Alley Cats

When we lived in Maine we had our share of backyard visitors. From rabbits to bears there was always an interesting species to gaze at through the windows. However, since they were wild animals we never interacted with them, and we instructed the kids to give these animals plenty of space.

Since arriving in Merida, Mexico we have encountered a new type of backyard visitor: the alley cat. Little did we know when renting our house that it came with a backyard full of alley cats. The landlords left us instructions to feed the cats as they help keep away rodents and other pests. At first we weren’t sure that this was such a good idea. It definitely goes against our “leave wild animals to themselves” motto. However, we quickly discovered that many of these cats are more akin to pets then wild animals, and a few are used to being fed several times daily by the inhabitants of the house.


So, we began a daily ritual of feeding and getting to know the cats. Most of them stay up on the roof and only come down when food is put out. It is actually kind of creepy to know that they are watching you from above all day. Usually they are very skittish and shy, but the group has no problem flocking into the yard when they hear the cat food being poured.



In our first few days here we noticed one little fellow (we call him Young Tiger) who was the runt of the group. He was often picked on by some of the older, street hardened alley cats and pushed away from the food. Our family took a liking to him and we began to give him special treatment. After that he started to spend all of his time in our yard and put up with High Five’s loud, erratic attempts at becoming friends :) With the kids’ protection and constant care he has gained weight and is starting to hold his own against the other cats.


Feeding alley cats is an odd situation to find ourselves in, and we probably wouldn’t be doing it if the landlords hadn’t made the request (and provided the initial food). It feels weird to take care of an animal knowing that we will be leaving in a short while. However, the kids have dearly loved getting acquainted with their favorite, Young Tiger, and hopefully the landlords will step back in and continue with his feedings when we leave.


What is your policy on feeding alley cats? Have you ever lived in an area with stray cats?

Dengue Vu

Our time in Mérida, Mexico has taught up many lessons about living in a tropical climate:

- Never go to sleep without a fan
– Try to wear as little clothing as possible
– Ants will find their way to any scrap of food, no matter how minuscule
– Mosquitoes are very efficient carriers of disease.


Over the last two weeks our home school science lessons have been made very easy as the kids witnessed first hand how those annoying buzzing bugs (that we just can’t keep out of the house) transferred Dengue Fever between mom and dad. So, just as Five Spice was back up on her feet Five String was taking her place in the fetal position waiting for the fevers to run their course. This time around we have learned our lesson and are keeping Five String covered from head to toe in clothing, which will hopefully keep the mosquitoes from transferring the disease once again. The clothing also helps to hide the very prominent Dengue Rash that covers almost 90% of Five Strings body.


While the tropics sound good during New England’s freezing cold winters we are starting to long for a Fall Freeze that would kill off our flying house guests and take down Dengue Fever with them.

Bikram Ballroom

Things have been a bit slow for us as of late. We’re still in recuperation mode as Five Spice recovers from a one week bout with dengue fever, so there’s nothing much to report. Except, of course, an important first step in her convalesce: a dance party. Not letting the 92 degree heat and 80% humidity deter us, we really got the white blood cells flowing in tune to the rhythm. Probably not what the doctor would recommend, but definitely what the doctor ordered :)

Lost in a World of Mayan Mysteries



While looking for some engaging resources in preparation for studying and visiting Rome, we came across an amazing computer program created by Dig-It Games called Mayan Mysteries. The Younger Fives weren’t exactly hesitant when given the opportunity to play a video game to learn more about the Mayans, and the Older Fives lost any reservations they may have had once they saw the incredible, engaging learning packed into every moment of the game.

The game grabs kids’ (and adults’) attention from the very start. The game’s opening (as well as parts of the story later on) is told in graphic novel form, which gives players the opportunity to absorb information from the art as they read. From there, players travel to several real Mayan sites and complete challenges to advance. Some of the activities follow a set format, such as reading a page from an archaeologist’s journal, evading looters by answering questions correctly, and labeling information on a map. Others are unique to each level, such as using Mayan math to help a king figure out the amount of tribute owed, using archaeological equipment to retrieve artifacts from a dig site, or entering a temple and collecting artifacts that follow a certain theme. As parents, we couldn’t be more impressed with how the game teaches a ton of historical information in a way that ensures players encounter facts in a variety of contexts and apply them during the game play.

Fives’ Facts about Mayan Mysteries
* Format and Cost:
There is an single-player online and iPad version costing $3.99 (there is also a classroom version).
* Age: Designed for grades 5-9, but there is much that younger players can handle on their own. A nice feature is that all text can be read aloud by clicking an icon.
Duration: The game is estimated to take 9+ hours. It automatically saves your progress, so it is easy to stop and pick up where you left off later on.
Accuracy: All content was verified by a Mayan expert
Other Titles: The company’s other main game is Rome Town (it is being updated at the moment but should be available soon). They also have a series of math apps called Loot Pursuit.




Plunging into the Past at Dzibilchaltún


“We get to wear our bathing suits to the ruins? Cool!” Visiting Mayan ruins in the summer can be a hot and sun-drenched experience, but we (particularly the Younger Fives) were excited to learn about a Mayan site where visitors can take a swim right inside the historical site. And we were even happier to learn it is the closest ruins to our home for the next three months, Mérida.

While the Mayan ruins of Dzibilchaltún get overshadowed by more famous sites such as Palenque and Chichen Itza, it is well worth the visit. Like other ancient Mayan cities in the Yucatan, the site was built around a cenote, a limestone sinkhole that provides freshwater in a hot landscape with no above-ground rivers. What makes Dzibilchaltún special is that visitors are allowed to swim during their visit. While we had conflicting feelings about swimming in water that was and still is considered sacred by the Mayans and their descendants, the lure of the clear, cool water was too much to resist. Dzibilchaltún is also well known for its showcase of Mayan architectural and astronomical know-how. During the spring and fall equinoxes, the rising sun shines directly through the front and rear entrances of the Temple of the Seven Dolls and seems to pause within the temple before continuing on its journey.

Fives’ Facts about Dzibilchaltún

* Getting ThereDzibilchaltún is about 10 km from the northern edge of Mérida. The cheapest option is taking a collectivo from Parque San Juan (Calle 69 between 62 and 64), but none were running the Tuesday we went (maybe just on weekends?). There is also a new city-run bus route that leaves twice a day from the main plaza and large hotels. With five of us though, we ended up hiring a cab from the day (the taxi stand on the west side of Parque San Juan was wonderful) and made out better than we would have on the bus. We would guess that getting back to Mérida without previously arranged transportation would be tricky; most visitors come on arranged tours, and the site is not near any large town that has bus service.
* Hours and Admission:
The site is open everyday from 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM. Adults pay $122 pesos, but children under 12 are free.
The Crowds: 
Dzibilchaltún is a relatively small site, and even with smaller crowds compared to Chichen Itza, it can still feel like the ruins are packed. Even on a week day, visitors from cruise ships docked at nearby Progreso visit on bus tours. To avoid the crowds, try arriving right at 8:00 before the crowds arrive at 10:00, or visit outside of the summer season or holidays.
* Swimming at the Cenote: The site provides changing rooms and a bag check (large backpacks are not allowed past the Visitor’s Center). We wore our bathing suits and found we were perfectly dry after continuing to explore the ruins after swimming. There is a shallower part of the cenote perfect for wading, and also a deeper part that is great for jumping into.
* Museum: We’ve heard great things about the onsite Museum of the Mayan People, but we were too tired out after swimming and exploring to take a look. The museum is free with entry to the ruins.