Posted by: lianadevine | 18 October 2011

The First Thanksgiving

It’s tough finding whole, ready-to-cook turkeys in Oaxaca in time for Canadian Thanksgiving.  Unless you want one on the hoof.  We almost opted for this in previous years but instead improvised with a Frankenstein-like fabrication of two smoked turkey drumsticks from one store and a rolled turkey breast roast from another.  Now, living across the street from a flock of turkeys that are more of a noise nuisance than those cock-a doodle-dooers that have no sense of time, it gave us a kind of pleasure to sacrifice one to put on our table.  And not just an mmmm-mmmm-good pleasure.

gobbler on the run

Our neighbours help us celebrate Thanksgiving

So as the early Canadians did at their first Thanksgiving, we did for our first Thanksgiving in El Tule: caught one on the run and invited him to dinner.  Our neighbour charged us handsomely for it, but wouldn’t kill and clean it for us.  Instead, I found another neighbour who used to butcher hens and said she would be willing to take on the task, for free.  So Sunday afternoon she arrived with knives in hand, I put on a big pot of boiling water, and we went across the street. Calvin preferred to stay busy in the house while the dirty work was done, but once we returned with the bird and started the cleaning process he did sneak a few peeks and at least one photo.  At the end of it all, we had a 5 kg gobbler better-cleaned than many store-boughts we’d had in the past, and still Doña Conchita refused any payment.  But I had another plan up my sleeve…we took her a warm plate of turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, potatoes with gravy, horseradish-topped carrots, zucchini casserole and 3 pieces of pumpkin-praline chiffon pie to enjoy the taste of Canadian Thanksgiving.

this is also how he mixes cement

Calvin surprised me by setting our new oven in place in the new kitchen so I could bake the traditional pumpkin pie, and I hadn’t even noticed our barbecue propane tanks lined up against the kitchen wall with a makeshift line into the gas oven.  Monday, we were full on preparing our full-meal deal for our workers’ lunch break at 1 p.m.  Well, we were only delayed a half hour when we realized that one of the propane bottles had run out, and we didn’t bother to serve the underbaked yam.  But Alex, Leo and Don Adán experienced their first traditional Canadian Thanksgiving dinner, not a chile or tortilla in sight.  We warned them about the aftereffects of turkey tryptophan, and between that and a few cervezas the work on our laundry/sewing room roof went quite slowly the rest of the day.

Not so the day we had poured that roof.  After Don Adán had spent a week breaking out the old concrete roof with a Hilti gun, then 3 days untying all the rebar that had

Don Adan

the ultimate in recycling

held the old roof together, the forms for the roof were built and the forest of roof supports was put into place.  Most of the rubble from the old roof was hauled out to the street to be collected later, but the smaller stuff we used to fill in an area of the yard that will be the patio for the rental casita.  Our workers were prepared to stay late the night before the roof pour to finish tying rebar and putting in the wood forms for our glass skylights, but we were losing light so we sent them home.  The cement crew had been booked for 8 a.m. the next morning, so there was fast-paced action as ALL workers tied rebar and nailed down forms.  Then the cement machine cranked up – both the mechanical component and the human contingent.

makeshift ladder

non-stop cement pour

Well-choreographed, each worker knew what to do, where to go and when; we just tried to stay out of the way.  One team filled the cement mixer with sand, gravel, cement and water in the prescribed amounts and mixed it for the prescribed time, then flipped the mixer over and let the cement pour out for Don Adán to scoop into the waiting buckets of up to 5 workers.  It was an intense hour and a half as the conga line of workers hoisted the cement-filled buckets onto their shoulders, scurried up the improvised stairs and dumped it down on the roof where Leo and Galdino directed.  Back down the ladder (past others coming up) to refill the bucket…rinse and repeat.  Alex passed out well-deserved beer after the pour, the cement team cleaned up their machine, loaded it into their truck and drove off, leaving Leo and Galdino to vibrate and float the new roof into place.

Two weeks have passed since that roof was poured and the bosque of roof supports still stands, waiting for their next use under the roof of the casita.  Meantime, Galdino started the petatilloroof that Alex swears will not leak.  This style of waterproofing involves a herringbone-patterned layer of thin brick over the cement roof with a thin layer of cement over it that seals up the spaces between the brick and miraculously prevents water from filtering through.


Calvin can never NOT change something

Alex says he will sleep fine at night knowing we will not have any leaks and centuries of Oaxacan buildings seem to prove him right.  I bought a gargoyle to spit out rainwater – we’ve often admired the variety of creatures available – but ours is a mean-looking pig that will remind us not to be “water hogs”.

I made the executive decision on the gargoyle in Calvin’s absence: he spent a fun and rewarding week in Reynosa assisting a team of engineers in troubleshooting their injection molding system.  So as the patrona, it was up to me to make the decisions on our house, which at first seemed daunting, but turned out fine because there weren’t  any to be made.  Leo spent three days laying our kitchen floor tile in the pattern we’d specified previously and I assisted by cleaning the excess glue from the grout lines until my fingers blistered.

herringbone pattern

Oaxaca Waterproofing

Then he continued the petatillo roof that Galdino had started because now Leo and Don Adán were the only workers with us, a sign the project is winding down.  Don Adán prepped the casita by knocking out the back wall of the bathrooms, giving us a “loo with a view” until we had to move the water tank on the roof to a sturdier location and we lost water supply to that building.  But the walls of the bathroom addition are going up and the casita looks like our Google Sketchup plan.  Alex keeps promising only two more weeks until they’re done, and this time I almost believe him.



  1. Hi Guys,
    I just got caught up on your blog! Fantastic plans are underway for your new home. It looks like a LOT of work but I imagine the end result will be spectacular!
    I didn’t realize you were living in the town with the worlds oldest tree. We visited the tree before coming to Oaxaca where we eventually met the two of you for the first time.
    Do you remember Sam and Bernie? A Canadian couple in a camper van heading to South America? Well Sam and I have been communicating via email and Skype for a few years now and we will have a face to face visit March 31! Remy and the boys and I will vacation in Sayulita for about 17days and Sam will come for a vista for a few days. Can’t wait. Then- here is the really great part…. I’ll stay in Mexico with her for an extra week to travel around and celebrate Semana Santa. Not sure where we will visit- probably just head back to La Manzanilla where she is living as I imagine accommodations will be hard to come by with all the Mexicans on vacation.
    Anyway… life is great. We are happy and healthy but missing Mexico so needed to come back even if it’s just for a short time.

    Hugs to you both- maybe a wee back massage after all that hard labour.
    Keep up with the blog and photos!


  2. Hi, Leanne and Calvin.

    I hadn’t visited “Ventana Vistas” for a while, but I was glad when I did because I found a lot to read!

    I enoyed hearing about your Thanksgiving meal. The menu sounds wonderful, and I’m sure you, Doña Conchita, and the others enjoyed all the goodies. We had a lot of good things, too—turkey breast, oyster dressing, roasted brussels sprouts, homemade butterhorn rolls, jellied cranberry sauce, and maybe a couple of other things I can’t remember now.

    Work seems to be coming along swimmingly on your house,and I’m sure that an enormous amount of progress has been made by now in both the interior and exterior, thanks to the many skills you two have and the excellent helpers you’ve been able to find. I hope you’ll find time to take photos of what things look like now.

    I also hope you’ll find the time to drop me a few lines via e-mail. I’d love to hear more about how both of you are doing now!

    Muchos abrazos—


  3. Hello Guys, I hope that you will be filling us in since Thanksgiving, Claude

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