Tuesday, September 30, 2008

People Watching, Take 1

People are Funny.

My work used to involve a lot of travel - airports, hotels, and restaurants. I travelled every week for 10 years, spending a lot of time alone - sitting and waiting for planes or meals. I mastered the art of amusing myself by watching the people around me. It was that or drift off to sleep sitting up (which I got very good at too).

Today I went to Centro for dinner. I wanted to try a small Italian place, on a side street (Madero). The place is called Frase. I had passed it the other day (when I wasn't looking for food) so stopped to check if they were open in the evening (meaning 5-6 pm for me). Yes, they stay open until 10 pm.

Today was one of those rainy, cloudy, cool days - a day for jeans and spaghetti. I bundled up in my windbreaker and rain poncho and hailed a taxi to Frase. I placed my order, and was told it would be about 20 minutes. I sat at the table near the open doorway, and proceeded to observe my surroundings.

It was raining - more than a drizzle. Across the street, up on the top of a building under construction, was an albanil (cement mason). The albanil was standing on the edge of the wall (two stories up), with an aluminum ladder in his hands. The objective was to place the ladder on the roof below him - all the while balancing on that wall without holding onto anything other than the ladder.

There was already another ladder leaned against that wall right beside where he was going to place the aluminum one. After dropping the ladder over the edge and propping it against the wall, he casually stepped off the edge, placing his feet on the tip of the siderails of the wooden ladder. I expected him to climb down - it was raining, afterall. But no, he stood on the tips of the ladder, facing out, gazing at the rooftops around him. He didn't care about the rain, he was taking a break.

Also across the street is a pharmacy. The rain from the roof was shooting out of the rain pipe to the street below. A woman came out of the store with a bucket, and she placed it under the pipe in order to catch the rain water. In my half-dazed state, I was thinking she put the bucket there to stop the rain from going in the street (which makes NO sense at all, I realize). Then she appeared with another small pail and a pink rag - and proceeded to wash the storefront windows with the soapy water.

Then I really started to pay attention, because to rinse the windows she held a 1 qt plastic container under the draining pipe to catch the rain water. But even though the water was pouring out, she only held it there for a couple of seconds. She then threw the tiny bit of water she'd collected at the window. It did nothing. She did this twice. I began to feel smugly superior in intelligence. Why wouldn't she dip the container in the bucket and fill it quickly and throw the full container at the window to rinse it?

She must have read my mind. Her third attempt to rinse involved dipping the container in the bucket of rain water, just like I'd laid out in my mind. However, that is when her intelligence surpassed mine. She did not throw the water at the window like I would have done. She pushed the container up against the glass and slowly moved it back and forth and let just enough water escape to rinse the glass. She only had to do this twice to cover the entire pane of glass. I then realized this was not the first time this woman had done this - she had a method. In fact, she probably had been waiting for a good rain in order to collect the rinse water.

The woman proceeded to wash all the storefront windows, inside and out, with her technique. She seemed to be enjoying the process. It then dawned on me how dumb I was to think the bucket had been placed in the street to save the street from getting wet; it was there to collect the water for her rinse.

Feeling very stupid and outsmarted by then, I lost interest in the whole thing and proceeded to study the walls of the restaurant. Luckily my spaghetti arrived shortly after so I occupied myself with eating. That is one thing I'm really good at - twirling spaghetti noodles. I thought the Italian owners might pay me a compliment on my twirling abilities, but they stayed behind the counter and I don't think they even noticed my skills. I wonder if the albanil or the woman across the street were watching me twirl.

Mmmm, what IS that you're wearing?

Minina loves Loco but she doesn't like how he smells. If Minina is lying on the couch and Loco comes close and nuzzles her, she takes one whiff and moves away. Occasionally she will grab his head and give his ears a few licks (like she used to do with her late brother), but then she decides he doesn't taste good either and she pushes him away.

Loco must also have doggy breath because Minina won't play with her toys after Loco has chewed on them and left them lying soggy on the floor.

Recently Loco got his hair cut. The groomer (Alfredo) comes to the house - all we provide is the table and the dog. While Alfredo is setting up Loco has a mad look on his face. He knows what's coming, and he's going to do his best to get out of it.

But Alfredo knows the drill, and soon Loco is up on the table and the clippers are humming. Then comes the pedicure (nail clipping). Then the shampoo - the part Loco hates the most. This picture, although not taken during a bath session, still shows the distaste Loco has for being wet...

After the shampoo, Alfredo sprays Loco with some poofy cologne. Loco smells pretty good for a while - like maybe one day.

I didn't pay attention the last time Alfredo sprayed Loco but he must have used a different cologne because Minina suddenly found Loco irresistable. Loco was on the floor and Minina was rolling all around him. Sniffing him and licking his fur. Grabbing his head and pulling him closer. Flirting with him.

Unfortunately I didn't get to stay around to see what transpired next as I had an airplane to catch. But whatever pheromes were in that cologne have clearly worn off because Minina is once again showing signs that she thinks Loco stinks. The short love affair is over, until Alfredo's next visit.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Watch what you say

I've had pets all my life - mostly dogs and cats. I never realized before how much our pets are tuned into what is going on in the house. And how they figure out, in advance, what you are planning to do.

Walk into a room and two sets of eyes are watching (Minina and Loco). What is going through Loco's mind is: Are you going to sit down? Turn on the tv? Ah - that must mean I can go back to my nap. But wait! The other person just came in and sat down too, and the humans are discussing something. Golf cart? Did I hear 'golf cart' mentioned? Time to really pay attention; it might mean time for my tour.

The only thing going through Minina's mind is: Are you going to sprawl on the couch? Is my blanket in place? If so, I'll join you and snuggle. If not, I'll just stay where I am. But if you leave the room and don't cover your keyboard, I might pull off a key just to annoy you.

If I pick up my wallet (with keys attached), the sound makes Loco start jumping. He is now sure someone is going somewhere and he plans on going too. Minina thinks it means an opportunity to slip out the door if we're not paying attention, and so she gets into position, hiding beside the door.

At night, we talk about heading up to bed. As we get up to lock the door and turn off lights, the dog and cat have already beaten us upstairs. Minina raced Loco to claim the camp chair, he's always one step too slow.

On the landing they wait for us - Loco peeking over the edge to make sure we are really coming.

And then they listen to our conversation to see if they will be allowed into the bedroom or we are just going to shut the door on them.

Our pets are always watching and listening. We live with a pair of eavesdroppers and voyeurs.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

I could have danced all night

I could have danced all night, and still have begged for more...

Last night I was sound asleep. The music started around 11:30 pm. A Quinceanera, a special birthday party for Mexican girls. A common event here in the colonias - this one was over in Canotal, I think.

Mexican and Latin music. Loud but sweet. It woke me up. I laid there and listened as they played many of my favorites. My toes started tapping. My head started bobbing in time with the beat. Then the shoulders, and finally the legs. I was dancing in my bed.

I thought Miguel was sound asleep, but then he rolled over. And he started dancing too. His dance was mostly a shoulder and hip routine before he drifted back off to sleep.

They played one song that I desperately want to have. I hear the song all the time - at every birthday party and when the tour boats bring the party-trippers over. I love that song, but Miguel doesn't know the name and I can't understand the words to even guess. Ahrrgg!

I will just have to be patient. Almost every song I've yearned for has eventually come to me - sometimes via the music being played in a taxi, sometimes by stumbling upon it while searching amazon.com, and sometimes someone sings the song on La Academia.

La Academia is similar to American Idol, but with heart-wrenching drama as well. Lots of tears every week - a little over the top for my taste, but I do enjoy hearing the songs and seeing the progress of the students from one week to the next. I will be watching tonight in case they sing that song that goes "la la lalala la la". Right now, since it's a great day to be indoors, I'm going to visit amazon.com, Latino genre, and see what I can dig up for my mp3 player.

Oh, and I'll need to take a siesta. My body feels like it danced all night; the music played until about 2:30 am.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Golf Cart

I have an old golf cart - about 14 years old, I believe. We call him "Limey". He is listed on the ownership papers as a Mercedes Benz cart - is that possible? He bears no resemblance to a Mercedes, at least not the Mercedes I'm thinking of.

The golf cart has its quirks, to put it mildly. It is a bit lop-sided. One tire is always needing air. It leaks oil. It's hard to start when the engine is cold. It has more welds than the Tin Man.

However, my old golf cart is our main transportation. It has lugged people, suitcases, furniture, animals, lumbar, bags of cement, concrete blocks, a mattress, fridges, paint cans. The golf cart has stepped up and done its job.

Loco thinks the golf cart is his, and anywhere the cart goes, he goes. If a mechanic comes to take the cart away to work on it, Loco runs down the road after him and hops on. He has to be restrained when the cart is going somewhere without him. He loves his cart.

This week the hospital I was working at has a volunteer service: electric golf carts to drive people from the parking lot to the main entrance. Little old men (retirees) volunteer and spend their time picking up and dropping off visitors. And they take it seriously. They chase you around the parking lot until they find where you parked and sit there until you hop on. They seem disappointed if you tell them you would like to walk (it's only a short walk, and sometimes I like to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine).

Yesterday I hopped on the front with the little man. I had my laptop wheelie with me, placed on the floor, which left no room for my feet. Well, I'm used to that from my own cart. I simply scrunched my feet around the bag. And knocked the cart out of gear. I don't think the little man was all that happy with me but away we went on the little cart. Zoom - a cart that didn't rattle and shake, and the engine was as quiet as a whisper. I was sort of envious.

And I think my golf cart sensed that I had cheated on him. Last night Miguel told me the muffler gave way - tat tat tat TAT TAT TAAAATTTTT!!!!! So loud he was afraid the police would stop him. The golf cart is back with the mechanic who just fixed that darn muffler 2 months ago. Loco is sulking because he didn't get his daily tour. Loco never would have cheated on "Limey".

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Signs of life?

I am not in Mexico right now, can you tell? I feel uninspired, unimaginative, robot-like. I am going through the motions to get done what I came here to do, but my spirit has taken a lengthy siesta. I eat, I work, I sleep, and the next day I wake up to do it all over again. How fun! (not).

I know there is beauty all around me, if I only went out to look. But my time here is spent going from airport to rental car to hotel to rental car to work-site to rental car to restaurant to rental car to hotel to rental car to work-site to rental car to hotel to rental car to airport.

I sit, eat, and sleep in borrowed space. The only things I have here that are mine are dragging along behind me. My suitcase - it contains things I don't wear in Mexico.

My feet are swollen. My shoes hurt. I'm wearing make-up. My bra hurts. I'm dressed like a professional. I just want to be wrapped in a sarong with flip-flops on my feet. I want to hang my laundry on the line.

I am a girl of the tropics. I am not sure how that gene got into my blood, but I suspect my grandmothers, given a life in a different generation, might have stretched their roots as well. They had spunk, and I think it takes spunk to live in Mexico.

Tomorrow afternoon I will recover my spirit. I will be back on my rickety golf cart, with Miguel driving into every pothole that he is really trying to avoid, and Loco leading the way with his paws on the front and his ears flapped out from the wind (he looks like a jet plane).

I will eat something delicious. I will lie in my hammock. I will be greeted by my neighbors. I will be home.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Some kind of 'thon' in Cancun

Yesterday I took the shuttle from the airport. I had a front-row seat with the driver. There was a detour, with one side of the road closed off, and lots of police lining the street. The driver told me there was a <insert Spanish word here that I didn't understand> going on, and said something about bicycles. I figured out that he meant a race.

Then we passed the racers, and they were on foot - some were staggering, some were walking, some were walking fast, and others were sort of jogging. I asked him where the bicycles were, and then he said <insert another Spanish word here that I didn't understand>. Again he mentioned bicycles. Ah - I get it - it's a marathon, like a triathlon? "Si", he said - a triathlon.

I never did see any racers other than the walkers, so I'm not sure how it all worked out. But I saw lots of water bottles and cups strewn all over the road - hundreds. I was thinking that someone was going to have a lot of fun cleaning up the mess. And then I saw a man with the ultimate Mexican broom - the end of a tree branch with lots of little branchlets. The man was sweeping the branch lightly over the cups and bottles, and it was large enough and flexible enough that it quickly resulted in a large pile of trash. Those of you who read my broom blog entry might understand how that broom would be of interest to me. It was an eco-friendly broom.

Life's Interferences

What?! No blog since Friday? It's not like I don't have material - I do. It's time I'm lacking right now.

Last week I supported two projects going live, along with all the usual stuff. It left no time (or maybe energy) to prepare for my return for Mexico, so Saturday was spent running errands and shopping, doing laundry, reading material for my course, and deciding what to bring down on this trip. And then onto the packing! I fell into bed at 10:30 and got up at 1:30 am to get ready for my pick-up for the airport.

Normally I would sleep on the plane, but since my school assignment was due last night and I had not done the reading to even start the assignment, I stayed awake and read. I did enjoy my flights - got upgraded to first-class on both segments (complimentary - thanks USAir!). We landed 30 minutes early, no line-up for immigration, and a short wait for luggage. Got the green light, bought a ticket for the shuttle, which filled up quickly, and we were off. I was on the island a full hour before I thought I would be. We went out to eat, it poured right after we got to the restaurant - Loco was not happy. Last night I spent doing my assignment - all I wanted to do was fall into bed.

Now the bad part. I was told to travel back to the US tomorrow to help support another project's live. So I'm here less than 48 hrs, and not happy about it. I need to be here for a multitude of reasons, and now I am losing 4 days to get things done. And this is the last week for my course, so the teacher has hit us with a large assigment - no idea when I will find time for that.

So, now you know why there are no new blogs. At least I'm not using the excuse that the dog ate my blog. I'm exhausted and cranky. But this too will pass!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Loco the Dog

Loco was the first stray to join the household. Five others came later, not counting the various boxes of kittens we took to the vets.

We're not really sure what breed Loco is, suspecting he is a mixture of a few things - terrier, schnauzer, mutt. His name is Loco because he is a little crazy, a little dumb, but also intelligent, depending on his mood. His name suits him perfectly.

For the first year Loco looked like this:

Groomed, sort of like a schnauzer but not really:

All our animals love to sleep in these camp chairs:

Although, the lounge seems comfy too:

Enjoying the sunshine:

Loco's #1 favorite thing is riding his golf cart.
Waiting patiently for his daily 'tour':

The true spirit of Loco:

The only problem with having a dog called Loco is that it really isn't cool to be out in the road and yelling "Loco" as people are passing by - they tend to take it personally.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Just some pictures

I'm still in Canada. We do have beautiful places here...

Niagara Falls

Quebec City

But I'm longing for this...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Gas Bandido Strikes Again!

Negra came to us as an stray - abandoned by her owner who used to live down the road. Negra is a great watchdog, even if she isn't quite sure which people are the good guys and which are the bad guys. She barks at anyone who dares to come near the gate, and even workers who know her are hesitant to enter the property unless we are there to assure her it's ok.

Negra sleeps on the front terrace, in a cozy corner with her IKEA pad. She normally sleeps quietly all night, and doesn't even bother to chase away stray cats. Friday night she barked a couple of times - unusual. She was carrying on like there was something we should check out so we got up and looked but didn't see anything.

The next morning we headed out to run some errands. After we stopped in the colonia to pick up something, the golf cart wouldn't start. We figured it was the accelerator cable, so lifted the seat to give it a helping hand.

It was then that I spotted the gas cap lying on top of the tank. The tank was bone dry. We'd had visitors in the night - someone who had the nerve to steal gas from the golf cart that was parked right under the street lamp across from the house. Negra had tried to tell us, but the bandito was too fast for us and made his escape. I'm not sure that Negra's barking scared him off - I hope so.

This was about the fourth time (that we know of), in the last several years; the first time in at least a year. Is the cost of gas causing people to start stealing again? I don't know the 'why', but I do know that we had very little gas to start with, so they didn't get much, if anything. We foiled the bandidos for a change!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Two Breakfasts

Per a request from a reader (Scott), here is a comparison of breakfast in Mexico and breakfast in Canada.


On Sunday morning we had eggs fried up with onions and peppers, served with a stack of hot corn tortillas from the market, a glass of fresh orange juice, and a plate loaded with fresh fruit (pitaya, cantaloup, watermelon, mango).

The eggs were like egg fajitas, sort of. We are inventors; many of our meals don't have real names. Actually, I guess I should say I am usually the inventor; Miguel pleads with me not to invent dishes but I just keep telling him that's how recipes come about - someone tries something they think should taste good, and when it does, it becomes a 'recipe'.

When 'inventing', the trick is to remember what one threw into the dish so it can be repeated. Sometimes trying to enhance what is already a good recipe turns a good meal into a not-so-good meal ("Wow - did you put habanero in there?"). Other times, forgetting a key ingredient results in a meal where one says "hmmm...it's good, but it's missing something."

Actually, Miguel is just as likely as I am to get creative, he just doesn't realize it. He'll trot out to the garden and come back with a handful of leaves from some plant I've never heard of, and casually toss the leaves into something he's preparing. He claims he's reproducing food that his mother used to prepare in Oaxaca - I have no choice but to believe him (but I'm suspicious that he's actually 'inventing' too).

Anyway, our Mexican no-name breakfasts are delicious, fresh, and nutritious.


Yesterday I went to a local diner. I had poached eggs, white toast (they were out of rye), homefried potatoes (real ones), and a cup of coffee. It was good.

Today I am eating at home. There really isn't any food in the house so I'm making do with two slices of brown bread with butter. I'm not enjoying it, but it's soaking up the morning coffee so my stomach doesn't get distressed.

No fruit, no juice. My own fault, I know, but somehow breakfast just isn't the same here. I think all those times Miguel snuck (yes, snuck is a word, I looked it up) hot chilis into my food has made me long for food with more zing. I'd go get a quiche but cholesterol is a concern. I guess I really don't know what to eat for breakfast when I'm here. Cold cereal anyone?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Back home?

Yesterday I flew back to Canada. I think I encountered more wind from Hurricane Ike here than I did in Mexico - it was a rough landing and many people applauded the pilot. Hardened travelers like myself have been through turbulence before - we're 'too cool' to clap - but I have to admit that inside I was remembering recent plane crashes due to bad weather, and was glad when we were safely on the ground.

This morning I had an agenda - get my passport renewed. After getting the paperwork together I headed out to:
  1. get passport picture taken

  2. go to passport office

  3. open and review mail while waiting my turn in the passport office

  4. pick up parcels from Sears

  5. go to bank

  6. pick up parcels from post office

  7. go for breakfast
I accomplished all of the above, and what was really amazing was that I did it all in 90 minutes door to door. I didn't stand in line for anything. Everyone I dealt with was efficient and friendly. There were no surprises.

I was thinking how much longer it would have taken to do the same errands in Mexico - partly due to the need to take the ferry to Cancun. Last week I did the most efficient trip possible to Cancun - and it still took 2 hrs door to door.

I feel very proud to be Canadian, and appreciate what my home country has to offer. I enjoy my time here, in small doses - but am ready to stop hopping planes. The ferry ride is more my speed now.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

At the side of the road

I hate garbage as much as anyone, and I clean the area around my home all the time. My secret desire is to take a rake and a stack of plastic garbage bags and just drive around the island and clean up all the trash.

As we foreigners all know, there are a lot of things in the streets here that really don't belong (at least to our way of thinking). Plastic bottles, aluminum cans, scraps of wood, pieces of wire or rope, shoes, bags of garbage, etc.

However, one man's trash is another man's treasure. Here's what I know:

The workers use a plastic bottle, cut in half, as a funnel. They will actively head down the road looking for a bottle carelessly tossed aside, and due to my cleanup efforts, they are forced to walk a little farther before finding one.

The children go around picking up the aluminum cans so they can take them to school for the recycling program. I've seen them down at Sac Bajo collecting cans.

Glass beer bottles are returnable. I'm not sure why there are so many tossed in the roads instead of returned?

Workers often need a scrap piece of wood, and they will head off down the road and later return with one they pulled out of the weeds from somewhere.

A huge pile of torn out chain-link fencing, left at the side of the road for months, was finally claimed and put to use to make a barrier between neighbors.

The dogs love to play with the lost shoes.

Bags of garbage, when torn open, often reveal tasty morsels for hungry animals.

The meat from a squished iguana or crab feeds the birds.

Junk cars grow pretty plants.

Maybe the next time you notice all the trash in the streets, you will remember that someone/something out there may be looking for just that particular thing. In the eye of the beholder...it's not all garbage.

Friday, September 12, 2008

And one thing leads to another...

Last week we started a small project - a brick planter. Here is the finished result:

The wall has been finished for more than a week, but we still have the concrete workers here, because:

1. One of the cement stairs, off the upstairs closet, was just off enough that when you stepped out of the closet, if you didn't put your foot just right, you would slide off the edge onto the step below. This was a tiny fix, and a messy one, but very worthwhile.

2. We wanted to build a small dining nook on the upstairs landing. This was a small project, but detailed. I chose three cheery colors of talavara tile. I'm very pleased with the results, and once we get it painted I will post a picture.

3. While I was in the tile store in Cancun to buy the tiles for #2 above, I spotted an adorable ceramic sink on sale. I've been wanting one for a long time but due to the cost it was never a priority. The sink was on sale for $40, so of course I bought it.

4. Due to #3 above, we needed to install the sink, which meant a counter needed to be built for it. We decided to use the leftover blue tiles from project #2, but didn't have enough. Yesterday morning I did another quick trip to the tile store in Cancun to get more blue tiles. While there I found some cute little ones that would go with the blue tiles, and decided that they would be great to line the edges, so I bought those too. I'm lucky the workers are flexible and work with rapidly changing designs.

5. Due to #4, we had to break the outside wall of the house to find the pipes so Miguel can install the plumbing to the sink. Of course, the broken wall will need to be cemented back up after Miguel makes his connections.

Will that be the end? Of course not. We need railings built for the staircases. The retired carpenter is here now, cleaning the wood. It's a busy place! But the dog is happy, he thinks he's the supervisor and he has been taking it all in.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


I grew up in one of the fruit belts of Canada. Berries, peaches, pears, apples, grapes, watermelon, cantaloupe - all of it is plentiful in the summer and early fall. My mother's idea of dessert was fruit, not just in the summer but all year long. My idea of dessert was chocolate cake, cherry pie, or brownies.

But I've discovered a fruit here in Mexico that is at least as good as chocolate cake. The mango, a fruit I never knew much about until Miguel brought it home from the mercado one day. He carved it up and I tasted it - WOW! What a sweet, juicy, delicious mouthful of fruit. I was quickly hooked and expected mango for breakfast every day for the rest of my life (I didn't know the mango was not available year-round).

Preparing the morning fruit plate became my breakfast task. I learned how to carve the mango, eating any remaining fruit directly off the seed. We shared one or two mangos every day.

At first it was my lips that felt odd - dry, rough, and itchy; I blamed the sun. Then my eyelids also started to itch and burn, and I was constantly rubbing my eyes. I finally made the connection and realized I was allergic to mango. I researched on the internet and discovered that many people have similar symptoms - it is actually quite common. Mango allergy is related to sensitivity to other things such as poison ivy and cashews (which also cause a reaction if I eat too many, such as half a can (or so) during Christmas holidays).

Eventually the mango went out of season, and my itchy lips and eyes cleared up, confirming my suspicions. But I longed for my mango, and when it came back into season this year, I didn't hesitate to eat it again. However, now I do not eat off the seed, nor do I eat the smaller 'side' slices, and right after I finish my breakfast I clean my hands and mouth with running water to remove any residue from the peel. So far so good, I haven't really been itchy from mango for months, unless that is what is causing the mysterious itch on my spine?

Sometimes the mango we buy looks a little worse for wear - a little spongy and the skin is full of black spots. I used to think those mangoes were rotten, but have since learned that it is usually only the skin that looks bad; inside the fruit is usually very ripe and sweet.

Sometimes we are forced (twist our arms!) to eat mango that is not quite ready. Just a little green around the edges, but those are the ones where I can taste the bitterness of the skin and that seems to kick up my allergy.

I'm not the only one in the house addicted to mango; Minina also likes her daily feast. We will be in the kitchen preparing breakfast and Minina will suddenly appear at my feet. She will cry until we give her a piece of mango. But she's very particular - she smells the fruit first, and usually gobbles down one or two pieces. Occasionally she doesn't eat it, and then you can be sure it's not quite ripe. Minina is my mango meter, letting me know that I'm about to eat a mango that may cause a reaction.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Why are we so hungry?

Since the beginning of August it has been hot, very hot. Our pets are eating less due to the heat. But we've been exceptionally hungry - due to the heat? Not sure there is a relationship there, but it's worth mentioning.

Our normal meal times are 9 am (breakfast) and 3-4 pm for comida (midday meal). Comida is normally our last meal of the day, with coffee and a light treat later in the evening. But the last few weeks we've been snacking on more substantial leftovers from the fridge, or ordering pizza.

The dog is very happy when he hears us talking about pizza. Loco loves pizza, especially pizza with ham on it. Loco eats pizza like a kid - pulling off the ham and cheese, spitting out the vegetables (peppers and onions), and leaving the crust on the floor. He actually makes quite a mess - we make him take his piece of pizza outside.

Lately we've been ordering vegetarian pizza - peppers, onions, pineapple. No sense wasting a piece of that on Loco, right? But just when you think you understand your dog, he surprises you. As we share our pizza, Loco sits and watches us, and his eyes tell us that he wants some. We offer Loco small pieces of crust with just the cheese, and he takes it and eats the whole thing. No mess, not a crumb.

The other morning I found a cold piece of pizza in the fridge. I decided to eat it before breakfast, so stood over the sink with my cold, stiff piece of vegetarian pizza. Loco appeared from somewhere and stood beside me. I wasn't really paying much attention to him, and didn't realize why he was there - until it was too late. The last piece had been swallowed before it dawned on me that Loco wanted pizza for breakfast too. Sorry, boy - next time!

Morning coffee - ahhhh

There is nothing like the aroma of fresh coffee, especially in the morning. My morning coffee memories go back to the days of childhood, when my grandmother was visiting us. She would get up ridiculously early (6 am) and have her coffee percolating while the rest of us were still sleeping - I remember lying in bed and enjoying the delicious smell, knowing my grandmother was down in the living room.

My grandmother continued to percolate her coffee long after many people moved on to Taster's Choice instant, or drip coffee makers. She insisted on grinding her own beans at the grocery store. She drank it black, and strong, like syrup, and she drank it all day long.

I'm probably not a true coffee lover - I take mine with heaps of sugar and lots of milk (cream if we have it). My coffee is diluted into some other sweetened coffee-flavored drink, and if I can't have it like that, I'd rather not have it at all. It takes me a long time to drink my coffee; it's usually lukewarm by the time I get to the bottom (but that's where the sugar has sunk and those last swigs are soooo yummy!).

Coffee is one of our cherished routines here - one cup in the morning around the ridiculously early time of 6 am (funny how that works - as one gets older, the mornings get earlier), and another cup in the evening. We never use instant coffee, it's dripped coffee, a particular brand that seems smooth and does not create havoc inside my stomach. Our local tienda has started stocking our coffee for us - but it's not on the shelf, we have to request it, and they bring it out from the back. Just one thing to love about Mexico - the personal touch.

Miguel takes his coffee unsweetened, with or without milk. Although he prefers his coffee fresh and hot, he will even drink it cold, pouring the leftovers into a glass and drinking it like coke. More than once I've been thirsty and reached for his glass of 'coke', looking to quench my thirst so I wouldn't have to get up and get my own refreshment - luckily, the smell hits my nostrils before the cold, bitter liquid hits my lips. Blech!

During Hurricane Wilma, when we were without power for 15 days, we still found a way to make our drip coffee. We boiled water on the gas stove, and then ladled the water over the coffee grounds that we put into the drip-coffee maker's filter tray . In order for the water to drip out of the tray, we had to push the lever - taking care not to burn our fingers. Although we had sugar, we did not have milk - so I drank my coffee black and because we were without so many other things during that time (lights being one of them), I felt like we were living in the lap of luxury with that black coffee.

I was hoping I might learn to drink black coffee after Wilma, but no - as soon as we had milk, I was back to my pale sweetened drink. Some routines are just too enjoyable to give up - my sweet coffee is one of them.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


My name seems simple, right? Sue, short for Susan. Pronounced "SU".

But Spanish-speaking people do one of two things with my name:

1. They misspell it like this, "SU";
2. They write it like this, "SUE", but then prounouce it as SU-WEH

At least it's not SU-EE, like chopped suey.

I've decided that fron now on, for people I've just met, my name will be Susana. Makes it easier for everyone.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

From the Garden

As you can probably tell by now, our non-working lives mostly center around a couple of things - our home/garden and our mascotas (pets).

The garden belongs to Miguel. Not that I don't love to garden, I do, but right now I don't have the time. And I fear that when I do have the time, Miguel will not welcome my contributions anyway. He's very tuned into each plant - are they happy, do they need a little TLC, are they simply not going to make it? Some will be having babies, some are seeding, some about to present flowers, some need trimming, some need repotting, some need more soil. This one needs more sun, that one more shade. Several times he has noticed that two plants living side by side are not happy with each other, like a bad marriage, and need to be separated.

Case in point - we had a morning glory vine trying to climb the cocoa palm, but the palm wasn't having any part of that. The morning glory was not able to get a grip around the trunk, and even when it finally made its way up to the palm branches, with a boost from a nearby plant, it was not allowed to hold on; the vine just laid there limply dangling over the branches. Miguel said the cocoa palm was not giving permission for the morning glory to be there. So he moved the morning glory next to the salvia, and the salvia plant did give permission to the morning glory and so we had lovely blooms until the plant went to seed.

The morning glory got revenge though, because the cocoa palm ended up getting sick and after 5 years in the garden, it died.

Last year Miguel had a horrible accident (almost electrocuted), and was badly burned. He was in hospital for more than two weeks, and even when he came home, he was confined to the bedroom (in order to avoid infection). His hands were bandaged and he could not do anything for himself. However, somehow he found a way to hold onto a hose, and each morning he covered up and went out to water his plants - his babies needed him.

Despite losing a small piece of his 'green' thumb (cooked from the electrical burn), Miguel's garden has yielded watermelon and cantaloup from kitchen scraps, and radishes from a seed packet.

On second thought, since Miguel gets results like this, maybe I'd just better lie in the hammock and watch him work.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Whistle

When I first moved into my house, a good Mexican friend would often come by for a visit. I was always a little dismayed at how he announced his presence - he would stand out in the street and whistle for me, like I was a dog. Hey, I have a name, and I have a door - why not call me, or just knock?

Although offended by the whistle, I never mentioned it - I mostly ignored it. I figured he would get the message that I was not going to answer the door until he called me properly by name, which he sometimes did. Or he would honk the golf cart horn. In any case, victory was mine, I would not be whistled to.

Being the clever foreigner that I am, I bought a doorbell - one of those wireless gadgets. But I didn't want just anyone ringing my bell, so I hid the doorbell on the inside of the gate. I told friends where to find the button in case they dropped by unexpectedly. But most of my friends were tourists - only here a couple of times a year - and they did not use my hidden doorbell, they forgot I had a doorbell. Neither did they whistle, they simply came up to the door and announced their presence. Or in one instance, sat on the front porch visiting with each other while we rested upstairs awaiting their arrival (they didn't hear us, we didn't hear them).

The doorbell didn't last long. First, nobody used it and second, the salt air corroded the battery in no time flat. So much for the 'clever foreigner'.

Besides the whistle, another way Mexicans announce their presence is to stand in the street and call "Buenos" - over and over. And over. I once timed someone trying to get the attention of my neighbor - he stood out at the post for at least 5 minutes, calling "Buenos" every few seconds. Sometimes it was a little louder, sometimes a little softer, like he was embarrassed. But he persisted, and eventually my neighbor gave in and came out and talked to him. I sort of dread the "Buenos", because in my experience, it is usually someone I don't know who wants to sell me something. I often don't respond to the "Buenos" people and usually the barking dogs get them going on their way.

One more way the Mexicans get my attention is by tooting the horn on their mopeds, or honking the horn on the golf cart (which is a bicycle horn and quite noisy). Usually the people doing this type of honking are workers or delivery people - letting you know they've arrived. Occasionally, though, it is just someone giving the horn a few squeezes as they pass by, often the garbage men. They don't want anything, they are just having fun.

After spending a lot more time here, I now know that the whistle is not offensive and is a polite way of letting someone know you are there without making a lot of disruptive noise. I've learned that a correct response to someone whistling in the street is to whistle back in acknowledgement. The beauty of the whistle is that it blends in with the chirping of the birds, it is non-intrusive, and is much nicer than standing in the street bellowing the name of someone. Only problem is, I have occasionally mistaken the chirping of birds for someone looking for me in the street. When I look, there's nobody there - I actually think we have blackbirds that have learned the whistle. Since childhood I've tried to whistle, but never mastered it - all that comes out is soft air that tickles my lips. I think I need to recruit a blackbird.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Hammock Cat

It seems to be the way with our animals that something they feared and thought they hated suddenly becomes one of their favorite things to do.

Let me introduce Luna:

Luna was a stray who decided to come and live with us. We think she might have had a home at one time because although she wasn't quite 'tame', neither was she wild. Luna's story is a long one, I will leave it for another day. Suffice it to say that I became Luna's primary employee, the one she slowly allowed to get close enough so I could touch her. Her gaze is always wary, but she longs for our company.

One day I was hanging out in the hammock, and Luna was prowling around the terrace, looking for attention. I spontaneously picked her up and pulled her into my hammock - something I'd never done before. She gave me one horrified look (what's the matter with you?), leapt off my lap and took off. We were left in peace for the rest of the siesta.

The very next day, the house inhabitants resumed their positions from the previous day (aka siesta time in the hammock for the humans, with outdoor animals sprawled underneath). As I lazily gazed around, I spotted Luna - and she was getting ready to pounce...right into my LAP! Phlump - umph (she's heavy)!

Luna looked around, did a little kneading of my delicate abdominal tissues with her sharp claws, and then made herself comfortable. A sharp 'meow' told me she wanted to be stroked. So I stroked, but every time I stopped, she reminded me...'meow'. That cat enjoyed every single minute she was there, like she'd been doing it all her life.

And now, Luna will be nowhere in sight when I ease myself into the hammock. But within seconds, there she is. I don't know how she knows, because it's not like I make a lot of noise climbing in there; in fact, I try to do it in secret so I can lie there in peace. No such luck. I think Luna and the hammock have a secret code.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


When I bought my house in Mexico, I didn't speak any Spanish beyond the formalities - "Hola", "Adios", "Gracias", "Por Favor". The tradesmen doing work at my house didn't speak any English. I bought dictionaries and other handbooks to try to learn. I bought Rosetta Stone's cd. I tried reading the Spanish journals and listening to Spanish tv. I often confused French with Spanish. I learned to communicate with a lot of gestures and pointing at words in the dictionary. Somehow the workers mostly understood me.

One of the most important communication skills I learned was finding substitute words for words I did not know. "Hermientas" (tools) became my generic word for just about everything related to work around the house. "I'm going to the store to buy 'hermientas'" (maybe a rake, maybe a hammer, maybe a hose). "Tienas 'hermientas'?" (do you have tools?).

We have an old carpenter who works here now and then; he's retired but works just because he loves his work. One day we took him to lunch at a small diner down the road - one we'd never visited before. There was no menu, just a short list of what they had to offer written up on the wall. It boiled down to whether one wanted chicken or fish. Miguel and the carpenter chose fish, I chose chicken.

We were the only ones there. I think they were about to close for the afternoon - they were washing the floor and pushing tables aside. But we sat and waited for our meal, because nobody told us to leave. There was a bit of noise coming from the direction of the 'kitchen' (word used lightly to describe a small space used to prepare food). Once in a while a head appeared over the edge of the counter and smiled at us, so that gave us encouragement to wait.

Finally the food arrived. A bowl of pasta, a bowl of liquid frijoles (beans), and two plates loaded with a whole fish, served with rice. My plate had 3 or 4 pieces of chicken, nicely cooked on the grill. We were ready to dig in, but there was no silverware, and it didn't look like anyone was about to give us any. The guys dug in anyway, using the tortillas to tear at the fish. I sat and waited for someone to notice that we needed attention. I don't know the word for silverware, and I get confused on the correct words for knife, fork, and spoon. So when someone finally came out from behind the counter, I politely asked for 'hermientas' - tools.

After the blank look, (Que?), the woman went behind the counter and rustled up a tablespoon and a fork. As she handed me the hermientas, she apologized to the guys for not having any to offer them. They shrugged it off and assured her they would manage. But I think the woman felt embarrassed as she then went back behind the counter and returned with a couple more spoons (which enabled the guys to eat the pasta and beans).

After we left, the carpenter, being too polite to criticize, thanked us for the meal. Miguel was a little more vocal - what kind of restaurant doesn't have knives and forks for its customers? The carpenter then agreed that it was very odd. But the food was good, so we decided that it was more a take-out place than a sit down eating place - maybe the tables and chairs were just for sitting and waiting for take-out orders?

The carpenter continued to work at the house after I left Mexico. During one of Miguel's calls, I asked what he'd eaten that day, and he informed me that he and the carpenter had gone to the restaurant that didn't have 'hermientas'. They did take-out.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

More concrete

Guess what? We're doing ANOTHER project that involves concrete. This time it's a small garden at the back of the house, where the plants there have outgrown their pots. As Miguel says, the plants are suffering just like I would if I tried to stuff my feet into shoes much too small.

The plants need room to stretch their 'feet' in order to be happy and healthy. And so, despite my earlier promise to avoid concrete at all costs, here we go again.

Yesterday, the master albanil (cement mason) came to discuss the plan with Miguel. They drew straight lines, which meant the garden would be square, but the wall would be off from the tiles, which apparently are crooked. I opted to make the wall straight with the tiles, figuring once the plants are in place, the eye will not notice an inch or so more on one end as much as it would notice a wall mis-aligned with the tiles.

It took most of the day for the junior albanil (nicknamed Cilantro - don't ask me why, I think it has to do with the green shirt he often wears) to break up the patio tiles and concrete where the small garden will go. Fortunately he was able to use a cutter to make his line through the tile, so the adjoining tiles stayed intact. However, he had to use his pounder/battering rod to break up the concrete underneath - not sure what it is really called, but it's a long heavy metal rod (about 5' in length) that he slams into the concrete until it's all busted up. Concrete structures carry noise quite well, so the echo made it sound like he was tearing down the house.

Cilantro has worked here before, and I like how he cleans up after making a mess. We left him at his work to go out to eat, returning to find the area prepared for the next phase, and the mess all swept up.

This morning Miguel eased the plants out of their too-small shoes. Not an easy feat as they are vines and couldn't just be turned upside down and dumped out. But he managed somehow, and now the plants are sitting there, all in a row, waiting for their new wall to be built. Like an audience, anxiously waiting for the performance to begin.