Our New Custom-Made Dining Room Table!

Jorge and I have long been wanting a dining table made of katalox wood for our new house! Our last house didn’t have a dining room, and we were excited to finally get something as simple as A TABLE. We’d seen katalox tables we liked at upscale stores, but they were usually very large and cost upwards of $20,000 pesos (about $1,000 dollars, not including chairs).

Katalox table

Something like this table is what we had in mind! Source: NativoMexico.com

Then, a few weeks ago, Jorge spotted our dream table for sale, used, on Facebook. The measurements were a bit larger than we wanted for our dining table, but I went in person to check it out anyway. Sadly, it had a wide and unsightly crack all the way down the center that would take a few hundred dollars to fix, putting the total cost at around $12,000 pesos (about $600 dollars). Jorge thought that maybe for that price we could have one custom-made, so we went to a woodshop called “El Pajarito” in Cancun to get some prices on materials.

After looking at different options, we settled on the thinner boards so that the table wouldn’t overwhelm the not-so-big dining room space, and we were thrilled to see that the thinner boards were significantly cheaper! Total, we spent about $2,100 pesos ($105 dollars) on wood.

Next, the woodshop owner referred us to a carpenter next door, who said he could have it all made in 2 – 3 weeks, including some time to let the wood expand… and he did! He charged us $4,500 pesos for labor, bringing the total cost to $6,600 pesos for the table ($330 US dollars).

The new katalox table was delivered this past Sunday, and Jorge and I immediately fell in love.

Katalox table Cancun

It fits perfectly into our dining room with room for 6 people. The reddish tone of the wood also adds some much-needed color to our house, which already has a lot of plain brown furniture. (Please forgive the pile of stuff on the right – we are still working on getting enough closet space in the new house to store everything!)

Yucatan wood table

Mexican dining room table

The branch crayons in the center were a souvenir gift from my brother-in-law’s recent trip to Michoacan. They’re almost too pretty to let the toddler use them!

Katalox wood

Needless to say, Jorge and I are incredibly happy! For a fraction of the price we had seen in stores, we were able to get our dream table and get it in a size that perfectly fits our space.

If you like what you see, the carpenter has a Facebook page! Just click here to follow and see some of their other work.

We still have a lot of work to do on the new house, like hanging up some artwork, getting doors made for our closets, CHAIRS for the new table, decorating the upstairs balcony, a railing for the staircase, a few more furniture pieces, and doing some cool stuff for the backyard… and someday, redoing the kitchen! (I like my kitchen, but I don’t LOVE my kitchen.) Then again, getting things done little by little is making the whole process even more fun.

What It’s Like to Have a Baby / Toddler in Cancun

My son is now almost two years old (he’s 21 months in Mommy-Speak), and not only has he taught me how to be a parent – he’s also taught me how to be a parent in Cancun, Mexico. I grew up as the youngest of 3 kids, and neither Jorge nor I had much experience with kids and babies before having one of our own, so it’s been a trial-and-error adventure! We’ve been blessed with a super-easy kid who is happy, outgoing, adventurous and a great sleeper, although his high energy levels keep us on our toes. (Seriously, the kid does not sit still.)  With that background info, here’s my take on what it’s like to start out parenting as an expat living in Cancun:

Puerto Juarez restaurant

Lunch date with the newborn in Puerto Juarez

Daycare

My understanding is that daycare in the States is around $1000 dollars a month, making many parents question if it would make more sense financially to stay home or continue working. Here in Cancun, daycare costs about anywhere from $50 to $200 a month, depending on how fancy you want to get and how many hours you use. This is still a good chunk of monthly salary for many employees in Cancun, but still more reasonable, I think. If you’re an employee who has IMSS or ISSSTE (Mexican social security and public health care), you are eligible for certain approved daycares for free; the downside is that there is a bit more paperwork up-front and these daycares often have a waiting list, but the opportunity for free daycare far outweighs those two minor inconveniences.

Baby on Isla Mujeres

Baby’s first day trip to Isla Mujeres!

Babysitting

When I was a kid growing up in Virginia, my parents would pay one of the neighbor girls to come over and babysit us two or three evenings a month. When I was in middle and high school, other families from my church would pay me to watch their kids from time to time. In the States, it’s normal to hire a trustworthy friend or acquaintance to watch your kids so you can go out, on a date, etc. Here in Mexico, not so much. I don’t think I know any parent in Cancun who has hired a babysitter, or even asked a close friend to watch their kids. (Correct me if I’m wrong here, guys.) Instead, people here rely almost entirely on family members. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and older cousins are almost always willing to step in and watch your kids, for free! For those parents that have no family in town, they simply don’t go out as much, at least not without their kids, or one parent will stay home so the other can go out. We are incredibly lucky to have Jorge’s family here in Cancun and they are all great babysitters, so we were able to get the occasional full night’s sleep when our son was an infant, and go out on more dates as he has gotten older.

Downtown Cancun taco restaurant

Waiting in line for tacos with Dad

Raising a Bilingual Kid

Our son is being raised bilingual. I speak to him entirely in English, and Jorge speaks to him entirely in Spanish. Since he will be hearing almost all Spanish outside of our home, right now we make sure to balance that out by having all his books, music and shows in English. (He is obsessed with Sesame Street and only Sesame Street.) So far I think it is going well; he took a little longer than most to start talking, but now he has maybe 20 words and phrases, about half in English and half in Spanish. In theory he is supposed to talk to me exclusively in English and to Jorge exclusively in Spanish, but since he is just starting out, we are mostly just focusing on making it easy for him to communicate in whatever language for the moment.

Cancun park for kids

Practicing his walking at the local park! (For awhile there he needed 1 item in each hand for balance)

Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding and formula feeding are both very common in Cancun, and although there is awareness about the pros and cons of each, there doesn’t seem to be any judgment as to which one you choose for your family. Breastfeeding in public isn’t too common, but I think that’s mostly because many moms prefer to stay home with their infants and not take them out much for health reasons; however, when a mother does breastfeed in public, nobody seems to care or notice, even if she isn’t using a cover. If you go to a mother’s home, she probably won’t be shy about breastfeeding while visitors are around. In Mexico, breastfeeding in public is simply a non-issue.

Going Out with a Baby / Toddler

From what I can tell, babies and children are more welcomed in public here in Mexico. Mexicans in general just LOVE kids and are more likely to talk to your kid or compliment them when you go out in public. Some expats here have mentioned that Mexicans are also more likely to want to touch or hold your baby, but personally I haven’t had a stranger touch my son yet, although my friends and family enjoy holding him. It’s common here to see kids running around restaurants, the mall, parties, shops, etc., and nobody seems to mind the extra noise and commotion.

Rio Lagartos with kids

Seeing the flamingos in Rio Lagartos

Buying Baby Stuff

When I first got pregnant, I was worried about not being able to find all the baby accessories I wanted here in Cancun. However, I discovered that most everything is easily available, toys are relatively inexpensive, and feeding accessories like bottles and baby spoons are pretty cheap. Also, local carpentry is pretty affordable and high-quality, so you can easily have a crib or other baby furniture handcrafted for a fraction of the price you’d pay at a fancy store. The small downsides I found to buying baby items in Cancun were the following:

  • Many of the nicer, less essential items like baby swings and bouncers are very expensive as compared to the US, and can mostly only be bought in department stores.
  • Muslin blankets that are so popular in the US right now are hard to come by in Mexico. I suppose you could make your own, but I was surprised to see muslin blankets just aren’t that popular here, even though they’re great for the hot Cancun weather. I’ve heard that Mexican parents prefer to keep babies more bundled up, so maybe that’s why blankets here tend to be made of heavier materials. I have seen muslin blankets for sale at some department stores, but they’re pretty expensive and there aren’t many options. We usually buy a package or two whenever we go to the States.
  • I haven’t seen any English-language kids’ books around town. We always stock up when we go to the States.
  • Brand-name baby clothing, like Carter’s or Osh Kosh, is incredibly expensive in Cancun and usually only available at boutiques and department stores. We like to either buy cheaper clothes in the States, or go to H&M in Playa del Carmen because they have a large kids’ section with stylish and very affordable clothes.
  • Crib mattresses are sold at most grocery stores, but come in very limited sizes. We have a pretty standard-sized crib but had to have a mattress specially made to fit. There are also fewer options for crib sheets. (I’ve noticed good linens in general are hard to find in Cancun at a reasonable price, which is why we usually buy new sheets and towels in the States.)
  • Many of the more specialty baby/toddler accessories aren’t easy to find. For example, those no-spill snack containers that everyone has in the States are almost never seen here in Cancun; when I finally found them at Liverpool department store, I bought two!

Overall, everything we need is right here in Cancun. We only have to buy in the States for those trendy items I see my US friends using, some cheaper but cute clothes and linens, and English-language books, of course.

Activities for Kids

Despite being a young city, Cancun is finally starting to evolve its own local culture and community. Over the past 5 years or so, the city has begun to offer lots more activities and events for kids. It’s easy to find swimming classes, stimulation activities for babies, kids’ theater, etc. Outdoor options for kids abound: just head to the beach, or go to one of the city’s many many many parks, most of which have playgrounds. We especially like Parque Kabah for its natural setting and large wood playground, and our neighborhood has a central park area that fills up with families every night. There’s also a monthly event called Co’ox Cancun on Avenida Nader where they close down the avenue for bikes and pedestrians, along with offering a local market and some family-friendly activities. On rainy days, you can also take your kids to indoor play places like Malecon Kids or Peter Piper’s Pizza (like Chuck E Cheese). Many restaurants have play areas for kids as well, and some restaurants like XBurger and La Casa de los Abuelos also have babysitting for toddlers (at about $20 pesos an hour) so parents can sit down to a kid-free meal.

Cancun family

Park and beach days with Mom and Dad

The Verdict

While there are a few small downsides to having a baby/toddler here, like not finding those specialty items we want, overall I would say I am very happy with our decision to raise our kid in Cancun. Childcare is affordable (for us), the overall culture is very open to all kinds of parenting styles, and we have a strong family network here to support us. I have yet to compare the school system because our son hasn’t started pre-school, but I’m sure I’ll have more to say down the line. I hope this was helpful, although I’m sure my experience will differ from other parents in the Cancun area and other areas of Mexico.

 

 

Cancun Date Night at La Habichuela Downtown

Even when you have the easiest baby in the world, sometimes you just need a date night.

And so, last weekend Jorge and I dropped off the baby with my in-laws and went out for dinner and a movie. First was the movie “Room” at Plaza Las Americas (highly recommend!), then we headed to Parque Las Palapas to experience one of Cancun’s oldest and most iconic restaurants: La Habichuela.

With 38 years of history in Cancun, La Habichuela has two locations: the original restaurant by Parque Las Palapas, and the newer La Habichuela Sunset in the Hotel Zone. (You might remember we went to La Habichuela Sunset about a year ago when I was very, very pregnant.) On this particular night, Jorge and I wanted to try the original.

I had been to the original La Habichuela once before, but never had the opportunity to sit out in the garden and hoped that this would be my night. It had been raining all day, but the sky had completely cleared by the time we arrived; much to my delight, they had a covered terrace area within the garden, just in case of rain. The host sat us at the last table for two on the narrow terrace that had filled up with customers, mostly small groups of tourists and a few locals.

The garden area twinkled with little white lights, accented by Mayan statues and small trees. A Downtown Cancun fairytale setting! Yes, date night had begun.

Right away, the waiter brought us a jícara (dried gourd) filled with a Mayan drink called balché, made with tree bark, honey and water. Definitely one of the most refreshing drinks I’ve ever had and the perfect way to start the night. Jorge offered himself up as the designated driver for the evening, and I took advantage of my baby-free evening by ordering a few mojitos.

We were both in the mood for some soups, so Jorge got the cream of habichuela (string bean) and I got the lobster bisque; I’m pretty picky about soups, and these were delicious! Jorge and I filled up so much on soups that we couldn’t even finish our shrimp. (No worries, we ate the rest at lunch the next day.) Both of our shrimp entrees were wonderful, especially the sauces that came with them.

And for dessert… anybody who knows me, knows that if it’s not a chocolate dessert, I’m not interested. Well, La Habichuela changed my mind. The staff recommended the flambéed strawberries, so I asked Jorge if he wanted to take the risk with me, and he was happy to go along. Our server, Muse, brought all the flambé equipment tableside, and we looked on as he added cassis, red wine and brandy to the hot pan of strawberry slices. Then, he served the strawberries and sauce over vanilla ice cream and gave us each a glass. I had in front of me two things I’m not a fan of: vanilla ice cream and a non-chocolate dessert. Less than excited, I took my first bite… and discovered I had been so, so wrong. The flambéed strawberries and ice cream they had prepared was one of the best things I have ever tried, even better than *most* chocolate cakes. Thank you La Habichuela for taking me out of my comfort zone!

I think that my years as a waitress plus my years living in a city with so many cool restaurants has made me pretty picky about food, service and atmosphere. La Habichuela got gold stars in all three!

Christmas in Cancun

I have always traveled back to the States for Christmas, ever since I moved to Cancun in 2005. That’s 10 Christmases. This year, I will finally be spending my very first Christmas in Cancun.

And guess what? I don’t feel very Christmas-y. Only 2 houses on our street have put up Christmas lights (1 of them is us), for some reason our tree doesn’t smell very pine-y this year, Jorge and I have been too busy to watch many Christmas movies, and it’s just too darn hot to feel like Christmas.

But that doesn’t mean we haven’t been trying to get into the holiday spirit! It is also baby’s first Christmas, and we are excited to see him open presents and go through his stocking. (Funny side story about that stocking: 5 years ago, Jorge had his first Christmas in the States, but he didn’t own a stocking. We ordered him a cute snowman stocking online from Target. When we opened the box… the stocking was considerably larger than we had anticipated! We kept it hidden away all these years, and now since we forgot to buy baby’s stocking in advance, we are rocking the giant stocking once again.)

As always, we set up a Christmas tree (smaller than usual this year). Jorge has always wanted a train around the tree, so we picked up a cute one from Home Depot in early December. My mother is the queen of giftwrapping, and she passed that talent down to my sisters and me. I couldn’t find curling ribbon in Cancun, but the thick ribbon looks pretty festive!

I also went with some friends to a local Cancun Christmas tradition: the Sunset Boat Parade. First I went to the press tweet-up for a sunset yacht ride from the Sunset Admiral Yacht Club & Marina last week…

…then attended the big Sunset Boat Parade event on Sunday night at Jardin del Arte on the lagoon. The Manos Magicas Christmas market was there with lots of local Cancun artisanry, along with live shows. Everyone lined up along the lagoon to watch the boat parade, a flyboarding show and a beautiful fireworks display. It started very, very late, but it was a very cool Cancun-style Christmas event! The water looked amazing.

Last night I baked cookies and watched Christmas specials with some girlfriends, and tonight Jorge and I will be watching our all-time favorite Christmas movie: Home Alone! Then we are having Christmas Eve dinner and lunch on the 25th with my in-laws, and my entire family is coming to Cancun to visit me the week after! The warm weather has me feeling un-Christmas-y this year, but we are surrounded by so much love, family and beauty this year. I thank God for everything.

Happy Holidays to you all, however or wherever you are celebrating!

Newborn Photo Shoot!

Jorge and I are now the proud parents to a handsome baby boy! Baby “A” caught us all by surprise and arrived 3 weeks early, and so far he has been a very, very easy and laid-back baby.

He is over a month old now, but I have been way too busy with family, baby and work to post about him on the blog until today. I have already been posting photos of him on the Facebook page and my Instagram (@CancunGringa), but he hadn’t made it to the blog quite yet.

The good news is that we now have the images from his newborn photo shoot, thanks to Monica Lopez Photography. Some of my long-time readers will remember that Monica also shot our Trash the Dress photo shoot on Isla Mujeres several years ago.

The newborn photo shoot was done in our house and around our neighborhood. We have several pretty parks nearby, and we may have snuck into a neighbor’s yard at one point.

Here are my favorite pictures of A, with his parents making a few appearances. 🙂

Cancun Is Home Now

I’ve lived in Cancun for almost 10 years now, but through all that time, the USA was always still “home” to me. I anxiously awaited every trip back to the States, and I closely followed the news back home.

This year, things changed.

Jorge and I just spent 2 weeks in the States (Christmas with my sisters, and New Years in Orlando). We had such an amazing time, but it seemed strange when I realized that I was anxious to get back to Cancun. When we arrived back in Cancun, I stepped outside the airport and smiled as the hot, humid air filled my nose while I pulled my suitcase through the parking lot. I was home. Cancun was home.

Throughout 2014, I also stopped reading news stories from the USA. Something inside me said, “These social problems aren’t your problems now. You don’t live in the USA. You haven’t lived in the USA since 2005. You need to focus on Mexico, now.”

Maybe it’s because my parents moved to South America this year. Maybe it’s because we’re having a kid that will grow up here and have Mexican heritage. Maybe I’ve finally just been here long enough to let go of another life. But I’m happy. I love Cancun.

This must just be another stage of expat life.

And now… Bonus pictures! Thanks for reading. Here are a few of our Orlando photos… it was so weird being a tourist! We’re used to being the cool locals, so making the transition to nerdy tourist was tough.

How to Tell Your In-Laws You’re Pregnant

Jorge and I wanted a special way to tell his family about the baby, especially because it will be the first grandchild for his parents and the first niece or nephew for his brothers. My wonderful mother-in-law has been throwing out not-so-subtle hints for years that she would love grandchildren sooner rather than later. I think she was surprised to find out we weren’t planning on having kids right when we got married 4 years ago!

Since we were announcing a few weeks before Christmas, I came up with the idea to make some personalized ornaments as an “early Christmas gift”. We NEVER give out Christmas gifts so early, and honestly I was really, really surprised that they weren’t even a little bit suspicious.

I won’t go into too many details. Instead, here’s the video!

Note: The “tia” ornament was for my brother-in-law’s girlfriend, who had to work that night.

My side of the family is equally excited, but since we’re spread out between 3 different countries, it’s hard to organize a big surprise!

THE Big Announcement!

So whenever I have an announcement to make, people always assume it’s a pregnancy announcement. That’s just one of the side effects of being a 20-something female!

But this time… it’s true!

Jorge’s a big gamer, so we made this for our Facebook announcement:

I’m 3 months along with Baby Mendez, and Jorge and I are both very excited! I’ll be keeping you guys posted here and/or on my Facebook page.

A Cancun-Style Fairytale

In summer 2005, I left my family and friends behind. At age 19 I had moved to Cancun, a place where I didn’t know anybody. My first memory of the city is riding in a van from the airport to the downtown bus station. The van passed through the entire length of the Cancun Hotel Zone, stopping to let off other passengers along the way. The city had me hooked immediately. From that first van ride from the airport, I was mesmerized by the glittering lights of the huge beach hotels. This was where I belonged.

This week, 9 years of exploring, writing and learning have culminated in something pretty cool: one of the biggest travel publications in the world has named me a Cancun expert.

I’m thrilled to announce that I’m the Travel + Leisure Cancun Local Expert!

It’s every travel writer’s dream to write for a huge publication like Travel + Leisure, and I’m beyond happy to be working with them. I’ll be sharing my Travel + Leisure articles periodically on the Gringation Blog Facebook page so you can see even more of this city that I love so much.

They also have an extensive list of other great travel experts in different cities across the globe, which you can see here. I’m in good company.

From confused teenage American in 2005… to top Cancun travel expert in 2014!

Thanks to my parents for going along with my crazy move to Mexico, to Jorge for always being there to convince me I’m superwoman, to my boss Michele Kinnon at BuyPlaya Real Estate for recommending me to Travel + Leisure, and to all of my Mexican friends who have showed me what this culture is all about over the past decade.

In Case I Ever Complain About Anything…

…just remind me of this post.

Last night was the whole “blood moon” thing, which I was too tired to see. However, lots of Cancun locals headed to the beach to see it. I just happened to be in the Hotel Zone with Joge’s family last night, and around 11pm we decided to buy some pizza and head to Playa Delfines, otherwise known as “El Mirador”. (Just picture this beach, but at night.)

We ate pizza and drank Coca Cola using one of those little palapa-table things, while everyone else around us set up their telescopes in preparation for the blood moon. We didn’t stick around nearly long enough to see it, but it was an amazing hour of family, ocean breezes, a full moon and lots of other Cancun locals enjoying it just like we were.

I have to remind myself that those are the moments I’ll always remember. Beach nights, full moons, pizza parties… not sitting around staring at my cell phone.