30 January 2014

Because my Mother Loves Clouds...

Today is my mother's 91st birthday. She loves clouds, so as a little gift to her, 
here is a selection of some of Monterrey's finest. 

Happy Birthday, Dear Mother!

29 January 2014

Yikes, Snow!

Well, not real snow like in Alaska or Utah or Japan; but snow nonetheless. When we posted the last blog entry, we only thought we had seen our coldest day in Monterrey. (Mother Nature is such a tease!) This morning we awoke to 30 degrees F. (-3 C) and snow on the cars. None of the snow stuck to the roads, but they were slick and icy for several hours.

Blessings? Oh, yes.

  • Elder Chica from Colombia can now say he has seen snow.
  • Everyone stayed home because of the cold, so we had almost no traffic as we crossed town.
  • We can drink hot chocolate and eat soup again.
  • Señor Nero Ríos came by our house and fixed the heaters Monday afternoon so we are no longer living like natives--with all heaters running, we are almost up to 67 degrees F. inside. 
  • We got a reprieve between storms and walked in shirtsleeves on Monday--you only need one beautiful, warm day every week to keep your spirits high! 
  • The mall was warm and empty--we walked to our hearts' content and resisted the urge to stop for a cheese and spinach crepe; but vowed to return at a later date.

Snow on the Toyota, Monterrey January 29, 2014
 Stay warm everyone, for the peaches are in bloom and there is a promise of spring in the air.


27 January 2014

Going Native

Unheated Houses

In December and January, our winter, the cinderblock houses here in Monterrey become refrigerators--so cold that residents often have to step outside to get warm. We experienced a real Monterrey winter last Friday. At 4:30 a.m. our little mini-split wall heater quit working. It was a very unkind thing to do since Friday temperatures began to fall at the same time, dropping that night to near freezing. The inside temperature in our house is usually is about 8-10 degrees warmer than outside--that means our cozy little cottage was hovering at about 45 degrees when we awoke the next morning. Though this was a bit of a shock to us, it is what our neighbors and most people here experience every day throughout the winter.

We tried to prepare ourselves for the cold since we knew a repair was not possible until the next Monday. Linda put on her pajamas and then pulled a flannel nightgown over that. Her feet were covered in heavy socks and extra covers were put on the bed. John topped his PJs with a hooded sweatshirt. That proved to be too cumbersome, so he traded it out for a knit cap and neck scarf. We closed the bedroom door to keep body heat in and cold drafts out. We discovered quickly why "kerchiefs" and "caps" are important for sleeping on cold winter nights--noses and ears chill through very quickly. We were wishing for the luxuries of the olden days when our parents would tuck us into bed with hot water bottles at our feet!

We had only a couple of days in our refrigerator house, but the vast majority of the population in Monterrey has never lived any differently. One of our shift coordinators said that her new little granddaughter is never taken out of the bedroom--the warmest room in the house--which is still nothing like warm in North America. Another sister in the temple was late for work one day. When asked why she was late, she dropped her eyes and quietly replied that it was just too cold to shower so early in the morning without heat in the house. Our landlords (he works for Microsoft) have a lovely big home with many wonderful amenities; but have admitted to only turning on the gas wall heaters when the temperature falls to freezing. Their children were visiting at Christmas time and never stopped complaining about how cold they were--she just told them to go put on more clothes!
The costs for gas and electricity here are just too high in comparison to the wages--many must choose to eat or be warm.

Though we have not even come close to experiencing the cold that the pioneers lived through, we now understand clearly what it means to live "like the locals"--they are very hardy people!

Romeritos with Shrimp and Mole

Our dear friends, Jaime and Gloria Meneses are trying to teach us all of the local food traditions. They want us to leave here knowing EVERYTHING about Monterrey. Romeritos with Shrimp and Mole is a traditional dish served on Christmas--we tasted it during the celebration of Three King's Day. 
Romeritos (the herb)
The dish is called Romeritos after a wild herb that looks like Rosemary leaves. It includes the herb, onions, potatoes, chopped cactus leaves (quite delicious), a local vegetable called cambray, and dried shrimp. The dried shrimp is sold in shops and on the highways all over town. It is ground and rehydrated, and then made into small patties (shell and all). It is all mixed into a red mole (mole-ay) to stew until tender. It is much better tasting than it looks!

Romeritos con Camarones Secos y Mole Poblano
For those of you not familiar with "mole," it may well be the best dish to ever come out of Mexico. It is a secret combination of peppers, herbs and chocolate and traditionally comes in red, black and green--though there are literally hundreds of different types of moles sold throughout Mexico. It's birthplace is Puebla, but our personal favorite is the black mole from Oaxaca. 


Bacalao is a salted, dried cod also used in a traditional Christmas dish. Its origins hail from Portugal in the 1500s. Before it can be used in cooking, it must be rehydrated and desalinated by soaking in cold water for several days. The water must be changed two to three times a day. Here in Monterrey, they use the European style which includes cooking with potatoes and onions in a casserole. It is then eaten on tortillas, on a bolillo (large sandwich bun), or with rice. Gloria and Jaime also add green olives and mild chiles to their recipe. So many recipes--so little time!


20 January 2014

Mexico, Cuba, Florida and Colombia


We crossed a huge milestone last week--Linda received her visa extension. It means that she can now stay in Mexico until October of 2014 and can cross the border at will. Regretfully, John is still only half-way through the process. Since September of 2013, we have had a dozen or more visits to  immigration--it is a lengthy process that usually ends with: "Not complete! You still need ______." Then each time you successfully get "______," somehow several more pieces of paper are suddenly needed. We will not recount all of the gory details, only that when you walk into that building, all time stops and your life is slowly sucked out of you one line, one paper, one photo, one fingerprint at a time. It is almost a relief when they close the office at 1:00 and send everyone home to try again another day.

Linda is celebrating never having to return to "migración." John figures he will not see a visa before leaving the country--very possible since two sets of senior missionaries have finished their missions "visa-less."

INM (Instituto Nacional de Migración), a.k.a. Immigration Office


Last Sunday was Stake Conference. Since the missionaries were going to be out of their area at the Stake Center, we offered to feed them dinner. This very eclectic group had a delightful time together--especially when the cinnamon rolls came out for dessert.

Brother Ruíz, Ivan, Elder Havlicak, Enrique, Elder Chica, Elder Hoffman

Hermano Ruíz

Brother Ruíz is a computer systems analyst with two Master's degrees from the hot, northwest corner of Mexico. He and his wife Olga have three beautiful sons who are full of energy and fun. They stay three steps ahead of the primary teachers and leave no question unspoken. Because Brother Ruíz is the newest employee at the company, he got Christmas and New Year's duty. Since he wouldn't see the family during the holidays anyway, he sent them off to grandma and grandpa's. He was still alone at conference, so we took him home with us.


Iván is a recent convert from Cuba whom we talked about previously in the post "Barrio Central." As he put it, he "swam" over to Florida where he worked for a year or so. He hated it and was planning to return to Cuba, when he met a couple from Utah. They were frequent visitors to the restaurant he worked at. He told them of his plans and they asked if he would want to see another part of the country. They showed him photos of Provo, Utah and he fell in love with it. He headed off to Utah living with a family recommended to him. They got him a job at the Provo LDS Mission Training Center where his job was to call countries all over the world to check on missionary visas. He eventually left and was hired by the UN to run social programs in different countries. While doing that (as well as two other jobs at the same time), he met the missionaries. Iván was sustained in conference to receive the Melchizedek priesthood and ordained right after the meeting.

It was the first time we had seen him in a suit--we almost didn't recognize him! When we commented on how handsome he looked in the suit, he explained that it was from the family he had lived with in Provo. When they heard that he had been baptized, they flew the whole family to Monterrey to celebrate with him. They left him with the suit in anticipation of this day. When he came out of the Stake President's office, he was shaking and weeping--he was overwhelmed with the experience. He said, "I hope I can do this. I am going to do this. Somehow I will do this!"

His sister in Cuba has been hunting down the church there. She found a small group of Saints meeting in a "Casa de Oración" (House of Prayer) that he will join up with. His sister told him that she has been to two of the meetings and that they study the Book of Mormon every week. There is a representative from the government that is always in attendance to make sure that nothing subversive is taking place. He thinks it is very funny that this sister has been attending the meetings--he says that she is the "wild one" that never obeyed his mother. She works as a dancer in a club in Havana.

Iván returned to Cuba last Wednesday due to an assignment change. He has taken some key books with him, but doesn't know how much he will be able to get into the country. He has had to cut out the title pages and copyrights of all the books and re-cover them with covers from novels. He says that the worst thing that can happen is that they will take them away--but there is a wonderful chance they will get through. If they do, there will be other scriptures and manuals from which this little group of Saints can study. He is one of the blessed--he will have access to the Internet for one hour/week and can keep and use his email account during that time. He is feeling very blessed.

Our Elders

Elder Havlicak (pronounced like the basketball player: Havlichek) joined Barrio Central this week. He has been in the mission just over a year. He comes from Florida. He brings a gentle, deep spirit with him that has warmed the hearts of all in the ward. He spoke in church on the blessings we receive as we share the gospel with others. It was loving, inviting, enticing and reminded us that sharing the gospel covers a multitud of sins. 

Elder Chica joined the mission seven weeks ago, but has been a force to be reckoned with ever since. He is from Medellín, Colombia and is delighted with the opportunity to learn about the Mexican culture, its special vocabulary, and the incredibly generous people that live here. He is very well founded in the gospel and readily shares his love of the gospel and the Savior. 

We love our Elders!


Since Enrique was at Stake Conference with the Elders, we included him in the dinner invitation. He has worked between the US and Mexico all of his life, chasing the ever elusive dollar. He is interested in the perspectives of the gospel on family. His wife wouldn't let him teach his children to work. He believes work is important, and so are fathers and the things they can teach their children. 

Our new theory is that you should never pass up an opportunity to invite someone home for dinner. We were well taught by this group as we asked what impressed them most about the conference. 

These were their answers:
1.  Continue to invite your children to participate in Family Home Evening and teach about the sacrament, the temple, and service.
2. The father has a responsibility to take the lead in directing FHE.
3. Study the gospel as a family: Read, ask questions, listen, confirm the truth.
4. Respect the role of the father in the home and strengthen families. 
5. Remember that President Monson says we must find an eternal companion and be sealed in the temple. 
6. Focus on the principles that President Monson teaches--learn about them and apply them. 
7. Text, write, and phone your children--be with them; share happy experiences and be joyful!   

11 January 2014

Welcoming in 2014

Welcoming in a New Year is a long and festivity-filled process. Ours began on December 30th about 2:00 p.m. President and Hermana Alvaradejo (temple president and matron) stopped in front of our house, rang the bell and handed us a dozen Blue Crabs from the Gulf of Mexico. A "little bird" had told them that our New Year's tradition was eating crab--so they delivered! It was the surprise of all surprises and what an adventure! 

We learned a lot about Blue Crabs and how they are different from the Dungeness we usually eat. First of all, they needed cleaning so there was a quick Internet orientation (thankfully, they had already been killed so we did not have to plunge a knife into the heart and listen to the death rattle). We then plunged them into boiling water until they turned bright orange.  

Blue Crab

It was then necessary to cool and crack them so we could dig the meat out of the shell one tiny tidbit at a time. These crabs were about five-inches across the widest point and with much work and persistence, we were able to extract about a tablespoon of meat from each crab. 

Cracking the Crab

It was definitely not enough to feel the two of us, so we went local: We made blue crab and cheese quesadillas for New Year's Day. We discovered that it is much sweeter and much softer than other crabs. We will never forget the year we were introduced to true Mexican Gulf Blue Soft-shell Crabs and true Mexican generosity!

Crab meat from 12 soft-shelled Blue Crab

Lulú's Missionary Lesson

That same evening, the Meneses, invited us to their home for Family Home Evening on December 30th. It turned out that their friend Lulú was meeting with the sister missionaries at their home for a short lesson and then dinner. Lulú had attended the Campestre Ward Christmas party and loved the people and the warmth of the gathering. She was so surprised at how much fun everyone had and how close they were. She was invited to meet with the Hermanas after that and this was her second meeting with them. As the Hermanas taught about the Savior, prayer, and faith, Lulú quietly wept and occasionally asked a question or made a comment. After we closed the meeting with prayer and prepared to have dinner together she said, "Why do I always cry when the missionaries are teaching me?" We weren't at the next meeting, but feel sure that the theme of that meeting was the Holy Spirit. 

The Meneses always, always have a gift of some sort for us. This night, Brother Meneses presented each of us with an envelope. John's envelope said, "Elder Hoffman: Reciba y regale mucho de esto." (Receive and give much of this.) Linda's envelope said, "Hermana Hoffman: Usted se ha ganado y regalará un sin fin de esto." (You have gained and will gift to others an endless supply of this.")
Inside were tissue fold-up cut-outs of the XOXO that is the "secret code" between us and our children. He remembered this from another visit because we took photos of the crossed utensils at the side of the round plates to send to our grandchildren. 

New Year's Eve

December 31st was cold, very cold and rainy. We were delighted because we thought that maybe the fireworks wouldn't be as numerous as last year. It is clear that we know nothing yet about authentic Mexican cultural practices! Perhaps because it was raining, there were only 50,000 people downtown at the Fundidora Park celebrating--the rest of Monterrey was partying on our street. At 10:30 the music started. Now this is not just any old kind of music, this is serious Mariachi music with lots of big bass. It was turned up as high as the speakers would allow and our house began to dance right along with the revelers moving to every beat of the booming bass. 

At 11:30 a few fire crackers went off and we were duly alerted to the excitement in the air. From that moment until 5:00 a.m., there was a steady stream of rockets, fire crackers, cherry bombs, etc. Our thoughtful neighbors made sure that we didn't miss a thing by lighting them off right in front of our house! Our windows shook in their tracks. Debris dropped constantly onto the roof. Packaging regularly hit the grating around the front of our house with a loud "crack" and the house filled with the smell of gun powder. 

We know one thing for sure now. You have never really celebrated the New Year until you have done it in Monterrey, Mexico! 

Temple Reopens

The temple reopened with a bang on Thursday--missionaries at 7:00 and again at 9:00. Imagine not only clothing, herding, and helping 90 missionaries; but then washing, folding and storing all of their clothing. We came early to take the first session and helped until nearly 10 and then returned in the afternoon at 4:00 for a full shift. Makes for a long, but sweet day! 

January 4, 2014--A Visit from Zacatecas

Familia Román, Hna. and Elder Hoffman, Elder and Hna. Rodriguez, Familia Jacinto

One of our dear Hermanas from the Visitors' Center in Mexico City came to Monterrey for a couple of days from Zacatecas. Hna. Elysa Perez-Klein is now married to Alejandro Roman and they have three adorable children. We met with them, Hermana Elena Rodriguez and her hubby Augusto Jacinto, and her parents Maria Elena and Dante Rodriguez. At 11:30 in the morning we had a full turkey dinner! It was great to share testimonies, stories from the mission and great memories of experiences shared in the Visitor's Center. All have big, big challenges--but they also have big, big testimonies of gospel and deep faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ. Ex-Elder Román is now a bishop and his wife, besides being mom to three adorable children, teaches pre-school and is working on her Master's Degree. Ex-Hermana Elena Rodriguez is Relief Society President and Augusto works for the Electric Company here--a fabulous job! They are in the middle of adopting either two or three siblings into their family. The senior Rodriguez's are serving as live-at-home missionaries in the new Welfare Program teaching life and work skills. Our lives have been lifted, filled and energized by these valiant servants of the Lord. 

Three Kings' Day

Linda struggled with a bad tooth infection all weekend and by Monday morning, Three Kings' Day, she knew that a dentist was immediately necessary. The Mission President gave us a referral and the earliest appointment available was at 4:00 p.m.

We were invited to the home of some friends from the temple at 6:00 that night for chalupas, Rosca de Reyes, and hot chocolate. We planned on about an hour and a half at the dentists and then were going to drive straight to the party. Finally, after the second set of X-rays and the second consulting dentist, we realized that there would be no partying. We were tied up with consultations and pharmacy searches until after 7:00 p.m. However, the good news is that we found some excellent dentists that know what is wrong, knew what to give me for the infection, and have a plan for putting it all right. Elder Hoffman also has a new skill--he learned to give intra-muscular injections via Internet instruction. Linda had immediate relief and John has a new marketable skill for his retirement years.  


On January 8th we bid farewell to Elder and Sister Morris. They have been serving in the Institute as English teachers and class instructors. They have also been a great support to the mission installing water heaters, repairing heaters, making curtains, and acting as the official Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus for the last two Christmases. The next Senior Missionaries to disappear from the local scene will be us. 

Happy New Year!

May you have more peace than you need and enough hope to sustain you through 2014.

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, 
to give you a future and a hope.
Jeremiah 29:11 

05 January 2014


To anyone who may get automatice updates on this blog--our apologies. In a fit of organization, Linda "cleaned up" her online photo account and accidentally deleted a plethora of photos from the blog. As they are replaced, you may get irrelevant updates--if you get several in a row, you can be sure that it is not new :-/ .

Moral of the story: Read the fine print. Read it again. Wait 5 minutes and then read it one more time before hitting DELETE.

Thank you for your patience.

The Not-White Side of Christmas 2013 in Monterrey

A little celebration of Christ was also part of the Monterrey Christmas 2013

Monday, December 16th—Family Home Evening for the Temple Workers. This was a dinner that someone else made with each person paying for themselves, so we didn’t have to cook all day. It was sweet to just show up and eat! This party also began with a spiritual message by the president and his counselors. Presidente Alvaradejo spoke about the stereotypical image of Mexicans sleeping under a cactus with a sombrero pulled down over their eyes. He then referenced the image used for Peru—a very poor Peruvian sitting on a bench made of gold. When he asked why this image, the Peruvians replied that their country is very, very rich in resources; but the people continue to be poor because they don’t access it. He then related this to the temple and asked, “Are we sitting on ‘a bench made of gold’ completely unaware of the riches at hand through the temple, of which we are not taking advantage?” 

New Temple Presidency and wives Cortez, Alvaradejo, Hernandez

Monday, December 23rd: Since we had a couple of days off from the temple, we got up early Monday and quickly cleaned the house from top to bottom. We then drove down to the Santa Lucia River Walk, and strolled from the top of the Fundidora park to the heart of downtown. It was a beautiful, peace-filled day as we enjoyed the Christmas decorations and the friendly people along the path. There is something about walking near water that soothes the soul. 

Christmas downtown and John singing with a creative beggar.

Beautiful, colorful trees and decor from all over Monterrey.
December 23, 2013--traffic downtown at a complete stop. It seemed like all four million residents were downtown!
December 24, Noche Buena (The Good, or Blessed, Night) was spend with our landlords (he is also our Stake President). Two of their children were in town plus her parents, us, and the other senior missionaries at the temple and their son who was visiting. We began the evening with a Family Night, reading the story of the Nativity from the scriptures while enjoying beautiful artwork depicting the different segments of the story. We sang some carols, which always brings the spirit of Christmas. Our new favorite is only found in the Children’s Songbook in Spanish (Estrella de Luz). It is a marvelous song about the Christmas Star!

Clockwise from bottom: Christmas Eve dinner, pins for Relief Society sisters, Santa run, Missionary celebration--complete with Santa. 

The entire city of Monterrey shuts down on Christmas Eve. Restaurants and grocery stores close—even 7-11 shuts down. It was almost eery to be on the streets all alone in such a big city. However, Christmas morning Walmart and its competitors were open bright and early, and the buzz of the city was back to normal. 

Christmas Day we enjoyed dinner at the home of President and Sister Bird with President and Sister Swapp. It was a relaxed, intimate evening. It was a yummy American dinner of ham, cheesy potatoes, spinach salad, carrots, and hot rolls. The best part of all was an evening filled with the hard, clipped sounds of the beloved English language. It was a very Merry Christmas! 

View of La Silla Mountain from the River Walk.