December 14, 2013

Where I've Been for the Last 5 Months

It's been a long time since I've posted here, but not without good reason. I finally had my first full-time job since living in Mexico. For those of you who don't know that was seven years ago.  I was lucky enough to make it on savings for the first couple years here. But since then, it's been a long string of short-term part-time jobs, mostly teaching English, writing and editing, and the occasional environmental workshops and consulting gigs.

But this most recent professional experience was something else. It was the kind of job I've been wanting to have for years, a unique position that combined my background as a non-formal environmental education expert with a solid, successful, long-term, U.S. government program to provide American volunteers for environmental projects across Mexico. I'm talking about the Peace Corps Mexico Environment Program.

I can't say enough good things about this program. I got to work with volunteers who dedicate 2 years of their lives to advancing positive social change, who contribute their backgrounds in the environmental sciences, their other related skills, cultural curiosity and general goodwill, in a foreign nation that embraces their arrival and seeks to learn and collaborate. As if that weren't enough, the program also boasts a talented staff of trainers and administrative support, many of whom are experts in their fields, who are dedicated to the program's growth and development over the years. This fall, I was able to call these fabulous folks my coworkers. 

I was lucky enough to become a part of this stellar team 5 years after I first learned of the program in 2008, through friends. I'll never forget that night—I was invited to the election night celebration when Obama gave his victory speech, which was at the home of a former volunteer. I met the director at the time, and then during the summer of 2009, I volunteered in their library. From there I made the acquaintance of the Environment program manager, who learned of my professional background as an environmental educator in the U.S. and Mexico. In the years that followed, in my daughter's infant years, I returned to give workshops during their pre-service and mid-service trainings. I made more contacts with volunteers and learned more about what their service entails. This past summer, right around the time we were delivering Amor and Exile to Congress, I learned of a one-of-a-kind opportunity to serve as the interim Environmental Education Training Specialist from July to December of this year. Unlike the permanent position, this position did not require travel, as it would essentially be limited to 2 trainings in Queretaro. It didn't take me long to make up my mind. I applied, and I got the job. Like any new job, it had its special learning curve—and in this particular one with the U.S. government, I had a new acronym-based language and the "Peace Corps Approach" to learn. But beyond that, I was in my element. 

I could go on and on about how great a fit this position was with my skills, passion, and background. I was able to draw on many elements of my experience with sustainable development and as a curriculum developer, and my time as a teacher. I was finally able to take everything that I'd learned during my whole Mexico culture-shock experience and apply it as something helpful toward new arrivals' adjustment to the Mexican culture process. I could draw on my experience as a non-formal educator in order to prepare a team of non-formal educators. And best of all, even though I am bilingual, I got to polish my Spanish thanks to my coworkers. 

Running an environmental education training was A LOT of work but also a lot of FUN. We took field trips to local natural areas, botanical gardens, and sustainable learning centers. We met with local teachers, schools, and students, and the trainees devised environmental education activities and an EcoFair in Mexico state. We reached over 200 schoolkids in our 3 visits to schools. We laughed, we danced, we built a wood-efficient stove, a garden, a compost, a solar dehydrator, a solar oven, and a greywater filter. The volunteers I worked with were experienced, positive, and motivated. Everyone shared, learned, and grew. I could go on and on.
With PCM volunteers and staff at the top of Parque Nacional el Cimatario
But sadly, this incredible experience had to come to an end, this past week. It was to be expected, in fact, it was planned—to coincide with the week after the last training of 2013. As I mentioned before, the reason I could pursue this position was that it was based almost entirely in Querétaro. Almost as soon as I entered, a hiring process was underway to select a permanent training specialist, which I was invited to apply for, but the downside is that it requires a significant amount of travel (estimated at nearly 40%)—in order to visit volunteers at sites and develop new sites.

At first glance, this seems ideal—see dozens of natural areas in Mexico as part of your job. And the truth is, if I didn't have a child, it would be. In fact, I did apply for the position once before, in the Fall of 2012. But when I found out about the travel requirement, and that policy does not allow minor family members to accompany staff during travel, I had to pull out of the running. I simply couldn't make the commitment to being away from home for that amount of time with such a small child. 

So while the interim, Querétaro-based position was near-perfect, the permanent, travel-required position was not a realistic possibility for me and my family. I chose not to apply this summer, since the policies had not changed, and made up my mind to give these 5 months my all while I had the chance. I am happy to say that it was worth it. I feel a strong pull to be as present as possible in my daughter's life, and we all feel happy to be together more. As for the job, beyond all the wonderful environmental education and resource conservation work that volunteers do, the best thing about Peace Corps Mexico (PCM) are the people themselves. The relationships I formed with both staff and volunteers, and the experiences we shared are irreplaceable. 

I feel very grateful to have had this professional opportunity where I both learned and contributed a great deal. I'm obviously looking forward to the possibility of going back someday. In the meantime, I will be rededicating myself to past projects, so hopefully you will be seeing more of me here, and hear about new developments as well. And if any volunteers or former coworkers happen to read this, good luck, and thanks for all you do. You're doing amazing things!

On our way to a local school with Environmental Education volunteers

June 23, 2013

Winds of Change | On the Current CIR Debate | Amor and Exile

**Note: This is probably more subject matter than should have gone in one blog post. Time is more precious than ever, and I've been more exhausted in the last 3 weeks than I can remember being since college over 15 years ago. There's so much to say, too little time, and some trains are fast departing from the stations of my life that I can't afford to miss. But I wanted to simultaneously speak to recent accomplishments with Amor and Exile and going to D.C., the perspective of many years having observed and been a victim of immigration politics, and also acknowledge that my intense involvement in this issue, to the exclusion of other, more earthy parts of my life, has taken a toll, and I'm in the process of achieving a new equilibrium.**

Cycles are being completed and new chapters are opening in my life, and for this I am grateful. But in many ways, some things are as they always were.

I recently traveled to Washington, D.C. to deliver a copy of the book I co-wrote with Nathaniel Hoffman, Amor and Exile: True Stories of Love Across America's Borders. The trip, which in essence launched the publication of our book, was many things to me at once: a dream come true to tell my story to our nation, a collaborative vision seen through to completion, an eye-opening experience about the way politics are done in my country, and a reminder that I must continue to find grounding in my daily life back home.

Nearly 12 years ago, I began dating my husband and discovered what we were up against in terms of immigration laws that effectively shut out a large number of North Americans from access to legal immigration to the United States, even when married to American citizens.

Almost 6 years ago, despite the successful protest of the passage of even harsher immigration laws (HR 4437), which would have made it a felony to merely be in association with my husband, we came to the conclusion that the only way for my husband to obtain legal status was to move abroad to his home country of Mexico. We packed our belongings and moved south, where we've been ever since.

A few years after we moved here, I began seriously contemplating the possibility of writing about my story. Everytime I told our story about why we'd moved here to someone, they'd respond, "But you're married!?" as if it was a no-brainer that my husband should have U.S. papers. It drove me crazy that nobody understood why things just weren't that simple. On one hand, part of me wanted to wash my hands of the issue entirely, just focus on my field (ecology) and pursue my dreams of a green business or non-profit in a country that sorely needs environmental conservation work. I did restore a good part of our land with greywater and organic vegetable production. I did publish a short collection of regional recipes using Mexican native food plants (The Bajio's Bounty). And I remained tangentially involved in the environmental movement here in Querétaro. But the pull of fate in the direction of writing a memoir and adding my voice to the millions of disenfranchised by U.S. immigration law was too strong. I kept adding to my many notebooks of visions I was having about "telling a story about migration."

In winter of 2011, only a few months after my daughter was born, I began writing my part for Amor and Exile. Ever since then, my life as been drawn inexorably deeper into the path of advocacy on behalf of families like mine. Starting with the story that is now part of Chapter 9 of Amor and Exile, entitled "Alienation," in which I tell of our passage south to Mexico, I began the laborious task of encapsulating my most painful struggles and my lofty ideals (of the ones that still remain) into prose, exposing them to my coauthor's critiquing and making them universally understandable, as opposed to making sense only to me. The first years were an internal struggle—overcoming the fears and anxieties with making our story. I first received great support from family, friends, my coauthor Nathaniel, and then from a therapist who helped me creatively work through my trauma and heal many hurt parts of having to leave my country to keep my family together, essentially against my will.

Our manuscript was finally done in December 2012. It represented two and a half years of writing and collaborative editing. In the first few months that we began "shopping around" our manuscript with our agent, was when all the Comprehensive Immigration Reform debate hit Congress. I'd written my story without any specific political language, mainly because it was telling a past story, also because it was anyone's guess as to when actual reform could happen. Moreover, as I tell in the book, part of my personal peacemaking has had to do with separating my political hopes from my own personal goals and motivations—in other words, I can't pin my personal happiness on political outcomes.

That being said, I'm well aware of what the current debate represents and I would be amiss to not be a part of it. It's been satisfying to be able to make contact with many individuals who are advocating on behalf of families like ours. Coming in contact with dozens of families like mine has renewed my resolve to continue speaking out on this subject—even though the "best" reforms available (waiver reform) really would only allow my family to apply for a waiver a couple years earlier. It's too little too late for us—but it could be a lot for some families.

Being in D.C.—getting the community support to go there as a result of our Indiegogo campaign to "Send Amor and Exile to Washington"—was an incredibly uplifting experience. Going from totally disempowered, silenced for so many years due to my family's lack of legal recourse—to dialoguing with Capitol staffers and representatives themselves was to come full circle in terms of where I was and where I now am. We have no guarantee that our efforts will actually make any difference in the long run in terms of policy, but I am convinced that at least in terms of personal views, dozens of individuals have been affected as a result of our work. And I can only pray that it will continue to have an impact in the long term.

Because ultimately, as things are currently being played out in the Senate, it is truly a political game in which our lives hang in the balance. A game whose players have no problem sacrificing billions of taxpayer dollars for even higher and more electrified fences in the name of immigration reform—always with the risk that every compromise will never be enough to satisfy the most extreme negotiators. I'm personally more skeptical about the long-term positive impact of the most recent version of SB 744 (if the Corker-Hoeven amendment to spend $30 billion in additional "border security" is included) compared to the original version. It's the product of compromise that might get some of us home a little sooner, that might prevent some of us from having to go into exile, but my question is, how will it affect generations of migrants, citizens of both countries even, to come?

It's really easy to fall in the trap of thinking about only our own families' problems, I did this for many years as I pitied myself and couldn't imagine how I was going to make my life work in a foreign country. I saw myself as somewhat different than the rest, when in reality, we're all in the same boat. I am so thankful to my fellow friends in exile for opening my eyes about that. What I dread happening is that we, the exiled or separated, forget to think of those who will come after us, as we are thrown a bone, while draconian regulations continue to be passed.

What concerns me about the passage of an SB 744 with extreme border militarization clauses is because of the reasons these regulations are being written in. Does this version of immigration policy engender cross-cultural understanding and reduce the likelihood of attempted illegal immigration to the U.S? Probably not. Would using that money instead on international programs that improve the standard of living in foreign countries, create programs for individuals to more easily access legal immigration channels to the U.S. have more positive effect in the long run? Most likely. But those type of answers aren't as politically sexy as more choppers and barbed wire, when catering to the xenophobic crowd in the U.S.

Much of our populace is still stuck, lamentably, in a culturally insensitive rut that is costing us the ability to move forward as a nation, embrace our immigrant roots, our immigrant present, and our immigrant future. We welcome those who have the financial resources (or luck in the lotteries) to make it across the border "legitimately," but we reject many who are the salt of the earth. Those of us who have acknowledged the migratory and highly adaptable nature of our continent will keep working toward true change, at great personal sacrifice, sorrow, and even joy sometimes, no matter what the outcome on Capitol Hill.

May 16, 2013

Amor and Exile's Launch | Send Amor and Exile to Washington

It's exciting to find out that some dreams do come true. A vision to tell a story about migration is being made possible, by divining with the creative spirit within, a lot of hard collaborative work with my coauthor Nathaniel Hoffman, an excellent technical support crew, die-hard fans and advocates, and now, an outpouring of support from the community. Amor and Exile is being born at this very moment.

Our initial campaign started this past weekend on Indiegogo. It's called "Send Amor and Exile to Washington." You can help us launch our book and ensure that Congress hears about American families divided and exiled by U.S. immigration law. Send a copy of the new book, Amor and Exile, to Washington with our IndieGoGo campaign: Be sure to watch the video, it features yours truly and my coauthor Nate. :)

Thanks to all our contributors in the first five days, we've reached 50% of our campaign goal and have raised enough to send enough books to all 100 Senators—but we need help with the rest of Congress!

Here's the summary of the book from the back cover:
Across the United States, American citizens are forced underground, exiled abroad and separated from their spouses for a surprising reason. Amor and Exile is the story of American citizens—including Veronica, Ben, J.W., and Nicole—who fall in love with undocumented immigrants only to find themselves trapped in a legal labyrinth, stymied by their country’s de facto exclusion of their partners. Journalist Nathaniel Hoffman visited both sides of the border to document the lives of these couples caught in the crossfire of America’s high stakes political fight over immigration. In his disarming and precise style, Hoffman also traces the historical relationship between immigration, love and marriage. Lending an authentic voice to Amor and Exile, coauthor Nicole Salgado delivers a searing first-person account of life in the U.S. with her husband while he was undocumented, her tortured decision to leave the country with him, and their seven years of exile and starting over together in Mexico. Amor and Exile tells of love that transcends borders—a story shared by hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens—cutting through the immigration debate rhetoric and providing a courageous perspective for one of the most vexing policy problems of our time.

I'm not one to brag much, but I'm pretty excited about the initial critical feedback we've been getting from some fairly big names in immigration/civil liberties journalism. You can read it here. Thanks to all our supporters...we're really excited to see our several years of writing come to fruition!

May 10, 2013

Mamá de dos lugares

Ayer tuve dos momentos de confusión y no fue debido al vértigo que he tenido por las ultimas tres semanas.
El primer momento fue por la mañana cuando unas amigas me invitaron a reunir con ellas y los pequeños este domingo que viene. Dijeron algo como "porque el viernes es día de las madres." Pensé, queeeé? El domingo es día de las madres. Y así es, en los Estados Unidos, el segundo domingo de mayo. Pero yo vivo en México, y rápidamente recordé que el día de las madres es el 10 de mayo, lo cual es hoy este año.
Luego, estuve trabajando mucho mas tarde que debía, cuando dos compañeras mexicanas me mandaron un mensaje por Facebook diciendo "Felicidades en tu día mañana!" Y de nuevo me quedé así como, "mi día? de qué hablan? a poco creen que es mi cumpleaños?" Pero esta vez la sensación de confusión desvaneció mas rápido cuando me di cuenta que estaban hablando de día de las madres. 
Si preguntas porque me cuesta tanto recordar que 10 de mayo es día de las madres aquí, puedo decir que por un lado, aunque he estado en México por casi siete años, solo he pasado dos días de las madres como madre aquí, antes de ayer, porque mi hija aún es chiquita. Así que aún no es un día festivo a que me acostumbro ser celebrada personalmente. Y por el otro lado, mi esposo es una persona muy buena, pero por la manera que sus papás le criaron, no tiende a celebrar mucho los días festivos.
Pero les dije gracias a mis amigas de todas formas, y me quedé impactada que unas mujeres jóvenes, sin hijos propios, tomarían la iniciativa para felicitarme aunque no somos familiares. Incluso observé que las mujeres felicitaron las madres de cada una, en un intercambio mutuo de aprecio para las madres que dieron vida a sus amigas. 
Lo último fue algo que jamás he observado en mi país de nacimiento. En Estados Unidos, en mi experiencia, todos sabemos cuando es Día de las Madres, pero celebramos a nuestras propias madres, tal vez abuelas o una tía. Al recibir los afectuosos saludos de parte de mis amigas por ser madre, me quedé pensando en las diferencias de las dos culturas. Llegué a la conclusión que, como había pensado en tiempos anteriores cuando mi hija era recién nacida, que de ciertas formas, ser padres en un país como México tiene ciertas ventajas.
Claro que aún existe el machismo y la desigualdad. Sin embargo,las mujeres han luchado en todos ámbitos a través de las generaciones y yo he observado a más y más padres ayudando con la crianza de sus peques como nunca antes, y eso ha sido una experiencia satisfactoria. 
Incluso hay un fenómeno que nunca deja de impresionarme cuando lo veo: niños adolescentes caminando por las calles agarrando la mano de su madre, o con su brazo en el de ella, cercanamente a su lado. Yo recuerdo en Estados Unidos, siendo adolescente, lo mas lejos de tus padres que puedes estar, mejor. Al ver los niños teniendo tanto aprecio, tanta ternura para sus madres, me siento un alivio sin explicación, y creo que tiene que ver con la esperanza que, posiblemente, mi hija podría no rechazarme tanto como los adolescentes Estadounidenses tienden a rechazar sus padres cuando lleguen a ese edad. 
No tengo las respuestas para explicar las diferencias, y estoy segura que hay otros factores que afectan el balance entre ventajas y desventajas de ser madre en cada una de las culturas. Pero estoy agradecida que tengo la oportunidad de ver otro modelo que él que siempre viví al otro lado. Y aunque ahora estoy muy lejos de mi propia madre, tendré aún mas aprecio por el rol que tuvo en mi vida y mas aprecio por el ciclo qué decidí seguir al tener mi propia hija hace casi tres años.
Les doy las gracias a las dos, a toda la gente que me han apoyado en ese trayectoria. Siendo una madre no es algo fácil, pero es uno de las mejores decisiones que he tomado en mi vida. Ser madre coincidió con muchas cosas nuevas para mí: llegué a ser coautora de un libro de nuevo, conseguí ciudadanía mexicana, y empezé a trabajar mas, para sacar mi familia adelante. Siendo madre me ha impulsado hacer todo lo que hago con más pasión porque ahora no solo tengo una idea teórico de dejar una huella en este mundo, sé que cada cosa que hago será trasmitida a mi hija y quiero que ella tenga la oportunidad de vivir en un mundo lleno con más paz y belleza que violencia y destrucción. Y por eso agradezco cada día que he tenido la bendición de ser no solamente una hija, pero también una madre—independientemente de si el conjunto de felicitaciones sucede a través de dos dias o sólo uno. 

April 28, 2013

Whole Wheat Recipes (recent faves)

In the last several months I've started cooking more and more with whole wheat. It all started with a desire to reduce my intake of refined products such as white sugar & flour.  What I thought would be a difficult change has really been fairly easy. I haven't bought a bag of white flour in that same amount of time. There are just about as many awesome whole wheat recipes out there as white flour. I have my theories about why that might be, but why bother—the point of this post is merely to share a list of favorites that I've accrued since last fall. So here they are:

Great whole wheat pizza crust (never fails)

Cranberry Orange Wheat Scones

Beer Battered Fish with whole wheat flour (1/2 the recipe—it's incredible but makes a ton)

Whole Wheat Pasta (I tried this once, with ravioli, and it was tricky and needs more experimentation)

This recipe didn't call for whole wheat flour, but I substituted half WW for regular (sifted) and it turned out great. I often substitute at least 1/2 WW flour for some of my traditional recipes such as coffee cake. 

I lost my whole wheat pancakes recipe, and haven't seen a good WW pie crust one (it'd preferably not call for shortening) if anyone has either of those that they love, pass it on please. :-)

And finally, THE BEST banana bread I've ever tasted. Not sure of the source, but a friend gave me this one. And, it's 100% whole wheat!


  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup mashed bananas
  • 1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts


  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).
  2. In a large bowl, beat oil and honey together. Add eggs, and mix well. Stir in bananas and vanilla. Stir in flour and salt. Add baking soda to hot water, stir to mix, and then add to batter. Blend in chopped nuts. Spread batter into a greased 9x5 inch loaf pan.
  3. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes. Cool on wire rack for 1/2 hour before slicing
 Happy Eating ;-)

March 4, 2013

Wasp stings and Seguro Popular | Mexico vs. U.S. 1-0

Some family of mine visited for the first time this past week. As is apt to happen, when comparing the U.S. and Mexico, we got off on a spirited detour about the direction in which the U.S. government is headed.
I had remarked how ironic it was that the direction of the effect of current U.S. policies (slashing essential public programs, failing to support universal education, lining the pockets of the wealthy, etc.) are sending our country down a similar path as Mexico, where growth is occurring in some sectors, but because of the monopolies and corrupt bureacracies, a lot of the "progress" truly benefits only the rich, leaving the majority of the country stuck about 40 years in the past, maybe more.
My motivation in saying something like that was probably stemming from a sense of helplessness at only being able to watch what goes down in the U.S. from afar, also a fear that things I most cherished about my home country, like great free education, are at risk. 
But then something hit me—part of my imaginary equation was off, and not in the direction I'd anticipated. Just the day prior, I'd visited the Queretaro General Hospital ER for a large wasp sting that had gotten worse and infected. I was seen immediately, administered a shot to reduce the reaction, and sent home with medicine—all in under 1 hour's time, and all free, under the Seguro Popular federal medical care program.

I first enrolled in 2010, before my daughter was born. I'd been able to pay for private doctor's office visits out of pocket up until then, but was worried about potential accidents, my inability to afford private medical insurance, and wanted a sort of catastrophic family medical insurance. So far we've only used it for severe insect bites—Margo also got treated for one, last year, when he was stung by a scorpion. But it's a relief to think it's there when we need it.
Suddenly, on my imaginary scoreboard between the U.S. and Mexico federal benefits to my family, I was left staring at a big fat 1-0, with Mexico on the unexpected left hand side.
Inside, I felt outraged, shocked, even a little dismayed. How could it be that the glorious U.S. of A could be down on the count, and of all rivals, with Mexico? There had to be something I was missing.
I racked my brains for things the U.S. federal government had done for me (a direct benefit, not some sort of trickle-down benefit) and my inner conscience immediately felt lame doing so, especially after hearing the words of JFK, "ask not what your country can do for you," first inside my own head, and then from my uncle sitting next to me as he invoked the time of the Kennedys.
It was as if I had an inner anti-governmental critic meter and some alarm was getting sounded. Over the years my morality meter had driven me to do well in school, honor my family, work, pay taxes, volunteer, sit on boards of directors. It had allowed me to practice freedom of speech by being critical of government policies, an environmental activist, and even challenge the morality of current U.S. immigration policies. But somehow wondering what direct personal benefit I'd gotten with my U.S. membership card felt sacrilegious. What felt especially weird was having spent the last 7 years up in arms about not being able to go back home to the U.S. with my husband and daughter, as a complete family unit. It was a very weird feeling indeed.
But what was worse was not finding any answer to counter my suspicion, that the score was still 1-0. All I could think of was having to pay taxes since I started getting W-2s when I was 16 years old. The next thing I thought of was my $20,000 college scholarship through the National Science Scholars Program that had gotten revoked as a result of Newt Gingrich's contract with America the summer of 1995, leaving me with just under that amount of debt 3.5 years later after graduating.
The response to my question I posed to my family was disturbingly spare. After asking in earnest for the third time if I was being rash, if I was missing something, my uncle said, "Let it go may just have to accept that things aren't really what you thought."
That seems to go without saying—this isn't the first time that the dual allegiance I've been obliged to forge in the throes of forced expatriation has caused me to question everything I've known to be true.
That part of me that still wants to see that scoreboard blowing up on the right hand side is not just juvenile fantasy, but self-preservation, in that restoring something from ruins is usually a lot harder than preventing something from falling apart in the first place. On the other hand, maybe a middle ground would be to allow something to grow and evolve. That's been my wish ever since it became clear to me at 12 years old that our country's oil-dependent economy would need to sprout new wings and let the dinosaurs go the way of oblivion. What saddens me as an adult is that the country I thought the most innovative and capable of progress—my own—still really has so far to go.

January 1, 2013

2012 Highlights | Mi Mejor de 2012

Every year has its ups and downs, and with all the challenges we face it's easy to lose perspective. I'm usually good at affirming and reminding myself of all the good things. But all the world tragedies, and seemingly impossible goals can put me in a funk. Yoga is something I do to clear my mind and regain strength. The end of my practice today was my last meditation of 2012. In my mind's eye, as the debris of frustrations and negativity fell away, I saw life as a diamond—precious, illuminated with the light of love. At its heart, through all the rough, the past year has indeed had many diamonds.

My husband and I made a renewed commitment to each other and embarked on a regular effort to strengthen our relationship by improving our communication and seeking more ways to enjoy our time together. Our daughter has been an endless source of joy and growth amidst all of her smiles, precious innocence, discovery of the world, fast-developing personality, love for us, tantrums and toddler opposition. My grandmother turned 90 and my brother was married, both opportunities for the extended family to come together and spend time celebrating timeless rite of passages. I got to know my sister-in-law and her sisters a little better in that special way that only bachelorette parties and the crush of preparing for a wedding can do. On a weekly basis, I marvel at technology's ability to keep our family in touch across great distances in ways that would never be possible otherwise.

I had the wonderful opportunity, after a 3 year absence, to return to California and participate in my good friend's wedding, spending 4 days in the Sierras. As if that wasn't lucky enough, I also got to see many other friends in a mini-tour of San Francisco and the Bay Area and Coastside, proving that, with the exception of changing poopy diapers at the beach, traveling alone with my daughter can still be fun—especially with the help of my friends. I also feel incredibly lucky to have friends from all walks of life back home in Queretaro, living here by choice, as well as a circle of friends I feel happy to have my daughter growing up among.

Creative expression
2012 didn't produce much artwork on my behalf, but I found an outlet with photography, crafts, and most importantly, the written word. We finished our coauthored book Amor and Exile in November, and despite the regular challenges collaborative editing sometimes presented us, it's been an incredibly satisfying endeavor that I have no doubt will produce meaningful fruit in 2013, no matter where its seeds end up being planted (that's my botanical metaphor to say that we shall soon find out whether a publisher is visionary enough to take us on, or whether we will have the liberty to publish ourselves independently). TBA.

Self care
For the first time probably since high school, I spent a full-year in a regular sport: swimming. It's been over two years since I had done yoga regularly (since my daughter was born) but it was something that I've been trying to commit to ever since. I finally began to reestablish my regular practice toward the end of the year. Staying active is difficult to fit in with a child, but it's been perhaps one of the most rewarding things I've done this year. I began to see a naturopathic doctor in neighboring San Miguel de Allende, taking a more natural approach to address some ongoing health issues. I began to cut out sugar and white flour in favor of more whole foods and whole wheat foods. I'm pretty happy with the change as it's inspired me to try out new recipes, and new foods are always welcome in this home.

As a conservation biologist, all the poaching, pollution, and development in our city is very troubling. But nature's capacity to sustain our lives still inspires me greatly. The simple act of planting seeds (and teaching others to do so) continues to be a source of satisfaction for me. For the first time my daughter was born, I gave a local horticultural workshop. We also restored some of the our garden spaces. Seeing our greywater irrigated fruit trees bear fruit renews my resolve that small acts can indeed have big effects.

When it comes to setting aside the letdowns in order to embrace the victories, I don't think the metaphor really matters—if it results in a deeper appreciation the very powerful experience of being alive, then it would be a blessing to have the chance to do this over and over again, in the year to come.