Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas in Arroyo Seco

We arrived in Arroyo Seco, our new home in Mexico where we're the only two gringos in el centro, just in time to celebrate a two-day fiesta for the birthday of the pueblo, followed by another Christmas fiesta, followed by a first Communion fiesta, followed by another....

The highlight last week was Santa's arrival to the village on Dec. 26. Our good friend and neighbor, Chena, dressed up and gave out a couple hundred Christmas presents to the village children (which took several of us several days to wrap). She summoned the children to the church by driving around the village honking the horn and blasting carols out of the truck speakers. As we arrived, the girls were already forming their own line, youngest and smallest in the front, oldest in the rear, boys the same. No pushing, no shoving, no whining, no crying. Wow.

Most of the presents had come by way of Sacramento, from generous donations from our friends and co-workers. A favorite present appeared to be the English children's books. Who knew? Our truck was loaded up for the drive down and fortunately we breezed through the Mexican customs checkpoint.

After Arroyo Seco, Santa took us several kilometers back into the deep, dark woods where the 'natives' have set up a camp where they work as produce pickers during the day. Chena says she goes at night because most of the children are working in the fields with their parents. She said she had taken some donated huaraches (Mexican sandals) and pants out to the workers recently. For some of them, it was their first set of trousers.

All the kids were thrilled to see Santa. Mothers pushed right up in the line as well, eager to get whatever gifts were being given.

Michael and I stood back and watched as Chena and her children and friends helped distribute the gifts and the candy.The stars were brilliant in the dark sky -- no light pollution here. It was as good a Christmas as we could wish for, as generous an event as we could imagine. And one of the reasons we've moved here.

Besides the fiestas, we're jam packing our days with trips to the surf beach (the surf is finally back up), trips on our new 4 x 4 Honda ATV (called a 'moto' down here), organizing our new home and getting ready for the next phase of construction, scheduled to begin tomorrow morning.

We've been here for a week and have had overnight guests already as we figure out how to make all of this work for everyone. Our nephew Nate and his mother Beth are in La Manzanilla for the winter. And our new good friend Laura from Calgary was here for several days, helping us all learn to speak Spanish. The village children have already fallen in love with her and we're hoping she'll return for a longer stay next time.

So it looks like everything is in place for another great winter in Mexico. Good friends, good food, good fun!

We're now back in touch with the world --- Michael got the internet hooked up with wireless internet and our vonage phone in this little village of 300 people, where only two other families appear to have internet connections.

Have a great, warm first of the year -- wherever you are -- and please let us know how you're doing. I'd love to hear from you.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Mexico family holiday

We've just arrived back to a foggy, cold Sacramento morning, reminding us of why we're moving back to Mexico in just a few short weeks.

We did a quick trip down to La Manzanilla for the holidays --- Thanksgiving and my birthday --- and Dustin, Camelia, Sasha and Dylan all joined us for the festivities. The beach was relatively deserted, the water was warm, the company delightful!

My birthday gift this year was a family portrait on the beach. Sasha turned three months old while we were vacationing. It seemed mui importante to have pictures taken where we don't have to layer up in fleece.

We launched the next stage of construction of our home/compound in Arroyo Seco, meeting with our contractor Arturo multiple times as I changed my mind --- daily. But construction on the bathrooms should begin any day, the tile has been purchased for the floor of the palapa, a few miscellaneous projects to ready the property for our arrival by Christmas.

We had many lovely afternoons in Arroyo Seco with our friends Chena and Chon and family. They have thoughtfully opened a taco stand across the street from us, assuring us that we'll never have to cook again if we don't want to. We're encouraging her to sell upscale coffee too so I don't have to figure out how to brew it for all the friends and family heading our way this winter. She's game, she says.

After the kids went back to their respective homes, Michael and I stayed for another day or two to make sure that construction was on track and that two of the Four Headlamps participate in the first open mic night at Palapa Joe's. Does it mean it was a success if it no-one threw any fruits or vegetables?

A few audience members even talked to us about joining the band for some future jam sessions.

I'm excited about our move to Arroyo Seco --- working on my Spanish, helping treat some of the unhealthy dogs in the village through Cisco's Amigos, teaching some English to the village children, playing music with friends and family.

I just have to get through the next two weeks of foggy weather while we all slog through the last few weeks of the semester. Then, andale! As we used to say while cruising our boat, time to head south until the butter melts!

The video below: While we were in Arroyo Seco, Chena and Chon brought their pet coatamundi over to play. Reminds me of the pet racoons my cousin Roger would rescue and raise around Seneca Lake.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Back by popular demand?

To friends who have queried me about why no recent updates here, thanks for missing me.

Here's a quick synopsis of life since arriving in Sacramento around Labor Day.

A love affair with co-housing

We're subletting a one-bedroom unit in downtown Sacramento with about 20 families who have chosen to live in an intentional community in an urban environment. I only wish I had known about this when we were raising our kids.

Some of the bonuses: the choice of communal dinners (for $3 a homecooked meal), neighbors who want to get to know you and will offer to drive you to work if your car is broken, take turns taking care of you if you've just had surgery, watch your kids if you can't get home in time, loan you a car. That's the pragmatic part.

Then there's the just friendly part –– having the casual conversation with someone on the way in the door from work with someone who is actually interested in getting to know you.

It's been a perfect fit for us –– reminding me of why I loved the cruising community whether at the dock or at our anchor. And why I love living in North Hector, NY (Valois, if you can find it on a map). When I suggested we consider taking the co-housing concept to Mexico, Michael pointed out that co-housing re-invents the village within the city --- and that Arroyo Seco is essentially the model for co-housing.

I guess he's got a point.

Two weeks of jury duty

Not even two weeks into my return, I reported for jury duty . Not that I had any room to complain. Having never served, I guess I was overdue.

Still, I was stunned when I was chosen to serve on a two-week trial (Michael called me "Seven of 12" for the duration). The defendant had been charged with criminal negligence for leaving his 10-month old son unattended in the bathtub (with his 4-year-old brother). When he returned, the toddler had drowned.

Ultimately, we deadlocked, with 11 of us voting to acquit (deciding it was definitely negligent, but not criminally negligent). But the whole experience was exhausting, demanding, tragic.

Back in the classroom

Unfortunately, while the trial was going on, I was still responsible for teaching my four classes.

That meant spending all day at the courthouse, then coming home in the evening to prep for classes and generate assignments through email and the web. If I could point to any one thing that put my stress level over the top, that would be it. As the judge said early on, there's no hardship in teaching since the state will continue to pay us --- teaching is just hard.

And it was.

It's taken me about two weeks to catch up, and I'm just now hitting my stride in the classroom -- even tho' we're more than halfway through...

Some other highlights from our Sacramento semester :

Celebration! We took about a dozen friends to Delancey's in San Francisco a few weeks ago to help Dylan celebrate the big pay-off for a year of studying. He has passed his second level Certified Financial Analyst test, a stunning feat! We toasted to having the most highly qualified bartender in Arroyo Seco, hopefully just on his vacations from his job in the financial district in San Francisco.

Buying a Toyota Tundra truck (with a V-8 engine.... varoom, varoom!) to drive to Mexico. And buying another trailer to take to Arroyo Seco or one of the beach properties. It's 26 feet, with a walk around bed and a slide out where the dinette is. Pretty roomy compared to the Grey Goose! Now we're buying all the 'stuff' to put in the truck and trailer to take to Mexico, things we can't easily get in down there. We're also designing Stage 2 of construction in Arroyo Seco and we've put electric and septic out at the Tenacatita beach lot.

Sorting thru a lifetime (mine and my parents) of photographs and documents, then scanning them to preserve them for the family. I've found old photographs of generations of Beardslees and Schwartzes, including finding my father's birth certificate from Hungary and his naturalization papers in 1921.

Playing with our Sacramento grandkids.
Going to Sami's fastpitch softball games (she just turned 11!) and playing with Kamryn, who just turned one in September.

Playing fiddle with my SloJammer friends in town.

• And –– oh yeah –– teaching four classes at the university.

We're heading back to La Manzanilla, Tenacatita and Arroyo Seco as soon as our semester is over in December. Hope to see ya'll there this winter!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Sasha Elena Fox arrives!

Our newest granddaughter, Sasha, arrived at 8:30 this morning in Puerto Vallarta, weighing 3 kilos 590 grams (or 7 pounds 14.5 oz!) and is 51 cm long (tall?).

She's a Mexican citizen and will have dual U.S. citizenship almost immediately. Last week we made a quick trip to the embassy to begin the paperwork.

She'll be bilingual, at the very least. Spanish and English are both necessities. And Romanian is next so she can talk to her relatives. French is also on the list --- a language that Cami and her sister Irina also speak.

Camelia has been tutoring me in Spanish this week while we've been waiting for Sasha to arrive. I'm pretty motivated, needless to say.

That she was named Sasha was extra gift for me. Had either Dustin or Dylan been a girl, Sasha was the name I had selected. Camelia had picked out the same name without knowing the coincidence. As a close friend recently observed, apparently Sasha has been waiting a long time to join this family!

Dustin, Camelia and Sasha breezed thru the delivery (by C-section) and they all are sleeping, nursing and healing in the Cornerstones Hospital as I write this. Sasha is absolutely perfect, arriving pink-cheeked and hungry.

Some observations about the medical care they had:

It was noticeably different from the states --- and impressive!

For instance, Cami and Dustin always have their doctor's cell phone number. And he answers it. And talks to you. No screening, no receptionist. And it's not just this doctor. All their doctors are a phone call away.

Cami and Dustin paid cash for the delivery and the hospital visit. Yup, cash. One reason they could pay in cash is because the services were affordable. Unbelievably affordable.

And that's in a private hospital. The hospital room they're staying in tonight is nicer than most of the hotels I've checked into lately in the U.S. -- spacious, quiet, clean.

They'll come home tomorrow when they get the okay by their doctor. Who they can then call on his cell phone if they have any concerns.

Now that's a concept we could embrace!

Here is a video of Sasha, Camelia and Dustin as they first meet this morning.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A 'Seneca Lake Appreciation Day'

We declared a 'Seneca Lake Appreciation Day' last week before heading out to NYC for a quick weekend visit with Michael's relatives.

A SLAD day, for locals, means you ditch all lists, all chores, all those things that you should do but don't want to, and you head to the lake. And you know all your friends will too because the weather, finally, is great. And the lake is finally warm enough for us wimps to swim --- in the low 70s, at least.

At least this wimp.

We headed out on The Spirit of Louise, our pontoon boat, in early afternoon, catching up with another boatload of relatives and friends on Cousin Roger's dock. It was too windy for us to pull in so we kept heading south to Cousin Ruthie's dock.

We packed every possible fun thing into those seven hours that we could --- jet skis, swimming, skiing, dinner.

Had to. Rain was predicted again for the next day.

About seven or more hours later, we were safely home, flashlights back in the bag to get stashed back on The Spirit of Louise for the next unanticipated night run home.

Michael and I were motoring home long after sunset, beautiful pastels in the western sky and reflections across a pretty placid lake. Bats were flying alongside, looking for their nightly bug buffet. A couple of bonfires along shore.

And no other boats.

We took a moment to simply appreciate the place, the moment, the great extended family, the blessed life we lead. Then on up our 'goat path' from the lake to the house to review a long list of delayed chores and errands. Maybe manana?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Country living is not for wimps

I'm seriously considering moving back to the city where my anxieties will be confined to the possibility of a drive-by shooting or the quality of the air I breathe. When I'm city living, I forget about the underbelly of dealing with nature -- the storms, the incessant creepy-crawly-stingy things that like to live with us.

I'll report in reverse order.

Yesterday Michael decided to do a quick mow on the half-acre or so of grass that's been growing like gangbusters lately, before we headed down to the lake for an afternoon of boating.

Just as he's finishing the upper side yard, I see him race in the back door and into the kitchen to peel off his sock because something had bitten or stung him. Ten minutes later he's covered in hives and --- with brother Dan's urging (our family paramedic) --- we're racing to the local hospital in Watkins Glen.

It got serious enough to call 911 halfway down the hill when Michael starting complaining about serious chest pain. The ambulance grabbed him at the end of the lake, started an IV of benadryl, with steroids to follow. Apparently he was stung three times by a white wasp -- a big hatch of the nasty things are around this year and they must have a nest in the ground where he was mowing.

It's the exact same spot --- the base of the big sycamore tree --- that the yellowjackets nailed me last year. As we pulled out of the driveway, I heard Michael yell up there, "It's war now, buddies."

Poisons and fuel accelerants are being gathered for the midnight retaliation, now that he's home and recovering. The hospital photo shows him taking his Benadryl-induced nap.

The wasp incident followed a quick moving strong storm cell the day before that hit a narrow path of Valois and Hector on the east side of Seneca Lake. We watched it on the radar as the red part of the storm tagged us dead on, like a bullseye on a target. It's happened a few times this summer but this was the most dramatic.

Trees came down, the wind howled across the lake, lightening strikes every few seconds followed by loud rolling thunder. I've been in a lot of storms, some out on our boat in the ocean. This rivaled that kind of anxiety.

We looked out the window and up, up, up at the huge Sycamore tree that we've been talking about trimming for the past few years --- a tree that's been here for probably a hundred years. And the big pine trees and the several huge locust trees that are much higher than the house.

Now I understand why all the neighbors have clear cut around their property. Aha!

The big willow tree came down across the road just few houses down the hill from us, a tree that was also probably over a hundred years old. And a friend's willow tree that measured more than four and a half feet in diameter came down across his truck and his new lake cabin --- with them in it! Everyone's okay but boy, will they have stories to tell for the rest of their lives.

We've been aware of nature up close and personal from all our years of sailing. But then we would get off the boat and retreat to Sacramento, the great urban, comfortable escape, get complacent again.

But between Mexico and Valois, I'm feeling a bit like the early settlers. There's so much beauty in the life and the land we've chosen. But it sure comes with a creepy, crawly, stingy, windy reminder that there is probably no such thing as paradise.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Time to 'fiddle around' again

When we were getting ready to leave Mexico in May, I remember telling Michael that I was dreaming about being able to spend the summer playing my fiddle --- practicing, taking lessons, playing with friends.

More than a month later, I'm just putting down the project list and picking up the fiddle.

I've been playing music every other Friday night at a friend in Watkin's Glen. You never know who will show up, or what instrument they'll be playing but it's always fun and they're quite inclusive of all us newbies who are starting to play music late in life.

And I've played the violin a few times with cousin Brett and brother David, both professional caliber musicians, as we play some evenings by the campfire.

In early June I headed up to the top of the actual Glen --- of Watkins Glen fame --- for the Old-Time Fiddler's Gathering, with jams facilitated by the Valley Folk Music group. We were huddled under a big tent while thunderous rains rolled over the park, then cleared to a beautiful afternoon. Some excellent musicians were there and I learned some new tunes and made some local contacts.

In the second half of the video I've posted, the guy I was sitting next to (a great fiddler!) had just played with Jay Unger on his radio program the week before. Impressive! And I met Hope Grietzer, who gave us some quick pointers on how to add a little more fun to a tune. Hope has one of the best instruction books that I've found, including three CDs of songs. It has a great selection and it's really well organized. Practice has gotten a lot more interesting and fun.

When I'm struggling with the violin, I really question why I decided to pick up this difficult an instrument. But my spirit soars when I get to play music with friends. So I guess that's as good enough reason as any to keep practicing.

I've got a great network here in the Finger Lakes in New York. And there are a couple of groups that play together weekly in Sacramento, so I'm covered there. But I still haven't figured out who I'll play with in Mexico. I just don't have that mariachi thing down yet....

Here's a video from the Glen.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

My mother, the ultimate collector

My mother was a collector of all things. Some of it was pretty good. Some of it was, well, interesting. And she was good at collecting. She pretty much filled up this little cottage of ours on Seneca Lake, starting, no doubt, when she purchased the place around 1960.

Michael and I have spent the past three years sorting, storing, and giving away box loads of interesting, cute, nifty, pretty things, trying to make a simple lake home for us and for family and friends.

But I've successfully avoid the kitchen project --- until now.

The first major kitchen improvement was to take down the bookshelf that divided the kitchen from the living room. Cousin Brett did a miraculous job of putting in a breakfast bar that opened the kitchen up to the living room, finishing it just days before the wedding guests started to arrive.

Unfortunately, it also opened up the view from the living room to the kitchen.

Uh oh.

Hadn't thought about that.

For the last week I've been sitting at the new, wonderful breakfast bar, making note to Michael that the kitchen shelves sure needed to be organized, sorted, cleaned, painted, you name it, and I sure should get to it.

But I didn't.

So my dear husband decided to help by forcing the timetable.

On Saturday I returned from some errands in Ithaca to discover mounds of kitchen stuff on tables under a tent in the driveway. The kitchen was relatively unusable. The pressure was now on and the project wasn't getting any easier during the daily rainfalls.

The avoidance factor for the project was knowing I would have to take the time to decide that, yes, I'll keep that little oblong dish from the Mark Twain Hotel that someone probably lifted 40 years ago. And that cute little glass bowl that doesn't match anything else, so it goes. And maybe I'll really still use that little antique syrup pitcher.


And, really, most of the stuff was/is pretty neat. There is just too damn much of it. When my mother was alive it was painful for her to give away things, or watch me give her things away. I used to agree with her that, yes, it was a treasure. It's just that now it was going to be someone else's treasure.

So, I'm happy to report that it's Tuesday afternoon and the kitchen shelves are back up and beautiful! Even with some empty shelves yet to be filled! And someone will be getting a box of some of our kitchen 'treasures'.

And I don't want to hear one word about the horrendous job waiting for us in the cellar. I can't see it... so maybe next year?

Today we've got more important work to do. The black raspberries are ripe in the vineyard above the house and we have some jam and pie requests to fill.

The new, improved kitchen, with shelves to spare!

Postscript: Check Michael's blog for the day-to-day news from life in New York. His blog is much more up-to-date than mine.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A country wedding for Dustin and Camelia

I've been hearing from many friends asking 'where are the wedding pics? where's the blog?' So here is a quick synopsis.

Camelia and Dustin's wedding was fantastic, perfect, lovely. It turned into a three day event because friends and family started arriving on Thursday and left Monday. Dylan arrived from Berkeley, Cami's sister and brother in law flew in from France, Beth arrived from Australia, Rennie and Anne from California, Walt and Tencha from Colorado, Evelyn from Boston, the list goes on. We rented a neighbor's five bedroom lake house for out of town guest so they would be within easy walking distance of our cottage. We had a big traditional country barbeque one night, including roasting the corn on the cob. We took lake tours on our pontoon boat, we napped and read on the dock. And then Dustin and Camelia got married.

We successfully dodged the rain all day. We set up tables for dinner on the side yard. Just as everyone sat down to eat, the rain decided to return. So this incredibly flexible crowd simply lifted up their tables, plates and all, and moved them under the wedding tents. Then back to eating and swilling champagne.

The whole event was a community effort. My cousins and my friend Beth Tucker cooked all the food, my cousin Roger brought out the classic cadillac to deliver Cami to the wedding from the San Felice and take Dustin and Cami for a 'victory lap' around Hector to let everyone know they were married. And later in the evening we sat around the campfire and listened to cousin Brett Beardslee and my brother David play music. My mother's good friend, Tom Fassett, generously agreed to officiate the ceremony and brought us all to tears, especially with a tribute to my mother, who was there in spirit. She was the gardener who had created the greenery and flowers that surrounded us that day.

The grand finale was the fireworks and the incredible sunset, following a day of light rain.

Because of all the help from friends and family, I was able to just relax and enjoy the wedding. And I did. Tears, laughter, joy, a fair share of local champagne. It was perfect.

This morning we're all huddled up by the fireplace and the heater because the temperature has dropped like a stone --- I think it was in 40s last night. And the rains came too. So today we're going to enjoy the peace and quiet, enjoy the excuse to take naps and do nothing until the weekend when the weather forecaster says it might be boating weather again.

No photo captions --- but a quick summary. It's Cami's sister Irina, as maid of honor. Her husband Federico walked Cami down the 'aisle'. Rennie is in front of the San Felice, the house for out of town guests. A photo of Uncle David and Uncle Dan with Dustin and Camelia. Anne and Beth with Dustin. The sunset while we sat by the campfire in front of the cottage.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Flowers, flowers, flowers in chilly, beautiful Upstate New York

We're home!

It's amazing how fast Michael and I can accommodate ourselves to the 'next' place we call home. It's a finely honed skill, apparently one we've been working on for years.

We left Puerto Vallarta late Wednesday afternoon and arrived at our house on the lake with a car full of groceries and supplies by mid-afternoon on Thursday. For a red-eye flight through Phoenix, another layover in Philadelphia (where the massage spa opens at 7 a.m.), we arrived feeling pretty good and put in about a full day's work here before doing a full-on face plant into bed after 10 (with the new electric blanket on High!).

The place looks great! Beyond great! It's green! It's flowering! It's freezing... but that's another story.

My mother, Louise, was a master gardener and took great pleasure in puttering around the half-acre that overlooks Seneca Lake. The comfy cottage is tiny and very old --- more than a hundred years ago it was built as a small fishing/hunting camp. But it's the location and scenery that can still take my breath away.

We haven't been home in late Spring in many, many years. We just missed the pink magnolia trees in bloom (although my brother David sent pictures) but we're here for the rest --- the pink and the white bleeding hearts, the rhododendron, the lilacs. And the yard is sooooooooo green!

And another big change from Mexico --- it was light when I woke up around five thirty this morning. And it didn't get dark until after 9 last night.

The chill is still in the air. Last night built a fire to heat the house rather than turn on the electric baseboard heaters (a fortune in electric bills!). Today we'll begin working our way through a long list of chores and errands ---- beginning with piling up a load of wood from around the property so we can light a fire again tonight.

Then it's off to Horseheads to pick up the new kitchen counter to get installed this weekend by cousin Brett. A quick look a used cars to have something to drive this summer. Maybe buy some warmer clothes to wear from the discount Woolrich store. I suspect my sundresses, shorts and tank tops aren't going to be worn around here for at least another month.

Then we get together to play music tonight with our friends in Watkins Glen!

That's a good start for Day One at home. It's great to be back!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Adios, La Manzanilla and Arroyo Seco

Michael and I are decompressing in Puerto Vallarta at son Dustin and his fiance Camelia's lovely home, on our way back to the United States on Wednesday. Specifically, New York.

I'm rationalizing that the transition from Mexico to the U.S. won't be too traumatic since I'm going from rural living to rural living. We'll see.

But here's a short list of what I like about living in Mexico, and maybe a few things I wish I didn't have to put up with in Mexico, before my brain switches gears and I can't remember the details.

What I Don't Like About Mexico

Scorpions and other biting, stinging, nasty things.

I'm reminded that there's a price to pay for living in the tropics, things that I had glossed over since living on Sanibel Island in Southwest Florida a whole lot of years ago. I forget that there's stinging things in the water, stinging things flying around, stinging things crawling around houses in the night, into your shoes, into the towel you've left laying on the floor. But millions of others have learned how to live with all these icky, stingy things, so perhaps I will figure out how to do it with a little less anxiety too. If not, I'll be the newest resident of a really northern climate, suffering from low temperatures so severe that even the bugs don't like to live there.

Bacteria and other ugly diseases. Some friends who have lived in Mexico for a long time won't eat at the street vendors, not because of the food or the preparation at the open air restaurant is suspect but because the dirt from the street can blow on to the food. And the shop keepers water the dirt on the street with gray water (we hope it's just gray water) and there's nasty bacteria that gets on the food and utensils, which you then ingest.

The good news is that our doctor says he's never had to hospitalize anyone for the types of typhoid and typhus that is down here, but it does require a dose of antibiotic.

Road etiquiette

Left turn signals. It's been very important to our safety and well-being to understand that the left turn signal on a car --- ours or the car in front of us --- doesn't always mean what you think it means.

If we're on the highway and the left turn signal flashes on the car or truck in front of us, it probably means it's safe to pass him. But it could also mean that he's turning left and it's not safe to pass him. Veteran drivers usually stick their left arm out when they really mean they intend to make a left turn. Making an assumption that you understand what the left turn signal indicates could mean the last poor decision you've ever made.

Passing on two lane highways. I was horrified the first time I was driving to the Manzanillo airport on a pretty good highway and vehicles would pass the car in front of them even though they could see --- as could I! -- that there was an oncoming vehicle in the other lane. What I have since discovered is that there is an assumption that the oncoming car will simply shift over to the shoulder to make way for you, and not just crash head on. Hopefully everyone knows that same rule!

Things I Like About Mexico

The weather. Of course. Isn't that why most of us migrate south? I found myself grabbing the covers in the early morning for a little more sleep when the temperature had dipped below 80. If you don't like the heat, don't come to Mexico in May. But any place I can put on a swimsuit first thing in the morning and not need a sweater or cover-up all day is perfect for me.

The culture. I'm just scratching the surface and I'll admit it could be the equivalent of any small town in America, but I love the generosity of the people, even if they've just met you. We've been included in every fiesta or event. Everyone pitches in to help on a project. You're offered a place to sit, something to eat the minute you enter someone's home. And you shake everyone's hand and kiss cheeks when you first arrive and then again when you leave. I love the comfort of the physical contact. Now my own American culture feels too stiff to me.

The Pace. I love that traditional Mexican families all still go home for the big meal at 2 in the afternoon, then families and friends spend leisurely evenings after sunset visiting together in front of their homes with even the youngest children playing in the street --- long past what I used to consider my normal bedtime. Tiendas, the tiny stores in the villages, are open 'til 10 or later. But don't consider trying to find anything open early the next morning.

A cash economy. I love that you just don't use credit cards, rarely use checks. You pay your rent in pesos. You buy land in pesos. You pay your utilities in pesos. No surprises at the end of the month, unless you look in your wallet and it's empty.

Cultural surprises. We'll be sitting at a lovely restaurant and watch someone ride a mule past us -- and the new Hummer parked in front --- dragging many palm fronds for whatever building project he's working on. A young boy will ride his bicycle through town with his horse on a lead --- who knows why? Exercise? Moving? And the rental store in town delivers the washing machine to its customers by quad with a trailer.

All the street dogs and beach dogs have a predictable route throughout the village each day, depending on which butcher/cook/restaurant has a reputation for generosity. We used to see a small, blond beach mutt hit Palapa Joe's on one end of the village, cruise by Chop Chops, finally swinging by Martin's for the really good stuff. It's just another resident of the village looking for a meal, only it's on four legs. Love it.

The ease of construction. It's so amazing that you decide what you want built, you hire someone to build it, and they build it. Go to the store, buy the materials, find the labor, watch the progress. Few permits, fewer taxes. Just point and build. And now we have the huge, delightful palapa for dinners with friends, places to hang double-woven hammocks, maybe an actual bar to belly up to because a liquor and restaurant permit only costs about a hundred fifty a year. What's not to like?

Any excuse for a fiesta. You thank the workers. You have birthday parties. You give going away parties, welcome back parties. And everyone's invited. The food and drink just keeps coming. You start the party late and you stay late. You don't eat and run, like in the states. You linger. You have dinner, then you talk, you dance, you drink. And then you keep talking, dancing, drinking. And eventually, you go home. I've never made it to the hour where people start leaving and I still feel like such a gringo when I wimp out the earliest.

Maybe next year I'll get the hang of it. It's a goal.

The bottom line is that, all in all, I've been really happy here and sad to leave. I'm just getting the hang of things, just beginning to understand the language, even if I can't speak it yet. I've made friends, started creating community that I can't wait to get back to. Having said that, I'm sure I can also be happy at lovely Seneca Lake as we jettison ourselves into a different but equally satisfying life, beginning on Wednesday.

That's the list I'll be making in late August....

Saying goodbye to Devani in La Manzanilla

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A new amiga arrives in La Manzanilla

It's our last week or so in Mexico and we've continued with our normal relentless pace but it's been a ton of fun. Some of the highlights (and there are many) include, starting with the most important:

ONE: The baby finally arrived!

For those of you following Michael's blog, last week our neighbor Mimi (and Mom Irma) sent her grandfather, Xavier, over to roust us about 2 in the morning after a fun Mother's Day fiesta in the jardin.

We spent the night in the Manzanillo hospital with them, walking Mimi around the parking lot in the dark while we tried to kickstart her labor a little more efficiently. When we finally left them mid-morning to return to La Manz, Mimi was being admitted to the hospital.

Then, no word, day after day. Just that they were okay and that baby hadn't been born yet.

Finally, last Wednesday we got word that the baby girl had arrived and was fine, but there had been some problems with Mimi. After a cesarean section, Mimi lost a lot of blood. Had she not been in the hospital, she wouldn't be with us today.

Mother and child are now safely home in La Manzanilla, where we got the full report from the local doctor who was making a house call. Check out Grandma Irma, Mimi, Sylvia and Devani, and the local doctor (with a backpack) in the picture.

A house call? I love this place!

And last week when Michael and I walked 'downtown' for dinner, we spotted a local version of "urgent care" --- a pickup truck parked in front of the local pharmacy/doctor with an IV rigged up over the cab, attached to an elderly gentleman asleep in the front seat.

TWO: We went horseback riding!

Michael bravely agreed to accompany me on horseback for a tour of a friend's ranch near where we're building in Arroyo Seco. We rode through orchards to a nearby freshwater lagoon filled with a ton of birds and wildlife. It was amazing. And it really reminds me a lot of Southwest Florida, especially Sanibel Island.

So now I have this hot idea that we'll buy a horse or two when we return in December. It seems a perfect way to explore the countryside and the beaches around us. Michael is asking a lot of questions from the locals, like exactly how much dinero will it take to keep a horse in Mexico.

I think he's comparing costs of slip fees and yardwork from our former boating life to hay, barns and vet bills. I'll let you know when the verdict comes in.

THREE: Our palapa, ramada and bodega are almost done!

We've been visiting Arroyo Seco almost daily to check the progress on our building projects, see if more decisions need to be made. The workers have been making rapid progress with early mornings and late evenings, all day Saturday. I've been impressed. And it's requiring a lot of coordination to have the concrete go in at the right time for the posts for the palapa and the ramada, etc.

Friday night we'll have the requisite fiesta to thank the workers for all the hard work and the dedication to project. If we were living nearby, we would have been expected to feed the workers either daily or weekly, depending on the size of the project and the proximity to available food.

As I told my neighbor today, I'd know just what to do to throw a fiesta in the states --- what food to serve, what time, what the expectations would be. But here, I'm depending on local friends to help me. I've assured them that if they ever have to throw a fiesta in the U.S., I'm there for them.

We're now on Countdown status as we prepare to close down projects until the end of the year. This last week we're taking a vacation from our frenetic life and heading to the beach to celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary and to spend some time with my cousin Lynn and friends.

The next blog post with be from Seneca Lake in New York, where I join up with my music buddies and prepare for a June wedding.

Friday, April 25, 2008

A hard day for kitty Cleo

Most of you following our travels for the past eight years know that we tend to adopt (and spoil) all the neighborhood animals, foster friend's dogs and cats –– whatever we can do to pretend we have pets without the responsibility. When we finally settle down (when we grow up?), we'll probably end up with an extensive menagerie.

So Michael has been feeding our neighborhood cats in La Manzanilla the occasional canned kitty food, the smoked sliced turkey from Costco, the leftover chicken casadilla from a favorite beach restaurant.

And not just the old stuff.

Needless to say, his gato groupies have been increasing mui rapido. It's not uncommon to open the door first thing in the morning and have five feral cats out on the front stoop, waiting for breakfast.

We've had a favorite from the beginning, a loyal friend who has gotten so civilized that she's decided that coming in the house would be the start of a great friendship. One time she slipped in and we found her comfortably settling into life on the bed. But Cleo and her fleas got bounced out
the door (with treats to make amends).

Cleo's been looking a little punk lately –– what we thought was a little skin problem from fleas has been spreading all over her hindquarters. So we finally borrowed the hav-a-hart trap from the local community activist who started Cisco's Amigo's, a twice-a-year neutering clinic that clips and snips about 140 dogs and cats in a factory line of volunteers.

We put the stinky kitty food in the trap, she climbed right in, the door slammed and she was in the new local vet's office in minutes.

Well, Cleo's back with a new name --- Clete. Turns out she's a he. Or was a he. Oops. The skin rash has been treated, he's been dewormed and deflea-ed. And neutered. He's still quite the drugged-out cat --- falling down like a drunk all over the house while we wait for the anesthesia to wear off.

His fellow kitty compatriots are outside wondering what it takes to get invited in the house. If Cleo could talk, I'm sure he'd be urging them to find other accommodations for the duration. They're next.

By the way, the veterinary charge was about $14 U.S.

While Clete was safely tucked in the house recuperating, Michael and I checked out the sunset before dinner where we ran into Molly, the great fire-dancing hula hoopster, where I got a quick lesson on the beach.

This is one sport I never could get the hang of as a kid but she swears I'll be 'hooping' within a day. So a trip to the ferreteria tomorrow for the makings for a hula hoop.

Stay tuned!

My first hoop lesson on the La Manzanilla beach

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The tradition of 'Sundays at Sea'

La Manzanilla, Jalisco, Mexico

I sailed around the world in 1970 and 1971 aboard the SS Ryndam as part of a university program called World Campus Afloat. Thirty-six countries in less than a year –– it was a mind-opening experience for any 18-year-old –– as we circumnavigated the globe as a first experience out of the United States.

I made good friends aboard the ship who challenged my comfort zone –– camping out in Stonehenge in England in case we could figure out the secret of the stones, hiking in the Japanese Alps in the middle of winter, exploring the Seychelle Islands off East Africa long before they built a jetport. And an incredible week in Tanzania as we rented cars and traveled inland for our own version of a photo safari (the rental agent's only advice? Don't get out and push the car in the bush because of the lions!).

It was a fabulous but exhausting year and certainly the foundation for the life Michael and I have chosen, in a small fishing/agricultural/surf village on the west coast of Mexico where we now live.

Today I was reminded of one of our ship's tradition on board the SS Ryndam from more than 30 years ago.

We were required to take university classes on board the ship every day at sea as we traveled to the next port, the next country. So we pushed hard every day at sea, then pushed 24/7 when we were unleashed in the next country, the next continent.

The only respite was a 'Sunday at Sea'.

It was the only day we were allowed to sleep in, hang by the pool, read a book or stare into the sea while we sat on foredeck. One day of rest, down time, then BAM! –– another Monday of classes or travel.

Today Michael and I had what might be our first 'Sunday at Sea' in Mexico.

Our good friends and great vacation buddies Jennifer and Scott Noble left yesterday after a fun-filled and exhausting week careening up to Arroyo Seco to fish, build, direct, or off to La Huerta to pay the taxes and look for huaraches, or to Melaque to the bank and lunch. Or....


But today Michael and I leisurely rolled out of bed, stuffed the fishing pole and a beach chair in the car and headed to our lot in Tenacatita.


Hunger drove us back to La Manzanilla for brunch with friends on the beach. And because I took a minute to get to the beach, I stumbled across the most fantastic musicians from Guadalajara jamming at one of the beach restaurants. I just stopped, sat and listened.

I definitely need to do that more often.

It was followed by a great siesta, then another walk on the beach where we ran into a few more friendly hellos. Now we're fixing dinner at home (great tamales from the great tamale party in Arroyo Seco --- see Michael's blog for that), some fiddle playing and maybe even a movie.

Even as I write this, I consider that perhaps this doesn't sound as relaxing to you as it does to me. But for someone who probably needs to slow down but has a low tolerance for it, I'm thinking I did pretty dang good.

We're going to continue to jam pack every minute of the remaining five weeks here before we careen off to Seneca Lake, where we will start a new chore list, party list, boating list.

Hopefully, we'll take the 'Sundays at Sea' tradition with us.

Beach fishing in the Pacific Ocean at Tenacatita

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Roosters, wild turkeys & cats

LA MANZANILLA, Jalisco, Mexico
It has been unseasonably cold this year in Tenacatita Bay --- cold enough that I've been wearing a fleece jacket in the mornings and evenings and wouldn't even consider swimming in the bay. The locals agree --- brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr --- the coldest any of them could ever remember but they warned us not to complain since they said we would all be whining soon enough about the heat.

How true. The heat has arrived.

I could feel it Friday morning as we organized a field trip for our La Manz friends to see what we're planning to build/create in Arroyo Seco, a tiny agricultural village located by a pretty good surf beach. By mid-morning we were standing on our empty lot in 'downtown' Arroyo Seco (for context, our friend Tia said she'd like the town more if it had two streets) in what felt like some pretty blistering heat. Once the breeze kicked in, we were fine.

For the record, we've gone from a low of 64 to 68 in the mornings to a low of 76 the past two mornings. We're now in the high 80s during the day.

I've just finished my stint at the real estate office and I'm starting my life as a 'jubilado' -- a retiree. Mornings have changed dramatically from just a week ago. Instead of the early scramble for a quick breakfast and our 40 minute walk over some pretty steep hills (and great views!) to race into the office, we're easing our way into mornings at the Mexican beach village of La Manzanilla.

We find ourselves waking up to a medley of domestic and wild bird sounds, mixed with the honk of the tortilla delivery truck and a motorcycle quad either delivering or picking up the rented washing machine across the street. It all happens by 7 a.m. or so. I've discovered I have to deliberately listen for the waves breaking on the beach --- I've filtered them into background noise and forget to listen.

One of our four adopted (feral) kitties waits on the front step for desayuna (breakfast) while the others hide in the bushes and up in the trees for her highness, aptly named Cleopatra, to have first bites. Yesterday morning was particularly loud --- four wild turkeys or wild chickens took up residence in some of our trees while they begin to reclaim a nest in the abandoned lot next door.

And, of course, the neighborhood roosters and the rest of the clan were over picking out breakfast bugs out of the pile of leaves in the yard.

Then the day flies. Last week we were on the road to either Tenacatita or Arroyo Seco every day trying to get things squared away on the lots, plus I read a couple of books (before and after siestas) and I'm back playing my fiddle.

Michael and I are getting through our checklist of getting fences up, walls constructed, wells dug, septic in on the various lots. Next winter we hope to spend time enjoying Arroyo Seco and Tenacatita, rather than just working there.

By early June we'll be heading to Seneca Lake (right after celebrating Dustin's birthday!) and get the Spirit of Louise, our pontoon boat, out of storage and back on the lake tours, get the jacuzzi fired up, re-immerse ourselves in the ease of shopping in box grocery stores within driving distance. The most fun, of course, is a summer on the lake with family and old friends and playing music with all my new fiddlin' friends.

So that's life for now --- a lot of changes down here for us but it's all still working. We have friends from Sacramento coming next week to help remind us why we live here --- we'll roll out the best of vacation activities (snorkling at Tenacatita, beach fishing in Arroyo Seco, shopping for jewelry, shoes, hammocks, exploring new restaurants). I hope to have a full report soon ....

Saturday morning:

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Fast livin' in Tenacatita Bay

This is Michael's and my first night 'home alone' in many weeks as we take a quick rest before greeting our next roomies. It's a chicken soup and veggies night, chased by some ukelele and fiddle playing. Life in the fast lane starts again tomorrow at 10.

Cousin Ruth Bills left yesterday after a great three weeks at the Casa Lupita B & B --- what she probably didn't realize is that she'd be part of the staff. Every day was filled to exhaustion --- beginning with a walk on the beach, then breakfast at El Girasol, home for chores, on to a beach afternoon, late afternoon naps, finally a walk three blocks to 'town' for dinner. Then a late night collapse. Oh, and some shopping at the plaza!

And then there were the side trips to Tenacatita, Arroyo Seco, Barra de Navidad, Melaque & Manzanillo and the occasional overnight trip to Puerto Vallarta.

Apparently the goal is to see exactly how much fun you can pack into each day.

Jenn Bills also joined us for a surprise visit --- the day she left I was reminded of how many times Michael just about had to put a gun to my head to get me on the plane to go back to the States. I think she's looking at airfares for a return trip next winter. We can't wait.

We also had a short visit from Dustin who drove down from Puerto Vallarta to have us help nurse him back to health from a lung infection. He left for home with a little more color in his cheeks but not quite enough oxygen yet. We're hoping the medication will heal him quickly and he'll be back to work soon.

Tuesday our good friends Sanders and Pat will be joining us. They're leaving behind about five feet of snow at their home in the Northern California mountains. We'll be able to spot them anywhere on the beach the first few days. They'll be the incredibly white people under the umbrellas.

Having company here has been effortless for us. Our house is the equivalent of a simple lake cottage, a mountain cabin, or a boat. Somewhat rustic, no privacy but fun, nonetheless. And the company has kept me from missing all the rest of all of you who will either be joining us later or catching up with us in New York or California.

At my work, one of the best part is the forced Spanish immersion. It's really interesting to answer the phone and not be bilingual. But as my friend Jane says, "Don't worry. You'll be speaking Spanish in no time. You have no choice."

I'm really getting good at 'Uno momento, por favor!'

Now, on for some long-needed fiddle practice. Hasta luego, amigos!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

What I haven't been doing in Mexico

The last three weeks have been more of the same.

I haven't gotten to the beach much.
I haven't taken many siestas.
I haven't read more than a few pages of a book at a time.
I haven't played my fiddle.

You get the drift.

A good friend commented a few days ago that I could move to the Arctic and still be busy. Guess when I get the time, it would something to mull over...

This time I'm going to blame all this activity on the still obvious -- moving to a new country, a new community, a new job, lots of lovely house guests.

I've been at the real estate office a lot more than I had expected. But it's a great example of the seasonal frenzy of resort areas --- while real estate is always bought and sold, certainly a beach village in Mexico sees its share of winter dreamers (and buyers) who want to do the deal while they are here on vacation .... for two more days!

So it's a frantic whirl around the village for those in the business, trying to find clients the right home, the right beach lot, the right ocean view, before they head back to the states or to Canada --- while also trying to get the new home just listed online and on to a flyer on the wall, contact other realtors, get offers filled out and to the seller, counteroffers, etc.


But I can relate to the dreamer, the buyer. It's been a great reminder of how it is that Michael and I are now living here.

Last January (was it only a year ago?) we were taking a few week's vacation with the kids in a lovely beach home over the Santana Real Estate office, when Joe Santana says to me, "You ought to see this great beach lot..."

The rest is history.

Joan Santana says the best part of her job is working with people who have a dream and are taking a huge leap of faith to get there.

I agree. It is the best part.

But the next step for me, personally, is to figure out how to still see the beach, read a book and play the violin during 'high season'.

I'll keep you all posted. In about a month.

A view of Tenacatita Bay from the inside of a hilltop home under construction.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Twenty days of no Manana time

I've thought about posting something in the past 20 days about our first month as 'jubilados' (retirees) in Mexico --- but we're not exactly retired, we're not exactly taking it easy and all news was so eventful that I would have been writing in all exclamation points --- which I am fundamentally opposed to, as a journalist.

So now that some of the La Manzanilla dust has settled (at least in front of our house), here's a quick recap.

As many of you know from reading Michael's blog, I'm helping out three or more days a week at Santana Realty. It's not even the eye of the storm in there --- it's a daily tornado of activity, often stemming from tourists coming in about a beach rental and walking out with a realtor to look at buying property or a house.

It's been really interesting.

I'm on the fast track to learn everything about buying and selling real estate in this part of Mexico while also learning how to do it in another language -- Spanish. Already I know to ask for the 'carpeta' (the file), what a 'Constancia' is (a very important property document you get from the Ejido), or how to respond when someone asks if I would like something from the local tienda.


I'm always exhausted by Thursdays but I'm also left mulling over what was left undone, what else might be handled more efficiently (am I allowed to think that in this culture? Hmmmmm).

In the meantime, there is much other news:

Dustin and Camelia delighted and surprised us with their engagement last week! They have the ultimate international, cross-cultural relationship --- Camelia is Romanian and has been living and working in Puerto Vallarta for the past seven years.

She and Dustin combined their business space last year so Fox Marine and Full Sail Canvas are now located in Nueva Vallarta at the Nueva Marina and their home is nearby. They live about three to four hours from us (depending on who's driving!) and Camelia has been very gracious in welcoming Dustin's quirky relatives into their home. We're elated!

The paperwork to get married in Mexico is 'mui complicado' -- stay tuned for a wedding date and a wedding destination.

You've also probably read that Michael and I have bought more property. We don't have a plan (what's new?) but all 'feels right' (that's so 60s, sorry!) so we're forging ahead. We haven't decided if and when to build or where. But we figure all will be revealed soon enough. For a change, we've decided to just live here for a little while and then make a decision when we know more. That's a different approach for us.

Of course, for those of you that know us, even this philosophy remains subject to change.

We've been seeing cruising friends too --- Phil and Nora on Shiraz, and Dan and Lorraine on Zephyrus. We're headed to Barra de Navidad later today to have dinner with Zephryus and make plans for helping them fix one more boat part before they head to Central America.

At some point we're expecting to see Jeff and Anne on Fantasia, headed back from Aptos, California. And Don Tiffin is now in Mexico on Sabbatical before he heads to the South Pacific. Anyone need to hitch a ride?

Today begins the yearly La Manzanilla birthday fiesta, rodeo and four day bash that the natives have told us will require a box of earplugs. Yesterday I saw a makeshift hair salon set up in an empty shop and dozens of the local women getting their hair fixed for the festivities. So this might be quite the event and one not to miss. Stay tuned for the video.

But all in all -- when I get a chance to take a breath -- I can heartfully say that the decision to move here is still all I had hoped for. I'm doing a lot of what I had wanted to do (with the exception of finding fellow fiddle players, but I'm working on it). I'm learning the language, making friends, seeing old ones, enjoying the warm weather and the late evenings.

Michael and I walk up in the hills every morning and I'm always reminded of the disparity of lifestyles here that seem to be able to co-exist as we hike up through the million dollar homes on the hill and descend down by the stick huts in the village.

The gentlemen pictured here sits out in front of his home every day, getting the occasional visit from whomever is passing by.

It's the La Manzanilla version of extended care living -- not an uncommon sight here. It's a good daily reminder for me that whatever I have, I have enough.

And for all of you who missed Jane 'the Rentalor' Gorby's birthday on Monday, here it is:

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Who said life in La Manz is slow?

We've just come off of frantic five days of searching for the perfect home or land purchase for my cousin Lynn and friends -- Suzanne, Karen and Randy --- while also squeezing in some important time for swimming, snorkling, sampling the pescado and the tequila, while also squeezing in some occasional non-real estate conversation. Basically, we did everything but sleep, rest, read or do anything else that might be considered 'idle time'.

This might be more the trend than what I had fantasized about mid-semester.

Oh well. It's still fun. Exhausting but fun.

Lynn and company went careening off mid-morning to the Puerto Vallarta airport, while Michael and I and Dylan suited up for some real estate shopping of our own, finalizing some property that we looked at in a nearby village last spring. That meant a 7 k ride down a washboard road and a hike up a hill to see what we could see.

It looked great.

I finally took my first siesta in a week, recharging my batteries for an evening trip down to Melaque and Barra de Navidad for groceries, a trip to the closest ATM and dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, Mexico Lindo, with Tenacatita friends Sharon and Mario.

In the Small World we live in, we struck up a conversation with the people at the next table who turned out to be a California legislator (and family) who made it clear that he/she would really prefer to remain unnamed. But you have to wonder what the statistical odds are for sitting next to a couple of Sacramento journalists at a tiny Mexican restaurant in a small Mexican village.

Here's a video of the Tenacatita Beach, snorkling and dinner out afterwards in La Manzanilla. Tacos were 7 pesos each. Perfect for a retirement budget!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

A new year in Tenacatita Bay

We only left California 19 days ago but, as usual, we've jammed more than a months worth of travel, fun, work, guests, planning and whatever into those days. I keep saying life will settle down soon and Michael just snorts. So maybe not.

Yesterday was our first true beach day. We actually worked in the morning on a California consulting project, then took off for a late lunch at our favorite palapa at Tenacatita, near our beach lot. Michael and Dylan had their usual Rollo de Mer (fish roll with shrimp, bacon and whatever, deep fried and covered in a sauce) and cervezas.

Afterwards we took the beach chairs and umbrella to the beach where our friends Sharon and Mario are building, using the same contractor we plan to use.

Today we're heading to Puerto Vallarta (three hours north if I'm driving) to help celebrate Camelia's birthday and do some city shopping for stuff we need here. I find that I hate the thought of shopping and buying, so I must be acclimating quickly.

This is a short video from the beach yesterday --- it probably doesn't do it justice, but eventually most of you will come see it for yourselves. And if you missed our New Year's Eve celebration on Michael's blog, check out the dancing video here called New Year's Eve Rocks (tango, cha cha and whatever moves your body).