Monthly Archives: October 2014

It’s Complicated…………….Part 2


Yay! The computers are working again at IMSS.  Pedro phoned to check yesterday so we decided to return to the office today.

But what a difference one day can make! We are greeted at the reception desk only to be told that sadly the computers are down AGAIN! But if we want to take a number and wait our turn, they will take down my name and CURP number and will email me when I can come back. We decide to wait.

Periodically one of the staff addressed everyone in the waiting room urging people to go to other IMSS locations. A second option was to complete a form and wait to be contacted as to when to return. The third option was to wait, and wait we did.

Almost three hours later it was our turn. By some miracle the computers were now working again, albeit extremely slowly. A mere half hour later , armed with yet another form with my new social security number, we trudged back up the stairs. Of course we had to take another number and wait our turn once again. And finally our number was called.

And the staff remembered us and were most friendly. Only one more form to fill out now. The form was in Spanish so Pedro filled it out and I signed it.  And then it was back down the stairs to get a form to take to the bank to pay the registration fee.  

Ah yes, the bank! There was a Bancomer right next to IMSS. But the fees cannot be paid at this bank. Bancomer is not on the list of approved banks by IMSS. Four blocks away we find an HSBC, a bank on the list! There was a short lineup here, so we were not able to enjoy the air-conditioned building for too long. 

Back we go to the IMSS building. Up the stairs we go again to see our friend Oscar. Yes, we are now on a first name basis with the staff. He explains in great detail the next steps in the process and hands me a sealed envelope containing more documents. I have been assigned to a clinic. I need to go to the director’s office where I will get an appointment to see a doctor. This doctor then examines me and approves my application. Then I am given more documents. And I need to bring these documents back to my friend Oscar at the IMSS office.

But all this will have to wait. I am off to Culiacan on Thursday to see my grandsons.

Stay tuned for Part 3……………..


It’s Complicated…………Part 1


So Karen, you thought you were home free. You got your residente temporal and it only took five months. But now it’s time to get health insurance.

First step is to get all the documents together. Two mug shots. Check. Two photocopies of front page of passport. Check. Two photocopies of residente temporal tarjeta. Check. Two photocopies of utility bill. Check. Two photocopies of letter from landlord indicating that he is acting on behalf of the person named on the utility bill. Check. Two photocopies of landlord’s identification card. Check.

Now it’s time to head to the office of Seguro Popular. This is too easy. The office is a mere six blocks from my house. And it is too easy. I’m not eligible as I don’t have a residente permanent. Time to check out the other government program called IMMS.

So off I go to IMMS the following week. Nope. Not eligible here either. There must be a minimum of two people in a household to sign up for this program. I offer to pay for two and the man shakes his head. He tells me that the school where I teach is obligated by law to provide me with health insurance and that is the only way I can qualify. And of course the school does not provide insurance for the teachers.

Frustrated I turn to the Expat groups on Facebook. Not surprisingly many people have shared my experience. However several others have been able to obtain Seguro Popular with a temporal. Apparently in Nayarit and in Mazatlan IMSS is available to singles. And the comments continued to be voiced.

I have this remarkable student who also happens to be a doctor in an IMSS hospital. He investigated further for me and informed me that it was possible for me to obtain insurance. And if I didn’t mind, he would like to accompany me to the office to register for health insurance. Needless to say, I was completely overwhelmed by his kindness and generosity.

And I only needed one additional document. I required my birth certificate translated into Spanish by a state designated translator. And of course the obligatory two photocopies of said document. Check.

So off we went to IMSS. Initially we were informed that I did not qualify as there must be a minimum of two people. Here we go again! Pedro was very persuasive and an hour and a half later I was given approval to apply for health coverage. But first we must return to the main floor where I will be given a number for social security.  So down we go only to be told that the computers are down and have been down for a week. And without a number I am unable to go through the application process. Therefore another visit was now necessary.

And the computers are still down a week later. And apparently not just at IMSS, but at Immigration as well. My CURP number was supposed to be available days ago, but has not surfaced. I need this number to register for taxes and get a seniors discount card, among other things. My lawyer and good friend German is looking into this for me now. And once this is all out of the way, I want to open a bank account. And maybe it’s time to get my Canadian phone unlocked. I’m tired of carrying around two phones. And then ………..

Stay tuned for Part 2……………….


Pollack? Hendin? What’s In A Name?


Yesterday one of my friends here in Mexico asked me why I hadn’t changed my surname now that I am divorced. And of course this got me thinking………….

When I got married I eagerly changed my surname “Pollack” to that of my husband “Hendin”. Then, when the marriage ended, I rather impulsively began using my maiden name again. However I have yet to legally change it.

Why? There are two very simple reasons. One is the financial cost and the hassle associated with this. Credit cards, bank accounts, investments, health insurance, passports, driver’s license, etc. But the more important reason is that for some forty odd years I have been known by my married name. That has been my identity. Professionally this has been my name. And I also firmly believe it’s the person that counts. It doesn’t matter what name I use. I am ME!

Back in the 70’s when I married, hyphenating the maiden name with the married name was common although it is today. And now many women choose to keep their maiden name rather than change it to the married name. It seems that the idea of changing a maiden name to the husband’s name has gone by the wayside along with the idea that marriage is forever, as supported by the high divorce rate in North America.

My daughter is about to marry a man with a hyphenated surname. When I asked her what she intended to do, I was informed that the jury is still out on that one. It is still in discussion.

As for me, should I ever decide to remarry, changing my name again will only happen if my husband and I are to use a completely new name, one very different from either of the names we have used in the past. And that is the only circumstance under which I will ever change my name again!


I Am Thankful For Potatoes


This morning as I was preparing my breakfast potatoes a million memories flashed through my brain and all of these are associated with this delicious root vegetable.

Until I was three, my family lived with my grandparents in a house in the infamous north end of Winnipeg. And only steps away on Main Street was a restaurant called Kelekis. This was home to the most awesome shoestring fries (at that time they were known as “chips”) and the takeout window was one of my favorite places. When we moved to the south end of the city, Kelekis was always a pit stop for a snack for the long drive home.

The years went by and fast food chains such as McDonalds soon invaded with their version of french fries (the term “chips” was now designated to the dried crispy potatoes sold in packages in grocery stores). 

Juniors was a hamburger stand across from the train station further south on Main Street. Their fries were awesome as well. One of their biggest fans was my dog Koal. He would often eagerly wolf down this tantalizing treat.

Sadly Kelekis is no more but Juniors is still there although it has been known as VJ’s for several years now.  And it is always on my itinerary when I return to Winnipeg for a visit.

Of course there is more to potatoes than the french fried version. Acropolis Restaurant in Winnipeg was where I first tasted the Greek style lemon potatoes. Through the years I have enjoyed these potatoes in numerous Greek restaurants but those first ones will always be the special ones to me.

Then baked potato soup came into my life via Tony Roma’s in Winnipeg. This gave the simple side dish of loaded baked potatoes an entirely new meaning. Somehow having that creamy potato soup adorned with chopped green onions and bacon easily became a favorite, especially with the climate in Manitoba.

Baked sweet potatoes were featured on the menu at Outback in the USA, and I was hooked. I even began to cook these in my own kitchen at home complete with the butter and cinnamon.

And then sweet potato fries became all the rage. These became quite common on many restaurant menus, and were found in the frozen sections of grocery stores.

But my absolute favorite potato is the sweet potato dish my daughter whips up on holidays. And now that she lives in Ontario, it has been years since I have eaten her sweet potatoes, although I have often attempted to duplicate hers over the years. Alas mine are not nearly as creamy, light or tasty. The last time I made these was a year ago when I was in Winnipeg.

I can’t believe that a year has flown by since I cooked that last Thanksgiving dinner in Winnipeg. Kyle and Krista came over for dinner, and of course my son accused me of preparing far too much food. Guilty as charged but the only way I know how to cook. The menu was turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, veggies, cole slaw, jello mold and homemade rosemary bread. Dessert was pumpkin pie, apple pie and three types of dainties.  Yes…..dinner for three!

But now that it is a year later and I am back on my own in Mexico, I wish that I could linger a few minutes more at that table with my family in Canada. But I am thankful for that one last dinner together. I am thankful for my children. I am thankful for my friends. I am thankful that God has blessed me with the life I once had and the life I now have.



Do you think about dying?


Do you think about dying? I used to think about it a lot at certain times in my life. As a child, death was always portrayed to me as a horrific experience, especially by my mother. Death was not a subject to be discussed with children. There was never a mention of heaven or of someone being at rest after suffering a prolonged illness. Instead all was centered around grieving endlessly with tears and unhappiness, and the idea that the world had come to an end because someone had died. I was traumatized by these images.

I was a baby when my grandfather died. All I recall is that my grandmother stayed in this big house after he died, and she rented out rooms to people. Part of the reasoning may have been financial, but I think she enjoyed the company of having others around. I was eight when she passed away, and was extremely upset when I was not allowed to attend the funeral.

My other grandfather died the day of my piano exam and the day before my ballet exam. I was eleven at the time. Again, arrangements were made so that I took the exams and did not attend the funeral. When I was thirteen my favorite uncle died. After much debate, I was allowed to attend that funeral.

When I had children of my own, I handled death very differently. I talked to my children and read books to them. Whenever possible, I took them to the hospital for visits, and I allowed them to come to the cemetery and to attend funerals at a very young age. I handled their curiosity with openness, and I firmly believe that this is a much healthier approach than the one my own parents used.

Death is part of life. It is inevitable. That I accepted readily as a child. But my perception was that when people died, it was devastating for those left behind. I never really thought much about what came next for the deceased.

In actuality I never really feared death until a couple of years ago when I was terrified that my life was about to come to an end. I finally consented to knee replacement surgery, the same surgery that had taken my mother’s life eighteen years ago. I was convinced that the end was near. I redrafted my will. I prepared special letters for my children and placed them carefully in envelopes along with copies of Robert Munsch’s book, Love You Forever. And the night before the surgery I emailed my obituary to my children.

I was absolutely amazed when I survived that surgery. And a year later I had the other knee done as well. So was all that anxiety and fear of death unnecessary and for naught?

I now give a great deal of thought as to what comes after death. Is there a heaven? Is there a hell? Who is waiting for me in the afterlife? I’m divorced. Before the divorce I always thought my husband would be there if he went first. Now I hope he won’t be there.

I like to think that I will see my parents again. That is a comforting thought. I haven’t seen my father in almost thirty-eight years. He never knew his grandchildren. But I am glad that both of my parents were gone when I got divorced. Yes it would have been nice to have some family around to support me, but I also think that they would have been very upset about the situation. After all, divorce is also a death- the death of a relationship.

I wonder if I will see Kelsey and Koal again. These were my beloved pets over the years. I held them lovingly in my arms as they each breathed their last breath. Kelsey passed away shortly after his sixteenth birthday. Koal passed away just before his sixteenth birthday. I hope that they have found each other and will be there with wagging tails waiting for me.

We are born, we live and we die. And then…………

So It’s A Little Different Here in Mexico


I am not your typical expat, or what many people stereotype an expat to be. Many of my friends back in Winnipeg have this image in their heads of what my life is like here in Mexico.

Yet nothing could be farther from the truth. Indeed I haven’t seen a beach in over a year now. Guadalajara is more than five hours away from Puerto Vallarta.

My life here is not lying on a beach all day or suntanning on a terrace. I’m up early two mornings a week and heading for the bus before the sun is even close to rising. And three nights a week I return home from work long after the sun has set.

No, I do not have to contend with snow and freezing temperatures. And I do teach considerably fewer hours than I would if I still lived in Canada. Despite the numerous concessions I have made in adapting to this lifestyle, I am quite content with my life here in Mexico. And I enjoy hilarious discussions with others when we compare situations that have arisen and we compare them with how they would have been handled in the USA or Canada.

Of  particular note is the Mexicans fascination with paperwork. After all, why complete only one form with a multitude of information when it is possible to fill out several repetitious forms instead? And let’s not forget all those absolutely necessary photocopies that are not required after all. And when it comes to proof of identification…………..well, I won’t even go there!


Let’s apply for a work visa, or a bank account, or health insurance. Why should you make only one visit to that office when it’s possible to return for several visits? The security staff become your friends, you talk to complete strangers in endless lineups and the hours pass by not so quickly.

And while we’re on the subject of paper, toilet paper has some other incredible uses here in Mexico. It is often prominently displayed on tabletops in lieu of napkins or serviettes.  It doubles as paper towels in the kitchen. It is often seen on the dashboards of cars and buses. But it is often missing in the bathrooms, along with the toilet seats.


I admit it. I drink juice with a straw out of a plastic bag.  And I eat lollipops in class with my students. I also suck candies out of a straw. I eat potato chips with crema and salsa. I sprinkle tajin on cucumber slices. And of course I squeeze lime into soup or whatever else I’m eating. Tamales and tacos have become breakfast foods. But I still can’t bring myself to drown my pizza in ketchup or salad dressing.

Riding the buses in Guadalajara is rather wild when I compare it with the experience back in Canada. I have yet to ride a bus here that would pass a safety inspection and be allowed on the streets in Winnipeg. The vehicles here are ancient, dilapidated and dangerous. The drivers are not paid a salary but receive a percentage of the take, so they race each other from stop to stop, trying to cram as many people as they can on board. Although certain areas are marked “parada”, the drivers often fly by as they want to get the green light. If there is too much traffic, drivers impatiently change the route to accommodate their mood. Obviously there are no schedules either.

What I enjoy is watching what people carry with them on the bus. I have seen everything from car parts to live animals. Yesterday a woman had a decorative castle that took up two seats. Vendors on their way to market get on with flowers, clothing, jewelry and food. People get on selling candy or religious items, or occasionally just begging for money telling a tale of their health problems. But what I like best are the people with guitars, harmonicas, violins or drums who serenade us. Some of them are actually quite talented. The ones I dislike are the face-painted clowns who natter on endlessly in Spanish with jokes that are far from amusing.

Of course the long distance buses are a completely different story. I use the first class buses whenever possible. These air-conditioned buses are extremely comfortable with reclining seats and computer terminals where I can watch movies or concerts and listen to music of my choice. And these buses all have Wifi. And you are given a bag with a sandwich, potato chips, a cookie and a drink as well.

Mexicans love to protest and demonstrate. There are often very peaceful marches throughout the downtown area that snarl vehicular traffic as they stretch for blocks on end, complete with banners and flags. On one occasion, I joined the bus driver and other passengers at a taco stand as we waited for this parade of people to pass by. 



 The odd time these events are not so peaceful. The day I first arrived in Guadalajara back in 2011, twenty-five heads rolled down the main street in Centro. And on occasion, buses have been burned although passengers are always escorted to safety before these vehicles are set on fire. Unfortunately the Canadian media tends to sensationalize these occurrences in order to dissuade people from coming to Mexico. This is laughable to me as my hometown in Canada has been the murder capital of the country for many years. When I return to visit, I dare not wander the streets alone at night although here in Mexico I do it all the time. I feel safer in the Centro area here in Guadalajara than I do in downtown Winnipeg, day and night.

A couple of weeks ago I was in Centro Tlaquepaque to hear the Gritto associated with September 16th, Independence Day. Thousands of people swarmed the square on this occasion, voices ringing out loudly the Mexican national anthem. An incredible fireworks display followed and entertainment continued way into the wee hours of the morning.


Yes, I love my life in the land of manana. I have immersed myself in the culture and have met some amazing people. I have ridden in the back of  pickup trucks and have taken a thrilling train ride up in the mountains. I have basked on beaches and gazed at magnificent pyramids. And many more exciting adventures await me here. Now if only the Spanish language didn’t have so many verb tenses………….