Monday, August 31, 2009

"Not a creature was stirring..."

not even a mouse" (but what about a rat?).

Saturday night was just plain noisy. Dogs were carrying on over in another colonia - they sounded like they were fighting, or chasing someone, or waiting their turn to reproduce - maybe it's the season? Maybe they were ganging up on a cat or some other animal. There has been a smelly corpse floating around down at the corner - it's just part of the skin and skeleton but the dogs drag it around. Loco rolled in it last weekend and came home smelling awful. Miguel says that it is a porcupine - an animal not normally here on the island. I have seen two clumps of quills lying on the road, so I think he's correct - I haven't gotten close enough myself to know for sure.

Despite the background noise, we booted Minina off the bed and drifted off to sleep. (Minina snuggles a little too close to our bodies, and we don't need a little cat furnace tucked in beside us, especially at this time of year).

Minina ended up in the chair by the window, which overlooks the pool on the terrace. Around midnight both Minina and I heard the noise at the same time - like a plastic bowl being moved. Seeing Minina pop her head up I decided to get up and check it out. I didn't see anything, so turned on the outside light. I still didn't see anything but we both saw the plants move over on the other side of the pool. Something got scared by the light and took off. Minina's eyes were fixed on the spot in the plants, but there was nothing to see and so I climbed back into bed.

Miguel keeps a bar of soap and a bottle of shampoo out by the pool, as he likes to clean up before getting in the water. He has been telling me that something has been taking his soap, and I finally believed him when he showed me a bar with teeth marks; it looked like something had scraped its teeth along the bar in order to eat it. Miguel swears it was a rat. One day he found the bar of soap in the pool - it was a full bar and probably too heavy to carry off. Other days the soap is simply gone.

Loco sleeps out on the pool terrace and has never given a hint that there are night visitors. Either he sleeps deeply or he just isn't interested in what might be visiting the soap bar.

I was no sooner back in bed when I heard a strange noise in the street and then a dog making a fuss. Loco immediately sprang off his lounge and climbed up along the pool wall to check the street. I flipped on the light and tried to see, but there wasn't anything to see - it sounded like an animal had been bitten or something, but I really couldn't tell what had happened. I coaxed Loco back off the wall (always afraid he will slip and fall), and we all settled down again for the night.

In the morning Miguel reported that his bar of soap was missing again. I noticed the shampoo bottle lying on its side, and when I moved it, it made the exact same sound Minina and I had heard. Yup, something had been over at the soap bar, and either it took the soap at that time or it came back later and we were all sleeping so soundly we simply didn't hear it.

Just to see if Miguel's theory was correct, I googled "rat eat soap", and sure enough, it's true - they do! Here is a link to someone's blog describing exactly the same situation - Rats eat soap.

What I want to know is this: why are the only creatures that are stirring at night the undesirables? Why isn't Loco doing something about it since he's sleeping right there? I hope the outdoor cats are doing their job and catching these varmints. And Miguel? He'll have to start bringing in his soap, so there is nothing out there to attract night visitors. Who would have thought a bar of soap would be bait?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Our weekend - part 1

We actually had a decent weekend despite the lousy start with the flooded floors. After we mopped up, we ate leftover cheese empanadas and our big plate of fruit - yummy. Miguel had a worker over at the studio apartment so after breakfast he headed over there. I started washing the floors - a process that took me until 3 pm because I did it in parts and dipped in the pool in between, to cool off.

It has been very hot here, and the water in the pool is just lovely (for my taste). Once I was finally done with the floors I took a long dip and then had a nice siesta in the hammock.

Miguel showed up around 5 pm and we were both hungry, but he was more hot and tired than anything else so he soaked in the pool and then collapsed on the bed. By that time I was starving but agreed to let him sleep for an hour before we rustled up some dinner. In the meantime, I ate a chicken wrap to hold me over.

By 7 Miguel was still sleeping. I woke him up, he was hungry, but he was also drained and just wanted to keep sleeping. The golf cart was at the mechanic's for an oil change so I took a taxi to the hamburg stand - we decided we would have burgers and fries.

The stand was just starting up - they were frying the onions. The young woman helper told me it would be about 30 minutes. Hmmm...I didn't want to wait that long as I knew it was prime mosquito hour and they feast on me. I said I'd come back another night, and walked across the street to put in some numbers on the lottery. As I finished up, I noticed that the owner of the stand was there and starting to cook, so I went back over and asked how long it would be to get 2 burgers with fries - 30 minutes? No, she said - 25 minutes. We all smiled - I had been at the lottery for 5 minutes so the count-down to the burgers reflected that 5 minutes.

I decided I was too hungry to go away without a burger, so placed the order and sat down. I commented that there weren't any mosquitoes, but I spoke too soon because not 5 minutes later I was getting mobbed. I didn't say anything but someone in the family came over and hooked up a small fan and directed it at my feet. Surprisingly, it worked, and I was able to withstand the wait without getting any more bites.

A man and his young daughter came along and he ordered hot dogs. They sat behind me and enjoyed the meal, so much that he called out for one more dog. I have never had one of the hot dogs but they look and smell delicious. Finally my order was ready and I caught a cab and headed back home.

Either I was really hungry or the burger was just very good, because I enjoyed every bite. The woman knows that I don't like ham on my burger, so she prepares it the way I like it and marks the container so I know which is mine. She puts just the right mix of everything on the burger and even though there is very little meat, it is so good. Miguel finally came down after I was done, and he ate every bite too (well, we both gave a bite to Loco, so I guess we ate almost every bite).

After a cup of coffee, we started getting ready for bed. I thought Luna was inside and wanted to put her out on the back terrace, but after searching all levels (twice), I remembered that she'd gone out when I'd gone for the burgers. Ok, so she was going to wake us up at some point by opening the patio door and coming in.

While I was searching inside for Luna, Maya decided to harass Minina, and they had quite a little spat. Maya had Minina blocked in, so I decided that was enough and took Minina up to the bedroom with us. We don't normally allow the cats in our room when we're sleeping, but I knew Minina needed a break and she is never any trouble. The only thing I had to worry about was Luna opening the bedroom door and Minina getting out. I had worked up quite a sweat going up and down the stairs, so I took a final dip in the pool and then went to bed. It was only 10 pm but we were both ready for a full night's sleep. And Luna showed up right as we turned out the lights so I let her out of the bedroom into the rest of the house and Miguel, Minina and I settled down for a nice peaceful night.

Or maybe not completely peaceful...(to be continued)...

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Chain of Events

Last night I went into the laundry room to clean the cat litter box. Usually at least one cat will monitor the cleaning, and will promptly hop in afterwards and use the litter, like they've been waiting for hours for me to clean it. Sometimes all three cats are standing by. The litter box is not dirty, it is cleaned at least twice a day, and there is a box outside as well. But the cats seem to think it's their duty to show me that they appreciate the clean litter.

Last night it was Smokey who joined me in the laundry room. In fact, she was so keen to show her appreciation that I didn't even finish before she was in there digging around. I waited as she squatted a couple of times, but then she got distracted by a noise over in the laundry room drain. She jumped out of the box and circled the drain.

I heard the noise too, and knew it was probably a cockroach she heard shuffling around. The hose to the washing machine was in the drain - it's a black plastic tube with a black plastic disc on the end to keep the tube from popping out of the drain (and to keep anything from flowing up over the tube).

I decided I would put the plug in the drain so the bug would go away and Smokey could get on with her plans for the evening. As I pulled on the drain tube, the disc popped up and the cockroach sprung up in the air - it was obviously on the top of the disc and not in the drain, as I'd thought. When the bug flew up Smokey jumped back which made me jump and then I started screaming, which scared Smokey even more and she took off.

I grabbed a small broom in one hand and a dust pan in the other and trapped the roach and carried it to the bathroom. There were no lights on, the bathroom door was closed, and the toilet seat was down, which meant I had to let go of either the broom or the dustpan. I chose the broom, knowing the odds of keeping the roach trapped between the broom and the pan were against me as one hand just couldn't apply the same pressure. However, somehow the roach was still there, and I shook it into the toilet and tried to flush.

The water pressure from the street was down, so the water didn't come out with much force, and the roach managed to climb up to the rim and into one of the holes under the rim. Great - how would I get it out of there?

I flushed again, which did nothing as there was very little water in the tank. I waited a minute or so and flushed again, which created enough force to wash the roach out of the hole and back into the toilet, where it proceeded to climb out once again.

Not so fast, I thought. I grabbed the toilet brush and pounded at the roach, trying to drown it, flushing away, and hoping it would go down the drain. At this point Miguel arrived on the scene and said it was hopeless, the roach could swim, and the only solution would be to spray it with Baygone.

So Miguel sprayed, and then being the softy he is, he asked me to close the lid so he didn't have to watch the bug die. I closed the lid and flushed, went into the laundry room and plugged the drain, and when I went back to check the toilet a few minutes later, the water was clear.

I had to use the toilet at that point but you can bet I didn't sit down, just in case the roach has climbed back up into the hole under the rim. However, this morning there is no sign of the roach, so I guess he is gone.

Today is Saturday, a good day to wash the sheets. So I stripped the bed and threw in a load and then went upstairs to have my bath while Miguel went to the market. All three cats joined me upstairs. When I was done and headed downstairs, all three followed me. I opened the back door to let the cats out, and Smokey was so excited she ran through the kitchen and skidded on some water on the floor.

I thought Maya had tipped over the water bowl, but then I looked around and saw that the floors were covered in water. Oh no! I'd forgotten to put the drain hose back in the drain from last night's excitement, and the drain was plugged so even the water on the floor had nowhere to go except through the rest of the house.

At that point Miguel came home and I confessed my error. We both got out the rubber squeegees (a staple in any Mexican household), and starting pushing the water - Miguel out to the back terrace, and me into the laundry room so it could run down the drain.

Twenty minutes later and most of the water was pushed out. Now the fans are on in an effort to dry up the rest. Later I will wash all the floors with bleach, and I will have to move all the furniture because there is water underneath.

I'm hoping the final step in this sequence of events will be a siesta in the hammock. So much for a relaxing Saturday at home.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Comment I Want to Share

In my last blog I wrote about Miguel going back to school. The people who wrote comments were overwhelmingly supportive and positive, and I shared all the comments with Miguel. Thanks to each and every one of you for the encouragement. It is not easy to admit that one has not completed school, but unfortunately it is not that uncommon here. I know of people who cannot even read (one man sells foods in the streets and although he can't read, he knows his math - how much he should get for his goods). Uneducated does not mean unintelligent, as those of you who commented certainly recognize.

I would like to highlight one comment because it touched me and made me laugh. Not everyone reads the comments posted to a blog, and I don't want this comment to be lost in space - it needs to be shared. Here is what Barbara in Jalisco wrote:

"at about age 35 i decided i wanted to go to college. i packed up my 10-year-old son and the few things that would fit into my little Honda Civic, and off we went from New Orleans to Indiana, where i enrolled as a freshman at Indiana University in Bloomington.

five years later (i had to take a year off to establish residency), i graduated with a B.G.S. (bachelor's degree in general studies -- i still couldn't make up my mind what i wanted to be when i grew up). i was asked to speak at one of the functions held for graduates after the ceremony. i said i felt like the scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz"....i wasn't sure i was any smarter, but i had a piece of paper now that said i was.

however, i would not trade the experience for the world....even though i'm STILL paying off students loans from graduate school. (yes, i continued on, working on my doctorate in anthropology.) so Miguel, more power to you! learn for the love of learning! learn more about things you already know something about, and learn new things about areas where you don't know much. (for me, that included Shakespeare, art appreciation, and physical anthropology.)

and, Sue, as to what i learned in high school that is still with me after all these years (i'll be 62 in a couple of months), i can still recite my whole name backwards....which is all i learned in geometry and which, i feel certain, is one reason i never married and changed my name. (no, it wasn't taught in the classroom, i just sat in the back next to a friend and that's what we did.)

best of luck on your adventure, Miguel! and have fun!

barbara in jalisco (or arabrab to those in the know)"

To Barbara - Congratulations on going the distance and raising a child at the same time. My sister did something similar and I know it was not easy. But you did it! Thanks for sharing your story with us.

Now - how many of you readers can recite your name backwards? I sort of remember learning how to write backwards, or upside-down, or trying to say my name in pig-latin, but one of my biggest talents is actually being able to pick up stuff with my toes - like a wad of kleenex that was intended for the garbage. I spread my toes and pick up the kleenex and toss it in the garbage - saves the back muscles.

Anyone else care to share unusual things they learned in school or unusual talents?

Sunday, August 23, 2009


I've been a student most of my life. As a child, I was a reluctant student, finding it difficult to get up in the mornings to get off to school. Maybe if they'd had later hours it would have been easier. I didn't really hate school, I just hated getting up. A false tummy ache was declared many times in order to convince my mother that I was sick, but she knew my tricks and it rarely worked.

In high school I'd get up just a few minutes before I had to leave for school. No breakfast. I quickly threw on some clothes, brushed teeth and hair, and headed out.

Although I got great marks in school, I didn't work hard for them and was not a dedicated learner. I was bored and uninterested in most of my subjects, and if you ask me what I learned in all those years that serves me now, I'm stuck beyond the obvious math, reading, language, and basic science knowledge that one seems to need throughout life. Oh - I did take Home Economics and learned how to sew. They tried to teach me how to cook too, but I had better teachers - my mother and grandmothers.

As an adult, I've continued taking courses that are geared to my interest or my work - and in many cases, both. I'm very lucky to be doing the type of work that also happens to be what I enjoy. Learning is fun, and a challenge, and I put everything I have into it. In my second career (information technology), keeping current is required. Let your skills become obsolete and you are no longer marketable.

Miguel's education history is very different than mine. Growing up in the mountains and expected to work on the land, he had little time to attend school or do his homework. I hope one day he will write about his perspectives on that, it is very interesting.

At the age of 14 Miguel's father brought him to Isla Mujeres to help work at Aquarama (now Zama's Beach Club). Aquarama was similar to Marineland in Niagara Falls - dolphins, sea lions, and other aquatic and non-aquatic creatures. Although Miguel learned a lot while working there, his formal education stopped.

Later Miguel joined the military, and continued his education. He was part of the special forces and learned some skills that will serve him for life.

Somewhere along the line Miguel learned spelling and math - he spells perfectly and uses good grammar, and knows how to calculate the square meters of a construction site. He is very interested in current events - he watches the news, studies geography on the internet, and knows his history and politics.

To me, formal education is just one way of learning. Living life teaches us things that better prepare us for the future (if we pay attention). But nobody gets certification for figuring out how to pick oneself up off the ground after the loss of a loved one. Nobody gets education credits for teaching a child the lessons of life, for writing a blog that reaches people all over the world, for cooking a fabulous meal for 25 people, or for knowing how to repair a leaky pipe. How does formal education help one live life other than through work and a paycheck?

But now, Miguel wants to complete the formal education he missed out on. Yesterday he went to 'school' here on the island, to take a test to determine his level. It's a school for people who are beyond the age of normal students - people who now want to finish their formal education.

Miguel said that there was one person older than him, and many others - about 30 - many women, at the school. Some were there to complete primary levels. All were there to continue their formal learning, and to receive the piece of paper stating that they were now educated.

I applaud all those students for making the commitment to get their education. I wish I'd known as a child what a privilege it was for me to have all those years of schooling - years where my only task was to get up in the morning and go to school and learn. I resented it then. I appreciate it now. Sort of like a few other things in life - things we take for granted at the time, and only when we look back do we realize and appreciate what we had.

Buen suerte a Miguel! (and all his classmates)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Miguel's Talents

With the construction on his second apartment on hold until we get a better picture of the upcoming financial scene, Miguel is home more. This gives him an opportunity to cook, and me an opportunity to enjoy his cooking.

Last week Miguel made yellow mole with chicken and vegetables. It looked red to me but he said it was yellow, and that it depended on the type of chili used as to whether it was called yellow or red or black, etc. Since I'm not an expert on mole (other than I no longer like the one made with chocolate because I once ate it when it had been in the freezer and it made me sick, sick, sick and I hold a grudge), I will accept that it was yellow mole. It was delicious the first time around, and the next morning he turned it into enchiladas mole, and then later tostadas mole. There was one final full meal from the batch before it was finished, and it is one of those dishes that just improves with age (to a point - i.e., do not freeze the leftovers).

We buy hot tortillas to go with our breakfasts, and usually end up throwing out the ones leftover after we hold onto them for a day or so thinking we'll use them for something and they go moldy. But lately Miguel has been frying them up nice and crispy and sprinkling them with salt - they taste like popcorn, are crunchy, and just delicious. We keep thinking we'll make guacamole to go with them, but we do not have good luck with avocados - they almost always rot before we use them. We need to buy the avocado the day we plan to use it, but that is almost like planning the day and so often our plans deviate from what we thought the day would be. The avocado ends up sitting on the counter another day and starts to turn black inside. Even the fridge doesn't stop the fruit from going bad, it just slows it down.

The other night Miguel stayed up late making his wonderful red sauce that we use for egg omelet and chilaquiles. He also made some delicious homefried potatoes while he was at it. I was sound asleep while he toiled over the hot stove, but I didn't feel bad, there have been plenty of times I've been toiling and he's been siesta-ing.

Yesterday Miguel made yummy fried rice to go with the leftover pollo adobo I'd prepared on Monday. I don't know what he does differently than me, but his rice is the best. I always eat too much but I can't help it - I love that rice.

This morning I'm not sure what we'll have for breakfast - maybe eggs in the red sauce, or chilaquiles, or maybe Miguel will pick up salbutes and empanadas de queso at the mercado. Whatever we eat as the hot meal will be followed by a huge plate of fresh fruit. We've been lucky lately and everything we have right now is sweet and of decent quality. Sometimes we get horrible fruit - mango all black inside, pineapple fermented into alcohol, melon cut too young with no flavor, watermelon that is more water than taste. Fruit can be deceiving - sometimes it looks nice on the outside, but you just never know what taste you will get on the inside. And sometimes it just looks horrible on the outside but inside it's sweet and juicy. It's a game of roulette, but if we don't have our fruit in the morning, it doesn't feel like a proper breakfast.

Preparing the fruit plate is my job, and so I must go now...time to start chopping.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Kid Watching

Wherever we go, one of us usually gets to sit on the golf cart with Loco; usually it's me. It's a great opportunity to sit and observe the world around me, and often I see something that makes me chuckle (sometimes discreetly because the thing I saw maybe didn't seem funny to the person it involved).

Familia Tomas sells things other than a full meal - liquid beans, soup broth, etc. Families that cannot afford the 90 pesos for a chicken dinner can afford the 5 pesos for the broth to make their own soup.

The other day I was sitting on the cart while Miguel was in buying our BBQ chicken dinner. Out came a young girl of about 6, carrying in her arms a plastic container of liquid - looked like beans. She had to be careful not to spill the liquid, but she no doubt had lots of practice, because as she walked she casually dipped her finger into the liquid and tasted it. And she continued to dip and taste all the way to her house down the road. Not sure her mother or siblings would have appreciated her dipping, but what they didn't know wouldn't hurt them.

Last night I was sitting on the cart while Miguel was buying his lottery tickets. Two young boys came by and immediately started petting Loco and asked his name. They had a small plastic car with them, with an empty large bottle for water on the seat. After playing with Loco a bit, they scooted the car across the road. One boy went upstairs to get the key to unlock the cooler down at the side of the road. He was small enough that the full bottle of water was a struggle for him, but he managed to switch the bottles and maneuver the full bottle back onto the car seat.

Something I've observed before is that nobody takes the keys back upstairs to the store. The clerk in the store hangs over the balcony and the customer throws the keys back up to the clerk. The small boy tossed the keys up, and missed by a long shot. The clerk grinned, and noticed me grinning, and we silently exchanged a smile that indicated tolerance for children. The young boy retrieved the keys and tossed them again - this time right into the hands of the clerk.

Transaction accomplished, the boys then tried to push the car back across the road, but they had a couple of problems. The car was now heavy, and the road was full of ruts, and the plastic front wheels on the car were splitting and collapsing - no longer round. But they pushed and pulled and succeeded in crossing the road, and then the bigger boy put his foot on the back of the car and gave it a mighty push and rode the car out of sight.

Right across the street from the lottery is a small hamburger stand, run by a single mom. She has three very nice boys - 16, 15, and 12, and each boy has chores to help with the business.

The oldest boy tends the stand with his mom during business hours. He squirts condiments into the small baggies that they put in with the orders. He packages the order and takes the money.

The middle boy carries things to and from the house, and sets up the table. I think he also cleans the glass on the front of the stand.

The youngest boy seems to do a lot of wandering around - he might be responsible for the cooler of drinks. Often when we go by later in the evening and ask where he is, he's sleeping or out playing soccer. But when he's not sleeping or off playing, he's lurking around, and he always stops what he's doing and comes over to visit with Loco. In fact, all three boys will come over and visit with Loco if we happen to go by before they open.

We have children as neighbors, and they have some small chores too. The youngest girl takes the garbage out. The middle boy helps his dad with the boat motors and trailers - the other day he was helping him move the heavy winch. The oldest girl is rarely seen these days - she's reached the age of 'coolness' and probably spends more time inside or out with friends. All three children run errands to the store.

Watching these children, I'm reminded of my own childhood during the summer months. Walking barefoot to the store to buy stuff for my mom, and an ice cream or penny candy treat for myself. Other than running to the store, I don't think I did much else to help out - summers were for swimming, running through the hose, popsicles and koolaid, riding bikes, and playing with friends. But watching the kids here as they perform their chores, they are making a game out of most of it too - fitting in play along with doing the work. Fun to watch!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Whiffs of this and that

I have a sensitive nose. I can smell things a lot of people around me don't notice.

The sense of smell can trigger memory. For the longest time the smell of Dove soap on my skin triggered the memory of when Jen was a baby - don't know why it brings back that particular memory, as I've used Dove soap all my life.

The smell of coffee in the morning drums up memories of a visiting grandmother from Montreal - she was always up early and had her coffee percolating long before anyone else was awake. I'd lay in bed and the smell of coffee would waft up into my bedroom. That meant - Grandma was here!

The stale smell of cigarettes brings back memories of another grandmother. She rolled her own cigarettes for a long time and that made the odor more unique. But a better smell I also relate to her is of a pot roast cooking on the stove. Yum!

Getting back to the strong sense of smell...I can smell rain and snow - that is, the air smells different when rain or snow is on its way. I sniff and declare that we will have rain, or it is going to snow. Maybe I should have been a weather woman. But my long-range forecast wouldn't fly - I can only predict weather that is imminent.

This morning the air smells like McAllen Texas. I started flying to McAllen many years ago, and I was always struck by the humid, hot, damp smell as I exited the airport. Mexico has its own distinct smell, but today it is smelling like McAllen Texas here on my street. I think it has something to do with the street workers clearing plants and moving rocks and uncovering moist earth (they are getting ready to lay down sidewalks). With the gentle breeze we are enjoying, it is very pleasant.

Another smell that has nothing to do with my talents to smell weather, is the smell of death. Cruising down the road we will pass an area that has an odor that is hard to describe; it means there is a dead animal somewhere nearby.

Yesterday morning I walked around two of our blocks trying to detect that odor and not wanting to detect it. Luna had been missing since Friday evening. Luna has been missing before for a day, but never two full nights and mornings. With the recent disappearance of Chong, I was afraid something had happened to Luna and went looking for her. I did not detect any odor, so that was maybe a good sign. And later yesterday morning, there was Luna, peering at me through the patio screen door that she can no longer open. I was glad to see her even if she did try to swipe at me with her claws - she was in a bad mood and only after sleeping all day did her mood improve. We have no idea where she was, although I suspect she had a hunting conquest that was too large to eat in one sitting, and she was guarding it until she had finished it. Just speculation, but based on observing her sitting on top of the rock pile where a nice iguana made its home. And Luna loves to eat iguanas.

Well, the sun is shining, the doors and windows are open, the breeze is flowing through the house. Time to get to work, although I do think my nose smells a hammock somewhere nearby, and maybe I should check that out first.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

When did I turn into an old lady?

Yesterday we picked up a chicken with the fixings from Familia Tomas in Canotal, and headed to the east coast with a fork, paper towels, beach mats, and a towel. The idea was to have a picnic on the beach - break the routine of eating at the kitchen counter. It was a hot sunny day, but on the east side there was a cooling breeze.

Since it was Miguel's idea, I let him decide where to go and where to set up. I thought we'd sit on the sand, but he drove farther down the coast to the rocky area. We carted our stuff over to a big rock right in front of the breaking waves, and laid out the meal. Only problem - there was nowhere to sit, we'd used the mats to place under the food. So we stood up and ate - tearing at the pieces of chicken with our hands and wrapping the food in tortillas. We ate the spaghetti in a tortilla too.

After the meal I wanted to wash my hands. To get to a small cove where I could go in and wash my hands, I had to walk over the rocky shore. I was wearing crocs and my feet slipped around as I stumbled over the small rocks and shells. Once I was in the water and standing in the sandy bay, my crocs made it even harder to walk. My foot slid sideways, and I stumbled, catching myself on a rock but pulling a muscle in my back as I twisted. Ouch.

It wasn't easy getting out of the water with slippery feet, but I couldn't take my crocs off because of the sharp rocks. Carefully I plodded, watching every single step so I wouldn't make a wrong move and end up sprawled on the ground. Miguel had found a small area on the other side where we could sit and watch the surf - only problem was, I had to climb down from the rock to get there. It wasn't much more than a giant step down, but in slippery crocs, I grabbed Miguel's shoulder for support and gingerly placed my feet.

Getting out later was another challenge, and then walking back to the golf cart with wet feet, sliding all over the place. I picked up each foot and planted it before taking another step - sort of like those show horses when they prance around the ring lifting their feet high, with their mane and tail swishing in time with their steps.

There was a day when I didn't care if I fell. In the past I've taken some nasty tumbles and it was no big deal. I've broken a toe when I was running for the phone and jammed the toe into the couch. I fell through a glass end table and badly bruised my body (and my pride), but there was no lasting damage. I was younger then.

Now I'm acutely aware of the fragility of my body. Just in the few years that I've been here, I've had quite a few accidents. I fell out of bed a couple of months ago and my knees took a long time to heal - I'm still not sure I didn't crack the left one. I've tripped over the hammock and ending up swinging upside down to avoid a crash to the ground - that wrenched my shoulder. I am constantly bumping into furniture and sporting big bruises. I've whacked my head on the corner of cupboards. I've pinched my skin in the hinges of tools. I've stepped on a rusty nail. I've had concrete blow into my eye. I've fallen backwards when trying to sit in a chair that the wind blew out from under me. I've slid on palm fronds I was picking up and placing on the front path, landing hard. I've tripped over anything and everything one could possibly trip on in the roads here. I've fallen into the sea when trying to board the ferry. Possibly I'm accident-prone.

My body hurts every day - my back and shoulders mostly. When I travel my feet and legs swell up like an 80-year-old woman with congestive heart failure. I am ready to admit that I am too old to be falling down. I walk with careful steps, watching the ground for anything that might trigger a fall. I am not afraid to take Miguel's shoulder for support. And when the time comes, I'll use a walking stick. Anything to avoid hitting the ground.

I'm not young any more.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Stupid service calls

I work in the service industry - the high-tech service industry. Part of my job is to provide support to all our users out there, people who are just trying to do their job when the computer system causes a hiccup in their daily routine. When a user has a problem, they open a support ticket. My job is to solve this episode of the hiccups, and if possible, prevent further ones.

Sometimes the issue in the ticket is so simple that I am left shaking my head wondering why the person with the 'problem' could not figure it out on their own. Sometimes the problem is already resolved by the time I see the ticket - in those cases, it was usually a matter of rebooting the computer to get things back to normal. And sometimes it's a 'local' issue, something that never should have been sent up to corporate to start with.

Thinking about all the types of problems I've dealt with, and the knowledge level of the users, it usually boils down to two things: a) inexperience and b) not taking the time to understand the issue. Many of our users have hectic days and heavy workloads, and they simply don't have the time to ponder on something and try to figure it out - it's much faster to open a ticket and let someone else handle it.

I'm just like our users in some things. I've innocently called service people to fix a very simple issue (in some cases it wasn't even an issue, I just thought it was). Here are some examples:

1. One night we were watching tv when we heard an intermittent squeak coming from the area of the tv. We got up and turned the tv off and back on (in those days there were no remote controls). The squeak continued, even when the tv was off. Must be something inside that was making the noise. So the next day we called the tv repairman, who came to the house. While he was working at taking the back off the tv, we heard the noise. The repairman looked up at the clock above the tv. The clock had a second hand, and every time the second hand moved over the '12', it rubbed on the number and made a squeak. 'Problem' solved. Sheepish grins and apologies, made worse because we knew the service guy personally.

2. One year we were doing a total renovation of the one and only full bathroom in our house. Somehow the hot water tank got completely drained in the process of turning water on and off. I used to soak brushes and combs in very hot water, and one day I noticed floaters on top that appeared to be swimming around. Geez - we had transparent bugs in the hot water! I guess I panicked and called the water company to come and check the hot water tank. Someone came to the house and I showed him the 'bugs'. The guy just looked at me and said it was residue from the tank that had been stirred up when the tank went dry. It wasn't bugs, it was specks of residue that made swirls on top of the water as they moved around. It would go away in a few days. He was right, and my face was red. But they did look like bugs!

3. Several years ago I called the service company because the central air was simply not producing cold air and was not shutting off. I figured it was out of coolant as it was old. The guy came out and tested the box - the coolant was fine. He checked the outside filter, and it was clogged with dirt, dust, grass, and bird feathers. The material blocked the flow of air into the machine, and the guy explained that the a/c unit was choking and could not work properly. The grate was one that could not be removed, and so the guy did his best to brush and scrape between the small openings, and left me with instructions to keep it clean. Then he checked the filter on the inside, and it was dirty too. The a/c is so old they don't make replacement filters any more, so all we could do was vacuum it and put it back. (before anyone says why don't I just get a new a/c? - it's a condo and is a combination furnace/air-conditioner that I don't know if they even make any more). The service call to have dirt, dust and bird feathers removed cost me $100.

4. When I bought the house in Mexico it came with a gas stove. I'd never cooked with gas in my life, and frankly, I was scared of it. One day we were having a party, and I was making scalloped potatoes. The first few steps of my recipe are done on the stove-top, and the final cooking is done in a pyrex dish in the oven. I preheated the oven as I prepared the first part of the recipe, then plopped the potato dish into the oven. I checked on the potatoes a few minutes later and was surprised to find the oven barely warm. With 20 guests coming, I needed the potatoes to serve so they were hauled off to a friend's house to be cooked (that is a whole other story). That night several of the men present took a look at the oven but none could figure out why the oven wouldn't work. With all their fiddling around, I was just glad nobody blew themselves up during the process. The next day I called the service man. I didn't speak Spanish, and he didn't speak English, but after quickly checking out the oven and seeing that it was working fine, he spoke enough English to tell me, "Up - Fire"..."Down - No Fire". The oven does not work unless the lid on the top of the stove is up. It's a safety thing. Explains why the oven worked fine while I was cooking the potatoes on top of the stove and preheating the oven - the lid was up. Being the efficient person I try to be, after I'd put the potatoes in the oven, I closed the lid, which promptly cut the gas to the oven. Santiago was not going to charge me, but he'd hauled all his tools into my house for nothing, and so I paid him a nominal sum just so he would get something out of it.

I'm sure Santiago returned home to tell his wife - "it's a local issue".

A Subtle Difference?

I've been reading various message forums for years. There is one forum that I've only been reading for a few months, and the people posting questions on that forum tend to be those who have never been to Isla before.

With the opening of a large resort in the heart of Centro, many of the questions have been focused on the resort itself - what amenities it offers, the food, the alcohol, the service, the rooms, etc.

Sensing that the type of tourist attracted to Isla is under-going significant change, I've been wondering what effect this resort and its 60 guest rooms might have on the occupancy rates of the small hotel/apartment/rental home business. There can't be that many visitors to Isla to keep all these places in business, can there?

But something I read today made me realize that maybe there's nothing to worry about. The poster wrote that they were off to "The Resort". For this tourist, the attraction is more about the resort than the island. This is not the type of tourist who would have come to Isla for the first time and stayed in a $35 apartment in a colonia anyway. Where they would be on their own to find food and other services, often dealing with locals who don't speak English.

The resort type of tourist might be looking for something predictable, a place where they feel secure and protected, where they don't have to try to communicate with non-English-speaking staff. Or a place where they can just eat and drink and relax and not worry about anything outside the resort.

Perhaps once they come and learn more about the island, they will become the type of tourist who will rent the $35/day apartment. Or maybe not, maybe they will always be the resort type.

I guess my conclusion is that the resorts are attracting a different type of tourist, tourists that would not normally have come to Isla were it not for the resort. So maybe they will love the resort and simply keep coming back there, or maybe they will discover Isla and branch out into other wonderful rental properties. Or maybe they won't like any of it and they will never come back. In any of these scenarios, the resort has not taken business away from the other types of rental properties - in fact, in the long run it may lead to more business for all who offer accommodation and services to tourists, because if the resort tourist ventures outside the resort and is charmed by Isla, they will likely come back and maybe even rent one of those other properties that offer a bit more adventure and local experience.

And then they will be like those posting on the familiar message forum - instead of "I'm off to the resort", they'll be posting "I'm off to Isla"!

A subtle difference maybe, but to those small establishments hoping to serve tourists, I think it's a huge difference.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Cat TV

Looking out the window is the pet equivalent of watching tv. During the day they watch the lizards and birds flitting about the garden. During the night they watch the geckos and moths under the lights. Occasionally there is another cat to watch - the grey 'baby' that hangs around, or the white tom that is so aggressive even I would like to see him done in.

The other night I walked into the room to find all three females staring out the front window...

Left to right: Smokey (5 months), Minina (2.5 years), Maya (10 months)

Of course, it's hard to sneak up on cats and get their photo without distracting them...

The front window is a popular place for all the animals, although Loco rarely gets a chance to enjoy that spot with all the cats taking it over.

On the weekend the 'baby' grey cat (that recently lost his best buddie/father (Chong)) had been following Luna everywhere and calling out to her. Luna was growling and letting him know she wanted nothing to do with him, but later in the afternoon I noted that the grey cat, exhausted, had finally fallen asleep in the corner of the garden wall. Luna was sitting on the front part of the wall, simply if to say "there, you finally went to sleep". Later we went out, and when we came back, Luna (who was now inside the house), was parked in front of the same window, looking out - as if she was still watching the sleeping grey cat. And since then, Luna does not want to come in the house other than to grab a bite to eat. I think she has taken over being a baby-sitter whether she wanted to or not.

Monday, August 10, 2009

More people-watching

I meant to write about this when I got back from my trip a couple of weeks ago. I was standing outside the airport waiting for my ride. Standing in the shade with my luggage, trying to stay cool and not succeeding. I watched all kinds of people arriving, and observed their joy at greeting loved ones.

Along came an older couple - pushing two luggage carts piled high with luggage. A van pulled up to the curb and out got a man and a woman. The side doors of the van opened and there sat two kids - a girl and a boy, probably about 11 or 12. The girl was eating a bag of chips.

I was trying to figure out why the older couple had so much luggage, and why they were not even greeted by the people in the van. I expected hugs and kisses, but they didn't even say anything and just proceeded to deal with the luggage. I then decided that there was too much luggage for the older couple, and that the group had been traveling together and the younger family had gone to pick up the van. That explanation made sense, and so I moved on to the next part of my speculation.

The woman and older man struggled to push the carts to the van, and the two men proceeded to pile the luggage into the back. The older woman made her way to the other side of the van, looking for a seat, but the two kids just sat there and did not seem inclined to move over to let her in (I assume she was their grandmother). The girl just kept eating her chips, oblivious to making space, getting out and helping with the luggage, or doing anything other than moving her hand from the bag to her mouth.

I did not think the men could possibly get all the luggage in the back but they did. The older man got into the front passenger seat - I guess he was the grandfather. The younger man was the driver. The older woman slid in beside the boy, who moved over a bit towards his sister (who was still eating chips). The mother came back from wherever she'd gone (maybe the bathroom), and she slid into the other side - 4 people sitting in the second row intended to seat two. The woman pulled the door shut and off they went.

I was left with the feeling that the younger generation had not shown any consideration for the adults; they were self-absorbed and the adults allowed them to get away with it. If that had been my maternal grandmother she would have been calling us 'saps' and shamed us into getting out and helping. My grandmother loved her kids but she didn't worship them; I think she believed that they should worship her, as their mother. She might have been on the right track...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

And so now we have #3

Yesterday's post was about waiting for the third ridiculous incident. Well, we are not waiting any longer...

Miguel went off this morning to buy cochinita pibil for our guests and to pick up a few things at the mercado. I puttered in the kitchen with a couple other sides and then sat on the couch under the fans to cool off. I heard Miguel's footsteps coming down the road, which meant the golf cart had let him down.

We had just been saying how well the cart was running, but this morning it was stop and go for a while and then finally - stop. We are so used to this that we don't even get upset any more, we just leave the cart wherever it stops and start walking. Later Miguel will go to the mechanic's house and tell him where the cart is, and the mechanic will fix it, and we'll be good for another couple of weeks.

What's that saying? It ends something like "Accept what you cannot change..."? Since a new golf cart is not an option, it's this golf cart or nothing. So we will stick with this cart, and just accept that there will be frequent inconvenient breakdowns that don't cost much to repair (normally), and that's just how it is.

On another note, it's a gorgeous sunny day, our guests leave around 11, and after that we'll be enjoying the hammocks, the pool, and the terraces all afternoon. It's Sunday - our day to just hang out and do nothing (or almost nothing). Yippee!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Not really superstitious

So far this morning we've had two unexpected events:

1. The power bar I use in the guest kitchenette simply wouldn't work. I plugged in the kettle, the coffee maker, turned it on and off - nothing. I plugged the coffee maker directly into the outlet and it worked. So the problem was the power bar - one of the cheaper models that doesn't have a reset button. Ok, so we found another power bar and brought the 'broken' one downstairs to check out after breakfast.

2. After serving breakfast to our guests, we were sitting at the kitchen counter eating our own meal. We heard a hissing noise, looked at each other and then quickly got up to see where it was coming from. The bathroom - hot water was spewing from under the sink, at the connection at the top of the hose to the tap. I tried to turn off the shut-off valve but the water was too hot and was burning my hand. Miguel turned off the power to the hot water tank and closed the water supply from the tank. In the meantime I'd gone into the kitchen and retrieved an oven mitt and managed to turn off the shut-off valve at the sink. One of us had done the trick, we just weren't sure which one - hoping it was me because that meant we could turn the hot water back on so our guests would not be inconvenienced. We tested and luckily it was the shut-off valve at the sink that stopped the flood. Made us realize how lucky we'd been to be here when that happened because if we hadn't been, the hot water tank would have burned out, as would the water pump up on the roof. An expensive little leak, for sure, not to mention flooding the bottom level of the house and having that mess to deal with. As it is, the bathroom floor got a good soak with very hot water, and even though I was not happy when Tony installed a floor drain in there, it served to allow the water to simply drain off the floor instead of me having to mop it up. So...thanks, Tony!

After breakfast I checked the power bar and the darn thing works now. I don't get it, there is no reason. Guess I'll just keep it as a spare and hopefully it will work when needed - maybe it needed a vacation.

3. Like I said - I'm not really superstitious but is there a third goofy issue waiting to happen today? Only time will tell, the day is still young. I sort of thought I might be tempting fate when I laid sideways in the new hammock Miguel put on the front terrace for me - I could easily have tipped backwards and smashed my head, but I was careful and not only did I not smash my head, I actually found a very comfortable position and got the cramp out of my back muscles.

So I'm still on the lookout for a potential third issue - maybe just knowing it could be right around the corner will make us more careful today and it will be avoided. Or maybe that 'curse' that everything happens in threes doesn't hold water (hope that didn't just tick off the fates and now they will surely get me!).

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Odds and Ends

Don't really have any one subject to write about, but will catch you all up on little things:

- Chong is still missing, so I fear the worst. Yesterday morning his 'son' (we think that is the relationship) was calling for him - prowling all over the garden, looking, crying and calling. The two cats would frolic on the front terrace and were best buddies, even though both were male. The grey cat (Cheech) is lonely. Luna was stretched out on a rock in the front garden and Cheech went over and sat beside her for company. Luna immediately got up and came to the front door, and Cheech followed hopefully. Cheech doesn't know that Luna is not a cat's cat - she's a solitary being. So sad for Cheech.

- Honeymooners are checking in tomorrow. We've had people here on their anniversary, but other than Jen and Miko, nobody on their honeymoon. Hopefully we will find some fragrant lilies at the flowershop tomorrow to brighten their room. I hope the weather will be wonderful for them, and it looks like they'll get a full moon.

- Miguel installed a make-shift latch lock on the patio screen door in the guest suite, so in case Luna won't come in at night, at least she won't be inviting herself into the guest room. Last night I was sound asleep and Luna just shoved the screen aside with a bang and marched in. Not a nice way to be woken up; hopefully the lock will frustrate her and she'll stop opening the doors.

- Mango is past its prime. The last few mornings we've been disappointed with the quality of the fruit, and one morning I simply spit it out it was so sour I couldn't eat it. Another morning it tasted fermented, like alcohol - spit that mouthful out too. We still have a few on the counter that look hopeful, and one this morning tasted decent, so hopefully there will still be some good feasts yet to come.

- I've decided that I really like the Mexican chicken from Familia Tomas more than Rosticeria chicken. The chicken from Familia Tomas still has that tasty red rub, but is cooked over charcoal instead of on the spit. The meal comes with different condiments, and a bag or two of noodle soup - all for the same price as the rosticeria chicken (90 pesos). I love the soup, it has lifted my spirits more than once. I don't care for their spaghetti, but if I add some extra sauce, it's ok. But with the soup, I don't even care if I have the spaghetti.

- We have halted work on the new studio apartment until we see how finances go and I get some debt paid off. I would love to have it ready by Jan, but we'll just have to be patient and not spend right now. It's a huge investment that will take years to pay for itself, but there is already a lot invested so rather than have it sit there with nothing coming in, we should finish it and get it rented out. We'll see.

- Nothing here, other than property taxes, is cheap and is actually comparable to costs in Canada. I guess food could be cheaper, especially if we cook mostly at home, but phone, internet, water, pet supplies (to name a few) - they all cost the same or even a bit more than in Canada. Electricity is very expensive and so we are frugal with the a/c, the water bomb, the water heater, and the washing machine. I don't use the dryer, it's just for emergency use if we have guests and we hit a rainy spell. I happen to love hanging the laundry on the line anyway - it ends up looking so bright and clean, it smells great, and most things are only a little wrinkled (I don't think I've ever turned on the iron here).

- Something happens to elastic waistbands after a while. I have some capri pants that I just love but they are now sliding down because the elastic is shot. I have a pair of pajama shorts that I also love, but those I have to hold onto as I walk around because they fall right off me (I finally put them in the mending pile). I am trying to get my sewing machine repaired so I can put in new elastic and sew myself another housedress (I bought the material, just need to get the bobbin part fixed so the thread doesn't keep tangling and jamming the machine). Not like I actually have the time, but I do have a fantasy that I will one day be able to a) lay in my hammock and write, b) sew stuff, and c) knit stuff. I even fantasize about dancing and playing tennis again. Just don't have enough free time and the free time I have is for catching up on rest. We're tired people!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Joy Riders

Well, it finally happened. The night after I left for Canada some kids took the golf cart sometime after Miguel and Loco went to bed, and they both slept through it. Around 2 am Miguel got up to the bathroom and as part of his 'routine', he went outside just to take a look around. He did a double-take when he realized that the golf cart was not where it had been left.

Miguel hailed a cab to go to his house to get his moped so he could go in search of the cart. In the cab was a drunk, being delivered to somewhere in the colonia next to ours. While the cab was parked on the side street waiting for the drunk to fumble in his pockets to pay, Miguel spotted the cart cruise by at the end of the street.

"Follow them!", Miguel told the driver. The driver was still waiting for the drunk to pay but Miguel told him to forget it - he would make it up to him. So the drunk got a free ride home. Off they went in chase.

Miguel said the kids were driving all over the road, having a great time weaving back and forth and cruising along the inner road near the lagoon. The golf cart is rather slow, and it didn't take long to catch up to them. Miguel went over to the kids and asked them what they were doing with his cart. They claimed they had found it out in the bushes at Sac Bajo and they were just bringing it back. Sure - then why were they going in the opposite direction from our house?

Miguel took over driving the cart and took the three kids to the police station. (I'm sort of amazed that the kids actually went willingly - I think I would have jumped off and made a run for it if I'd been them). The kids told Miguel that the golf cart was not working very well - it was going slow and then it would stop. Like Miguel doesn't know. Not a very good get-away vehicle.

At the police station the kids told the same story about finding the cart at Sac Bajo, and that is a credible story but after more questioning, the kids gave conflicting answers and it became clear that they were lying.

The police asked Miguel what he wanted them to do with the kids. Miguel did not want the kids to go to jail but he did want to scare them and make them understand how wrong they were to do what they did; by this time some of them were crying. Miguel asked the police officer to write the names of the kids in a book, and if they ever got caught doing anything again, then they would not get another chance - they would go to jail.

Miguel left the kids at the station - I'm hoping they called their parents. And I'm hoping they got a good scare and will never steal again.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Good to be back Home

I got back yesterday afternoon after a quick trip to Canada and then a work week in the US. As always when I'm in Canada I'm appreciative of how easy it is to get things done compared to here. Having a car makes a difference.

I found a Mediterranean chicken wrap/sandwich at McDonald's, and was pleasantly surprised at how great it tasted. I also had a Happy Meal on the run during a trip to Walmart, and brought the stuffed toy home for Smokey and/or Loco, whichever claims it first.

We had dinner at the Capri Restaurant (chicken cacciatore, the non-seafood special for Saturday night). I ate so many pieces of warm crunchy Italian bread that I was full before the main meal came. But I managed to eat most of it, and the rest made a nice light snack the next day.

My last night there I had dinner with Jen at The Keg - a steak place that I think tops any in the area. I splurged and had filet mignon, and it had no fat and was cooked just right. The hot sour-dough bread was good with melted butter.

I guess I ate far more bread than I ever eat in Mexico, but it was all so good.

On Monday afternoon I flew to corporate for a very tough week, in more ways than one. Sixteen months ago I was asked to apply for my position and relocate to corporate, and when I declined I basically started working on borrowed time. I was promised 3 months notice of when my full-time hours would stop, and should feel lucky that I was able to stay on for so long. But the time has come (not a good time for them, not a good time for me, but so be it). I will probably still have some work on a project basis, but it means I have to pay a lot more attention to the costs of daily living, and need to really look hard for alternate sources of income.

I was so happy just to get back home yesterday and find almost everyone doing well. Minina has recovered almost completely from her Bell's Palsy and she's more active and playful than she's been in a long time (maybe the injection of vitamins helped?). Smokey is fully recovered from her spay surgery and is back to pestering everyone she can, as often as she can. Maya, Luna, and Loco are all fine, as is Miguel.

The only dark spot is that Chong, the Minina look-alike that lives in our front garden on and off, and eats two meals a day courtesy of us, has been missing for 9 days now. Chong has been missing before, but never for more than several days. I feel sad to think that after two years of seeing him walking around our neighborhood, something bad has happened to him. There are three new dogs just down the road, not tied up, and I'm not sure that they didn't harm him or at a minimum scare him off. I sort of think (and hope) they didn't do anything because Cheech is still hanging around, and he was the one who often disappeared for days at a time for no reason. But Chong - no, this is most unusual and I am sad thinking about him. We seem to lose so many animals here, it's a tough life for them and tough on us as we care for them and then they are gone.

Makes one wonder how many pieces of heart one can lose before it just doesn't work any more?