Friday, December 30, 2005

While my Cavalier gently sleeps

We invited Allison's new friend, J., over today. They played fairly well together until the Treasure Hunt game which is basically another version of an Easter egg hunt, except I hid poker chips around the yard. This is when things fell apart. I made the mistake of setting a mood of competition when I commented to Allison, "look, J. knows how to tie his shoes." (she's only worn velcro-tie shoes all her life) She cut an evil sideways glance at me. Then we began the hunt. Allison's technique of careful scanning did not match J.'s physical approach which involved more speed and a willingness to push and dive for a chip. So, after coming up short in three rounds Allison grew pretty testy. I gently scolded her rudeness and off she stormed to her bedroom, slamming the door. Poor loser. In typical clueless male reaction, J asked innocently, "what's the matter with her?"

When J.'s mother came for him she suggested taking Allison back to their house in Loreto for awhile. Robert and I would pick her up later. But when we did go for her we were unable to find the house since there are no house numbers and we were looking for a white house with a palapa off the Malecon, near the giant "M" arch entrance to the La Pinta Hotel. We drove up and down for over a half-hour before giving up and driving to where J's father works to ask him. We half-joked that we'd had better luck just rolling down the car windows and hollering her name through the neighborhood. When we found her she was in their living room a fair distance from three little boys watching a video and eagerly awaiting her departure. I felt disappointed that she did not take to her new friends as I hoped. On the way home she said, "I want a girl friend." (translated to mean,"I don't like playing with trucks in the dirt.") Although I feel for her unhappiness, I understand that a little discomfort will only make the discovery of new "girl" friends a real treasure.

Tonight, Robert, Beau and I took a walk to the Camino Real Hotel with our dog friends, Larry and Curly. Darryl was absent. They remember us from the two days we attempted to become their new guardians. Better now, that we are just friends--they visit and then go home to eat. We all walked or trotted up the boulevard startling an owl out of a tree and stirring up barking from desert dogs hidden in the brush. When we arrived two miles later to the hotel, the two stopped obediently at the entrance and bid us goodbye. They know their place which I find respectful. Meanwhile, our cavalier spaniel has taken to the Mexico lifestyle. Here's a photo of her adapting to her new environment.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

In Espanol it's "nunca"

Finally, Allison is feeling better, although she hasn't much of an appetite. I think she lost a few pounds too, which is noticeable on her little frame. During her food poisoning ordeal I channeled my anger into cursing the evil turkey and to regaining her trust in me. My only power I decided was the power of future control: I promised her in Mexico, we'll never eat turkey.

Tonight we were guests for dinner at the home of a new acquaintance. We'd met her a previous evening at another get-together. Our hostess was a lovely woman, a former college professor, who's made Nopolo her home for quite a few years. She was born in Kansas so I'd like to think she feels protective of us displaced midwesterners.

To enter her house we walked through a large courtyard. Handsome pickled wooden front doors opened to a wide stairway laid with verde-colored tile. Large works of art hung from the stairwell. As we climbed the stairs toward the soft lights of the upper living area I knew I was going to like what lie at the top. Her home was beautiful in the modern Mexican design. Lots of arches and rounded edges in walls painted in the warm Mexican palette. A large iron chandelier hung from a circular vaulted brick ceiling (a boveda) over a huge round dining table. It's ladderback side chairs were painted in the traditional Mexican palette; the armchairs in a soft robin's egg blue that so immediately appealed to my senses that I mentally appointed one for myself, "That's the chair I will sit in." (silly, does anyone else do this?) Large wooden screens separated a kitchen I would have been tempted to show-off, from the rest of the area. The living room consisted of a huge seating area placed on an oversized oriental rug. In the center, an oversized Guatemalean coffee table, all before a terra-cotta painted stucco fireplace flanked by bookcases. Of course I snooped at the books, (probably as rude as spying in someone's medicine cabinet--she likes mysteries and best-sellers.)

A buffet counter ran the entire length of the living room. In its center our new friend had placed a large blue ceramic bowl filled with lit white candles and an unusual fruit that looked like lemons morphing into bananas. The food was laid out in beautiful serving pieces and utensils that I had to examine and admire. Her dishes were works of art, some sort of painted ceramic, not Talavera but something I know has a Mexican origin. In procession, the food: a bowl of mixed nuts, a bowl of olives, a tray of tortilla chips, a bowl of salsa, a platter of chili rellenos, a dark green salad, mashed potatoes, a tureen of mole-flavored gravy, stuffing, and--- TURKEY.

Allison and I conferred. We decided #1: we were hungry, and #2 what's a promise when you're hungry and everything looks so appealing? So we ate. I should know better than to put so much stock in promises made regarding food. I only know of one other human being and I'll name her--Debi McWilliams--who made good on a promise concerning food. She hasn't touched chocolate after once gorging herself into illness on it years ago, a vow I believed was inhumanly impossible. And truthfully, even Allison broke a recent promise to herself after a choking episode with a butterscotch. She was in near panic when it lodged in her esophogus and later vowed through tears, "I will never (sob, sob) eat hard candy (sob, sob) again!" She's had a few hard candies since then. So never say never, especially when you're only six for there's a lot of never ahead for you.

Monday, December 26, 2005

The other side of Christmas

Christmas evening turned out to be the worst night ever. Something Allison and Ryan ate did not settle well with them and they were up vomiting through the night and into today. I was up with Allison all night, up and down, dashing to the toilet. It was clear to me that the cause was food poisoning and the likely culprit: the turkey. Poor Allison. She was in misery. It was difficult to soothe her and explain that it was only temporary; she felt like dying I'm certain. She was begging me to make the pain stop, but every attempt I made to get Pepto-Bismol or a sip of soda down her was met with immediate vomiting. Of course I was miserable in my ineffectiveness. Finally, around five p.m. today she drifted off to sleep. She is resting quietly on the sofa now with her brothers while they watch Indiana Jones and hasn't vomited in several hours. I assume we are past the worst.

Now I know this is a Christmas she will never forget.

Oh, and to top everything off, this afternoon Robert called me to the carport to see a giant scorpion. He and Beau poked at it with a stick and turned out it was dead. Good thing because if it had bit one of us, that would have pushed my already exhausted self over the edge.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Boys are from Mars

We had dinner with a group of neighbors and visitors. I met a couple who have been here nearly two years and their son has been attending the Catholic school. Finally, I got a chance to have a lengthy discussion about the schools with a parent who has a child there. I came away reassured that putting Allison in school here is the right decision.

I couldn't help watching these two interact. Little boys are like aliens to Allison, she knows so few. When I look at this photo I see her sitting politely, touching her new gold locket necklace. I know she wants to show it to him or have him notice but something prevents her from showing him and I know it is the potential for embarrassment. She knows he's a boy and won't be impressed with a necklace. So she sits quietly watching him play with the Christmas toys he's brought; some sort of monsters and a set of walkie-talkies. She made a good attempt to play along with the monsters, but whispered to me she was just being nice, which I appreciated. I watched him try to include her in his play and when he pulled out the walkie-talkies he found something that interested her. Then the real fun began and they became buddies in spying.



I feel so relieved to know she'll have at least one english-speaking friend when she starts school. We parents plan to get them together this week to play. I'll be curious to see, if he comes to our house, what the two will play with: Allison's Barbie software? Her scrapbook kit? I know the answer since I've raised two sons. Whatever they do it will be physical and involve chasing, hiding, climbing, throwing. This I look forward to because Allison could benefit from a little rough-housing.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

New friends for Christmas

It is the night before Christmas. We just returned from an evening visiting new neighbors whose family is visiting from California. They have grandsons the same age as our sons, a fact that made me eager to accept the invitation. Our sons are still there visiting with their new friends, three "cool guys," so this new association should prove beneficial to our sons' enjoyment here. I worried a bit that they would grow restless with the slow pace.

Our neighbors, a couple in their 80's are long-time residents of the area. We first met the woman when we were gathering sea shells on the quiet beachfront tucked behind our neighborhood. She was walking with her little white dog and waved to us. I remember how eager she was to make our acquaintance and how gentle and serene her manner. The other thing I remember is 1: that she was originally from Chile which made her exotic, and 2: she was wearing bright red lipstick under her straw hat which I thought was charming somehow and made me like her instantly. I reflected on this later, her lipstick, and the many reasons this intrigues me as to the motivations behind its application, such as generational ideals or personal attitudes on femininity. I subconsciously narrowed it down to something simplier: she cares. It was a gloriously sunny and gently breezy day and she was alone walking in its beauty and she wanted to feel beautiful too. I just know it because I have felt it.

Tonight when we were getting acquainted she commented to me on her recollections of meeting us on the beach that day. I understood her to have formed a similar, instant connection with my daughter and me. Her vision of me gathering shells with my little girl must have harkened some gentle memory to her and she decided then and there to bring us into her life. It wasn't much later that I spotted her at the grocery market and made a point to speak to her. She seemed so delighted to see me and insisted we come over for Christmas Eve. To ensure we did she appeared this morning with a "calling card" reminding us of the time to arrive. In neighborly fashion I brought a bag of Starbucks coffee and a package of double chocolate Milano cookies wrapped with a tulle ribbon I brought from home and embellished with a seashell ornament Allison and I created from the shells we gathered that day on the beach. She sent me home with a homemade fruitcake that I must confess on tasting turned around my opinion on the dreaded holiday brick. She also makes Paella I heard which I hope I get to experience. It's fun to me to indulge in the etiquitte of neighborly customs. Maybe that's why older people always like me-- I'm a throw-back to an older generation, maybe even that neurotic Victorian one.

Tomorrow we are invited to dinner with the couple that oversees the Loreto Bay development. They have lived here for nearly two years and have two sons the same age as our boys (another stroke of good fortune) that are here for the holidays. I really like this feeling of embrace we are getting from our neighbors. I think it is natural to seek it here when we are the foreigners. At home in America we find our groups or cliques but it doesn't have the same feeling or importance or even value that it has here where we Americans (and Canadians) are the minority. In some ways being a minority simplifies the relationships we have with other "minorities." There is less division or classification--we are thrown together and value our common origin above all. This is very interesting and new to me and something I'll be paying attention to.

So now I'll head off to bed all warm and satisfied that I have a "Christmas" tree and all my kids at hand and tomorrow we go somewhere to commune with our own kind where the guys will watch a football game (satellite tv) and the rest of us will gather around the kitchen grazing just like we do at home.

A Christmas card to my mom


My mother, after a long hard effort, recently passed her certifications to become a private pilot. I was not around to celebrate with her and what was such a major acheivement did not get its due respect. I want to take a moment to say congratulations


Merry Christmas Mom...see you in the new year.

Bringing home the Christmas Tree

Mom and Allison scouted something to stand in for a Christmas tree in the property around our house. We found a pretty white bark tree, rare amongst the cactus and palms, which we instructed the men to go fetch a limb.












Dragged it home










stood it upright in an old wood bin, piled on river rock










had our engineers okay it






hung red bulbs and called it
a Loreto Bay Christmas Tree

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

the sights around Casa Grande





a few sights in downtown Loreto






A side-serving of school

Since we've been on a seemingly perpetual vacation Allison's needs as a young student have been glaringly ignored. Unless you count her Daddy insisting she read every restaurant bill to him as a lesson in math. His eyesight is not the best so he's enlisting her help more frequently. Yesterday after a long day where she was left to her own amusements or expected to follow ours, she came to me and asked, "can we do some schoolwork?" again reaffirming my belief that children want to learn. It reminds me of that experiment years ago where toddlers were left a long period of time in a setting where they could forage for their food. I forget all the details but the point was, in the end, they ate a balanced diet.

Allison hangs on



Applause for our daughter, Allison, who persevered the long car journey from our home in middle America to Loreto, Mexico. She's a trooper

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Staying inside the lines

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After leaving Los Angeles we headed to south San Diego to prepare for our trip over the border the next morning. The closer we got to the border the more uneasy I became. I had prepared the best I could, reading advice on crossing into Mexico. I had the pertinent paperwork including passports, vehicle documents, proof of Mexican auto insurance, dog health certification, serial numbers of the electronics we were carrying. Our last stop was the Sam's Club in San Diego to stock up on food. We were advised that meat and produce were not allowed which was nearly unbearable passing by salmon and rib-eyes and the holiday ham and turkey. I cheated a little (I thought) by plucking up three huge slabs of cheese. Robert had six or more cases of assorted beer in his cart ("great gifts for Christmas") which I scolded him, "How will we fit all that in?" All in all we had two carts and a flat bed full of goods we had to load into our small, already stuffed trailer and vehicle. Somehow we did it and then prayed we would not have to unload anything for inspection.

From the relative darkness of San Ysidro, the endless lights of Tijuana shone menacingly. The city sits lower then San Ysidro in what appeared to be an enormous basin. It looked like something sinister gathering energy, ready to pounce. This was the dreaded border town swarming with Mexicans maneuvering into position to bombard lower California. My nerves were on edge from the uncertainty of what lay ahead, remembering every horror story I'd heard about gringos being mistreated, shook-down, kidnapped, jailed, murdered. Someone told us of somebody's girlfriend being incarcerated for two years for carrying across one too many bottles of prescription painkillers. I worried my unlucky choice of Parmesan cheese would be the thing to do us in. Robert keep reassuring me, recalling the experiences of acquaintances who said the crossing is no big deal, nothing to worry about. In my defense, I never came across any information that made me feel assured the event would be safe. There seems to be no definitive answers to anything; even information direct from the Mexican consulate proved to be in error when it came to Baja Calilfornia.

As it turned out in the two days is took to travel down to Loreto not one official or authority asked us a thing, except one. We passed through a half dozen stops where armed soldiers not so much as blinked at us. At the crossing into South Baja from North, a young soldier asked if we were carrying any produce. "No," we cheerfully answered. He motioned for us to proceed forward where another young man wielding a fumigation device sprayed our tires and off we went. The rest of the trip we marveled at the ease of the passage and the incredible fact that no one asked for a passport, for an identity. Where we illegal aliens? Then we reflected on the ridiculousness of our over-cautiousness. I felt a little guilty about all my early anxiousness. Poor maligned Mexicans. This experience was a small lesson in the power of the unknown to breed fear. As the hours and miles passed my mind fell into ease and we became cheerful and jubilant about our plans ahead.

The landscape improved once out of Ensenada and especially in the area of Catavina where it looked like the sky rained boulders. The highway was the one thing that landscape that remained constant: incredulously unacceptable. Rarely was there more than 8 inches of pavement beyond the white side line. And past that either gravel ravines or huge boulders or some such obstacle that would have prevented a successful recovery from an accidental wandering over the line. Robert insisted on driving the whole trip and soon discovered he could not allow his eyes to wander off the road for one instant. Ironically, when the road did improve in texture and quality after hitting the Baja California Sur region, the geography became deathly treacherous through mountain passes and cliffs. I lost count of the memorial shrines along the roadside. So badly I wanted to photograph these curiosities, but like Robert said, we didn't want to join them, so stay focused. Many were located in spots where one had to construct the possible cause of the fatal accident. Did the motorist hit something, fall asleep at the wheel? But one shrine in particular was self explanatory and I'll never forget it. We all gasped together at the sight of this small marker at the bend of a curving cliff (curva peligrosa--a sign we saw as frequently as the no-passing signs) as we could imagine ourselves going over this cliff ala Thelma and Louise. Robert's focus intensified and Allison and I obediently drew silent.

Our return to our house in Loreto was like a sweet homecoming. Our sons were there to greet us having just flown in from school break. We all unloaded our bounty cheering over having a television to watch, comfortable linens, pillows from home, canned chili, boxes and boxes of food, drink, candy. It would be embarrassing to say it felt like we were the blessed wagon train bringing provisions to camp, but that's pretty close to the feeling. In my recollections it ranks way up there for pure satisfaction. We breathed life back into the house and snuggled into beautiful comfort. The boys put in a DVD and I went to work setting up house for the winter.

Except this winter there is no snow to shovel and we left everything thermal and down-filled behind.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Post-disney blues

We joked today that we were suffering Disney withdrawl. After days of pure indulgence in a magical environment where we were led to believe our wishes were oh so important, we feel sort of dropped into the street. We're on our own again.

We slummed it at a dumpy hotel in Long Beach before checking in today to a grander one in Marina Del Mar. Our room looks out over a channel rimmed with boats. The plan was to give Robert the day to wander through the harbor inquiring about sailboats. Allison and I spent the afternoon lounging in our room until he returned. Instead of cartoons she watched the cooking channel which I thought was unusual for a 6 year old. But then I thought about it: Who doesn't like watching food prepared? We sat on the bed side-by-side through two programs critiquing food. When Robert returned he found two very hungry people.

We drove to Santa Monica and walked the pier and the promenade. The last time I did that was 14 years ago. We ate at a great deli and strolled what was basically an outdoor shopping mall watching street performers and artists. We saw a Chinese man throw dishes from his foot onto the top of his head--7 in all. Some of the performers are so skilled you feel guilty not rewarding them with a little something. Later, when a young boy approached me with a coffee can asking for money for some cause I felt inclined to demand a demonstration of talent.

Tomorrow, my indulgence: a drive up Santa Monica Boulevard through to the canyons and the Hollywood Hills where the lucky few live. From there we will head to San Diego for the night before beginning our trek down Baja California to "home."

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

From small beginnings

I think we've covered every acre and a majority of the rides. The hit of the day was Toontown which really looks like a living cartoon. It is the home of Minnie and Mickey Mouse. Their cottages are side by side. (They're not married; maybe you didn't know.) My favorite ride was the Indiana Jones attraction. But, the highlight of the day was "Disney on Parade" where characters ride down Main Street on floats. It takes place at sunset and serves as a memorable send-off to the thousands of tired visitors. Children become frantic with celebrity fever waiting to spot Mickey or Cinderella or Pumba come down the street. Allison begged to be lifted onto her daddy's shoulders for a better view and a hope for eye contact with the passing characters. "Tinkerbelle looked at me!" I would be content to call it a wrap and say goodbye, but Robert bought the 3-day package and we have yet to see the Disney California Adventure Park.

Disneyland has done a lot of growing since I visited as a kid. Disney Downtown is an enormous new element. We are staying there at the Grand Californian, an arts and crafts styled hotel. From there it's a quick walk past the shops and restaurants to the entrance to Disneyland which maintains the original Disney features--Main Street leading to the Fantasyland Castle, the Matterhorn to the right. The place is spotless and I can imagine employees are well-trained in Disney philosophy as they are all so curteous and cheerful. Of course nearly everybody (except an occasional frazzled mother slapping a kid's butt) is happy, even giddy. I noticed a lot of parents kissing and tousling their children's hair. Disneyland is the gift every parent wants to give their kid. I've thought often today about Walt Disney and what an amazing legacy he has left. What possibly compares? Sam Walton or Bill Gates can never lay claim to creating the joy that Disney's legacy makes.

Disneyland is celebrating its 50 year anniversary while we are here. People keep coming. Their children will one day bring their own children. It is an amazing success story with no apparent ending in sight. And it all started with a man and a little mouse.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Hello from Disneyland!


Just a quick update:

Allison, the puppy, and I drove nearly 14 hours to Albuquerque Sunday where we picked up Robert at the airport and finished our drive into California the next day. We drove straight into the Disneyland Hotel parking lot. The porter warned that there were no available rooms. I smiled at Robert who has never not got us in somewhere. I always just sit back and let him do his magic. We are on the 6th floor. He is so proud and delighted to give us this treat. It is our Christmas present to our daughter. This is where we will be for the next few days. I remember visiting the park when I was little, though I'm certain a lot has changed. Now it's Allison's turn. She can't stop smiling. I'm still in a fog from the relentless driving.

We are waiting right now for Robert to return from taking Betsy Mayflower to doggy day care. Then we begin our day with Mickey and the cast.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Pixie sticks


In ten days I've gone from removing a lawn full of fallen leaves to arranging for a snow plow to remove a foot of snow from my driveway. Welcome winter. This is the time everyone starts complaining about the weather. When they learn of our plans to be away in Mexico for the whole winter they remark on how fortunate we are to get away from this.

But knowing I'm going for so long a period softens my outlook on my dreary, climate-challenged town. I'm noticing its charms. I know it's on the dull side. It lacks beauty and inspiration but it is well-intentioned. I like that somebody somewhere in town is trying hard to fill a particular need. I get in my car and within a 1-mile radius somebody is ready to provide a service that makes my life managable and comfortable.

I like that the tellers at my little neighborhood bank let my daughter sit up on the counter when we dump our coins out for deposit and that sometimes they waive the charge for a cashier's check with a wink. I like that we have a real shoe cobbler on Main street, (I think he's an immigrant from Eastern Europe) who charges me five dollars to repair the buckle my puppy chewed off a shoe while I wait. I like that Hobby Lobby is next door to Office Depot which is across from Einstein Brothers so that I can buy photo frames and Christmas ornaments then walk next door for printer ink and photo paper before I buzz across for a cappuccino.

I like that when it snows the city sends out a brigade of snowplows that come rumbling one after another like Sherman tanks. I like that our homespun mayor, a former electrician, has for years faithfully lit up nearly every yard in his neighborhood at Christmas. The display is of legendary proportion that brings carloads of onlookers every December.

I like that we have a yoga studio across from a chiropractor's office: somebody's looking out for my back. I think it's cute that we have an old establishment named the Cake Pan, a small shop that stocks all the goods needed to make and decorate cakes. Even though the hobby doesn't interest me I can respect a small business that has survived two decades serving a single purpose--bringing cake to the world.

I think it's interesting how the components are all here in my little town, excuse me, city, it calls itself. I like to imagine an organizational meeting years ago where everyone assigned themselves tasks: "Okay, me and Bob will be the bankers, you girls can run the hair salons, you guys open a grocery market, you two--we need veterinarians, some of you, police... the rest of you, school teachers!" Somehow (okay, it's market forces, I know) everything falls into place. But if you think about it for more than a minute you have to marvel at the levels at work here. Just go somewhere like where I'm headed. There when a manhole cover goes missing somebody just props a painted tire over the hole to warn people not to fall in. Okay, well somebody did paint the tire. There's some level of cooperation at work there.

So goodbye for now my little city. I don't imagine my absense will alter the balance in any way. Kind of like removing one pixie stick from the pile--the rest still hold position. But I'll miss my place just a little.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Necessary provisions

I can't say that all of my time has been spent working to get out of town: I've spent time visiting friends and today having my hair highlighted at Ginger's Hair Shanty. I've been eating plenty; everything from donuts to onion rings to Hostess snowballs and Jif's extra crunchy peanut butter (killed two mice in the pantry with Jif's this week) Today I made a trip to the Sunglass Hut at our local mall. I actually said to the clerk. "I need good sunglasses because I'm going away for awhile." She looked at me inquisitively. "Oh, no, not jail. Just out of the country. Never mind."

Yesterday I was driving into the city listening to country music. God, I love the stories in country music. Some are designed to make you cry. They are blatant manipulations of our emotions, but we fall for it anyway. So, this guy loses his girl who he suspects has moved to Austin, Texas. After a year she finally phones and gets his answering machine on which he's recorded a message just for her. She hears that he still loves her. So she leaves a message for him to phone her and when he does she pretends that she is a recording telling him that she loves him too. Aaagggghhhh! I am sobbing in the passing lane and it feels good to be home in the good old midwest.

Since I decided I will pull our small trailer behind our SUV to Mexico my whole attitude toward provisions has altered. Suddenly anything and everything goes. I keep thinking about Karen Blixen and all her lovelies she toted to Africa. I feel like I know her. When she was packing she must have gone through exactly the same mental process as I. Let's see--I might really need these forged iron napkin rings. What if I have friends over? We might need wine charms so no one mistakes their glass for anothers. A badminton set might be fun, and a frisbee. But I'm practical too: I packed duct tape, twine, nylon rope, a saw, in addition to the kitchen-ware, electronics, a favorite painting by one of my best friends, books, books, books, candles, poker chips, Risk (Robert's favorite game,) specialty papers to make greeting cards, 3 bottles of Marsala, grape jelly, a small tin of anchovies ( what if I want to make Caesar salad.) I also hunted around for things that would make good gifts. We'll be making new friends. Nice to have something special.

I thought I might need a good windbreaker but instead I visited my good friend, Kim, at the clothing boutique where she works at part-time. Thanks, Kim, for your help selecting that Johnny Was jacket and the black velvet three-quarter length coat with the fushcia mongolian lamb fur boa that goes over the lacy purple camisole. I'll be the most styling gringo chick in Mexico. I love you for helping me remember to have fun.

Has anyone else heard Stephen Colbert interview Tim Robbins? I heard excerpts today on Terry Gross's Fresh Air and it was hysterical. "So, Tim, What is it like working with Clint Eastman--and why do you hate America?"

That's all for tonight. I have to sleep some. Countdown: three days till departure.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

I had too much to dream last night

I just like that phrase. I heard it today on Radio Paradise. It is the title of someone's new album.

Every day pulls me farther away from the good dream I was having. If I spend much more time here I'll become fully conscious again and unable to pick it up where I left off. I have been home five days organizing details for the trip back to Loreto. I've had to prepare our vehicle for travel, have the puppy spayed, build a system for paying our household bills, bring our office up to date and ready to run without me, shop for items we need in Mexico, shop for supplies we need at work, think about Christmas gifts, leaf removal, cable cut-off, cell-phone plans, travel itineraries, pack up the computer, modem, speakers, printer, television, satellite dish, telescope, golf clubs, tennis racquets, toys, books, kitchen-ware. We're bringing all our stuff we can't live without to Mexico. I know it sounds overbearing, but it is a long time we'll be away. We need our stuff to stay in touch a little with the rest of the world and to provide a little entertainment.

Meanwhile, Allison caught up with friends and cousins and aunts. The boys came back from college to visit and to celebrate Ryan's birthday bringing our house back to life again with boys coming and going and lots of laughter and noise. The house was fully illuminated again, every lamp and recessed light burning away the earth's resources. The furnace roared and water surged almost continously though the pipes while the laundry room vibrated with the washer and dryer working overtime. Ryan played his guitar with his friends in the family room, and I buzzed about to Radio Paradise in the kitchen preparing a dinner as far removed from Mexican cuisine as possible followed by a store-bought sugar-laden sheet cake iced in chocolate with the phrase, "Happy Birthday Ryan" in blue goo. This evening brought me such a sense of well-being, that all is right in my little world. I'm happiest when my house is buzzing with the energy of people I love, all together, laughing. I know when it's good.

Robert is on his own in Loreto. He says after a lull there's now progress on our house (the house we are building there.) He walked through it yesterday. I don't want to leave him too long so I'll start driving next Sunday and meet up with him in Albuquerque to finish the drive to Los Angeles then to Disneyland for a few days then the tedious drive down the Baja with a stop at Sam's Club in Tijuana for food and goods. It sounds so crazy, but that's the plan. Our biggest concern is getting through the border with our vehicle loaded with goods. I can't find a definitive answer about any detail of the crossing. We'll just do our best to have paperwork in order.

I have not even turned on the television nor read a newspaper in a month. I did notice the cover of a Time magazine in my mail pile that read in bold red letters: "AMBITION" which provoked in me an instant surge of anxiety as if I'd suddenly remembered something critically important. The printed word, ambition, is anxiety-provoking enough without it having to be printed in bright blood red. "Do I have enough?" "Does somebody have more?" Some scientists have studied and separated the alphas from the betas in American society. The alphas gobble up more than their share of available resources. Everybody knows the rest of the story. On the way out the door Ryan asked me for an idea for a persuasive topic for his speech class. I tossed him the magazine. He can argue that it's my motherly instinct to impress ambition upon my offspring to ensure their climb to elevated status. The scientists said so. Actually, they say that mothers who devote their lives to their children are the most ambitious creatures of all because their ambition is far-reaching. They work for the future of their lineage. So I can relax again knowing that as an ambitious American I rank at the top.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A brief return

I guess I took a break from lugging my laptop to the hotel. There seems to be a lot of confusion over the delivery of the modem for my internet. It is shipped from La Paz and then "someone" has to get it to you. There's no office here so no one from whom to get a straight answer, or rather an understandable English one. I've enlisted the help of every Spanish speaking person I've befriended here to track it down.

Today I am actually back in the states in my home, but only for a brief time to take care of some business. I decided to bring Allison back with me. The past few days she was wearing thin. We are planning to bring reinforcements back down: a television, a dvd player, more books, games, Mac computer, telescope, other goodies. The plan is to ship our car to Los Angeles stocked with items we need, meet Robert there, then drive down the Baja together.

The wind was bearing down on Loreto the last few days we were there. It picks up the dust and dirties everything, a sure disappointment to the visitors there for the weather. It probably helped us mentally to leave. On the plane we ogled the Baja coastline for awhile before settling into our separate books. I was very surprised when Allison pulled out one that I had bought for her not because she'd like it necessarily, but because I thought at 3rd grade reading level it would be a challenge. To my amazement she sat quietly reading it for nearly an hour. I kept waiting for her to ask for help, then I grew suspicious and watched her. Her little fingers were tracing under every line. She was reading this difficult book. That was like a little present to me since I've done so little to school her. In the past few days I was feeling a bit sorry for her. We drag her around like a little adult expecting adult behaviour. This whole adventure is geared for us. She tags along cheerfully and sits at table after table listening politely to adult conversation. She's had no cartoons, no trips to the playground, no friends, not even her puppy. We've dragged our kid to Mexico for half year. What are we doing? In this weak moment I promised her a trip to Toys-R-Us on our return. Robert had already one-upped me with a promise of Disneyland in December.

Our plane stopped in Los Angeles for a short layover before heading back to the midwest. After numerous security checks we were deposited to the corridor with the shops and eateries. We both saw McDonalds right away. I plunked down $14 dollars for a Happy Meal with a chocolate milk and a Cobb Salad and watched Allison put on a show of delight and gratitude. Several minutes passed before she even remembered and asked for the happy meal toy. If we could just maintain that essence of gratitude, but I know it will pass by tomorrow when we are back in the thick of America and she's drinking her chocolate milk to morning cartoons.

We landed after midnight. We found my SUV in the parking lot and it started up obediently. The recently repaved highway home looked like black velvet and we rode along smoothly at 70mph--every mile a mile further from Mexico and soon the sensation of riding in the Scout along the dusty, gritty road from Nopolo to Loreto would fade away, maybe too, by tomorrow. As we turned off the exit to our neighborhood there was our suburban-scale grocery market. I felt compelled to stop for I knew I'd regret waking up without milk or bread or butter or orange juice. Half-and-half for coffee would be a treat too.

Unconsciously, I parked where I always do near the shopping cart return. Allison and I bundled up to brave the 30 degree night. We walked towards the oversized double doors, my eyes squinting in the bright light. I could see through the windows the first row of merchandise was freshly stocked with the holidays in mind: baking goods like flour, pie shells, canned pie fillings, chocolate chips. I took a deep breath as the doors electronically parted. I had to decide on the exhale how I felt. Would I breath in at the bounty or sigh in the face of the excess. Welcome home.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Cruising Loreto on a Friday night

I have to admit there are times we are a little bored. Especially in the evening when it's too early to go to sleep, but nothing much to occupy our time. Last night Robert suggested we go to town and look for a toaster. WooHoo! On the way in we noticed stadium lights on at the high school. Let's go watch a soccer game. We paid our 20 pesos and parked near the field alongside other cars. In this way the scene was very familiar to us having spent half our lives at our sons' sporting events. But as I looked around I noticed a lack of young ladies, a given at boy's sports events. Also some of the players sported full mustaches. I commented on this to Robert who replied that Mexicans mature faster. However on closer look we realized this was an adult soccer league and that took some of the fun out of it.

We headed to downtown where we found a cappucino shop which logo suspiciously mimicked Starbucks. The coffee wasn't half-bad. We took our treats and began strolling the main avenue. It was Friday night and like any small town in America, the young people were out. Most of the stores were open and looked so different lit up. On the town plaza we saw a sign posted by the Optimists Club advertising a pancake breakfast with Santa Claus. We said we'd go but when morning came we changed our minds. Who knows how tasty Mexican flapjacks could be and I was sure I'd have to explain to Allison why Santa has a big black mustache.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

brown sugar... how come you're laced with worms?

It is Thanksgiving Day. This is the first I can remember being away from home. Of course, they don't celebrate here, but we did find a flyer in our gate inviting us to a Thanksgiving feast at the Camino Real hotel. I suppose they have a lot of American guests. This is the second notice I've found delivered to our house. The other was the electric bill( not even in an envelope) folded and tucked between the grates of our iron gate to the courtyard. I wonder if there is even mail service here, people just hand-deliver.

My internet installation was supposed to happen today but this is no-show Mexico. So I continue to wear the wheels off my pull-along laptop case with my daily trips to the hotel. I could drive, but then I'd miss the sights and smells. I keep eyeing the droppings left by Victor the Vacquero's horse and thinking I should be gathering them. I could prepare nice soil for a rose garden. I think too about our kitchen waste--could I compost? I need to ask around because it could be a bad idea for numerous reasons I'm unaware. Ants? Bees? Night creatures? Our biggest pest so far are teeny-tiny ants. Our neighbor advises we put out trays of sugar water outside the house. The idea is to lure them away from our interiors to the trays where they drown in a sweet bath.

Larry, Curly, and Darryl have returned to their guardians for good. Our kind neighbor explained that his wife already misses the dogs, but I suspect he is being polite since he realized we don't really want three lazy mutts who keep tearing through the fence. They are unaccustomed to detainment so it is useless to try.

Since San Andreas fixed my oven last night I thought I'd try it out today by baking cookies with Allison. Robert and I went to town for supplies leaving her with Zoila, our maid. I needed baking powder, chocolate chips, and brown sugar. I found what I translated to read: "dust of flour" and guessed it was the baking powder. There were no chocolate chips to be found so I bought Hershey's bars. No brown sugar, but something similar shaped into cones and blocks. I chose a block that happened to be wrapped in cellophane.

So Allison and I set to making our cookies. I asked Robert to break the block of sugar and when he did worms began emerging. This made me seriously doubt whether I can survive here. I took a deep breath and threw out the rancid block of sugar and bravely continued on.
The cookies were not even close to what we make back home; I think the flour is different here. Zoila thought they were good. I think she is empathetic to our culinary shortcomings. She offered to make us fish soup when she comes next. Fine with me. Now I have a cook too!

Allison has been such a trooper. She rarely complains even though she is being deprived of her usual comforts. At her age she just enjoys being with us. We look at everything as an adventure and re-live and laugh it over nightly. As far a school goes, we aren't having any. If she gets no proper learning this winter that's okay. I think she is learning far more interesting things. We may enroll her in the school here after the first of the year, but that is mainly for the opportunity to learn Spanish.

Tonight we go to our Thanksgiving feast with the other stray Americans. Even if it's turkey on a tortilla I promise to feel thankful.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Larry, Curly, and Darryl




We needed to prepare for our new dogs. Robert set to work repairing a gap in the fence. He gathered up ocotillo sticks and began fastening them to the empty spot across the gate. He had to scour for scraps of wire or twine to tie them with. In our short time here we have become alert to the need to conserve everything. Even common materials can be hard to come by. We reconsider throwing anything of potential value away: plastic wrap, cardboard, glass jars, a rubber band. Yesterday I was walking and saw a rusty nail and nearly picked it up.

With the fence now mended we headed down the boulevard to Ed's for the dogs. We did not see seventeen dogs, but there was quite a few for the picking if we'd wanted small mutts, something like Dachshunds mixed with Chihuahuas. There was a litter of black Labrador-mix puppies, but we were wanting something more imposing. We followed Ed next door to see some larger strays his neighbors' were caring for: Curly, Larry and Darryl--Darryl because they'd tried calling him Moe, but he thought they were saying "No." Larry, well she's a female. We really just wanted Darryl for he is large and black with Rottweiler markings, but we went home with three dogs because they would not be separated, hardship had bonded them together.

We thought we'd sleep better knowing we had canine protection. The following morning we discovered the trio had escaped through the gate. They'd pushed the ocotillo aside and brushed right through. Just as well, I really did not want three Mexican tail-waggers. Today, we'd go look for a German Shepard. As I was toting the bucket of dog food back to our neighbor he was coming up the street, dogs in tow. I related that we should not have taken their dogs, he and his wife were too generous, the dogs were obviously bonded to them and let's not cause them any more stress. But he was determined that we should have them and offered numerous suggestions on how we would coax these animals into accepting their new home. So we have three goofy dogs. Hopefully, they will give the appearance of protection.

Robert went to work re-repairing the gate, looking for something better with which to bind the sticks. He discovered plastic twist-ties in the garage and they did the trick well, though the sight jars me--plastic against the organic and traditional Mexican materials. I am discovering this is the new Mexico--traditional craftsmanship being polluted with the introduction of modern material. Admittedly, plastic is a pretty handy material. The owner of our beautiful adobe house has a new American brother-in-law, an enterpriser building vinyl-sided houses on the beach in north Loreto. I find it a sad assault on the environment, but who can stop people from wanting modern even if it means sacrificing beauty and tradition?

I think the inconveniences here demand improvisation which is very rewarding to one's spirit. I see it already in Robert when he emerges from a task smiling with satisfaction. When he helped the Mexican motorists on the road to San Javier he wasn't the least bit annoyed. He was enjoying the challenge. When we went to the local "hardware" store to find an extention cord and were informed that they'd have to construct one with various parts Robert was amused. Of course, we are in that relaxed frame of mind having deserted our work at home in the states. But relaxed seems to be the norm here.

You have to stand in admiration for the ingenuity of the people living in this impoverished environment even if the results can be far from aesthetically pleasing. Making the most of what you have. It's good for you.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

my own personal 911

Our uneventful day was capped by an interesting evening. We'd settled in for the night when we heard a vehicle racing the dirt streets around our house. There are only two houses on our street, the rest of the area to the beach is remote. There are many streets, all curbed and side-walked and dotted with elegant street lights, but there are few structures. The houses, the development, planned by the Mexican arm of tourism, (Fonatur) never materialized. The area has weathered and decayed.

The racing and skidding continued on for several minutes and a couple of times the car, a van, stopped in front of our house. This alarmed Robert who told me to call the police. He was worried we were about to get robbed. I was at a loss for a number to call. I picked up the phone book which serves the whole peninsula. There is no 911. Finally, I phoned Walter, the Loreto Bay client service rep who then phoned Santos, the Loreto Bay head of security. By then Robert was ordering us to clear out. We would take our car to the hotel where he felt safe.

We pulled into the hotel and right out again thinking we'd find the police and talk to them. We found them in their late model white Ford truck near our house. They told us in Spanish, me trying hard to decipher, that the motorists were drunk on Tequila and they would be taken care of, nothing to worry. I asked to speak to Santos thinking he would know English. They pointed to a man on horseback surrounded by five dogs. "Santos," I cried. But he could not understand me for his name was Victor. They were pointing to Santos' office behind the cowboy. In the middle of all this I was thinking how odd the mix of the modern and the old in Mexico. No 911, but officers with cell phones and new vehicles; a crusty old watchman, a vacquero, on horseback illuminated from behind by French-influenced streetlamps on a boulevard build by a Mexican government for a development boom that never boomed. Benito, the officer in charge smiled brightly and reassured us that the area is safe and they would take good care of us. He held up three fingers and counted off the names of the officers looking over us: Benito, Pancho, Francesco. He wrote his mobile phone number down on a torn piece of paper and handed it to me. I now hold the key to quick access for help. We went home feeling a little ridiculous, but still jumpy.

In the middle of the night I heard a loud thump that startled me out of bed. I shook Robert. I tiptoed toward the kitchen. Nothing. I decided it must have been the washing machine finishing its cycle. I turned to go back to bed where Robert was sound asleep. Tonight we are going to Ed and Darlene's house to take home one or two of their seventeen dogs. I figure I might need the back-up.

Monday, November 21, 2005

stirring up trouble

I couldn't stand it any longer: I had to see what was under all those bees. Each day the hive takes on a new shape which makes me question if it is really a hive or just thousands of bees one atop the other. It's the latter, I'll save you the suspense. I took the longest implement from the garage I could find, a duster. I figured that gave me about 8 feet to work with. I gave the bees a good poke and to my surprise half of them fell to the ground in a clump. Of course what followed was bee panic. They swarmed like crazy t0 reform their prior arrangement. What they are really doing under that tree I do not understand. I have some research to do.

Last night I saw a desert fox. It was between two buildings at the hotel which dead-end into a giant glass partition. I was on the other side of the glass when we spied each other. He, or she, was gray and quite long and lean with markings around the eyes that reminded me of a raccoon. It's tale was long and bushy.

The other evening we saw two night owls with white faces fighting over a kill. We saw one again the following night in the same location off the main boulevard. This time we stopped the car as close as possible to the owl which was perched on a road sign. We all looked at each other for a few moments until finally the bird had enough of us and flew away.

We have wasted the day around the pool and beach today. If you can call it wasting. Robert is thoroughly enjoying this break from work. He is not easily bored. I, however, have already offered my services to the Loreto Bay Company half-jokingly, "Is there anything at all I can help with?" Nellie found me later and told me she'd spoken to their main contractor and that I should go speak to him this week. If Robert and I had wagered on this he would have won--I didn't last one week before stirring up something.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

What lies beneath


Every day a new discovery. Yesterday, in our orchard, I saw what I thought was a giant pine cone, but it turned out to be a big hive swarming with bees. I rushed to the house to get my camera and rouse everyone else to come look. I fearlessly began snapping photos from probably too close a distance, but luckily the bees weren't threatened. In my excitement I briefly considered knocking them off to see what lay beneath. I'm sure my unconscious mind assessed the probable outcome and stopped me. I did notice that when the breeze lifts the hive sways a bit which surprised me and made me more curious, but I may have to be satisfied with not knowing what the hive looks like without the bees.

Saturday is market day in Loreto. Our new friend, Ron, told us that everyone visits the market which is held under tents off the highway. We hurried down this morning expecting a similar, but smaller version of our farmer's market back home. We were very disappointed to discover this market was pathetically small and dirty. What meat was available was set out with no refrigeration and flies were abundant. The fruit was not appealing either, and the other goods for sale were items of clothing you'd find at a flea market. My heart sunk at the realization that we will never find decent food.

Our maid brought her little daughter over this afternoon to meet Allison. I tried very hard to make them comfortable and entertain the girl. After attempts at conversation we brought out what amusements we had which are little: Allison's Leap Pad thankfully had a page devoted to Spanish terms. When the girls tired of that we pulled out the coloring books. Robert returned and warmed up another stew he made. We sat down to the table with our new guests and proceeded to eat the stew which Robert had made with potatoes, green beans and pork. I thought it was very good and praised, "bueno, bueno," assured we had pleased our guests, but the little girl did not like it at all. Robert made it up to her on the way home with a stop for helado (ice cream) always a hit with kids the world over.

It surprised me how much stress occurs in the process of attempting to communicate to others of a different language. I have been aware of feeling drained after a day of living in the Mexican culture. In trying to communicate you are exposing your ineffectiveness and depending on the good will of your listener to assist you. You are asking that person to join you in a difficult exercise, agreeing to trust each other to overlook the deficiency. Interestingly, what results is a bonding experience with that person. I can't help but feel grateful and endeared to those kind people who give the effort. I'm thinking a lot more about the experiences of all foreigners everywhere, now that I am one.

Friday, November 18, 2005

God bless Duncan Hines

We decided to take the day easy--no road trips. We spent the day on the beach in front of the Camino. While Robert and Allison played in the water I wandered to the tide pools. Nothing much to see there but some tiny black snails. More interesting are the pelicans that dive-bomb for fish. They are short on grace, but seem to get good results.

Food continues to be a problem. I am craving pasta and french bread and Lamar's donuts. Robert did make a great pot of beans with pork, but Allison and I can't take another tortilla for awhile. We want something we recognize. On our shopping day Allison had tossed a box of chocolate cake mix into to cart. Tonight that sounded pretty good. However, we could not figure how to light our gas oven. Finally, Robert consulted the faded manual and discovered someones handwriting and an arrow pointing to a diagram: "This part is missing." So we added the oven to our list of domestic deprivations.

But I wouldn't be stopped. I had an idea to bake the cake on the stove. My reasoning for possibility based on memories of my southern grandmother making pineapple upside-down cake in her black cast-iron skillet. So I oiled up the skillet, poured in the batter and gave it a try. Robert assisted with the idea to stack two other burner grates atop the first to distance the flame. And guess what? Perfect chocolate cake! Allison squealed with delight and we dug in praising Duncan Hines and cheering for America where people know what tastes good.

Finally I should note that Allison lost her first tooth yesterday. When she awoke she found the tooth fairy left 50 pesos under her pillow. I murmured later to the tooth fairy, "when I was a kid it was a quarter."

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Do you know the way to San Javier?

I woke up early (it's hard not to here) and took my morning coffee outside to browse around the orchard. It's mostly orange trees and some mangoes and something that looks like laurel surrounded by blooming bougainvillea. I'm thinking I'd like to start a kitchen herb garden. Something simple in pots like parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme (seriously.) Oh, and basil.
I was daydreaming about this when I stumbled on something that looked like a chicken-wire pillow. Obviously, a trap of some kind because it had a tunneled entry. Everything here is hand-crafted so what looked like a goofy contraption was really a little work of art. The wire was carefully shaped and fastened together by weaving string along its perimeter. I called Robert out to look at it and neither of us were sure of its purpose.

Our plan today was to drive to see the mission of San Javier. It is supposedly very beautiful and, of course, historic since it was constructed in 1699 under the guidance of the Jesuits. We set out with the cameras, a couple of bananas and a large bottled water. We had no idea what lay ahead! 36 kilometers sounded like no great distance, but the road was an unpaved rocky trail more suited for burros than automobiles and it became apparent this was no cake walk. The road winds up through the Sierra la Gigantas which are so laden with gravel you wonder how they stay upright. The desert is so unfriendly and barren in areas you have to question the sanity of persons choosing to homestead here. But amazingly, further up, tropical vegetation appears. Giant palms grow in little areas like ravines where there is water. The areas are very small but still classify as oasis(es).

We guess that the mission must be in an oasis ahead. Soon we would be there. It must be on that mountain over there. Okay, maybe not this mountain but the next. Okay it's the next mountain. After travelling for close to two hours in this suspense I became impatient. Depending on open windows for cooling resulted in the inside of the Scout being thoroughly powdered with dust. Our water was now lukewarm, the bananas long gone and my hair tangled and gritty. Finally, I began complaining: "Jeeze, Why would anybody want to build anything out this far and this difficult to get to? Who were these crazy Jesuits? This is an godawful long way to come for Mass, who'd bother? Look at that drop, how many people have lost their lives just to go to church? Wait what did that sign say, did we pass the place already? With this much effort it better be a Mount Rushmore or Manchu Pichu or something as big-deal."

After a long run across a plateau we began to climb again into another mountain range. Soon we were inside of a the bowl of the range, and signs of an oasis appeared ahead. The palms were more plentiful and suddenly there was a definite water source--an emerald-colored stream, then a dam, then a masonry entrance, and finally, the stone Mission with the mountain at its back. Evidence of the old colonial world: organization. Rock walls enclosing orchards, design details in the stonework, a cobblestone avenue that ended in what architects call a "terminated vista," an impressive way to situate an important building--the San Javier Mission. We all cheered up instantly.



The way back went faster as Robert, now familiar with the road picked up some speed. Not for long--we were stopped by stray burros loitering in the road. Not much farther down we encountered Mexicans with car trouble. We were able to ascertain that the tow truck pulling the broken van had a dead battery. Jumper cables? You'd think they'd be standard on a tow truck, but no. So Robert proceeded to unhook our battery to place in the tow truck to get it started. Meanwhile, a couple other trucks pulled up behind. After a few moments a Mexican exited the first truck wielding a two foot long machete. I stood in silent suspense while he walked toward the scene. I was rapidly accessing what use a machete would have in this situation that I hadn't considered. Moments earlier it was a simple pair of pliers we were after. Suddenly he began whacking at what I think was a mesquite tree alongside our vehicles. Of course! He was clearing a way for his truck to pass. This is the wild west.

Eventually we made it home to warm showers and clean clothes. Our only remaining dilemma was what to make for dinner. This is becoming a problem. We can no longer rely on a refrigerator full of deli cuts and cheese, pickles and other quick snacks. Tomorrow we plan to put on a pot of stew and I'll make cornbread. No back-road adventures either.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Bats, clothespins, and the 150 mile grocery trip



We found a house to lease. It is a large adobe owned by the former director of Fonatur in Loreto. It is beautiful though neglected as its owner now lives in La Paz and rents it out. It is probably over 5000 square feet and totally hand-crafted. The floors are stone with wood inlay and there are many painted frescoes throughout. Upstairs is a library where I intend to claim as my personal space. The family is a patron of the arts so there is a lot of framed artwork and also some relics from the original mission to give it that sacred feeling. I fell in love with it right away, naturally. It makes me think of the book, "Under the Tuscan Sun," where the author chucks her life in America to renovate a faded villa in Tuscany. My little villa has an orchard and a swimming pool. Na na na na na.

The past week has been about settling into our house. We don't have a television but I did schedule for internet connection. It could be a week before that happens. There's not a clock nor a radio in the house either. I like that. Like I said, the house is somewhat neglected so amidst the luxury is a downright lack of conveniences: The dryer does not work so I hang clothes on a line automatically gripping clothespins between my lips in the way of millions of women before me, except that I wear sunglasses. The dishwasher also does not work. I tried the first night and it ran continuously for hours. For a few days we had no hot water until Don Alfredo came to repair the heater so I warmed water on the gas stove for the dishes, which by the way are patterned with Christmas trees. There is a set of china in a hutch but I wouldn't dare use it.

Our first visitor was a bat that entered an open door the first night before we knew better; a "murcielago," I learned later. I was calling it a "raton que volar" to our maid, Zoila, who looked perplexed until my attempts with hand motions and expressions of horror clued her in.

Our first trip to the local grocery market was a little adventure. It is so lacking that we began asking other Americans where they shop and discovered many make a trek to a bigger town to the "Super Ley" only this town is a 150 mile round-trip over the mountains! We loaded a large cooler and headed out yesterday in our borrowed pea-green International Scout which has no a/c or radio. It started making funny noises halfway there so we had to keep it under 50 mph. Absolutely no one spoke English at the grocery market so we were quite at a loss to understand if we were purchasing pureed tomatoes or tomato soup. It's a toss-up if we got home with anything I can cook. I recognized my stress level rising along with a new fear that we may starve if left to our own devices. One the way back we joked that this was the farthest we had ever gone to shop for food in our entire lives!!! It was such an adventure in culture shock. Oh, and did I mention the absurdity of discovering a circus there? On the highway out of town we spied what looked like an elephant. We stopped to see not only the elephant but a camel, a monkey, a lion in a portable cage all restrained by ropes around their legs. The elephant was so despondent he was rocking back and forth in the heat and dirt. It was outrageously cruel to me. We left and drove in silence for awhile until our concern about the animals was replaced by other distractions like the wreckage of a truck spilled over an embankment. The glass spread out over the rocks and reflected so much glare it looked like a pool of water. The road over the mountain is slightly treacherous as demonstrated by the numerous roadside shrines made to accident victims. Unlike at home where people sometimes construct little crosses and leave plastic flowers at the site, the Mexicans build tiny houses about the size of tiny doghouse. I saw one that had a red tile roof and looked like a model of a real house with an attached garage.

But tonight we are beachside basking in the light of a full moon and we say to each other, "It doesn't get any better than this!" A change from the normal is what we wanted and it is certainly what we will get.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Something new and different


Surprise. We are in Mexico and planning to live here for several months. We are building a vacation home and even though it's months from completion we are here anyway. Robert's heart attack prompted the get-away. He has decided to take a long sabbatical from work. So we are here looking for a house to rent.

So far we are enjoying every minute. We're on the Sea of Cortez in basically a small fishing village. It is very primitive in many respects. Currently we are in a hotel which has the modern conveniences (internet connection!)

Allison is charmed by the novelty of the spanish language and seems very willing to learn. Already she is saying "buenos noches" and "gracias" every chance she gets. She swam in the pool with a Mexican girl who knew no english. They seemed to enjoy each other.

We purchased a laptop computer right before we left so we'd have a method to communicate with friends and family. But it's also become Allison's toy. She reminds us of her oldest brother watching her immersed in a game working to reach the next level. I tried to hold her back but there's no stopping them once they discover the fun in computer gaming. I did bring along some learning dvd's which she also uses. When we get settled we'd like to find someone to help care for her and teach her spanish. Or we may enroll her in the local private school. We'll see. Right now we're off to sleep--with the patio door open to the ocean.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Robert gets another birthday


Happy birthday Robert!

I think he's feeling pretty glad to be alive. Considering two weeks ago today he was close to death. Every day after must seem like a gift. He is incredibly cheerful and that benefits us all. Finally, I am able to keep his attention and discuss dreams and plans. We will take time away to vacation--to see some things. It's like it takes a heart attack to start living! If you're so lucky to make it through alive.

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Allison is learning about nouns, common and proper. She memorized a poem, "The Caterpillar" and recited it to her aunts today when they came to visit. Our plans to take her dad to the planetarium were squashed when I discovered it was closed today. One of the aunts wants to take Allison and her cousin to see the White House in Miniature at the Truman Library on Sunday. Supposedly it is lit up with Christmas lights right now.

We went to the bookstore today where Robert picked up maps on Baja and I browsed the Native American section now that I am curious about the massacre at Wounded Knee. Remember we've been watching hours of "Into the West," which depicts the horrible way the Indian culture was annihilated. Last night's episode was so, so sad. You just feel like you want to do something about it, to scream out to someone, "Stop this!" It's a little bit the way I felt recently when watching the coverage of the "refugees" of the New Orleans Katrina disaster. Somebody help them! At bedtime we were still discussing the matter and I was still so worked up. I asked Robert if he knew any Indians since I don't and he teased me saying, "Why, do you want to apologize to one?" Well, yeah. I guess.

Robert did set up the telescope we got him. It looks so impressive. It's an Orion Dobsonian Reflector and it's huge. I ordered it online and unfortunately it was delivered while I was out of the house so Robert saw the box and the surprise was ruined. With him home all the time I can't get away with mischief as usual. Anyway, he seemed so pleased with it. We'll take it out on the fairway tonight. It sounds stupid, but I want to find Dog Star and offer an apology.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

I'd be lucky too


Yeah I'm a horse too. Here's my owner.

Lucky

Gee, Robert's having a heart attack has been an excuse for all of us to have fun. Who would have thought? We are behaving like kids on a snow day, except we stay inside: Stay up late, sleep in late, play games read, talk, entertain a few visitors. I pulled out our big dry-erase board and taught Allison to play hangman. That was such a hit that she pesters us non-stop to play now. Good game for spelling, though. After hangman she found she could keep her dad's attention by using the board for math. He taught her to add numbers that have lots of zeroes behind them (his favorite) So I heard the word million a lot yesterday. Michelle and Rich brought a complete dinner over for us tonight. That was fun to sit and visit with them. I love it when there are friends in my living room!

With all the loafing we are still getting some reading and worksheets in. Allison wants to make sock puppets, (thank you very much Disney Channel) something I'm not too interested in doing mostly because it requires pulling out a lot of craft material and messing up. I have been knitting and she wants to learn. I tried, but it is frustrating for her little fingers. I may try to teach her to crochet instead if she still shows interest.

The last few nights the three of us have taken short walks up the fairway; just enough to give Robert a little exercise. The moon is full and it's perfect how it softly illuminates the surface of everything. I am struck with the idea for the perfect birthday gift to him--a telescope! We could put a blanket down in the middle of the fairway and set up the scope for viewing. We could look at that moon. It could be a new hobby.

Allison made up a game where she described herself as a horse and then asked her daddy to do the same. Of course, she is a beautiful cream-colored horse owned by royalty and so well cared for. Her owner braids her tail and puts jewels in her mane. She gallops up the fairway. "Okay, what kind of horse are you, Daddy?" Well, first of all, he's plain brown and he's missing a chunk of his right ear from a fight with a coyote. There's a scar beside his eye from an encounter with a grizzly bear. He limps, the result of a gunshot wound in a skirmish with cattle rustlers. His tail is broken. Allison is not too amused. She wants a daddy horse that matches her princess stature. He doesn't relent. "Yeah, and guess what my name is?," he says.
(I saw this coming.) "Lucky," he says.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Robert's heart


Everything came to a standstill this week when Robert had a heart attack Tuesday night.
His right coronary artery collapsed which was corrected with the insertion of 7 stents. Apparently, they are the biggest stents made, at 4.5 mil. He has extra large arteries it seems. The stents are from 3 different manufacturers which we thought odd, but suspect the surgeon had to search the drawers for all the big ones.

This attack came as no big surprise to us. Robert has been on a collision path with a health disaster: Smoking heavily, drinking too much, eating badly, too much stress at work.
He is lucky to be alive.

To everyone's amazement he appears to have suffered no significant heart damage and should recover fully. Soooo, we are all getting cozy at home while he heals. He will be the center of attention for awhile. This could end up being a nice opportunity for he and Allison to spend time together. I see a lot of changes ahead.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Between One o'clock and Forever

Lamar's for doughnuts, the bank to make the savings deposit, the jeweler to repair a bracelet, the auto service center to change the oil in the car, the grocery store for milk and fabric softener. That was our morning. Not too eventful.

I needed to stick close to home because the furnace repairman was coming between 1 oclock and forever. They never give you a definite time! So at 3 0clock "Rex" shows up. He's a throwback to the 50's with his crew cut and the hyper-proper way he keeps addressing me as "Mrs." The mechanism that turns the pilot light has broken from within and must be replaced he tells me. Okay that's all I need to know so do it.

But like many repairmen he is overexplaining to show he's a good repairman. He wants to tell me all about the inner workings of the damaged piece and how it has five something-or-others like you find in an automobile and says "you know" like I might know that part, and tells me the government won't allow him to disassemble the part because a couple of incompetents blew themselves up and there were lawsuits and now the part must be replaced completely and can't be until tomorrow and I'm thinking that's very interesting but can I get back to the harmony of my afternoon and the oreo cookie I had to set aside when he tapped the garage door uttering, "Mrs?"

Peace again. The phone hasn't even rung all afternoon. The rest of the world doesn't know about us or seem to care. Sometimes I relish that remoteness, sometimes I feel forgotten. Overall, it's up to me how engaged I want to be with the world. I think often about a woman my husband knew growing up. She was the mother of one of his friends. Her name was Thelma and she never left her house or changed out of her housecoat. She lived on coffee, cigarettes and Valium. My husband of course had no explanation for her odd behavior, but I suspect every mother in the world can fill in the blanks.

Thelma had obviously given up. She was that one mother that got sucked up into the vortex called Oblivion. Who knows who of us will fall into it next? Throughout my years raising children I have reflected on this woman I never met and wondered at what point did she make the decision to cross over to Oblivion? And then, why stay there appearing content to blow cigarette smoke through the screen door forevermore? When I was a young mother imagining her frightened and threatened me, but after I'd logged a few years I began to imagine her in a different way--kind of the same way a nine-to-fiver might envy a street bum his freedom. Maybe there was some pleasure in Oblivion I hadn't considered. It certainly couldn't be very taxing and then there's that cozy,"It's four o'clock and I'm still wearing my pajamas" feeling. Still, Thelma remains to me the woman I never want to become.

Monday, October 10, 2005

From apes to teacups


We made it to the zoo in Omaha. It was worth the trip. I was especially impressed with the "Kingdoms of the Night" in the lower level of the desert dome. It was all about creatures that live in the night and it was downright spooky from the bat caves to the dimly-lit swamp full of God-knows-what. The fabricated swamp was the animal version of the Truman Show. In near complete darkness spectators move above the swamp along a winding plank walkway and spy on the animals going about their typical nocturnal activities in a world make to look authentic.

We were mesmerized by the escape antics of a beaver who repeatedly swam under the plank bridge and gnawed the wooden barrier beneath. He'd reappear with a mouthful of soggy wood shavings. He must have thought there was freedom on the other side when we could see it was more manufactured swamp, the side that the bullfrogs inhabited. We tried to tell him, to save him the trouble, but alas. So, we shuffled along to the exit startling something that startled us by jumping into the water. In retrospect, the whole experience of a day's worth of animal viewing was educational and very interesting, but the overall impression I formed was this: I am so glad I am not an animal.

About once a month I empty all our saved change into a glass jar and take it to the bank for saving. I've always had the bank run it through their automatic counter at 7 cents on the dollar, but recently I decided that counting and wrapping it ourselves would be a good learning opportunity. So, that's what we did this morning. Afterwards, we worked on counting from a math workbook.

We were anxious to go to the bank with our stash, but in the car I remembered the banks were closed for the Columbus Day holiday. This is a dangerous situation for your little pile of money. It could easily find its way into your wallet. I was determined that it should reach it's intended destination and I spent not a penny of it which made me feel wise and prudent. Nevermind the fact that today I probably spent more at Osco on toiletries and at the deli for imported cheeses and jams than all the rolled coins in the jar on the floorboard. It's just an exercise in misguided thrift.

Late in the afternoon we sat on the sofa to read. That's when I get sleepy. I said, "please let me rest just a few minutes." And, "No, you can't watch tv, just play or read for a little bit," to which Allison complained heavily. But I closed my eyes anyway and drifted off for not maybe 10 minutes until I stirred back awake. I opened my eyes to see that Allison had surrounded me with her stuffed animals all positioned like sentinels. On the coffee table before me was a chocolate Zinger (with a bite taken out) and a glass of water. She was soft-stepping in with cup of coffee. Did she make that, I exclaimed. No, not really, it was coffee from before but she put "two sugar cubes and cream in it," she said proudly. Naturally, it was cold, but I appreciated the gesture.

So I reclined on my sofa sipping my cold coffee and sharing the Zinger with my daughter and her animals. And I thought about the zooed gorillas, which I despise for some reason. Well, I know the reason--they are too much like us but more crude and nasty. Apes only strengthen my argument for why we should run from our native tendencies. Natural is not good. I don't look to a monkey with any Jane Goodall sentimentality. They are plain gross and I denounce any possibility of kinship, no thank you very much. I say we should do whatever it takes to distinguish ourselves from apes. I'm with the Victorians on this, stiff collars and corsets and all. Thank you God for my superior opposable thumb that I might drink my cold coffee from this porcelain teacup.