Roadtrip 2019: The Great River

We drove from Wisconsin to Arkansas on The Great River Byway along the Mississippi River. While a scenic wander through the floodplain midwest, the river itself was often out of sight (the section in central Wisconsin is somewhat more river-focused), but when we camped by the water it was worth it.

Gull at Thomson Causeway, IL
Mark Twain’s Boyhood Home Museum in Hannibal, MO was only OK.
Barge traffic ever present, here from Trail of Tears State Park, Missouri
Sunset glow and moon at Lake Boutin, Trail of Tears State Park, Missouri

Handmade Roadwork in Oaxaca

A parade of laborers rebuilt the road from our apartment in Oaxaca to the central zocalo this month – or at least two blocks of it. Like many of the roads here it is paved with stone blocks, and almost entirely by hand they removed the old worn rocks, dug and shaped the new utility accesses and roadway alterations, and laid new mammoth volcanic tiles and bricks.

Reconstruction of Av Alcala, Oaxaca

So many chisels and hammers. Men standing swinging sledgehammers at arm-length chisels; sitting holding onto plastic pipe fashioned into a chisel handle, offset to save their hands from the ringing clanging rhythms returning from the earth on each swing. Men kneeling with smaller tools to plane the rough edges. The sidewalk lines are moving, new bikepath lights and streetlamps and pedestrian benches are set to rise up from the cobble pavement, so although not all the stones are being replaced several neatly shaped swathes are being carted off a stone and fragment at a time. In the parkside nearby where new stones wait for their place, another team of men is shaping and smoothing the characteristically gray-green slabs with neatly criss-crossed chisel strikes until no mark remains.

Reconstruction of Av Alcala, Oaxaca Sidewalk stones Reconstruction of Av Alcala, Oaxaca

So much shoveling, sorting and sifting and lifting. The old stones are carted to the street corners, piled eight feet high wheelbarrow upon wheelbarrow. Later they will pitch these above their heads into waiting dump trucks. The dirt and stone fragments form other mounds, sifted through screens shovelful by shovelful into waste and fill and mortar-bound piles.

Reconstruction of Av Alcala, Oaxaca

The work continues into the nights to avoid the worst heat of the afternoons. Each evening we walk through shifting cordons on makeshift bridges over trenches as the construction progresses, looking up the road every job is taking place, sitting and standing and swinging and sweating. Now the chiseling stops and mortar is mixed, stones are stacked near the leading edge of each effort – the curved curb segments, the smooth sidewalk panes, the rough cubes laid into the street surface in a diagonal grid across the future flow of traffic.

This road seems likely to last another 100 years.

Films for Latin American History Courses

Each year, I teach several Latin American History Courses. These include Colonial Latin America, Modern Latin America, Modern Mexico, US-Latin American Relations, Health and Society in Latin America, and Latin American Revolutions.

In each of these classes, my students respond really well to the films and documentaries we watch. I enjoy helping them connect the historical events we discuss in class with real and fictionalized accounts of everyday life in Latin America, and also to see (usually for the first time) the many environments that make up the cities and villages of the region.

Guided by my constant search for new films to use, and a desire to develop a future course on Latin American History through Film, I’ve decided to start my own Latin American Film Club to make my way through a collection of new-to-me cinema. I compiled my list based on recommendations from colleagues, and welcome any additional suggestions you might have.

I won’t post a review of each one here, but I will give my (brief) thoughts on my twitter account as I go along. Follow me at @steph_opp

For consideration:

A Place Called Chiapas


Amores Perros

And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself

Black Orpheus

Blame it on Fidel

Bolivar Soy Yo

Bus 174


Carmen Miranda: Bananas Is My Business


City of God


Cooking Up Dreams

El Infierno

El Silencio de Neto

Entre Nos

Eva Peron

Fidel: A Conversation

Fidel: The Untold Story

Four Days in September

Gringo in Mananaland

How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman

La Ciénaga

Let’s Go with Pancho Villa

Looking for Fidel


Memories of Underdevelopment

Men with Guns


Our Lady of the Assassins

Pictures from a Revolution

Presumed Guilty

Que Viva Mexico

Rosario Tijeras

Saludos Amigos/Three Caballeros

Strawberry and Chocolate

The Blonds

The Devil’s Miner

The Last Supper

The Official Story

The Other Conquest

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

The Student

The Take

The Year My Parents Went on Vacation

Vidas Secas

Walt and El Grupo


Currently use:

Aguirre, Wrath of God


El Compadre Mendoza

Even the Rain


Herod’s Law

Innocent Voices

Journey to Bananaland

Like Water for Chocolate


Sin Nombre

South of the Border

The Hugo Chavez Show (Frontline)

The Motorcycle Diaries

The Sixth Sun

The Storm that Swept Mexico


Spring Break in San Francisco

After a bumpy flight across the Rockies, we landed on Friday afternoon to a beautiful sunny day in Northern California. Our itinerary was nicely divided into three parts – weekend tech conference in Santa Clara, three nights in Marin County with our friend Andy, and four nights in Oakland with our friend Nicole. Sunshine every day, and a much-needed break from school and job applications…welcome to my Spring Break!

With lots of great Chicago friends in town for the conference, it was nice to catch up with everyone over dinner. Luke attended many sessions, networked like a grown up, and ran a 5k. I ordered a lot of room service and took many naps. Off to a great start!

Luke just after completing his first 5K

Luke just after completing his first 5K

Sunday afternoon, Andy came to collect us and drive us up to San Francisco proper. We stopped at the Dovre Club for beer, whiskey, and twice-baked potatoes (it was St. Paddy’s Day, after all), then drove to the top of Twin Peaks for a panoramic view of the city. Dinner at an amazing Thai restaurant, then a walk to the end of the Ferry Building for a view of the Bay Lights, before heading across the Golden Gate Bridge and up to the Fairfax/San Anselmo area to Andy’s home.

Andy's apartment

Andy’s apartment

Sunny and bright apartment with greenery out every window

Sunny and bright apartment with greenery out every window

Luke, Andy, and I all worked during the days, then spent the late afternoons and evenings together.

Luke and Maddie hard at work

Luke and Maddie hard at work

Among our many adventures, we drove out to Point Reyes for a beautiful view of the coast:


Point Reyes Lighthouse

Point Reyes

Point Reyes

Point Reyes lighthouse

Point Reyes Lighthouse

Quite the nice digs for the Park Ranger, Point Reyes

Quite the nice digs for the Park Ranger, Point Reyes

We hiked along the hills behind Andy’s house (sliding in places, but worth it for the views):


Andy and Maddie

Andy and Maddie



We spent a nice afternoon in Sausalito, delighted by the Heath Ceramics Factory Store and the Bay Model Visitor Center:

Bay Model, Sausalito

Bay Model, Sausalito



followed by a tour of Golden Gate Park and the Presidio:

Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park

Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park

Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park

Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park

Luke on a steep bridge, Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park

Luke on a steep bridge, Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park

And we all curled up to watch “About Schmidt” with steaks, wine, and Cowgirl Creamery cheese. I still say that movie’s a comedy. Andy and I also went to Open Mic night at Peri’s. It was all magical.

Wednesday night, we drove across the bridge to Oakland, where Nicole was there to greet us! A group dinner at Homeroom (at last! I’ve heard so much about it) before Andy left us in Nicole’s care. Her new apartment is also lovely – brand new hardwood floors and appliances mixed with old-school California character.

Nicole was also able to work half-days, which meant lots of great time to catch up in person! On Thursday, we ventured out to Bakesale Betty for an unbelievably good sandwich.

Fried Chicken sandwich at Bakesale Betty

Fried Chicken sandwich at Bakesale Betty

Then we walked through Temescal Alley and over to Rockridge for coffee and a good heart-to-heart. We stopped into George and Walt’s for a beer, then decided to stay for another, along with an exciting bit of March Madness. Next, we walked down to Piedmont for a snack before meeting up with Luke for pizza at Boot and Shoe Service. We ended the day with a nightcap at Smitty’s, although we left before our selection, “2 legit 2 quit,” came up on the jukebox. I’m sure the other patrons enjoyed it in our absence.

Friday, Luke finished work early and we headed up to Rockridge for beers at The Trappist.



Luke at The Trappist

Luke at The Trappist

We returned home to find Nicole with freshly dilated pupils from her eye exam. At least she can rock the optometrist’s shades.

Nicole, who can't see in this photo, but looks gorgeous nonetheless

Nicole, who can’t see in this photo, but looks gorgeous nonetheless

That night, we enjoyed food trucks, beers, and salsa dancing as part of the Oakland Museum of California’s Off the Grid. Then we bar hopped, enjoying drinks at Beer Revolution, Liege, and Nick’s Lounge, where one of my favorite Nicole rituals resurfaced–Karaoke to “Baby Got Back.”

Terrible photo, but I love that the lyrics came through

Terrible photo, but I love that the lyrics came through

Saturday, we rode BART to the Mission, where we toured the awesome murals in Clarion Alley.

Clarion Alley

Clarion Alley

Luke in Clarion Alley

Luke in Clarion Alley

Clarion Alley

Clarion Alley

Clarion Alley

Clarion Alley

Clarion Alley

Clarion Alley

We grabbed lunch from Ike’s Place (check out their incredible sandwich selection) and picnicked in Dolores Park. Then we strolled around the local shops before settling in for yummy desserts at Mission Pie. Nicole headed home to prepare for that night’s dinner party, while Luke and I meandered through Bernal Heights and daydreamed about our future.

Our last night in San Fran was the perfect combination of good friends, food, and conversation. Andy rejoined our group for dinner, and returned again ridiculously early to drive us to the airport for our Sunday morning flight. It’s nice to be reminded what incredible friends we have – Andy and Nicole went out of their way to make us feel welcome, toured us around their favorite local haunts, and took time away from their busy lives to have great, important talks over pints of beer. It was a lovely break, and we can’t wait to do it again!

Movie Marathon

Luke is traveling for work this week, which means I am spending most nights curled up under a blanket with a bottle of wine, a bowl of popcorn, and a handful of good movies.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947):

Photo source: Vintage War Bride

Photo source: Vintage War Bride

Rex Harrison and Gene Tierney star in this new-to-me classic film. Every respectable film buff I know loves this movie, so I knew I was sure to follow suit. And true enough, it’s lovely.

Three Coins in a Fountain (1954):

Source: Jackal's Film Corner

Photo Source: Jackal’s Film Corner

This movie is silly, but I still like it. It’s like the girlfriends version of Roman Holiday. I remember watching this in high school and day dreaming about living abroad in a villa with a job that primarily consisted of attending cocktail parties and touring art museums with writers and princes.

White Christmas (1954):

Photo source: Cocktails, 365

Photo source: Cocktails, 365

My great friend Adrienne introduced me to this movie last year, and I’m delighted to add it to my yearly December must-see list. While the all-star cast is great, I’m going to call out Rosemary Clooney…not only is she gorgeous, but her timeless voice sounds better with each listen.

Charade (1963):

Any movie with Audrey Hepburn or Cary Grant is worth watching. Sabrina, Roman Holiday, An Affair to Remember, North by Northwest, Arsenic and Old Lace…I could go on and on. It’s an extra treat to watch both actors on-screen together. She’s witty and beautifully clad in Givenchy, he’s dashing and delivers dry humor better than anyone I’ve seen. Swoon.

Cypress Gardens

Luke and I spent the Thanksgiving weekend in South Carolina with our parents. It was so nice to have both sides of the family there to celebrate. After two days of my mom’s amazing home cooking, we all piled into the car and drove east to the coast.

I’ve wanted to visit Cypress Gardens ever since reading this blog post. The Gardens were everything I was hoping for and more! Beautiful weather, no crowds (thank you, Black Friday), and an abundance of flora and fauna.

First stop, the Butterfly House. Their winter butterflies were small and striped, and were largely attracted to these two varieties of fun flowers:

Inside the Butterfly House

Onion-y flowers

Back outside, a nice walking trail follows along rows and rows of Cypress trees. I was delighted to learn that these trees grow “knees” that stick out above their roots.

Cypress tree “knees”

Changing leaves and more “knees”

The highlight of the Gardens is definitely the free boat rentals. Luke, Paul, Tom and I cruised through the swamps on the lookout for alligators (none, phew!) and other swampy wildlife. It was magical to traverse through the tree mazes in complete silence except for an occasional oar in the water.

Paddling through the Cypress swamps

How many vultures can you find? Hint: There are a lot. Creepy.

Spanish moss

Our crew – Luke, Tom, and Paul

The main blooming flower for this time of year is the Camellia. While several of the trees were just starting to bud, we found a few that had already come alive.

Camellia in the sunlight

Luke, Paul, and Suzanne in the Camellia Garden

Carla, Stephanie and Tom in the Camellia Garden

A lovely day!

More to come on our adventures in Charleston!

Sunday afternoon in the kitchen

A crisp fall morning and a trip to the market inspired an afternoon in the kitchen. We started with a walk down to the Vietnamese shopping district at 5th and Washington, it is fascinatingly like our old Chicago neighborhood, right down to a Ba Le bakery – I wonder how directly they are connected. The supermarket there will be a regular stop in the future, from rice and seafood to sandalwood soap. The return trek home brings us through the Italian Market and the produce stands there, still full of fall vegetables. Hot peppers, tomatoes, potatoes…

My kitchen list for the day actually started much earlier in the week, with a new whole wheat sourdough starter. I had a great run this year before the move keeping a starter active and a loaf of bread a part of my regular schedule, but with the move and the heat of summer I let it go. It’s a pretty reliable 5 day process to go from flour and water (and a little cumin, following my trusted Joe Ortiz recipe, thanks to a book from my Aunt Jane years ago) through a handful of refreshments to a sour active starter, and by Saturday morning it was ready to turn into a dough (reserving a small container in the fridge to start next week’s loaf).

The apartment has been just a little cool for bread over the last few days though, so a typically 16 hour rise stretched to 21, with it going into a loaf pan at 6am this morning and slowly rising again in the warmed oven.

In the meantime, let’s make some granola. Still using my mom’s old bowl that we used for granola and breadmaking growing up (she sent it to me when I started making bread in college). Toast the oats in the cast-iron skillet. Toast the nuts (hazelnuts today). Toast the coconut. Toss it all together in the bowl with dried fruit (apricot today) and drizzle maple syrup (still working through last year’s Marquette Michigan syrup today) until it starts to stick and maybe clump a little bit.

Dough has finally doubled in the pan. Especially with wild yeast you just have to wait until it’s ready and be patient. But if you wait (and get the temperature hospitable), it will get there and hold together. Into the oven for 55 minutes at 400.


I’m inspired this week by two tigress in a pickle posts, so let’s make some fermented sriracha. This is a first for me, but I like fermenting things, and I like hot hot things, so a mix of hot red thai peppers and red jalapeños go in a bowl with garlic and salt to develop some more of that wild yeast flavor this week.

The other post was for homemade tomato paste and sold me with the simple idea of using icecube trays to save the paste in tablespoon-sized quantities instead of the cans that always end up in my fridge half-full. We’re always looking for ways to bring the late summer taste of tomatoes with us through the winter, but no time for a big canning project in our tiny apartment this year, this seems (and smells like) a perfect compromise, turning nearly a gallon of tomato puree into a concentrated cup of paste to wait in our freezer.

The bread is out and cooling.

What we’ve been up to

The last two weeks have been a flurry of activity. Here is a short account of what we’ve been up to:

We attended the wedding of our amazing friends, Brianna and Josh.

Brianna and Josh
Photo credit: The lovely Brooke Hardtke

We danced with joy at a local electronic music festival. Especially loved Papadosio and Ott. and the All Seeing I!

We were disappointed in “The Master” – great acting by Philip and Joaquin, but still didn’t really go for the storyline (or lack thereof). Anyone else see it? I’d love to discuss it.

Love PSH, Do not love “The Master”

And we worked. A lot. Things are crazy busy for both of us right now – at least we’re in it together. This weekend, a great friend is coming into town for a visit. It will be a wonderful break from school and computers. The weather has finally turned into the crisp mornings, sun warmed days, and blanket-covered nights that make me love Fall.

Blog Inspiration

Hello friends!

We’ve got lots of new blog posts in the works – our first restaurant review, an essay on teaching and adaptability, and a photo journal of our (upcoming) trip to “The Shore” this weekend.

For now, I want to share a smattering of great inspiration from some of my favorite blogs:

Luke and I are really hoping to have a Maine vacation while we’re East Coasters. Reading Joy the Baker’s blog about her recent adventure there makes me even more excited to start planning our trip!

Some of you know that I went through a wild “head tattoo” phase. Right after I quit my job to become a full-time graduate student, I moved to Mexico for a semester and day-dreamed of having Dr. Lakra tattoo my head. While I never got up the courage to shave my hair off and pull the trigger, I have remained an avid fan of his work. His latest creations are these amazing designs for Absolut’s “Mexico” Limited Edition bottles.

Also inspiring in the art world, check out pine cone land art and these incredible mandalas made from old computer bits.

And last but not least, wonderful writing by Ally Turner Kirkpatrick on moving, mushroom jackpots, and transitioning from city life to country life – all the things on my mind lately wrapped up into one lovely essay.

Have a great weekend!

First day of class

Image credit: The School of Rock: Andrew Schwartz

Tuesday was a great first day of class – I stayed calm, got through my “to-do” list without any hiccups or snafus, and even made jokes. For their part, the students were on-time, engaged, and friendly. I realize that the first day is usually glittery in a way that the last day is usually not, but my goal between now and then is to continue engaging my students with challenging, thought-provoking questions about the history of Latin America. Blowing peoples minds with my high voltage rock would be ok, too.

Finally, I really appreciate all the words of encouragement from family and friends yesterday. You guys are awesome.