The part-of-a-house we’ve rented is in a really good location in a quiet neighborhood, it has a lot of outdoor space, it has a cistern that guarantees a steady water supply in Oaxaca’s uncertain water system, and the rent is cheap (about $450/month–sorry, San Francisco folks–don’t faint). But it was kind of dismal, to use Munchkin’s word the day we looked at it. She had begun to picture us in the other place we were on the verge of taking, and doesn’t take kindly to these last-minute changes, so she was predisposed to dislike it, but I had to agree. Dirty curtains, drab stained paint, rusty metal, insufficient light, “serviceable” (i.e., ugly) linoleum. Luxurious by Oaxacans’ standards (yes, some houses here have gorgeous tile floors–but plenty of others have dirt), and a perfectly fine place to live, but still . . . a bit dismal, yes.


The long buffet would be better in the kitchen, we thought, and the television would be better hidden in a closet; watching telenovelas (soap operas) would be good Spanish practice, but otherwise the TV serves no function. The plaid sofa and its matching thing, which we call The Thing because “incomprehensible, overlarge combination of coffee table, side table, and armchair” is too long, were probably going to be here to stay.

This was the munchkin’s room. I’ve seen cheap motel rooms that were cheerier.


I did not take pictures of the cockroaches, but there were several our first couple of days, some dead, some alive. Shudder.

However, the landlord offered to paint it any colors we chose, which was huge. We told him it was due for fumigation and he got on it. Lightbulbs, lamps, sheets, and curtains are easily acquired, and we hired someone to give it a top-to-bottom cleaning. So the transformation began.

We told Munchkin we’d get her a desk (her first) and a bedside table, and confirmed with the landlord that she could paint one wall with a mural (he is really a very easygoing guy). She picked colors for her room . . .


. . . and soon the desk was ready. It looked even better against a purple wall. (The left wall got plain white to prepare for the mural.)

Inexplicably but serendipitously, this pasta poster was on sale at the Museum of Philately. (She liked the curtains that were already there. I don’t, much, but it’s her room.)


We requested yellow and orange paint for the living room, purple and yellow for my and Joy’s room, and blue for the hallway. This is Mexico–no one blinked. We got these pretty striped curtains for two small windows, and Joy had the great idea of jazzing up the drab ceiling-to-floor curtains in our room with ribbons (we’re going to buy more). The hummingbird alebrije was a birthday present for Joy.


The painter forgot to touch up the rusty spots in the kitchen, so yesterday, Joy did it. And she and Munchkin painted the little shelves we got for art supplies. They, the desk, a big table for doing art on, a smaller table for our room and computer time, and two new chairs cost a total of about $265. (This is sounding like a Better Homes and Gardens article. “She turned a corrugated plastic shed into a nursery for her triplets for only $350!”)

Some tin animals for the walls, a tablecloth, one handwoven rug we’ll be taking home to San Francisco–visible in the background here–


–a few plants, and the crowning touch that I put up yesterday, several strings of papel picado (cut paper), and the de-dismalfication process is complete. It’s quite a cozy, pretty home now.


Even the plaid sofa and Thing look rather charming in their new context. Katy, as the munchkin has dubbed our Catrina alebrije, rules over the realm and she approves.