Sunday, December 27, 2009

Feels pretty good to be home in Arroyo Seco

Michael and I have just spent our first Sunday back in Arroyo Seco and I have to say, ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

We took our first walk down to the beach and back, running into many friends who were headed down to surf or on their way back because the waves weren't quite right.

We couldn't make it past Tia Mela's house on the corner by the jardin, the first home built in Arroyo Seco about 60 years ago. Tia Mela clapped her hands with joy and beckoned us in to talk. There was no getting by today, so we stayed for a short visit before heading home for breakfast.

I broke in the new hand juicer today, with a lovely combination of oranges and grapefruit.

Then we puttered about the property all morning. I pulled the new kitchen together, which we moved on to one-third of the palapa. The Pink Flamingo bar is in place, the blender is in fine working order, the new leather bar stools set to arrive on Friday.

And the new pink flamingos are resting peacefully in the yard, our Christmas present from Dustin and Camelia.

Michael continued to empty the bodega (garage/storage building), also putting more shade up around the property.

We met for lunch in the palapa and started to make a list of projects we might accomplish this year until I saw him clutching his sore shoulder and neck and decided he couldn't take the stress yet. We'll go back to the list another day.

In the meantime, we're fresh from siestas, showers and now headed down to the jardin where there's supposed to be a fiesta grande, complete with a spectacular presentation by Chena and family. We'll post video soon, but we've heard it's not to be missed.

As in love with this little rancho as I am, I assure you it's not for everyone. I'm fighting the dust because the streets aren't paved. This afternoon I showered with a spider the size of my fist. Eventually I'll find a local to ask whether this is one of the good guys or the bad guys. If so, squish.

But for now, I'm exactly where I want to be, doing exactly what I want to be doing. And that's good enough for today.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Admiral joins the posada processional

We're back in Arroyo Seco, Mexico, pulling the compound together for another six months of life here in this little rancho in Costalegre.

It's a different type of quiet for us. A non-mechanized quiet. Not many cars, airplanes, machines that hum. But loads of noises from roosters and chickens, flapping and cackling around our yard in the morning. A lot of children's voices as they play in the street late into the night. An occasional dog, donkey, bird, horse. And a lot of really loud music during the day.

Tonight we heard children singing as part of a nightly posada processional, part of the Christmas celebration. Soon they were in front of our home, then shouting out our names for us to join in the rest of the processional around the village. While I used to be hesitant about such events --- my limited language, my lack of understanding of the culture or what would be expected of me -- now I just launch myself out the door. Even without my trusty translator, Miguel.

What the heck. In for a dime, in for a dollar. Or in for a centavo, in for a peso.

I've learned that they're delighted to have our participation, to have us be interested in their lives and their celebrations.

Tonight when I joined the processional I learned how to be more prepared for next year --- have a small bag of candies or treats ready each night to give to the child dressed as Mary. And if we want to really delight them, have a pinata ready too.

After the last house, children dashed off in all directions. But a contigent of about 15 of them ended up in front of our neighbor Chena's house, painting ceramics at a table set up in the street. Hours later, we can still hear them.

I live here for a lot of reasons --- I want to force myself to learn the language, I love the climate, I like living in the country. But tonight I'm reminded that I get to learn about their culture, and that all I have to do is be brave enough to walk out the door.

Another act of bravery is driving back and forth to Puerto Vallarta. We have two big motivators --- granddaughter Sasha and Michael's doctor of osteopathy, Dr. Antonio, who is working miracles on his shoulder pain.

Yesterday we came across some cattle crossing the highway but we were able to stop our big Toyota Tundra in time. Unfortunately, the van in back of us didn't. After a spectacular spinout, he and his passenger ended up wedged in an arroyo. No injuries, but without AAA to call, it was probably going to be quite a while before their car was yanked out of that ditch.

We're heading back up to Vallarta tomorrow to celebrate Christmas with Sasha and her parents. And we're going to be driving very, very carefully.

Feliz Navidad!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Livin' in the Burbs

We're just finishing up our four month stint in Sacramento, grateful to still have employment in a state that has a deficit bigger than most other states' budgets, grateful to have a lovely place to live while we replenish our bank accounts, grateful to have time with the kids and the grandkids, time with our California friends.


I'm lonely.

It's not the one-to-one loneliness of being without friends and family. It's been lovely to see everyone. It's the loneliness of not having community, of not having a band of people who are willing to connect in the grocery store, in the parking lot, in front of their houses. I miss the day to day easy socializing and connecting, the serendipity of who you will see, who you will talk to that day that comes with living in a village, of living outside the U.S.

(Except maybe Hector, NY. But that's a different story).

Those of you who have known me for years probably have intuitively understood that I'm the friend you drop in on, not the one you make plans with weeks in advance. Even when the kids were little, I loved that friends would feel comfortable enough to stop by without notice and could ignore the chaos of the house, nor would I feel compelled to apologize for whatever chaos they found.

When I first moved from Flagstaff to Sacramento 20 years ago, I told Michael that I would feel at home here as soon as I could depend on running into someone I knew at the local grocery store and meet my daily innoculation against loneliness with some unexpected casual conversation.

I'm still waiting. It's just too sprawling a community, too many people.

When Michael and I bought our first house in an old Italian neighborhood in Sacramento, one of the qualities I loved the most about the neighborhood was the lack of fences around the properties. When our neighbor behind us started making noises about putting up the 6-foot redwood fence, we had an ongoing conversation about how that could change her relationship with the neighbors. Her mother, the original homeowner, still gardened, still puttered around the backyard, still looked for casual conversation with us and others.

The fence never went up.

Immediate community is one of the reasons I loved boating so much, regardless of location. You have to walk from your slip in whatever marina you're in past dozens of boats with dozens of people. You can't help but get to know them. And they might not be people you would have thought to befriend elsewhere. But you have a commonality, a love of boating, and proximity. You're both there.

Being back in Sacramento this year, I'm reminded how lonely people are here. I walk this year's foster dog, Tucker, around the neighborhood and it's only the dog walkers who are out and about, maybe a few kids under the age of five.

But I can see in the windows, and what I see are pretty huge flat screen TVs, keeping people in the house company.

No one is sitting out front. No one is talking. The majority of people are uncomfortable if you try.

A young Mexican woman who had lived in Sacramento with her family for a while once told me that she thought America was so wonderful because it's so clean. But so lonely. She couldn't understand why Americans stayed in their homes every night.

I guess that's how I feel.

My eagerness to return to Mexico is more than the lovely temperature. I miss the simplicity of easy interactions. I miss seeing some of the elders in the village sitting out in front of their home with a few empty chairs by them. Don't even think about passing by without plunking your butt down for a five minute visit.

I didn't understand the importance of community when I was in my 20s, the way I understand it now. I understand that the community comes with all types of people, all types of complicated, dysfunctional people, but that it doesn't matter. They'll help you. You 'll help them. Even if all you need is a quick conversation to know you're not alone.

I don't know how we got so far away from this in much of America.

I'm headed back to Mexico to get my fill (and no doubt my irritations) from all the community I can get. Come find me. I'll be on the bench in the jardin near the church, waiting to have a conversation.

Hasta pronto!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A textbook case for early screening for skin cancer

First: I'm fine.

Second: I have a three-inch scar running down my right cheek.

Third: sunscreen! Hats!

But back to the first point.

I'm fine. I guess that's the most important point to make. That, and I'm sure glad that I'm not a super vain person about my looks. And, I'm ready for Halloween?

Nah, it's really not that bad. But it could have been.

Michael and I make our yearly dermatology appointments each fall with Dr. Silva when we're back in Sacramento, back on the job. Obviously, we're good --- ok, great? -- candidates for skin cancer. We live the majority of the year in sunny climates. And --- oh yeah --- we went sailing for about 16 years, most of the time sin sunscreen. We didn't burn, we weren't sunbathing. But we were undoubtedly damaging our skin.

Michael headed in first and discovered he had a squamous cell carcinoma on his chest, which he had surgically removed last week.


I headed in for my check up and pointed to the tiniest little bump on my cheek. I thought it was something like a zit but it didn't heal, didn't get red, didn't change color, didn't itch. It was just a tiny bump.

Fortunately, Dr. Silva didn't agree. We didn't even get to screening the rest of my face before she was biopsying that little blemish, which came back as a very aggressive type of basal cell carcinoma. I was immediately referred to a surgeon for a procedure called Mohs Surgery, where the surgeon removes and biopsies the skin, layer by layer, all on the same day, until a completely clean biopsy is present. It can often take two or three surgeries before they are ready to stitch you up and send you home.

What's apparently so good about the Mohs Surgery is they get it all the first time.

I got lucky --- lucky that I got in so early, lucky that it only took one surgery. The type of cell I have is aggressive, ill-defined, often spreading rapidly below the radar so that by the time the bump shows up, it's off and running.

I would hate to think what my face would have looked like if I had waited.

I'm not sharing this because I need to whine or I need sympathy or I need flowers. Really, all I need is for all of my friends to take the time to get screened by a good dermatologist.

Because, as I said, my little innocuous bump was tiny.

Monday, October 5, 2009

(Almost) 40 days & 40 nights in Sacramento

I've noticed that this blog gets pretty quiet when I get back to Sac, back to work. One reason is the simplicity of posting quickie updates on Facebook, with a picture. Makes me lazy....

But here's the rest of the reason:

An unexpected marathon visit with ALL the kids.

One of the delights of having to return to Sacramento to work (besides the paycheck!) is getting to spend time with Daughter Anne and the grandkids, Sami and Kami.

But within two weeks of our arrival and barely back to work, sons Jason and Dustin (and family) showed up unexpectedly in Sacramento for an impromptu family reunion. Jason was heading back to Michigan for a two month stint as a volleyball coach. Then he'll be joining us in Mexico, in early January .

Dustin, Camelia and Sasha flew north to California to get out of the Puerto Vallarta heat for a few weeks. The airfares were astoundingly cheap and 1-year-old Sasha had just gotten her U.S. passport (and citizenship!) the day before the flight. Sasha was a blast -- a veteran traveler already. She was happy and flexible the entire trip.

At 13 years of age as of Saturday, Granddaughter Samantha (sorry, Sami) has reached my height and will soon be towering over me. She's tall, lovely, smiles a lot, is a great older sister, texts a lot of friends and plays a lot of softball.

Baby sister Kamryn, 2, is what we call "a pistol." Not sure exactly what that expression intends, but she's it. She is focused, smart, speaking in full sentences, has a spark in her eye. But boy oh boy, is she focused. It's like watching a computer processor at work.... processing, processing. Then ACTION!

We ended our 10-day family marathon with a barbecue at Dylan's place in Oakland Hills. Phenomenal view of San Francisco, the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge and out of this world food. We're sooooooo glad he likes to cook.

All I can say is TOO MUCH FUN!

Back to work, back to teaching, back to a state in fiscal crisis.

Obviously, being back to work, back in the classroom is a shock to someone who has been able to do what she wants, when she wants for the past eight months. It's taken a few weeks to get to get my stride, especially with the kids visiting, to remember how to prep classes more efficiently, remember how to grade papers more efficiently.

But it's an odd time to be back in Sacramento. We have a 9.3 percent pay cut, which the state calls furlough days, because of the budget crisis. So in a 16-week semester, we must take two days off per month (9 days during each semester) to match the reduction in pay. And still teach our students. Unfortunately, I hear that the state/university system could be in much worse shape next year. Lovely.

Many downtown businesses near the Capitol have already shut down --- state workers don't buy lunch out (or anything else) if they don't have enough money to pay their mortgage --- or anything else. Especially if they're not even physically at the job for three days per month. Department stores have closed, electronic stores, jewelry stores, many of the major chains. The budget crisis was not as obvious in New York this summer.

Anne and Steve are finding many 'teachable moments' with Sami about the effects of the budget crisis, especially in Sacramento. State workers (including Anne) have a three-day reduction in pay per month. There have been some great lessons --- 'if you want label jeans, then you get one pair. If you don't care about label jeans, then you get three new pairs of jeans for school.'

And unexpected blessing for Anne to have three Fridays off per month to spend with the girls.

Pretty good life lessons, really, for all of us Americans.

Now for a couple of side rants:

First Rant: Medical care. Of course.

The quality of medical care is great in New York, good access too but it's sticker shock even with insurance. My co-pay is often higher than the cost of seeing a doctor in Mexico without insurance. But great quality and variety..

Mexico medical care is phenomenal, so far. Affordable. Great. Clean. Access to your doctor because you have his or her cell phone. No lie!

California. Stinks! At least in Sacramento. It's a huge system where the bureaucracy has become more important than the patient. I was thinking about changing doctors within the same system and the receptionist interviewed me quite extensively about my insurance before taking my personal information. And, no, I'm not in an HMO. I supposedly have 'great' insurance. So I told her 'no thanks.'

My doctor says it's going to take six weeks to get into a gastroenterologist --- amazing for a city this size, for a medical community this size. I'm thinking I'll just wait until I get back to Mexico, where I have better access, good medical care, timely ---- and I can afford it.

Second rant: What the heck happened to my skin here?

The humidity in Sacramento has often hovered under 20 percent (can we even breathe that?) and I'm guessing all the minerals have been stripped out of the water system so that skin is dry, hair is dry. So I can't believe it, but I'm back to buying products for hair and skin so I don't look like an aging witch.

Between upstate New York --- where we have humidity and a lovely beach well for our water --- and the sea air in Mexico, I've barely needed a moisturizer. Now I'm back in Sacramento to make some money and I'm having to pay serious dollars on moisturizers and conditioners. I need to get out of here before I've donated my paycheck to the beauty industry. Ack!

The temperature here has dropped like a stone, so this bird is feeling the urge to migrate south. See many of you back in Mexico at the end of the semester in mid-December!

Pictures below: 1. 13-year-old Sami. 2. Sasha and Kamryn. 3. Anne and Kami. 4. Jason, Dad, Dustin. 5. Dylan, Michael, Sylvia, Camelia, Dustin and Sasha.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Our secret weapon in cottage maintenance

We always arrive at our hundred-year-or so old cottage in May with great ambitions about how much we're going to accomplish that summer.

And we do. But we always forget that when you're working on this old a wood-frame house, with old plumbing, old electrical, old everything, it's often two steps forward, one step back.

But we have a secret weapon in our arsenal.

Cousin Brett.

Thank God for us that Brett has an equal affection for the old place -- and capabilities to match.

When my good friend Beth Tucker came in four years ago to help me sort through my mom's things and make a space for us to live, Brett helped us (or rather, we helped him) remodel the downstairs bathroom, encouraging us to use as many hand-me-downs and scavenged materials as possible.

That's why the bathroom vanity is an old porcelain covered cast iron sink we discovered sitting outside the local recycle store, which he cut into an enamel covered baker's helper cabinet that we discovered down in our cellar. (The cellar is another story).

When Brett pulled the old paneling from one wall in the bathroom, we discovered the original window between what is now the cellar stairs and the 'new' bathroom (and what used to be a porch). No need to cover up the window, he thought. Just do something with glass and we can use it as ambient light at night.

So that sent me hustling off to Corning (of Corning Glass fame) to work with a glass artist, who helped me locate a close-to-exact old window which I covered with glass pieces to create a flower with vase night light.

This Sunday, when someone tried to put their foot (followed by the rest of them) through the rotted wood hatch that covers our 1,000 gallon water cistern under the dining room floor, we had Brett on our 911 speed dial.


As usual, he had a perfect piece of old cherry wood that he nabbed when someone was throwing out an old cherry table. Within days, we had a new, improved, beautiful hatch over the cistern, complete with a brass lift-ring so we no longer have to pry the hatch open with a screwdriver.

How perfect!

It even matches the multi-colored green cabinet that has been sitting next to the cistern for decades, something that my grandfather built to use as a tool cabinet.

(For those of you who are hoping to capitalize on Brett's carpentry expertise, sorry. He's a professional musician, The Brett Beardslee Trio, and values his digits too much to continue working with Very Sharp Objects).

The biggest project for us and greatest satisfaction this year was opening up the view in front of the house, something we had been hoping to do for years. We clear cut a dozen trees that had cropped up between us and the lake. Now we can just about see to Geneva, more than 20 miles north of us.

We're heading home to California this week, back to the university to refill the bank accounts and share our wisdom and expertise with our students.

In the meantime, we've asked Arnold the Wonder Dog to stay in the house and guard it for us. He's agreed, so he and Brad will be on sentry duty starting this week. We can rest assured the house will be safe from all woodchucks, squirrels, chipmunks and skunks for the duration.

Thanks, Arnold!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A guest cottage over 40 years in the making

When my mother, Louise Schwartz, first bought this cottage on the shores of Seneca Lake, New York in the early 1960s, one of her early projects was to convert the free-standing garage into a cabin for overflow for the many kids that came to spend their summer.

We were living in White Plains, outside of New York City, and racing up to the lake for summers with all the cousins, who still live around the lake.

Eventually, my mother had a vision to turn the cabin into a guest house in the woods or a studio for her while she turned over the 'main' house over to the rest of us. She had a friend of my brother's help design and construct an upstairs loft bedroom, a small kitchen, and a bathroom that resembled more of an indoor outhouse.

In the past four years that Michael and I have been spending summers here, we've made baby steps of progress, with a lot of help from friends and family. Cousin Brett did some carpentry for us. Our friend from Hazlitt's winery, Brad Phillips, painted the cottage inside and out in exchange for rent. We got the better deal, we think....

Brother Dan became the plumbing and electrical maestro. Michael did everything else, and I got to decorate.

So almost 50 years later, our first official guests are set to arrive.

I've felt my mother's presence on the property this past week as I put the finishing touches on the cottage. She is tickled, I'm sure, with how the place looks and how her vision finally has come to pass.

It took a lot of years and a lot of people to make it happen. But it was her vision, once again, exactly as she planned.

If you knew my mother, this is no surprise.

More pictures of the cottage.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Jammin' for Betsy's birthday

Betsy, our fearless leader in Watkins Glen who hosts us every other week to play music at her place, let the cat out of the bag about her upcoming 'big' birthday.

So her good friends Kate and Danni, both hammered dulcimer players, threw the big surprise birthday bash for her last week, and even the sun showed up to help the celebration. It was the nicest weather we've had since our arrival in late May.

The company was great, the food was fantastic and the music was even better (at least for those of us who got to play). Betsy lives to sing the old time tunes (or anything else), plays the dulcimer and the bass, joins every jam in the area.

I also got to hear a great singer and local musician, Chris Holder, play (he's in the video too). Check him out!

A perfect celebration, for all of us.

Here's a wrap-up of some of the day's tunes (courtesy of Cap'n Michael):

Saturday, June 20, 2009

A lot of cold, wet 'civilization'

It's been three weeks since I've had anything to say.

That might be a record. I've hit a state of ohmmmmmmmmmmm --- or something. Just taking one day at a time, making a list, waiting for the weather to clear.

Especially waiting for the weather to heal.

Today is the Waterfront Festival in Watkins Glen and the much-anticipated Cardboard Boat Races. And this is our radar picture for today.

One of the biggest changes after living in Mexico for six months is that we now have to check the weather forecast daily --- or hourly --- and we actually talk about the weather. In Mexico, you knew every day was going to be perfect. Here in New York, Michael has already told me to clear my schedule for Tuesday and Wednesday because the forecast is finally looking good.

Not that the forecast can't and won't change. But I'm (finally) adapting. And not whining as much. I'm also layered up in fleece with a rain slicker, shoes and socks.

Re-entry to Civilization

The first few weeks back is a process of re-adapting to a country that offers pretty much everything and anything and is easy --- all for a price, of course.

Some of the things I've been enjoying:
• Just rinsing our fruits and veggies, rather than treating them in anti-bacterial rinse before eating.
• Drinking the water out of the faucet.
• Getting dressed in the morning without having to shake my clothes and shoes to make sure a scorpion hasn't taken up residence.
• Streaming video on Netflix!

Some of the things I'm still wrapping my brain around:
• The price of everything! --- food in the grocery stores, restaurants, gas, any services.
• The difficulty of finding people to work in some service areas, especially housecleaning. It pays pretty well but nobody's doing it. What's up with that?
• The weather. (Of course).

My latest venture into civilization was Friday's visit to a dentist in Ithaca, Dr. Chris Devenpeck (in practice with Dr. Ira Kamp) to have a tooth extracted. Friday's are also spa day at the office so you get massage while they yank your tooth out.

Silly as it sounds, dang, it works. It's hard to concentrate on exactly how uncomfortable and anxious I am when someone's massaging my feet.

Massage at the dentist
How 'bout it, Dr. Pam?


I'm also so pleasantly reminded of the history of family, of the length of the roots we have here. Our ancestors arrived in upstate New York sometime in the 1700s and I have cousins and siblings, nieces and nephews to visit up and down the lake.

About 50 years ago, when my mother bought this place near Hector, we built a steep, narrow path down to our lakefront and dock. The cables we attached to the saplings have now grown into and become a part of the trunk of the tree, a reminder of how long we've been here.

50 years of a sapling's growth
The cable is a handrail tacked on to the tree 50 years ago

Our dock on Seneca Lake
Our dock at the bottom of the 'goat trail'

Although my mother has been gone since February 2005, I still use her name to remind people of my connection to the area and she's still remembered, her house is still known.

But the memory of the locals goes so much farther back than us that often I have to remind the oldtimers that 'you know, the cottage that old Stoney owned?' And they know right where I live. And I think, 'Gee whiz. How long do we have to live here before we're not the newcomers?'

I guess longer than 50 years.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Catapulting out of Mexico

I left Arroyo Seco last Tuesday for a quick trip to see Sasha and family, have an early celebration with Dustin for his 29th birthday, then on to Flagstaff, Arizona to sneak in a quick 'girls visit' with Beth.

A Mexican veteran herself (with a place in Kino Bay), she surprised me with appointments for massage and a haircut.

Wise woman.

She took me shopping at the new huge New Frontiers, which rivals any Whole Foods store in California. The choices were overwhelming after running next door to Xavier's tiny tienda for my limited groceries for the past six months.

Welcome to America!

Beth encouraged me to get a new look from her hair stylist, who I grilled with more than 20 questions about how many layers, how easy to take care of, can I still pull it back? By the time I agreed to the cut, I think he was more nervous than I was.

But it's great to have shorter hair again, great to come back to 'civilization' and try to fit in a bit more. At least at first. No makeup yet. We'll see how long I can hold out....

Sylvia & Beth at a Flagstaff salon
Beth talks me into a new 'look'

I met Michael on Friday at Sky Harbor in Phoenix for our annual red-eye flight home, first to Philly, followed by a commuter flight up to Elmira. It makes for a really long day (and night) but it's worth it to live in such a beautiful and remote area in the New York Finger Lakes.

The weather is unseasonably cold (oh great...), but it's great that all our flowers are still in full bloom, we have time to get the Spirit of Louise pontoon boat out of storage and into the water without missing any great lake days, time to reconnect with my fiddle-playing friends, get back up to speed.

Here's a video of our first afternoon on the ground. We arrived at 11 in the morning, borrowed a car from Brother Dan, went to Wegman's grocery for lunch and shopping, then on to our favorite used car dealer.

We were home at the lake by 3 with a new Jeep on order to drive for the summer and a carload of supplies, cranked up the jacuzzi and started to pull weeds.

We're getting this relocation thing down to a new art form....

Hope to see many of you now that we're back in the States!

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Mother's Day surprise

The president of Mexico canceled Mother’s day this year, el dia de los madres, but the people didn’t get the whole message.
The Arroyo Seco fiesta will be held sometime this week --- and you have to be here to figure out when....
Chena and Chon did a booming business this weekend in their tienda across the street by selling silk flower arrangements, which they picked up in La Huerta the day before. They started with about 25 arrangements, including a 3-D piece of artwork with pitchers of flowing water (Michael suggested it would sell quicker if it was pouring tequila). By the end of Mother’s Day, they only had a few flowers left.
Several women stopped by to give me flowers and gifts, a very sweet and appreciated gesture.
But the real gift of Sunday was an impromptu visit by Sasha, accompanied with parents Dustin and Camelia. This was Sasha’s first real trip to an ocean beach.
She loved it.

sasha-surf beach sunset
Sasha's first trip to the ocean

She loved the textures, the water, the sand, the whole she-bang.

Sasha recharging the batteries for more beach time

We took the quad down to the surf beach for sunset on Saturday night. Then an afternoon at Tenacatita beach where Sasha loved being in the water and the waves. Even our 8-year-old neighbor, Julliette, swam with us in Tenacatita, where the water is deliciously warm.
It’s a relief to know our granddaughter has inherited the water gene required for holidays at the beach in Mexico or the lake in New York.

ustin, of course, loved our Honda quad, and Cami was game for a sunny vacation on a beach and out of the house.

Really, this was safer than it looks!
While they were here, Dustin mentioned wanting a smaller dog as a companion dog to Max, their black lab mutt.
Careful what you wish for.
He went home with a tiny three-week old black and white pup that he has to feed formula and bathe daily.

dustin's new pup+mom
Dustin feeds the newborn while Mama dog takes a snooze

We walked down to our neighbor’s house whose cocker spaniel had given birth to nine pups about three weeks before.
We were surprised and disappointed to find all the pups had died but one --- and that one was left was in a back room on a dirt floor, in the dark, with the owners out of town for the night.
I had given their cocker spaniel, Canela, a flea bath and a haircut right after the pups were born because the owners were complaining about the fleas.
Fleas? Yes, and dozens of ticks.
An ugly job.
I had taken Rocio, our friendly vet, to see the mom and pups right after they were born and she had encouraged the owners to get the pups out of the dirt and to get the mom more nourishing food so she’d have enough milk.
The advice apparently wasn’t enough.
A neighbor hopped the fence and grabbed the puppy for us. Dustin brought it back to our place for its first of many baths with a mild flea soap designed for puppies.
Our first report from Dustin and Cami, back home in Puerto Vallarta, is that the puppy is eating and sleeping well and starting to walk around, albeit a bit wobbly.

dustin's new pup
The last of the nine pups

As the last one of nine pups, he must be quite a survivor and he’s just gotten a real chance at a good life.
And Dustin must have gotten that ‘save the dog’ gene from me.

A quick update on the dogs:

Capitan is doing well again and living back at home with Marta, who is in charge of his medications. He seems to be getting energy back and is happy to be at home with his buddy, Paloma. We go up to give the occasional injection, provide antibiotics. He has a severe case of ehrlichia, which he got from a tick. One of the symptoms was the anemia and the bleeding. It’s treatable with a 30-day regime of strong antibiotics and a lot of vitamins.

, the female with TVT, a venereal cancer, has suddenly gotten a lot better. We were three or four shots into her treatment with little improvement. On Sunday, she looks almost normal. She’s also getting a little easier to handle. It still takes three of us to hold her down, with a muzzle, to give her an IV injection. But there’s less thrashing, gnashing and gnawing going on. We’re all relieved (especially Leona?).

, the cocker, has just gotten a full-strength flea bath, which we’ll follow up with a frontline treatment and spray around her house as well. We’ll find a way to get her spayed soon. No more pups!

I’ve learned a lot about how to help the animals down here and I’m more committed than ever to getting as many of them neutered as possible. This year I’ll be raising money in the states for the spay and neutering clinics, so please let me know if this is something you’d like to support.
You can email me a ---- we'll be back in the states at the end of the month.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Update on Swine flu in Mexico

A quick update tonight: check Michael's blog tomorrow and there will probably be a lot more detail and pictures.

First of all, we're safe. We live in a remote place on the coast, we live outside most of the time in a warm (non-friendly to flu) climate, there's no wheezing and hacking by our neighbors. We're probably living in as safe a place as we could be.

But there's definitely impact to the citizens of Mexico, regardless of the health issues.

At mid-day today, just as we were taking our friends Pat and Sanders Lamont out for a last lunch before they caught their plane back to the California from Manzanillo, the governor of Jalisco closed all the restaurants in the state.

No lie!

Everything was closed or closing in Melaque, we went on to Barre de Navidad -- ditto. We didn't realize that it had been mandated. We just thought the owners had decided to close.

When we got back to La Manzanilla late this afternoon, we found Palapa Joe's was closed. We figured there had to something pretty dramatic going on. Friends on the street told us what was up.

When we got back to Arroyo Seco, the police were just coming thru posting the declaration on the walls of the tiendas in town.

Our friends on the beach say they're pretty happy that the governor is getting in front of this thing, rather than waiting for the citizens of Jalisco to start spreading some virus.

But for the people of Mexico who have to work to feed their kids, there's a lot of disbelief and panic going on. Our friend Chena said she thinks we'll all soon be feeding the poorest of the poor who aren't able to work right now and won't be able to feed their children.

It's a little scary to watch a country shut down. It makes me worry for the economy of the country, and the global economy as well. But I'm willing to wait and see how this unfolds, hope that this virus will die a rapid death as the weather starts to turn hot.

What is also a little disheartening is how the U.S. and European news coverage of Mexico is confined to simply reporting on the number of sick, the number of deaths, and no reporting on actions and impacts, especially outside of Mexico City.

Just imagine living in a city the size of Puerto Vallarta --- almost 200,000 people --- and having all the restaurants, malls, theatres, bars and all other areas where people can gather closed down for more than a week.

In the meantime, it's a quiet, lovely night in the village. All is calm, for now. We'll try to keep you updated as we can.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

News from Mexico

For all of you lovely friends that have been concerned about our health and welfare, thanks for caring --- and we're fine.

We've been reading about the swine flu and the possible pandemic. Veracruz and Mexico City seem to be Ground Zero for the virus. In Arroyo Seco, the only impact on our little village is that all the schools in Mexico have been closed for the next week or so, much to the chagrin of the parents.

The locals seem to be up on the news and on the threat. But it's all a watch and wait. We'll probably avoid the cities, wash our hands a lot and wait for the news, just as all of you are probably doing.

Otherwise, life is going on as usual. Michael is up watering all the plants and the grass. I'm getting ready to walk to the beach. We're meeting Sanders and Pat later in La Manzanilla for a beach afternoon and a nice dinner out. They fly home to Northern California tomorrow.

We'll update the blogs as we get information, but we feel pretty safe living in a tiny beach town where there aren't many people and everyone lives outdoors.

Apologies to all for not staying in touch through email. We've updated our wireless modem when the original one died and my old laptop no longer can connect through the wireless connection. So I have to trundle out to the 'comunications tent' to plug in to do my emails or hunt and peck on the iTouch.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The dog lady of Arroyo Seco

Helping out the dogs in the village has been a way to introduce myself to more of my neighbors, a way to get to know them on a daily level --- as much as one can with only a limited vocabulary and confined to present tense.

It's interesting that we don't seem to stick out here as much as I assumed we did. When I introduce myself, they sometimes tell me 'they've seen me around the village' or even thought I lived on the beach where a few other gringos live.

So, that's cool, I think.

We're a couple of Saturday's into our free clinics (free to the villagers but not to our wallet) and we're beginning to get a daily routine going.

I prepare a huge bowl of dog food, chicken scraps or other meat, rice cooked in chicken fat, grab a bottle of high-potency vitamins, all the various medications and Michael and I head out on the quad.

Right now we're committed to feeding our now-thriving Capitan and the blind 6-month old puppy, Paloma. Along the way, we run across other needy pooches and try to give them a healthy breakfast.

They are all extremely grateful.

Each dog seems to learn the sound of our Honda quad after one feeding, pretty amazing considering how many motos there are in the village.

Our tours remind me of stories I've read about the rural nurses making home visits in Appalachia. The families seem happy to have the help, invite us into their homes, give us small gifts of fruit or food to thank us for taking an interest. Last week Brianda gave Rocio, our vet friend, two baby ducks, something Rocio had been really wanting for her yard in La Manzanilla.

Rocios ducks
Brianda gives the vet, Rocio, two baby ducks to thank her for her help

The people here might also think we're a bit loco about the dogs, but that's okay too.

For now, my goal is three-fold: demonstrate how easy it is to have a healthy pet, get them medical help when they need it and the people can't afford it, and eventually slice and dice every dog's reproductive organ in Arroyo Seco.

Helping is easy, often frustrating too. One quick example:

Our surfing friend Julien, from France, saw a really tattered dog around the village who had lost most, but not all, of her hair. He grabbed the dog, had a friend trim the remaining straggly hair, then gave it a shot of medicine that pretty instantly cures the dog of the skin problem.

Within a month or two, I realized that the dog was an adorable cocker spaniel. Who knew? Unfortunately, the owner didn't get her spayed in time. Last week she had nine puppies, who will now need to get fed and cared for.

She's on my list for the next spay and neuter clinic, as are all nine of the puppies.

When we got back to Arroyo Seco last night after a leisurely day in La Manzanilla with our friends Sanders and Pat Lamont, Chon to help us give a couple of overdue injections to two dogs. One, Leona, is scheduled for surgery in our palapa tomorrow at noon. Rocio has been researching how to fix some female problem (she's already been spayed). Last night we had to put a muzzle on her and hold her down just to give her the mildest of injections. She loves to bite those who want to help.

I find working with her somewhat nerve-wracking. Leona is none too happy about it either.

How many people does it take to treat Leona? A lot!

Samba, Julien's part-time dog, has adopted us and makes the rounds with us, I suspect because of the fragrant treats I carry with me. That's okay too. She's a poster child for what a healthy dog looks like. And great company too!

Samba, our AS foster dog
Samba makes house calls with us, then joins us for sunset at the beach

We also gave Capitan his last pills and one last shot, this one to boost his immune system. Now it's time to get the owner educated about how to keep him healthy. The biggest issue may be his pal, Paloma, who aggressively gobbles up all of the food before Capitan can get a bite.

We've learned to tie Paloma up near his own bowl until Capitan leisurely finishes his meal. It's a tradition we're hoping Marta understands as we pass the feeding chores back over to her.

The progress Capitan has made in the past few weeks is inspiring, we hope to our neighbors as well. He was probably just a few days from death when we got him. Eye infections, blood dripping from his nose, skin so raw that you couldn't touch it without it bleeding, barely able to walk or sit, too weak to stand to eat.

capitan before treatment
Capitan when we first spotted him in the village

Capitan after two weeks of TLC
Capitan after about two weeks of treatment and a lot of food

Now he's playful, growls and yips, wags his tail, takes walks to the village. He's already growing fine red hair where the skin had been scabbed and bleeding.

This week a family with three small children and two dogs are camped next to the jardin, the central garden across from the church, while they charge village kids to play on a big trampoline and a fooz ball game (or something similar) in the evening. For the past few days we've been feeding their mama-dog, who is nursing four puppies, and their ratty-haired fluffer-dog who drags its hind leg behind him. Broken? Twisted? We'll check it out on the next clinic, scheduled for tomorrow.

On our way to treat Leona, I spotted our friend Chena toweling off one of the toddlers from the same family camped at the jardin.

She said she saw how dirty the kids were and decided to help them out with a bath. Then she discovered the lice. So she had been de-lousing the three kids for the afternoon.

It seemed so symbiotic, that Michael and I would help out the pets, she would help out the kids, all part of healthy community that is willing to share what it has.


My Spanish phrase for the week has been vale la pena --- worth the effort, worth the pain.

Here's a video that Michael posted on his blog about when Capitan came to visit last week. You can see the spring in his step already!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Living and learning in Arroyo Seco, Part II

It's been another week of firsts -- another week where I have had to learn a lot about living in a place with different customs, different values.

It's a big reason that we moved here (it wasn't just the temperate climate), but it also doesn't mean that it's always scripted out of a Disney movie.

Lesson Number 1

Actually, this is an ongoing lesson.

I love how most people around here can make something out of nothing, figure out how to fix, create, repair almost anything without having to drive to a Home Depot or an Ace Hardware or a WalMart. They are self-reliant and competent in a way that I remember from my childhood in the United States. People could actually do things, rather than hire people to do things.

But sometimes the cavalier approach is mind boggling, too. Last week the welder came to install our custom-made doors for our bathrooms. I guess he needed 220 power (or is it 210 here? I don't know....), so he took the front plate off the circuit breaker box and hot wired the dang thing.

Just wires.

Hot wiring the 220
Hot-wiring the 220 power for the welder

When the concrete maestro was building the bathrooms, his son would hotwire a lamp to the wires where the outlets were going to go, but weren't installed yet. Same deal. Wires sticking into the electrical cord.

Seems scary to me, but I'm no electrician.

During the welding, no safety mask either. Unfortunately, he also didn't cover up the tile where he was working so the tile clean up is going to pretty intense next week. Hopefully those aren't burn marks I'm seeing....

No safety mask, no covering the brand new tiles either.

Lesson Number 2

Rocio, the vet from La Manzanilla, agreed to come out to Arroyo Seco Saturday morning and treat a few dogs at our place. We knew one dog that we had taken to Cisco's Amigo's last month to get spayed had a venereal cancer that needed to be treated and I had also spotted an emaciated dog out here that I was hoping to get checked out.

Pink Flamingo animal clinic
Rocio, the vet from La Manzanilla, makes a house call to Arroyo Seco

The first surprise was the message delivered by the son of the dog's owner --- who walked the dog down to our place --- that she just wanted the dog "to be put down."

This is a treatable disease, the dog is healthy otherwise, she's been their pet for three years. But the mom said she nips at some of the little kids and she's got to go.

My question to her, of course, is why today? And why did they get the dog neutered last month if that was the problem, or the plan?

Rocio handled it beautifully --- no doubt having some experience with this issue --- and told the boys she would treat the dog this time and we would talk to the mother next week (who wasn't home right then). And then I think I heard her tell them to make sure not to throw rocks at the dog, to pet the dog, to be nice, to feed it....

I was somewhat stunned. Being asked to put a relatively healthy dog to sleep wasn't exactly what I had in mind when I arranged to facilitate some help for some of my neighbor's dogs.

Next, some other boys dropped by the emaciated dog that I had asked about last week and invited them to bring the dog by for the vet to check out Saturday morning.

Same conversation. Just put the dog down, was the message from the boy's mother.

Again, not what I had in mind.

Rocio believes the dog can regain his health. He has anemia, probably parasites, a skin reaction from the fleas and other insects. But he has a healthy appetite and has a light in his eyes.

For a couple of hours that afternoon, it appeared that Michael and I had either adopted a tragically sick dog, or were going to be in the position of making the decision to execute a dog. And it happened so quickly, we didn't have the time to talk it out, consider what our position was.

Poor ol' Capitan arrives at our house in Arroyo Seco for a visit with the vet

In the end, after a helpful conversation with my neighbor, Chena, and another conversation with the owner's daughter, we simply dropped the dog back at their house and told them we would be back with medicine and food four times a day for the next week and the vet would take another look at him then to see if he was strong enough to be treated for the anemia.

Luckily, the owner now seems grateful that we have taken an interest in Capitan and welcomes us when we arrive. The dog wags its tail when he sees her, he gets up to eat --- and eats a lot.

We asked Chena what the people in the village usually do when a dog is terrribly sick or there's a problem. She says if a dog gets bad enough, the owners drop them off at the nearby dump, thinking at least they will have a chance at feeding themselves. Or they will ignore it until the dog is a corpse in the backyard. Or, in rare instances, they will get out the 'pistola.'

So -- my lesson for this week is a vivid reminder, in both cases, that I'm living in a different world than my California/New York one. That people are much more cavalier, in many ways, about how they approach things. And that the people here aren't shopping at PetSmart and buying kibbles and bits for their pets.

I'm finding I can adjust, that no one was injured when they hotwired the welding machine, that maybe I can make difference with the dogs by focusing on getting them neutered so there are fewer cases of starvation and disease.

And maybe that's the most I can hope for. And it's OK.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Arroyo Seco dogs take a road trip to La Manzanilla

This is the story of how a couple of dozen dogs from Arroyo Seco came to be
hurtling down the highway in the back of our truck to a surgical unit in a neighboring town 30 minutes south of here.

Cisco's Amigos is a hugely successful volunteer (as in free!) animal clinic in La Manzanilla, founded by Julie Wagner and Rusty Schuetz from Nevada City, California (now permanent La Manzanilla residents). Apparently when they arrived in La Manzanilla years ago, they saw what we still see in many villages --- dogs with skin problems, emaciated dogs, dogs with too many puppies and just not enough food. A lot of sick dogs.

It's not that the Mexicans don't love their dogs. They do. But they frequently don't have the means to take care of them as most of us do in the states. And the animals often face many more challenges from living in a sandy (ok, dusty), hot, sub-tropical climate.

So Julie --- a woman after my own heart --- decided to do something about it, one dog and one cat at a time. The first, obvious step was to get the animals neutered. The females were having litter after litter with not enough food, not enough care.

It's made an astounding difference in La Manzanilla. It is the rare animal that suffers in the village and now there's someone to call. There's also a new, fantastic veterinarian in town as well. So the animals in La Manz are generally a lot healthier.

Cisco's has expanded over the past few years, allowing dogs from outlying areas to be transported in on specific clinic days. Last year our friend Tia Richardson picked up a load of stray dogs from Tenacatita. They came in, had a quick snip-snip of their reproductive organs, then got deposited back on their 'home' beach.

One afternoon at Palapa Joe's this past December, Julie and I enthusiastically agreed to have a remote clinic at Arroyo Seco on March 24, one of the clinic days scheduled for La Manzanilla. I was encouraged to produce 30 dogs to make it worth their while to move the volunteer vets and the clinic to our new palapa.

So I talked to friends and neighbors and two tienda owners took names and created a list of animals (strays and family dogs) for the clinic. There was a lot of excitement!

Then --- drum roll --- it became apparent that it would be too difficult to move the clinic out here this year but that we could have a designated Arroyo Seco clinic day in La Manzanilla.


So there we were on Arroyo Seco clinic day, a half-hour away by car, packing up the back of my truck and three others with all the animals that needed to go to the clinic but whose owners didn't have the means to transport them.

We called in the night before our clinic day to confirm with Julie and her amigos that we would be bringing in 21 dogs, mas or menos, and Julie said the vets enthusiastically said 'bring em on!'

It was a long day for everyone!

We started loading up the trucks at 7 a.m. We went rolling around the village to pick up each critter, tying them up in the back of the truck or tossing them in the back of the Isuzu Trooper, the smaller ones in some of the few cages we had.

We descended on Cisco's Amigos much to the shock and awe of the volunteers who were already close to overwhelmed for the day before we even arrived with our troupe. The clinic treated probably a record-breaking 57 animals by late that night. We left after 7 p.m. with the last dog, a Great Dane that was moved --- still asleep --- from the operating table to the back of our SUV, driven by Michael. He said he watched the rear view mirror the entire trip, hoping that the Dane would be friendly if he awoke from the anesthesia.

No matter how chaotic this all sounds, it was a great, important, incredible day for all of us in Arroyo Seco.

The people here were so grateful to have some help with their animals.

The dogs bounced back from the surgery the minute they got home and realized that they weren't on some train to a medical testing facility. They leaped and bounced and barked and licked when they saw their families, their familiar surroundings.

I've gotten to know a lot of people by going to their homes to meet their dogs.

Dogs I assumed were ferocious are as sweet as puppies and they are friendly to me when we take our evening walk. I'm beginning to learn their names.

I also learned that I don't have to be a trained vet to treat some of the simple problems I see in some of the animals here. A skin problem. Getting the right vaccinations. And there are others in the Rancho who also want to help.

In the end, it wasn't about a gringa --- an American -- coming in and wanting to fix and change a village. It was just someone in the rancho who knew how participate in a clinic and how to help with something they wanted. I had a ton of help from everyone who lives here.

Getting 20-some animals neutered this year in this small a village is HUGE. I'm guessing that if we can have a monthly clinic, a few dogs each time, we could really get a handle on the health and the size of the dog population within a year.

So that's the new goal.

Tomorrow we have a vet coming to our palapa to treat a village dog with a sexually-transmitted cancer and we'll start looking what other dogs need medical care.

We've arranged for one of our teens, Chena's daughter Brianda, to start an apprenticeship with the vet in La Manz.

It's all exciting, easy, rewarding.

And, really, it's all thanks to Julie at Cisco's Amigo's, for having the vision in the first place to see that this is a solvable issue and within our means to help.

For those of you in the states (or anywhere) who would like to help:

Cisco's remains a volunteer organization, it just 'depends on the kindness of strangers.' They have a few fundraisers during the year and collection cans around the village. If you'd like to contribute, please contact me and I'll make sure they get the money. This is one organization that uses every single peso towards its cause.

Just email me at fitzfox AT

Sunday, April 5, 2009

A day of rest in our new & improved Arroyo Seco home

Today we took a necessary day of rest after almost a week of putting in sod and plants around our Pink Flamingo property in Arroyo Seco. We were on serious dust control duty, trying to get a handle on how much dust we breathe, how much dust lands on our palapa floor and in our outdoor kitchen.

The results are pretty spectacular!

We've gone from a dust bowl to a lush jardin --- a green, grassy area that will keep us cool and clean. Many of our new neighbors have been stopping by to see what we've done. A friend reminded us that it wasn't that many years ago the owner was grazing cattle here.

Today I felt my mother's gene's kick in as I puttered around the property, planting various flowers in front of the bathrooms, moving ferns around in front of the old grey goose trailer, deciding where to put the frog pot with the beautiful lily we just planted.

My mother was a master gardener at her place in upstate New York. Her joy was to spend the day in the dirt and her home still reveals her ability to plan a garden that was meant to last for years. As difficult a relationship as we had, the sweetest moments came the last few years of her life when she would sit in a chair in the driveway and direct me to prune the flowers, explain which plants were weeds, why I should allow some of the wisteria to creep into her garden. She was pleased that I finally cared, that she could share this thing that she loved with me.

She would have loved it here!

The people of Arroyo Seco are all gardeners, for the most part. The soil is rich river bottom. Bougainvilla will sprout from a stick, as will most of the sub-tropical plants. It's what makes this village stand out from many others --- the burst of color surrounding most homes.

While grass is a novelty (no worries, everyone. It's low maintenance crab grass and if we don't buy a mower, we'll at least invite the neighborhood goats in for a scheduled maintenance), a jardin is something our neighbors can all relate to.

Today was Palm Sunday. A friend stopped by with his grandson (and his donkey) after the church service to check out the new jardin.

Tomorrow we paint the bathrooms in anticipation of the new bathroom doors, which are scheduled to arrive from the welder on Tuesday.

A new member of the Singing Headlamps?

Michael brought his ukulele to practice a few tunes with Sasha, our 7-month old granddaughter living in Puerto Vallarta with her parents, Dustin and Camelia.

Here's their debut video:

Monday, March 30, 2009

Run, amigos! Run!

Should Mexico export its pedestrian crosswalk signal?

I first saw this crossing signal at least a year or two ago in Puerto Vallarta, strategically located on the crosswalk of the highway between where the huge cruise ships dock and WalMart/ Sam's Club.

A cruise ship lands and I guess hundreds of Americans and Canadians race across the street to purchase what they forgot to bring on their week-long cruise to Mexico.

Or they just want to see what a WalMart in Mexico looks like. I don't know.

But the culture class about crossing the street had become apparent when tourists kept on getting winged (or worse) by the occasional taxi or motorcycle while sprinting across the street.

Mexicans know that it is pedestrian beware. Even if there's a crosswalk, the vehicle has the right of way. Even before the light goes from red to green, cars are racing onward.

The video of this crosswalk signal pretty much sums up the Mexican experience ---- it shows an animation of a pedestrian walking, then race walking --- then sprinting.

Run, Forest, Run!

It could be the icon for the Mexican philosophy of personal responsibility. If you get run over by a car, you damn sure needed to cross more quickly!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A few weeks of 'almost' normal living

being a key word here.

Michael has been staying put in Arroyo Seco, landscaping, raking, writing, reading, playing his ukelele again, heading to the beach while I've made two forays to Puerto Vallarta to spend quality time with granddaughter Sasha, who is simply grand.

She stole my heart, again, when I waved adios to her on Thursday night and she waved back. In disbelief, I waved again. She waved again. Pure genius, I tell you!

In between weeks in Vallarta, Michael and I have taken several quad trips south on the beach to see friends in Tenacatita and to eat delicious, fresh fish (and drink cold cervezas). Last week a friend in the village gave us a tour of the RV park he and his father are developing on the Arroyo Seco beach.

He's created a natural pier out of dirt and gravel on the back side of the park so that people can sit by the lagoon, opposite the ocean beach, and watch the incredible assortment of birds, similar in type and variety to the Ding Darling Bird Sanctuary on Sanibel Island. The photo is a little blurry (my apologies), but it was delightful to see masses of roseate spoonbills, egrets and herons, other birds yet to be identified.

Each time I discover a place like this, I'm reminded that there is so much more to see here than what we can see on the beach. We are surrounded by hundreds of hectares (much larger than an acre) of mangroves and freshwater lagoons and have much to explore yet. Our neighbors have invited us for a day trip on the quads to show us their favorite places.

I continue to be reminded of what it was like to land on Sanibel Island in my teens as a transported city kid to be shown the wonders of the island by the natives.

Fun then. Still fun!

A couple of quick things to note:

• Today I'm aware of today that I'm to the point of taking the fantastic, fresh seafood for granted.
Yum. No complaints. Michael ordered this shrimp special at the newly updated AltaMira restaurant in El Tuito (about halfway to Puerto Vallarta). The restaurant gave us coupons for free margaritas for our next visit. Not a bad enticement. We'll be back!

• I love a country that allows free tequila and aged scotch samples in the grocery store. No signs warning of the dangers, no ID required. Wanna shot? And this was in the WalMart in Puerto Vallarta!

• Winter is over! It's finally getting what I would call hot and humid. No whining. Just an observation.

Now I'm off to La Manzanilla to volunteer at Cisco's Amigos Spay and Neuter Clinic. Tomorrow Michael and I will truck in a ton of critters from Arroyo Seco. Not that the animals will be thanking us. But the villagers probably will. Watch for a report next week.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The mystery and miracle of a spontaneous life

I think the headline is a little more profound than I'm feeling right now, but today I'm aware of how life works out exactly as it is supposed to, no matter where I was originally headed or thought I should do.

Michael and Karen Schamel, friends from our lake home in New York, enticed us into leaving the Arroyo Seco compound for a few days of rest and recuperation from a load of guests, too much fun and too much polvo (dust).

It was exactly the right choice.

One day we headed out to find a small village recommended by the manager of the B&B we were staying in Comala, north of Colima. We took a wrong turn (yes, I misunderstood the fundamental directions) and ended up in Colima again. We decided, heck, let's just do our quick errand in Home Depot while we're here.

We ran into a friend from La Manzanilla, Jim Ferry, who we didn't realize has lived in Colima for years, who was also shopping in Home Depot.

He tells us the one, incredible, almost-secret best place to have lunch and watch the volcano and draws us a map.

We spent a fantastic afternoon sipping margaritas, eating ribs and watching the volcano burp smoke rings high up on the mountain --- the only people in the restaurant, which overlooks both the volcano and the city of Colima. It's run by an Ejido (Mexican cooperative), which also runs a campground by a sweet lagoon.

When we returned back to the B & B in Comala, even the owners didn't know about the restaurant.

For me, it was another great reminder to let thing flow, that things are exactly as they are supposed to be if I'll just get out of the way and let things happen.

A second miracle continues to be our neighbors in Arroyo Seco, who always reassure us through their actions that we've made a great decision to live here.

Michael and I were headed home to what we knew would be a pile of dust on the palapa floor and wilting plants because Michael has just transplanted a lime tree and some palm trees, a bouganvilla. Last night we discovered that Chon has reinstalled our drip system to keep all the plants thriving, while Chena and the kids swept and mopped every flat, tiled surface. And that's a lot of surface.

Really, it leaves me speechless. And grateful. And feeling like I have a lot to learn about this lovely culture, that would have a family come over and make things 'right' before their neighbors arrive home tired from a three-day vacation.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Arroyo Seco gets pretty quiet

It's been a rolling, 24/7 party since our first guests arrived in early February.

Son Dylan, Cousin Ruth, our good friend Laura, and Dylan's friends from Berkeley, Ginger and Lewis, all helped us beta test the Pink Flamingo, to see if this hairball idea of some type of communal living in this tiny Mexican village is viable.

The answer is a tentative, si.

We all survived the experience, had a lot of fun, and got a ranked list of what's next to make this place comfortable for a bunch of us.

Lights in the palapa.
More hot water for showers earlier in the morning.
Screening in or closing in the kitchen.

Oh, and beds....

Not bad, considering we hit the ground here in late December and had flush toilets and a somewhat functional galley within six weeks. Unheard of in Mexico. Maybe in the U.S.

When I woke up in Arroyo Seco the first day after everyone had taken off, a wave of loneliness swept over me as I realized it was the first morning that no one from my newly acquired extended family would be there to drink tea with me on the palapa.

Having like-minded folks stay with us in Arroyo Seco reaffirmed my commitment to this experiment. I find I enjoy the privacy of my own home but find my life more enhanced when we live in a compound of like-minded friends and family who also like to live cooperatively.

And like to surf, swim, snorkle, boogie board, drink coconut milk, sip tequila, teach English and Spanish, dig trenches, talk with our Mexican neighbors, paint new concrete walls, plant palm trees and sweep a lot of dust off the palapa floor....

After a good siesta that same day, we headed out to have dinner in La Manzanilla with eight of our family and friends from New York, spent the night at Kate's lovely beach rental, then continued the party at breakfast with the Hector cousins as son Dustin did a drive-by on his way to Zihuatenejo to do a week long job.

Today I'm aware how hard it will be to stay focused for the remaining months as I continue to study Spanish.

But I'm also aware that there's no chance that the party won't still be there when I lift my head up from my books.

I had a quick visit with Sasha in Puerto Vallarta on Friday when I drove Dylan up to the aiport for his return to San Francisco. She's almost 6 months old and perfect.

Of course.

And for those of you who have been asking, Michael is much better. Many, many siestas are in his immediate future for the remainder of the cure, but his cough is nearly gone.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Band picks us up to party in Arroyo Seco

It's BIG doin's in the pueblo of Arroyo Seco this week, the tiny rancho we live in just north of La Manzanilla and Tenacatita Bay.

King Kong, Chena's brother, and Veronica, Chena's niece (by marriage, not by blood) are getting married today in an event that should draw more guests than we have residents here.

Cousin Ruth, our friend Laura from Calgary, Dylan's friend Ginger and I have been helping Chena and Veronica make the hundreds of elaborate table decorations for the event. Almost every evening this past week we'd pop in and tie ribbons, glue lace to things, write Veronica and Jose Antonio's names hundreds of times of various decorations. It's been a easy way to get to know some of the women in the rancho and a less intimidating way for me to practice my Spanish. Women will always find a way to communicate. Which we really did at the bridal shower, which was more like a stag'ette party and made me laugh until my face hurt.

A huge tent has been erected in the field behind Chapon's house, King Kong and Chena's father. Apparently the wedding cake weighs more than 6 kilos and has a fountain at the top. The wedding is early evening, the reception will undoubtedly go all night. There will even be security for the village, probably not a bad idea.

Yesterday evening we got home from a nice, long afternoon on the Tenacatita beach with our friends Karen and Mike Schamel from Hector, NY to find that Chapon, the family father of the town (and a more official role as well) had dropped by to let us know that there would be a band at his place and, Laura and Michael thought, that he would be by to pick us up. They weren't exactly sure.

We didn't really understand the full impact of that message --- a lot of language and cultural differences going on.

So, quite literally, Chapon and the band stopped by before sunset and 'picked us up' for the fiesta at his house.

It's the best damn way to be invited to a party, bar none. You're certainly sure you're invited and you party all the way down the street.

After dancing a few tunes in front of our place, one of the 'dancing' horses in town led us down the street with Laura, Chapon and Alfonso leading the parade.

The whole event so far is way out of my life experiences and also so positively overwhelming. It's not always been easy to share a life, day to day, without a common language and cultural background. But last night reaffirmed what a great, amazing decision it's been to make a home in this tiny Mexican village, just minutes from the beach.