on the shores of lake chapala

We hit most of the major sites when Andy’s parents were in town for the holidays, including one that we haven’t included here  before: Chapala. The town, which combined with neighboring Ajijic is home to more American and Canadian expats than anywhere else in the world, features a lively boardwalk along the lake.


Our visit was a fairly quick one, mostly focused on food. There was lunch.




There was the mango on a stick snack that I managed to convince Flynn was a lollipop.


IMG_4780And then, because you can’t not do it when in Chapala, Flynn tried some fried crickets.



Verdict: “yucky.”

Posted in Mexico, Travel | 1 Comment

goodbye to a globetrotting beagle

163252_646071680014_3255071_nIt’s a sad and quiet day at our house.

Last night, unexpectedly, our 11-year-old beagle Abbey passed away. She joined our family six years ago, adopted from a shelter in Brooklyn before our Foreign Service life.

5066_576041216624_3682846_n We don’t know much about her life before us other than that it was not a completely happy one. She brought some neuroses along as a result, like jumping up for “Abbey hugs” and trying to guilt you out of walking out the door.


She lived with us in our tiny apartment, hiding under our coffee table and howling most of the day while we were away at work, but by some miracle our neighbors never complained. She loved dog parks and chasing pigeons. She did not love the snow.

10391987_595793966954_7477666_nShe came along to DC and tolerated the addition of a baby to our clan.


She helped out as a dirty diaper detector.


She did not like the long plane ride to Benin, but once we got there she loved her huge yard filled with lizards. Much to her regret, she never did catch one.


As her baby owner grew a little older she realized he could be of use, dropping food from his high chair and even helping take a birthday cake from the table.


That baby owner was also not a bad playmate. And most importantly, he came with a dog loving nanny which meant Abbey never had to spend another day howling at home alone.



That little boy grew to love Abbey so much that she inspired his Halloween costume two years later.


Abbey came with our family back to DC, and then on to Mexico, and along the way welcomed a second little boy owner into the fold.


And now, just after he learned to say her name, she’s gone.

We’re sad and in shock. We still instinctively hurry picking up keys or putting on shoes, trying to keep her barking at our departure to a minimum. Flynn still carries his snacks high in the air to try to keep her from getting them. We’re still vacuuming up dog hair. And there will be a beagle shaped hole in our bed tonight, and for many nights to come.

She was a handful, but we loved her.

Posted in Abbey Q. Howley, FS Life, Kids, Personal | 6 Comments

where in the world


“Kazakhstan! That’s where Dad got me an egg surprise!”

Yep, our three year old is an expat kid. And a magnetic world puzzle map is my opinion the perfect expat kid present.

Eventually when I have time it’ll be hung on a wall. And when I have even more time I will put together some cutouts of the little faces of his little friends; I envision him placing them atop the various countries in which they’re scattered, and moving them as transfer seasons come and go.

For now, we just talk about his friends and where in the world they all are.  As we put together the puzzle, Flynn wonders if M and A get tired of eating bananas (Dominican Republic). He hopes his friend L has his own pony (Turkmenistan).  He thinks R and H are pretty lucky to be moving to the place with the big gorilla (Democratic Republic of the Congo).

And he wonders why Mexico is represented by a snake. He’s never seen a snake in Mexico.  Me neither, I tell him. What sort of picture would he recommend instead? “Maybe a pinata,” he says. “No, not a pinata. A churro.” I agree.


Posted in FS Life, Kids, Mexico, Toddler | 1 Comment

IKEA in Mexico?

Look familiar?


photo 2

No, IKEA hasn’t opened up shop in Mexico. This is just our local neighborhood IDEA. Subtle, eh?

photo 1

Judging by how quickly my photo taking was shut down, I’m guessing this is a not entirely kosher copycat venture. Yet they are a real business with a functional website and everything. They have the exact same sort of floor plan, winding you through a big warehouse with mock rooms. Some of their stuff is identical to what you’d find in IKEA. Literally, the same. Other stuff is in style of IKEA, but a little different.

photo 3

No Swedish meatballs, though. Bummer.

(Interested to know more? This blogger is more dedicated than me.)

Posted in Mexico | 2 Comments

letters to santa

photo 1

In Mexico, kids don’t send their letters to Santa through the mail. Instead, they roll them up, tie them onto the strings of red and green colored helium balloons, and then release them into the air. Off to the North Pole they float. Maybe not the most environmentally sound of practices, but both of my children were enthralled by the several balloon release events we found ourselves attending.

photo 2
Up, up and away.
Posted in Baby, FS Life, Holiday, Kids, Mexico, Toddler | Leave a comment

off to the mexican mountains

Ever since arriving in Guadalajara I’ve been polling anyone and everyone about weekend trip possibilities. A place called Tapalpa is always on everyone’s list. It’s even considered one of Mexico’s “magical towns.” But when I ask what there is to do there, I get a lot of stammering about nothing. And so off to the Internets I went, looking for more information about why exactly people visit Tapalpa. And I found… not a lot. The biggest attraction seemed to be a collection of giant rocks.

But, Tapalpa is only two hours from Guadalajara, quite a bit closer than any other weekend trip possibilities, so last weekend I booked two rooms at the nicest hotel that I could reserve online and off we went for an overnight—down the toll road every bit as nice as Interstates in the U.S., and then up, up, up into the mountains, along a curvy cliff-side road dotted with frequent in memoriam markers that don’t let you forget just how steep the mountain and just how close the road is to the edge. I tried to look out the window as little as possible, despite the great views, and before long we’d arrived.


Our hotel was lovely. Family owned and operated. Twenty something rooms, all with unique and different decorations. For one of the first times since arriving in Mexico, it felt like we were truly in Mexico.






Off we went to explore town.


IMG_4510We found a lovely downtown square, with a central plaza circled by charming wooden balconied buildings.


We shopped. We peeked into a big church.



And into a tiny church.


We ate delicious meals.

IMG_4485Flynn has not exactly taken to Mexican food yet, but a giant bowl of melted cheese might have turned the tides.


We walked. We hung around. In the evening we tried alote, a traditional drink somewhat like eggnog, and Mexican hot chocolate too.


We bundled up in sweaters and stared longingly at the fireplace in our room that, being moderately responsible parents, we decided not to light.

And we visited those giant rocks, of course.



jonahrocksThere’s not a lot to do in Tapalpa, but after visiting I realized that’s kind of the point. Between the wooden buildings, cobblestone streets, chilly temperatures and mountain views, it’s just a whole different atmosphere than most of Mexico. It feels calm and quaint. That’s why you go.

Posted in food, Mexico, Travel | Leave a comment

black friday

Because the day after Thanksgiving was set aside for administrative work at the Consulate, and because we still had a lot of HHE to put away, I decided to take that day off.

So off I headed to the mall on Black Friday. Of course in Mexico the day after Thanksgiving isn’t really a special occasion. In fact, I was disappointed to get to the mall and find the department store where I needed to pick up baseball tickets (more on that in another post) didn’t even open until 11. I walked around the nearly deserted mall, Wal-mart, and Home Depot (admittadley not my most authentically Mexican day) thinking about everyone back home packing their way into stores for the best deals. I was sure glad nothing like that happened in Mexico.

Or I would have been glad if it weren’t for what we experienced two weeks ago.

While Mexico doesn’t have Black Friday, Mexicans certainly understand the concept. And a few years ago, in order to spur economic development, the Mexican government and a number of commerce organizations introduced their own version. Occurring in November every year on the same long weekend as the celebration of the Mexican revolution, Buen Fin is the Mexican equivalent of Black Friday. It even has its own logo, which I kept seeing for about two weeks without really knowing what it meant.

It wasn’t until we were about to leave work on a Friday afternoon, planning on heading out of town the next day, that a colleague told us what we were about to miss. Neither of us our huge fans of Black Friday in the US. Or crowds. Or malls. So we weren’t too disappointed, but it still would have been interesting to experience.

Lucky for us our route home from work passes directly by one of the largest malls in Guadalajara. Our normally easy 25 minute drive turned into an hour-long trek through Buen Fin traffic. We may not have gotten any great deals, but we can at least say we experienced our first Buen Fin.

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evening events

Though my cone is public diplomacy, I’m really liking my consular tour. All officers must do some consular work early in their careers, and since my first post was a public diplomacy one, it’s consular for me this go around.

Not only am I enjoying the work — getting brief glimpses into many people’s life stories, making decisions that have major impacts not only on those people but also on the security of our country’s borders — but I’m enjoying the hours. In consular work, at least at the level I’m at, when you’re done, you’re done. Public diplomacy was fun, but frequent evening and weekend events can be draining, especially with young kids at home.

All of this is just to say that I’ve been at post for four months now and not until last week did I have any after-hours diplomatic responsibilities. That break was great, and it made the arrival of an evening event a welcome rather than dreaded occurrence.

One of these things is not like the others.

Foreign Service folks: How often do you have to head out after hours? What would be your ideal schedule?

Posted in Cancer, Consular, Mexico, Public Diplomacy | Leave a comment

manzanillo weekend

We had a long weekend a few weeks back, so we headed to the beach. We have some truly phenomenal beaches within driving distance — the sort of places where celebrities splash around. The famed Puerto Vallarta. The surf bum haven of Sayulita. The popular cruise ship stop of Mazatlan. We plan to visit those and more (short flights open up our options substantially) in good time, but this time around we opted for somewhere a bit closer: Manzanillo. It’s a port city without much of interest, which is why we chose the nicest all-inclusive in town and didn’t once leave.


Before the Foreign Service, an all-inclusive resort would have sounded like a nightmare to me. “Why even bother traveling overseas if you’re just going to sit around in a resort that you could find back home?” I can imagine my former self saying. Funny how your perspective changes when your entire life is navigating another culture.


I ate exclusively seafood, which I don’t get much of home because Andy won’t touch it. The food was great. Although the one meal I scheduled for all of us at a fancy sit-down restaurant — a sushi joint — was a bust. It was kind of all downhill from the moment when Flynn realized chopsticks fit perfectly in his nostrils. And… back to the family friendly buffets we went.


The boys were  both sick, so much so that one day at 10 a.m., while swimming, Flynn actually asked if he could go back to the room to rest. But they managed to have some fun anyway.




Flynn made good use of the rule that boys with sore throats can eat as many ice cream cones as they want.


Our next weekend getaway is coming up next week. Where to? Stay tuned.

Posted in FSI, Mexico, Travel | 4 Comments