Sunday, February 19, 2017

Family Activities Juarez/El Paso

This is by no means a comprehensive guide, nor does it even include everything we managed to fit in during our two years there, but it is a helpful start for anyone wondering what there is to do in that part of the world. It was also quite a trip down memory lane. In no specific order, here are some of our favorite sites and activities in Juárez and El Paso (and the surrounding area).

Primero, Ciudad Juárez!

The universal wristband gives you access to the bumper cars, water launcher boats, zip line, roller skating rink, mini golf, trampolines, and various other rides that little kids can enjoy, too. The go-carts are not included in the universal wristband purchase. It's open Wednesday through Sunday.

Las Golondrinas
This is the closest water park to the Consulate. It is the smallest, but I liked that, because I could keep track of my kids better, and there are still a lot of fun slides for small kids. The big slide opens randomly for an hour here and there (I assume for water conservation), and when open, little kids are allowed to go down in life jackets/floaties or on your lap. There is a great wading pool with lots of small slides. It is open Tuesday through Sunday.

The children's museum in Juarez is fantastic. It differs in one way from American children's museums—there are docents/guides everywhere. And they want to explain to your children what each display/interactive activity does/the science behind it all before your kid can engage with the booth/display. There's nothing wrong with that, but it is different from in the States, where most things are unmanned, and you just walk around on your own. You could spend a whole day there and still not see everything. (Especially if your kids like to do things over and over again like mine.) It has activities for toddlers and babies as well. There is a 3D movie theater that usually shows BBC Earth movies. My kids have found them too intense (haha), so every time I pay for it, we've had to leave in the middle of the show. There are two restaurants and an ice cream/popsicle parlor inside. Or you can bring food to eat in the cafeteria. It is open Monday through Sunday. 

La Rodadora next to Parque Central. It is a wonderful place for children to ride their bikes and roller skate. There are multiple ponds with ducks and turtles. There is a giraffe named Modesto and peacocks. There are a lot of food stands. There are a few playgrounds that are not up to American standards, but my kids have played on them without getting hurt. We mostly go to walk around/ride bikes/skate. It's a large park. If you go in the evening, the carnival rides will be turned on.

This is one of the two waterparks along the border. It is larger than Las Golondrinas. It is nice and clean. The little kid area doesn't have as many slides as Las Golondrinas, but it still has a good number and the kiddie pool itself is larger, and there are more big slides. It is more expensive than Las Golondrinas.

This is the biggest waterpark. It is like Las Fuentes and Fiesta Park combined. I've never been there, so I can't say whether it is nice/clean, but it is definitely the largest with the widest variety of activities.

Museo de Arqueología El Chamizal
This is a free museum, and if you call ahead of time, you can organize to have a tour. The majority of the museum is outside in gardens and is composed of life-size replicas of archeological finds from all over Mexico. There are some original pieces as well, but mostly very well done replicas. It's an enjoyable stroll while learning about the ancient indigenous cultures. The museum is located in El Chemizal park, which is quite large and worth seeing for itself.

We also enjoyed visiting the art museum in Juarez. It is not very large, but every third Saturday of the month, between March and October, there are free crafts, activities, and workshops for children. It is a free event.

Fast food restaurants
I know it's not exciting, because the food is the same as in the States, but in Mexico, the play places are GINORMOUS. The largest ones are at Burger King. Seriously huge. You can easily be there for hours while your kids climb, slide, and play. Just the play places in Mexico are bigger than the entire fast food restaurant in the States. After Burger King, I would say Carl's Jrs have the next largest play places. But McDonald's, Wendy's, KFC, etc., they all have play places here.

Now for the El Paso side of things . . .

El Paso Zoo
The El Paso Zoo is not very far away from the border and is a good medium size zoo. My children especially loved the treehouse playground and the splash pad/spray ground. The Zoo holds fun events throughout the year. We found that a membership was definitely worth the price, and includes discounts at participating zoos throughout the country.

Playdates at the Park/El Paso Chihuahuas
El Paso has a baseball team: the Chihuahuas. The games are fun to attend. Also, in the summer, the ball park holds two or three "play dates at the park," which are free events for young children to attend. There are various sponsors present giving out free items and there are games to play.

Franklin Mountain has some nice hiking trails, as well as picnic areas and some camping spots. It is a large park. We found many of the trails to be too intense for our youngest children, but we wore them in packs. (Some of the trails were incredibly steep, so even wearing them in packs was kind of intense, because if the child on your back leaned to one side, it was dangerously easy to lose your balance. So be careful as to what trails you choose and what your stamina levels are.) My elementary aged children handled it fine.

Rockin' Jump is a lot of fun. It's exactly what you would imagine. Trampolines everywhere. They have special hours for different ages, so your littles don't have to compete with really big kids. You are required to purchase their special socks, but you get to keep them. This is a little pricier than the other options, but the kids really love it.

Armijo is an indoor pool at a city park in El Paso. It has random hours, so call, but it has a fantastic wading pool with lots of water spray features. There is a small slide for kids and a larger one, but I think little kids can't use the larger one. The slides aren't as large as in Juarez, but it is fun for all the spray features, and sometimes indoor is nice to get out of the sun, and it is especially nice in the winter when the outdoor pools are closed. Also, it is attached to a civic center and a library and is surrounded by three different playgrounds.

If you're willing to drive outside the city . . . 

These dunes are located just about 30 to 45 minutes outside of Ciudad Juarez. If you're into '80s films, you might be interested to know these dunes were used in the filming of Conan the Destroyer and Dune. It's a quick drive to leave the bustle of the city and feel like you're completely in the wilderness.

Casas Grandes, Nuevas Casas Grandes, Paquimé, Mata Ortiz, and Colonia Juárez
If you're willing to drive a few hours outside of Juarez, then I recommend a visit to Casas Grandes. At Paquimé, you'll be able to walk trails through the ruins of an ancient city made by the indigenous people to that region almost a thousand years ago. There is also a museum. Mata Ortiz is a small town nearby that in the '80s revived the lost art of the pottery made by the original inhabitants of Paquimé. Made entirely by hand with local materials, the pottery is gorgeous and true to its history and legacy. Depending on when you go, you can even attend workshops where local artisans will show you how the pottery is made. Nuevo Casas Grandes is where you will find the most hotels and restaurants. We stayed at Hotel Hacienda and enjoyed it immensely. The food was delicious, the rooms were clean, and there is a kiddie pool and a regular pool. Colonia Juárez is also not too far away. It was a colony originally settled by Mormons as part of a wider resettlement. When the Mormons left the eastern United States and traveled west, the majority settled in Salt Lake City, but other groups were sent to settle parts of Mexico, Idaho, California, and other areas nearby. Colonia Juarez was one such settlement.

Another worthwhile drive is to the McDonald Observatory near Fort Davis, Texas. Depending on when you visit, you can attend a "sun party" or a "star party" where you will see images from an actual telescope in current time. The visitor's center has a few exhibits, and you can pay for a guided tour of many of the other telescopes located on the mountain (or do a free self guided tour, but you don't get to see as much).

A drive in the other direction will take you to White Sands, which is the largest dune area of a special white sand. You can take sleds to slide down, hike, or rustic camp. It's quite beautiful. The sand is unique also in that it doesn't get hot even when it is unbearably hot outside.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

2017 Year Review

The Collett Family spent 2016 finishing up their second year in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. It was a wonderful year of tennis, soccer, sun, song, burritos, and tacos.
In January, Daniel turned five, and we went on a trip to visit friends and family in Provo and Salt Lake City, Utah. 
In February, Pope Francis came to visit Juárez (a big deal!), and Alice turned three.
In March, Jeff’s parents, Laurie and Daryl, came to visit us in Mexico.
In April, Gordon turned one, Jill turned seven, and we fell in love with our neighbor’s dog, Mika. Throughout the year, we often pet-sat and pretended she was ours.
In May, Jeff got to spend a week in Washington DC for training, and Mimi’s parents, Phil and Vickie, came to visit us in Mexico.
In June, Mimi turned thirty-one, and we visited White Sands, New Mexico.
In July, we went to Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana to visit friends and family, and Jill was the flower girl in her Uncle Kyle’s wedding.
In August, Jill started second grade, Daniel started kindergarten, Alice returned to preschool, Gordon started preschool, and Mimi tried not to cry.
In September, Gordon stopped nursing, and we went to Pheonix, Arizona, to see friends and a BYU football game. 
In October, Jeff got to spend a week in Germany for a Facility Managment Conference. He also received a promotion and Honorable Mention POSHO of the Year!
In November, Mimi and the kids went with friends to explore the ruins of Paquimé and Casas Grandes, Jeff turned thirty-four, and we all went to see family in Houston and to a Collett Family reunion in Orlando, spending two days at Disney and one at Universal Studios.
In December, Mimi’s dad visited Mexico, the whole family attended a Boling Family Reunion at a ski resort in Wisconsin Dells, and we had to say good-bye to our beloved Juarez.
During our time in Mexico, Jill has become proficient in Spanish and a great reader. Daniel has worked hard in speech therapy and is now able to speak and be understood. Alice has grown into a very independent preschooler with a rich imagination. Gordon has become a toddler who is adored by everyone who meets him. Mimi has had her heart stolen from her by all of the children she taught at church and at the kids’ school. Jeff has forged strong friendships with the teenage boys he helped prepare for church missions.

We are now looking forward to 2017, which will bring us six months in Virginia learning French, and then it’s off to discover our new home in Libreville, Gabon, Africa.

Jeffrey, Michelle, Jill, Daniel, Alice, and Gordon

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Juárez, te he amado

In no specific order, here are some memorable moments from our time in Ciudad Juárez.

  • Being at a Mexican Independence Day party and realizing the song playing is Achey Breaky Heart—but in Spanish—and everyone is doing the Electric Slide line dance.
  • Driving to Casas Grandes through small towns, which don't always have adequate signage for speed bumps, and making eye contact with a cowboy standing next to the speed bump as he slowly shakes his head back and forth at me, la güera, as I slam on my brakes and try not to kill the car as I fly over the speed bump.
  • Being at a school party at Kari Montessori and leading my past students in American line dances.
  • Hearing Jill confidently say her parts in Spanish at the primary program and school play.
  • Having my husband be awarded the Honorable Mention POSHO of the Year 2016.
  • Singing the National Anthem at the American Independence Day party at the Consulate.
  • Crying at the mall because it took me almost two hours to pay a cell phone bill and just wanting to not stick out, understand what was being said, and have things be easy.
  • Learning about family situations that make me revaluate judgements that I've previously always subconsciously made.
  • Leading my primary children in El Burrito Sabanero while singing my heart out and dancing with all the enthusiasm I posses.
  • Playing soccer on a dirt field, littered with trash, next to a busy street.
  • Watching my good friend Angela teach my children how to make tortillas from scratch.
  • Scoring a goal in the Consulate soccer tournament when I'm one of only two girls and one of only five Americans competing.
  • Watching Daniel progress from an angry toddler who couldn't communicate to a confident kindergartener who can talk and be understood.
  • Having preschool help me potty train Alice.
  • Watching Jeff interact with the teenage boys at church while he was their youth leader (Young Men's president).
  • Leading an adult choir and a children's choir at stake conference.
  • Listening to Jeff make jokes in Spanish at work with his guys.
  • Seeing how much everyone, literally everyone, adored Gordon.
  • Singing (and directing a choir) as my best friend Kristin played the violin.
  • Witnessing the gentle, kind way Kari Montessori handled Daniel's hitting and yelling problem.
  • Having a Mexican man disagree with me when I told him the salsa was spicy and then two minutes later having him admit that the salsa actually was spicy, as his face turned red and tears ran down his face.
  • Buying from a man on the street corner the largest sparkler fireworks I've ever seen.
  • Being entertained at every major intersection by people juggling soccer balls, juggling fire, doing cheerleading stunts, being completely covered in metallic body paint, or wearing huge inflated balloon butts in their clown pants.
  • Living somewhere where it is actually rude to not make eye contact and greet the strangers you pass on the street.
  • Giving birth to Gordon with such an amazing team at Hospital Ángeles.
  • Watching my kids learn and love soccer, gymnastics, and tennis.
  • Having tennis lessons with the amazing profe, Ricardo.
  • Watching Jeff compete in tennis competitions at the country club.

Gracias, Juárez, por todo el amor que me ha dado. 
Te di mi corazón y me diste el tuyo. 
Nunca voy a olvidar mis cortos dos años contigo.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Día(s) de los Muertos

There is an interesting holiday here in Mexico called "Día de los Muertos." As it turns out, it is not just a day. It's kind of three days. Perhaps it used to only be one day before Europeans and Catholicism, but now it is three days, and it is an interesting mix of religions.

I've read a few websites and asked a number of friends here in Ciudad Juárez trying to figure out what the actual holiday was, and this is what I have determined.

On the evening of October 31, altars are made for deceased children. On November 1 and 2, people make altars for any deceased person. Thus, Día de los Muertos overlaps with America's Halloween on October 31, and with Catholicism's All Saints' Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls' Day (Nov. 2).

It is not a morbid or sad holiday. It is actually quite happy and joyous. The altars are not for worshipping dead people. The altars are for commemorating, for remembering. Traditionally they are very colorful with beautiful cut paper art, yellow marigolds, a special bread called pan de los muertos, and sugar skulls. The sugar skulls are colorful with pretty designs. The altar will also include the deceased person's favorite foods, pictures, and articles that represent hobbies or other aspects of the deceased's life. It is a time when it is believed that the veil separating life and death is very thin and those you love can be with you again.

We've had a busy weekend celebrating all of the holidays. On Friday of last week, we trick or treated at the Consulate where Jeff works. Then we went out in the evening to a Día de los Muertos party, complete with elaborate altars, many Catrinas and Catríns, delicious tamales, a puppet show, and I think a parade happened after we left (my kids needed to get to bed).

Then on Saturday, we went trick or treating at the El Paso Zoo for their Boo at the Zoo. We didn't actually trick or treat very much, but it was a good reason to get out of the house and walk a lot. And the kids enjoyed themselves. They didn't seem to notice that we didn't do a good job of following the map and getting to the candy stations.

Sunday we had regular church services. Sunday was also the anniversary of the death of my sweet niece Tabitha. We lost her to SIDS five years ago when she was just six months old. It is still so sad and almost unbelievable that she didn't get to stay with us in her beautiful family, but thinking of Día de los Muertos where the focus is celebrating the time you did have with someone, and receiving pictures from my brother of my little preemie niece Valerie who was supposed to be born in October but came in July instead and was recently home from the hospital, I felt joy in my heart.

Monday was actual Halloween. Since I live in a border town, some Mexicans have adopted American holidays that they like. So there was trick or treating at the mall near my house during the day, and then my neighborhood actually had trick or treating in the evening. My kids were thrilled about this. Somewhere between one third and one half of my neighbors participated by handing out candy. And I wondered if the act of giving to candy to children works with the idea of that night being the night that deceased children are able to visit. At the dark houses who weren't handing out candy, I wondered if our trick or treating was disturbing their festivities. The Mexican way (or at least the Juarense way) to trick or treat is not to ring doorbells and say "trick or treat," but to walk through the streets chanting "Queremos Halloween" (We want Halloween"). Those inside their homes will hear you, usually through an open window, and open their doors to give you candy.

Tuesday was also Día de los Muertos and All Saints' Day. The children had a party at school, which combined the two holidays. A priest came and held mass for All Saints' Day and the students were invited to dress up like saints and angels. Last year, I'm not sure what happened, but I dressed my kids up in their Catrina and Catrín costumes. They were the only ones. This year, Jill dressed up as a saint (she chose Saint Philomena), and none of my other kids wanted to participate in costume (although Alice decided to wear her Mexican dress), and there actually were two other students dressed up as Catrinas. So we wouldn't have been the only ones this year! After the mass, we all ate pan de muerte and drank delicious abuelita while we walked around to the classrooms to see the altars our children had made.

Today was the last day of Día de los Muertos and All Souls' Day. There was no school and the Consulate was closed. We didn't make any altars in our home, but Jill did spend the morning calling her grandparents and asking them about their parents and writing down information about each of her deceased great grandparents. I enjoyed hearing the stories my parents and in-laws shared with her, some familiar and some new.

Halloween 2015: I have since realized that to be a Catrín and not just a skeleton, I need to put clothes over the skeleton costume, but alas, I can't go back in time and fix that error.

All Saints' Day 2015: Daniel's class's altar, Martin Luther King, Jr. (Colegio Kari Montessori)

All Saints' Day 2015: Jill's class's altar, Mother Teresa (Colegio Kari Montessori)

Halloween 2016: This year, we separated the holidays more by having different costumes for Halloween and for Día de los Muertos. For Halloween, Daniel was Ironman; Gordon, Mickey Mouse; Alice, Minnie Mouse; and Jill, a cheerleader.

Día de los Muertos 2016: We attended a Día de los Muertos party. We arrived fresh faced and left with painted faces. I think the skeleton face symbolizes that we all have death within us and that the distance between life and death is not actually all that far—that our loved ones are not that far away. (Colegio San Patricio)

Día de los Muertos 2016: One of the altars at the party. Shortly after I took this picture, Gordon knocked over the guitar, which knocked over one of the candles, which made me have a miniature heart attack, but luckily nothing burned down. (Colegio San Patricio)

Halloween 2016: Trick or treating at Boo at the El Paso Zoo

All Saints' Day 2016: Some of the students dressed up like saints and angels for the mass at school. (Colegio Kari Montessori)

Día de los Muertos 2016: Gordon's class's altar, Diego Rivera (Colegio Kari Montessori)

Día de los Muertos 2016: Alice and Daniel's class's altar, Frida Kahlo (Colegio Kari Montessori)

Día de los Muertos 2016: Jill's class's altar, Pablo Picasso (Colegio Kari Montessori)

I am very grateful to the wonderful Mexicans we have met during our time here who have embraced us and welcomed us into their homes and culture. Honoring and remembering our deceased ancestors is very important to me, so I appreciate this joyous holiday.

(Also disclaimer, I'm sorry if I got anything wrong with the holiday. I'm trying my best to figure it out!)

Click here to watch a video of a cool Catrina/Catrín Día de los Muertos parade.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Who am I now?

Do you remember my post from March? The one where I wrote this:

My last baby turns one year old next month, and I have no plans to go for a fifth child. That has caused me to reflect a lot. I got married at 20 with a goal to have four kids before I turned 30. And I achieved that goal. I had no idea when I made that goal what it would entail, but here I am. A success. Goal achieved.

In achieving that goal, I was stripped down. Worn down. Softened. Only the essential core of what made Mimi Mimi remained. But now I'm almost out. My body is almost mine again. I almost don't have a breastfeeding infant. In a few months, I think I'll start getting uninterrupted nights of sleep sometimes.

And it makes me wonder who I'll be. I used to be a hospice volunteer. I used to be an editor. I used to be a member of an auditioned community choir. I used to review books. I used to be a reader in a writers' group. I used to blog a lot more. I used to play soccer. I used to try to write songs. I used to write the occasional poetry. I used to research family history. I used to scrapbook. I used to try to sew things.

What hobbies will I reclaim? Which will I never go back to? I don't know yet. But I'm having a lot of fun thinking about it. What kind of a woman will Mimi be in her 30s?

Well, it happened.

Gordon self weaned at the end of last month. It happened. I am not nursing. My body is only keeping myself alive and no one else.

I can choose my outfit and only think about the weather and what I want to wear. I don't have to plan on access (will I lift up? will I button down? will I slide over? how will the baby get his food???). All I think about is me.

I can wear a real bra.

My body is mine.

I'm not pregnant.

For the first time since the summer of 2008, my body is mine. Mine. Friends, let me say that again: since the summer of 2008!

And they all even sleep through the night now.

What a gift. I have my body back. And I can sleep with only random interruptions for nightmares or sickness. 

What am I going to do with myself?

Who am I without a baby? 

I'm not who I was at 23 before I had any children—that's for sure! My body is very different, and my personality is as well.

I'm half excited to not have a baby, but half of me already misses it. But, as much as my kids want me to have more, I'm done. Now humor me while I post a bunch of pictures of me with my babies and cry a little bit about how quickly it's gone and how it will never, ever come back again.

What a glorious, exhausting, draining, rewarding ride it has been.

Watch me grow! (Jill's pregnancy)






Daniel and Jill




 Alice, Daniel, and Jill



Gordon's pregnancy

Alice, Daniel, and Jill


Gordon, Alice, and Daniel


Jill and Daniel



Alice, Gordon, Jill, and Daniel



Gordon, Jill, Alice, and Daniel

Gordon attends preschool a little bit now, too.
So for a few hours, they're all gone, and my house is so, so empty.

As I try to think of how to explain how I feel sad and happy at the same time about "being done with babies," a poem my sister wrote in 2015 keeps running through my mind. 

I kiss your nose, your forehead, your cheek, your chin.

I squeeze you tightly to me and feel your soft squishiness give.

I look in your eyes and you look back at me 
and in my heart I feel a tugging ache I cannot fully define.

I ache because you are my baby, mine to squeeze and squish.

I ache because in this predawn darkness under the blankets we form a cocoon 
and every day you are closer to emerging out of it into the world.

I ache because every morning you wake up you are my baby, 
but every morning you are a little less my baby and a little more your own self.

I ache and I ache and I laugh at the joy it makes me feel to hurt this way.

You look at me laughing and it makes you laugh too.

It seems that this might have been your last time nursing. It felt that way, how you kept your body unusually still as if you, too, were savoring the moment. Your legs were carefully curled up, tucked tightly next to mine, your little hand free and tapping gently on my chest, just above my heart.

No one told me that hurting like this could feel so good.

I wonder if I would have believed them.

I'm a believer now.