling us the MAC needed a new hard-drive.
  2. Hard drive miraculously ordered and changed before leaving for Mexico with assurances that getting it running again would be as easy as 1-2-3.
  3. Computer set up in Monterrey and “restore” of back-up attempted.
  4. Back-up aborted because new hard drive needed an update--update not possible because computer not “restored” yet. So much for “easy as 1-2-3.
  5. Landlord brings his Vonage phone over to our house to call Apple Help Line.
  6. After hours on the phone and two different technicians, the new hard drive is finally updated and another call is scheduled to “restore” the back-up data.
  7. The telephone line in the house goes down for three days--no phone, no Internet.
  8. Telephone line repaired in record time (less than a month) and another call to Apple Help Line is made through Yahoo Messenger.
  9. The Internet crashes after one hour and the call ends in the middle of the “restore”
  10. New day, more calls to Telmex on Internet.
  11. New day, new call to Apple Help Line, two more technicians try to restore--bad message: hard drive is corrupted and no data can be retrieved.
  12. Senior Advisor for Apple, Joe, is called in for consultation.
  13. Two hours with Joe on Yahoo Messenger trying a multitude of methods for retrieving corrupted data. Joe is going home so L & J are left with instructions to try alone.
  14. New message (in a cute new box): the back-up is corrupted.
  15. Borderline hysteria pondering the loss of nearly 15,000 family photos dating from the early 1800s.
  16. New day, new call to Joe, Senior Advisor for Apple Help Line. Joe and I are now best friends. I have his private email address and phone number. 
  17. Joe tries five or six new ways to retrieve the data with no success. Two hours later I have seen more computer intestines, windows, extensions and computer coding than I ever thought possible to imagine let alone create.
  18. The Internet crashes. We call Joe back. He tries one more last ditch effort to retrieve the lost files.
  19. Joe finds the lost files! They are real! They are accessible! They are not corrupted! 
  20. Joe teaches us how to manually move our dearly beloved lost files back into the computer. We are successful! We have photos, email, calendars, and family videos. We were lost and now we are found--truly it is a miracle: A miracle that we ended up with Joe; a miracle that we had Yahoo Messenger and could talk for hours for only pennies; a miracle that this could happen across countries through some magic thing in the air called Internet. We are grateful for technology and for very smart people. We think we need to invite Joe down for the Christmas holiday.

17 November 2012

How to get the Mission of your Dreams

Sister Riojas is 4 foot 11 and loves stiletto heels--especially really high, really bright ones. She is Mexican by birth, but lives in Del Rio, Texas near San Antonio. When she is not dressed in temple white, she is enveloped in vibrant colors that can only be matched by her colorful personality. If she were a bird, she would be a Macaw. 
When the Monterrey, Mexico temple was dedicated, she and her husband drove down to the dedication. They fell in love with this stunning temple and the dedication of the people and decided that they wanted to serve a mission here. She worked for a few more years as an accountant and they planned to serve their mission when she retired. At the time of her retirement, however, they discovered that her husband was in the early stages of Alzheimer's. He realized that a mission was not going to be possible, but told her that when he died, she should serve “their” mission in the Monterrey Temple and he would be there by her side. 
A few months later, he fell and broke a rib. It cut his liver almost in half. He was life-flighted to San Antonio (a $32,000 trip) and died the next day. Four months later, she talked to her Bishop about putting in her mission papers to serve in the Monterrey Temple. That’s where they ran into a snag. When the Bishop called the Mission Department to see how to request this special mission, he was told that with her background there was a 90% chance that she would NOT go to the Monterrey temple. There was no way they could guarantee it, even if the Temple President and Mission President requested it. They did add a caveat, however: she could just move to Monterrey and “volunteer” in the temple. She spoke to the Temple President and he was delighted. A friend of hers who lives five minutes from the temple offered her an apartment without charge. Soon she was installed in Monterrey and working both the morning and afternoon shifts in the temple: no red tape, no companion, and the mission of her dreams. She has been the temple’s very own 73-year-old “energizer bunny.” Sister Riojas went home today after serving a one year, self-styled mission and spreading happiness to hundreds of people all over Nuevo Leon. 

16 November 2012

Monterrey is Mountains

11 November 2012

Monterrey compared to Mexico City is:
and Warmer--Although it was about 75 when we arrived, today it is pushing to 90 degrees. They say that winter is in January and it will get cold. Parkas are being sold everywhere, so it must be true!

Monterrey is apparently the home of a wide variety of butterflies--big ones, small ones, and miniature ones barely 1/2 inch across. Apparently we just missed the season when they were as plentiful as gnats--but, of course, much more beautiful.

The mountains here are breath-taking! They ring the city like a huge crown surprising your eyes with the asymmetrical patterns jabbing straight up into the sky. We live near the most important mountain in the city, “La Silla” (the seat or saddle). One of our favorite walks is along the river “La Silla” which skirts the base of the mountain giving us wonderful views of Monterrey’s giant sentinels. 

La Silla Mountain

Mountain Range toward the West 

 Mountains behind the Temple across from La Silla

The only signs of the trouble down here are the military vehicles that patrol the city. It is usually a convoy of three vehicles with three to five heavily armed soldiers riding in the back flashing their machine guns around. Occasionally they will be on the side of the road checking vehicles, but so far they have just waved us on by. Things seem to be pretty calm (at least as compared to our time in Chile) but there are parts of the city where missionaries are not allowed to teach and we are cautioned to not wander the mountains nor be out at night. We will be content with the public parks when they are full of people. 

We had a funny experience last week. There is a road that runs above our house that has a 1.4 mile walking trail along it. We were up there walking one morning, and John decided to stop a man on the street and ask him how to get to the river. He said, “Are you the new missionaries at the temple?” Surprised, we told him that we were. He is the brother-in-law to the woman whose house we are renting. He noticed my missionary tag and put two and two together. He walked us down to the river and showed us the walking trail--sending us off with a promise to see us at church. 
The temple here is one of the most beautiful we have ever seen. It is full of thick dark wood trim that shoots 40 feet into the air in some places. The stained glass windows, the tile floors, and the furniture have a repeating pyramid design that is very intricate and beautiful. The furniture is covered with detailed carving which in several rooms changes the theme from the dark wood to a blonde wood. It is impossible to describe--beautiful, stunning, exquisite just don’t do it justice. The quality and workmanship rival anything in Brigham City's temple. 

A Peek at our First Week

October 30, 2012

After driving for a couple of days with no phone service and no identifiable food, we stopped in San Antonio and stayed with Morris and Rocío Woods, friends from our first mission in Mexico City. It was wonderful to be able to relax in a comfortable home, eat a very bountiful and delicious spread, and get caught up on each other’s lives. We attended church with them at their Young Single Adult ward where he is in the Bishopric and then headed down to Laredo.

Laredo is definitely only one step away from Mexico both literally and figuratively. We had a hard time finding anyone speaking English. The next morning, we picked up pesos, got gas and headed to the border. We had to get approval and seals for our visas (visa approval #2). There was one man at the desk when we arrived. He soon called another nearby man over to help. Within minutes there were three more “working” on our visas: one on the computer, one watching the man on the computer, one watching the TV show next to the computer, and two visiting with any and all. In a mere 30 minutes--which easily could have been days--we had our papers and were headed over to do the same thing for the car. 

As we were leaving the parking lot, the security man told us to drive through an opening near the gate to get to the correct office. As we approached the narrow opening between two fences we noticed a large sign right in front of us that said, “Exit only, Do Not Enter. Authorized Vehicles Only!” John stepped on the brakes and I looked back at the security guard and pointed questioningly toward the opening. He looked right back at me and nodded, “Yes,” motioning us through. With fear and trepidation, we went down a steep curving driveway that popped us out right in front of the building we needed!

In the “car visa” office, we got our papers reviewed again, stamped again (visa approval #3), and then passed on down to Window #2 for photocopying and a few more fees. Off to the next window to wait in a long, long line for the last part of the process. About 30 people and who knows how many minutes, we were at Window #17. In no time at all we were inspected, stamped, and more money--lots more--was requested. John handed him the credit card which didn’t work. It demanded that he call for approval. He generously made the call and our credit was soundly refused. So there we were on the wrong side of the border owing the Mexican government $300 dollars and no ATM, no acceptable credit card in sight. In desperation we called the bank in the US (we don’t even want to know how much that call across countries cost!) and after a million and one secret passwords and genealogy questions our credit was restored, the card worked and we received a special hologram permitting our funny old car to be in Mexico for 30 days (that means we get to do it all again in a new way in Monterrey). Now some might say that we should have notified our bank that we were going to be traveling and would be using the card in a foreign country. We did--three times, the last time being two days before we crossed. Imagine what might have happened if we hadn’t told them! One thing we know for sure is that our bank is watching us. 

We found the right roads, paid a few more fees, and arrived in Monterrey about 3:00 p.m. We were met at the temple and taken to our little “casita” about 10 minutes away. It has one bolt and one large lock on the front gate plus a lock and a dead bolt on the front door, grates on all the windows and doors and several other miscellaneous locks--we are safe! We are moved in. We have food and water. We have instant friends with interesting stories. We can find our way to several important places and back home again. We love the stark, beautiful mountains surrounding us. We start work tomorrow. We are content.