Saturday, June 27, 2015

The reassuring sounds of an old home

Michael and I moved back into our family's lakeside cottage last week after missing last year's summer season. The weather was pretty punk last year and besides, we were in the middle of launching his first book, The Fracking War.

This year the weather is still a little punk. A ton of rain, cool temperatures, a ton of floating junk in the lake to keep us from boating.

But I don't care. It feels great to be "home".

Getting that extra year away from a summer at the lake has given me more perspective on this old – literally, old – place that was built at the turn of the century as a hunting and fishing camp. Sometime around 1900, someone dug out the rocky soil to put in a full-size basement. Over 100 years later, we have the same musty dirt floor. The wood beams that hold up the house are whole trees with the bark still on them, scarily drying out over too many years of service.

Historic signs mark this stretch of land overlooking Seneca Lake as a site of the original long houses and corn fields of the Iroquois before General Sullivan came through in 1779 and burned out the village for siding with the British in the Revolutionary War.

My mother bought the place around 1960, the third owner in 60 years. There has been a fair amount of patchwork changes over the years –– closing in part of the porch to put in a second bathroom, moving the kitchen from one side of the house to add an extra bedroom. Trying to ground some of the outlets. A picture window facing the lake.

But other than that, it's pretty much the same.

My unexpected treasure this season is becoming aware of the wonderful sounds this house still makes.

The same creaks on the staircase as I try to creep downstairs early in the morning without waking Michael. The sound of the pump as it fills the cistern under the kitchen floor with sparkling fresh well water. The sound of the rain as it hits the roof while we're sleeping upstairs.

Right after my mother died – already 10 years ago – 30 relatives and multiple generations gathered at the picnic tables in the side yard one sunny afternoon. Someone came out the back kitchen door and the screen door slammed shut – a big slam that turned everyone's head.

A nephew kindly offered to fix it, put in a new spring or a mechanism to have it slowly, softly close.

"Nooooooo!" cried the older cousins, just about in unison. That screen door has been slamming that way for decades, providing a memory through sound to remind us of all the times over the past decades we were heading in for dinner or bed, or heading out for swimming, berry picking, or escaping the chore list.

I don't know how many more years this old place will hold up. But as long as she stands, she holds the memories of my lifetime in every creak, squeak and thump  as when I was a child, a long, long, long time ago.

Here's the sound of the rain outside our cottage. A sweet, familiar Upstate New York sound.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Accidental Vegan

I didn't set out to become a vegan. It just happened.

I had been playing around at being a vegetarian over the years, then went a few decades of eating meat as a path of least resistance in my home. I had married a carnivore (a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy) and eventually I got tired of cooking separate meals. So I caved.

So imagine my surprise when, after two decades of serving up a whole lot of chicken and beef, my husband came to me with a copy of The China Study and suggested I read it, then tell him what I thought.

So I did. And what I thought was, "How do I un-know this?" I wanted to continue being ignorant about how I was harming my own health because I wanted to keep on eating what I was eating.

We agreed to try the diet suggested in the book for 30 days, then see how we felt, whether we wanted to continue.

We had an easy month as I stretched my thinking about how to cook healthy, organic, plant-based foods and have everything be tasty too. It turned out to be easier than I thought, and a new fun challenge.

Thirty days later, feeling healthy, trimmer, and somewhat righteous, we received the devastating news that Michael's brother had suddenly died of a heart attack. Michael flew back from Mexico where we were staying for the winter to New York for the funeral. When he returned, we didn't even talk --- or consider --- going back to a meat-based diet.

So there we were.

I could repeat all the stuff that I learned by reading The China Study, about how our cherished food pyramid is a hoax, especially when it comes to the amount of protein that our bodies require. Or the impact of dairy on our bodies ---  I mourned giving up dairy.  Just think about --- no cheese, no ice cream, no frozen yogurt?

But here's the funny thing. I gave up meat and dairy because of selfish reasons --- the impact on these foods on my long-term health, as well as how I felt on a daily basis. My long-term hypoglycemia pretty much disappeared as I changed my diet. My digestive issues resolved themselves in record time. I felt lighter, more energetic, more like me.

And then my reasons evolved.

I started paying attention to things I had known as an adult. That we, as a species, are factory farming entire other species for our comfort --- not for our survival. And we're doing it inhumanely (because how could you do it humanely? Seriously?). We would drive by cattle lots and I would have to turn my head not solely because of the smell, but because of the overwhelming sadness of knowing all those cows were being grown to be slaughtered.

I connected the dots between the bacon on the plate of a friend to the pig it belonged to. I understood that the 'spare ribs' we had been eating weren't 'spare ribs' to the animal it originally belonged to.

A few weeks ago a truck filled with pigs going to slaughter parked in front of where we were standing for a minute. I found myself in direct eye contact with a pig shoved into the truck, while we listened to another pig squealing and shrieking with fear and pain while being manhandled on or off the truck, I couldn't tell which.

Pigs on their way to be slaughtered
I could only send a telepathic apology to that pig watching me. "I'm sorry," I thought. "I don't know what else to do."

And I watched that truck filled with pigs drive off, seeing it transpose itself in my mind into a truck full of Jews heading for the gas chambers, while humans stood by, helpless and powerless at that moment, knowing it was wrong.

I can hear some of you gasp with my analogy. My apologies to anyone I have offended. But here's my new bottom line, my new understanding: humans do not have more right to live on this planet than any other species. That our great intelligence was not created for us to impose such violence and greed on another species. That our great intelligence should be for kindness and equality towards all species. That taking these pigs to slaughter is not any different, to me, than killing our own.

Can I ever eat meat? Yes, I can. I have chosen to eat venison for Thanksgiving in Upstate New York that my cousin killed and prepared for the meal. I could choose to eat any meat where the animal grew wild and I knew the person who killed it, although I'm losing my taste for most of it. Our ancestors ate meat. But they didn't factory farm a species.

Esther the Wonder Pig
What recently solidified my thinking was following the delightful Esther the Wonder Pig on Facebook. Esther was  rescued by two humans who mistakenly thought she was a mini-pig, only to discover it was the same pig that was supplying Pulled Pork and bacon. She's such a character that she turned her humans into vegans too.

When you invite me over to dinner (and I hope you still will or I'll be really lonely), please don't apologize for eating meat or choosing to eat dairy. How you eat is up to you, your choice, just like it is for me.

But I made a silent vow that day while I watched those pigs on the way to the slaughter house that while I can't change the world, I can keep sharing my story, about how I evolved from someone who changed my diet because of selfish reasons --- my own health --  to understanding the cruelty of our species over others.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Winter 'off the grid' in Arroyo Seco

We're back in Arroyo Seco for a length of time, after a hiatus last winter while Michael wrote his book, The Fracking War.

The river between El Tecuan and Tenacatita
During our absence this past year we had the usual questions about the viability of living in this little surf village ---- the kind of fantasies that can go either way. Either projecting its absolute perfection, or focusing on the scorpions, the dirt, the lack of amenities.

The surprise this year was opening the gates to the property, standing in the palapa, looking out on to our oasis and once again seeing seeing the dream when we leveled the lot and poured the first concrete footer.

We've now been here enough years that the children that took our English classes the first year we lived there are now waiting tables and working at the new beach restaurants. And graduating from high school, having children, getting married. Our neighbors' son is almost done with his three-year program to become an auto mechanic -- and has arrived home with a cherry-red Mitsubishi Eclipse, which he occasionally now loans to his dad.

Last week we dusted off our Honda 4x4 quad and headed down to the still pristine beaches where my cousin and friends have rented a house for the month. We've started a Zumba class on the beach and we're working on one in town for the locals. We're patronizing the local beach restaurants, still astounded that we have options for times when we don't want to cook.

The beach at El Tecuan, south of Arroyo Seco
The road from the Highway to Arroyo Seco is paved --- no longer the 3k washboard into town. And the phone and electric poles in the middle of the road have been moved to the side of the road. Feels very grown up.

The town now has two internet cafes but the signal is so slow that it's almost impossible to download our emails, much less respond. We can have internet at our house but it's about a two-hour drive to pick up the DSL box so we're forgoing it for this year. And there's still no cell service in the village. I'm surprised to find I'm enjoying the disconnect.

And the beaches! Still remote, still pristine, still magnificent. Not very swimmable because it's open ocean, but we have a few swimming holes we can get to by quad. And it's always a good excuse to ride down the beach.

Bottom line ---- yes, we're still crazy. And we're still crazy about Arroyo Seco.

Cooling the feet after Zumba in La Manzanilla,
Tenacatita Bay

Monday, July 22, 2013

Fighting perpetual motion

The view from the porch

It's a Monday on the lake, the quiet time after the weekend vacationers have left, the ski boats are back at the dock, the occasional sound of a lawn mower in the distance.

 I came back to the cottage this morning after a vigorous and fun Zumba class, faced with a decision --- go to town with Michael, or stay 'home alone' for the afternoon.

That's a big decision for someone who has spent an entire life in motion.

As I eased into the decision, I wondered if this new appreciation for quiet, for privacy, for aloneness, is growth, or age.

No matter.

 It's finally a cool day in the Northeast United States, after a scorcher of a humid, hot week. Yesterday we had a lovely north wind and spent the afternoon sailing around in one of our sailboats, one of many of our fleet of lake boats. I'm comfortably sore, comfortably tired. Comfortable.

 I grabbed my library book and a soft lap quilt and headed to the metal porch glide, savoring the vocabulary, the word selection, the introspection in this lovely book, "The Lost Art of Mixing."

 Listen to this delightful passage:

 "For some reason, everything seemed so much clearer when he was at the lake. Tom had tried to talk about it once to his father, who had misunderstood and gone on a long tangent about weather patterns and a lack of pollution. But that hadn't been what Tom meant. For Tom, life in the city was full of patterns so complex you could never see the separate strands. But the cabin never changed; it was the place he returned to, judged his own progress against his sameness ---- the unexpectedly tall top porch step that tripped him as a toddler later becoming a comfortable resting spot for his long teenage legs as he sat on a Fourth of July watching the fireworks. When he returned after his freshman year in college, he came to see that porch step as a joke played on every newcomer, whose eventual instinctive adjustment to its height would be a sign of their true inclusion in the tribe of summer people."

My daily instinct is to grab the paintbrush to get another coat on the primer, weed the side yard, pick berries or cherries or peaches and get them fixed into jam, do the laundry, wash the car, make a phone call, query that freelance article, do the dishes, run to the market to buy fresh vegetables, sweep, vacuum, dust, wash windows.

Endless motion.

For today, I'm grateful for retirement, grateful to have the will (or fatigue) to stop, sit, read, contemplate, look at lake from this old porch. And try to remember to do it again tomorrow.  Or at least sometime soon.

I'm missing all my friends and family from around the world, hoping you get a chance to join me on this old, sloping porch sometime and listen to the quiet together.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Updates on having your foreign-plated car in Mexico

The meeting this Wednesday in Nuevo Vallarta about immigration and how vehicles and FM3s and other visas are related stirred up a rather large dustup.

Here are some brief clarifications to the original blog, based on information from the powerpoint and Q & A that was just sent out by the Embassy following the meeting:

* First, according to the Question and Answer session information from the meeting:  “For a permanent importation according to this year’s NAFTA regulations the vehicle must be at least 6 years old (please contact your customs authorities).”

Earlier it was reported that the opposite was true. So, your vehicle must be six years or older, and cannot have the letter "J" as the first letter of your VIN number (because it was manufactured in Japan and not eligible for importation).

* Second, although several people reported that the new vehicle rules require that you get your vehicle imported within 60 days of getting your renewed FM3, the published Q & A does not have any time frame information included. So we're still researching how long we have to get our truck imported. Or get it out of the country. We did read that there will not be a 'grace period'. But not how long we have to resolve it legally. Stay tuned.

* Third, the question of “where” you can import your vehicle was answered this way: You must always contact a registered customs agent for any permanent importation at the northern border or maritime terminal if the vehicle came by sea into Manzanillo or Cancun.”

Reading all the documents so far, it sounds like we would have to drive our truck back to our point of origin when we first arrived in Mexico (Nogales, for us), have our current import sticker legally removed (the one that is currently attached to our FM3). Then we would have to start the importation process.

From the documents we've received, it definitely sounds like no foreign-plated cars will be allowed in Mexico for longer than 180-days without being imported, and importation has to happen at the border.

You can still get the 10-year importation for boats and RV's.

Perhaps the customs regulations will evolve to allow us to import without going back to the border since so many gringo vehicles will be impacted. Unfortunately, Michael and I are about to receive our new resident visa card and might have to drive the truck out just because we're renewing at the beginning of the process, before anyone knows quite how it will shake down.

We'll continue to update as we work on our specific case. Love to hear from anyone who is even earlier in the process than us.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

An informational meeting the new Mexican immigration laws

I attended a 'town hall' meeting today by the United States Consular Agency of Nuevo Vallarta  "intended to educate the public on the new Mexican laws regarding visa renewal and the temporary importation of a foreign plated car to Mexico."

700 plus expats for today's immigration meeting
It was apparently a pretty hot topic for expats. The Consulate expected 200 people. More than 700 people showed up.

They started with the caveat that these are the local immigration officials and not those that enacted the law and to please "not shoot the messenger."

My own caveat is that I'm NOT AN EXPERT and I'm just posting my notes from today's meeting. I'm not guaranteeing the accuracy on their part or on my part. To the best of my ability, I'm just relaying what I heard."

So with that, here goes a summary of my notes:

Let's start with the basics. If you're not already up to speed on the nuances of Mexican immigration, please look elsewhere online for info.

Here's the new time frame for the current application process since the law changed Nov. 7:
* You still renew 30 days prior to expiration.
* It should take 20 working days to process your application in order to take your fingerprints.
* After your fingerprinted, the completed applications are sent to Mexico City.
* Mexico City issues the final forms.
* There is a two to three week wait for the card to return to your office where you applied.

So, expect about 6 to 8 weeks for the application/renewal process.

They also said that the replacement cost for lost or stolen residency cards is quite a bit higher --- maybe $2000 pesos or more to replace the permanent card.

As to the types of visas, it sounds there are still four levels of visas --- temporary tourist visa, FM-3s, FM-2s, and the Permanent Resident.

I'm still not clear on the difference between the FM-3 and FM-2 at this point because although I have been hearing that they no longer exist, they were still referred to during the presentation. But it sounds like either one leads to the application process for Permanent Immigrant status six months before your visa expires in your fourth year.

We're waiting on our FM-something card to come back from Mexico City, so hopefully that will clear it up for us. 

For permanent status for those of us retired, you have to prove a monthly income of over $32,500 pesos per month or investments equal to over one million and something. I could find this number online but I didn't catch it today.

It also sounded like there might be exceptions but it was only briefly alluded to and it would take a trip to immigration for each case.

If you're out of the country when it's time to renew, you have 55 days to re-enter the country and five business days to renew. But the total number of days cannot exceed 60, regardless of the situation. It sounded like there wouldn't be any exceptions for that, and that might have to apply for an extension. That part wasn't clear.

They also said if you leave or return on a tourist visa while you have your resident visas, it will cancel your resident visas and you'll have to start over. Don't know how that would happen unless it is now all computerized. But apparently they really don't want any of us doing this (anymore?).

The big news which the local immigration specialists said they are already challenging is the change in the customs laws concerning foreign plated vehicles in the country.

An official announced.... drum roll, please.... that once you've received your new immigration card (all levels), you have 60 days to get your vehicle out of the country.

Sixty days?

I'm guessing that most ex-pats living in Mexico are hoping that they don't know what they're talking about on this issue. We talked to our immigration specialist after the meeting who said that they are already investigating this information and have not been told this. Nor has anyone read it in a law anywhere.

So ---hopefully this is a misinterpretation said to a mere, oh, 700 PLUS PEOPLE IN AN AUDITORIUM. Who probably all of have foreign-plated cars.

Hoo boy.

They also said that if it is a six year old vehicle or newer, it can be imported. Under this new change in customs, the only foreign plated cars in the country will be those coming down with people holding tourist visas, and must be taken out of the country within six months.

 I'll post whatever news I hear about cars as soon as I hear it, since we would part of a huge caravan of vehicles that would have to leave the country pronto.

In the meantime, I would encourage all of you reading this to follow our lead and just wait for more information to settle out before we all panic and head for the border.

Those of us who attended the meeting are supposed to receive the power point and Q & A's (which had to be submitted a week before the meeting) by email. When I do, I'll be glad to share the information. But it might take a while.

In the meantime, we'll all just Stay Tuned to 'As the Visas Renew'....

Monday, February 11, 2013

Beach chair hoarding doesn't bode well for humanity

 The palapa wars --- or chair hoarding --- on the beach here in Nuevo Vallarta has gone nuclear and it's  positively embarrassing for humankind.

 Here's what's happening in Mexico --- although Florida must have its identical stories about its Snow Birds and anyone who has stayed at a beach resort has probably witnessed it.

Stacking and hoarding beach chairs -- a Gringo sport?
When we first arrived in November in Nuevo Vallarta, people would slip down to the beach early in the morning and 'claim' their beach chairs and the shade of a palm-frond palapa by leaving a beach towel or a book or a personal item laying on a chaise lounge.

I thought that was silly enough, but okay.... if that chair and that palapa are that important to your happiness, go for it.

But now it's gotten to Palapa Insanity. As has our world.

Now people are stacking a half-dozen chaise lounges under one palapa, with another half dozen upright plastic chairs stacked nearby and a towel draped over all of it the night before!


Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if the chairs were actually used?
What it means in this small expat community is that even the relatively sane people who don't want to be reduced to chair claiming (or chair hoarding) are finding themselves forced to play the game, or they won't have a place to sit --- even for an hour or two.

Worse, these reserved chairs sit empty for most of the afternoon, their possession-crazed owners likely up in their condos, not even on the beach, catching up with a little TV.

Last night while we were down watching yet another sunset,  a friend apologetically put her towel on a chaise lounge in the back row because she wanted to make sure she had a place to sit the next day.

But by the time we arrived on the beach at 8 this morning to do a little Zumba, her towel had been tossed aside and another set of towels were there to claim possession.

Really? How embarrassing for all of us.

It's stunning to watch adult humans reduced to this open warfare. But the hopelessness I feel is that it is simply a microcosm of what is going on in the human race --- the selfishness, the greed, the self-centeredness.

The big 'MINE' of resources, energy, land, money, food, stuff.

I have no idea how the Palapa Wars will get resolved on this beach, other than the season ending and the sport of chair hoarding will no longer be fodder for the daily amusement of the Mexican employees.

But it doesn't bode well for us as a species. If we can't even get it together to figure out how to cooperate on as simple an issue as beach chairs, how likely is it that we'll figure out how to share fuel, food, medicine?

It's a topic I'll try not to think about when I wander down to the beach later on this afternoon and look for a place to sit. I'm sure someone will offer to share....