Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Casa update

Three photos from our casa. Two show views looking toward the ocean and looking to the Sierras. An inside shot of our kitchen with new paint!

Monday, April 24, 2006

Terrace view

Loreto Bay had a sales event this past week and sold quite a few homes. Over 20 million worth. As many as 100 houses are nearly completed. Ours is one. I'd like to get it finished and furnished before June so we can go home. It gets unbearably hot here in the summer and I'd prefer not to experience it. I need to get home and take care of things there like our house, our business, our sons who will be home for the summer from college, and family.

Here's a recent photo taken from the terrace of our casa looking toward the Sea of Cortez. The terrace is being prepared for the pouring of concrete.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Bat Kingdom

After 20 minutes of news I have to relinquish the control to Allison so she can watch a little Animal Planet in the morning. We've all become hooked on Animal Planet these days. I remember one season years ago before Allie when it was the Travel Channel. I think we traveled the world one winter from our family room. But now, it's animals.

This morning: Bats. Thirty minutes of a look into the bat kingdom. Like watching a horror movie--creepy but so intriguing. In a cave in England live 40 million bats. They come out to feed at nightfall where several hawks wait to snatch a few for supper. "Oh no!," Allison exclaims. "Who do you want to win?"
The hawks, I tell her. I like hawks better than bats.

Cut to the rain forest where a group of bats huddle together under a folded banana leaf. Here comes a snake. "Oh no! Who do you want to win?"
I answer, "The bats," wincing. "I hate bats less than snakes.

In Baja bats are prevalent. Our first night in this house we had a bat visitor that clung to our kitchen wall. Small, dark brown, furry. A wall mouse. Spidermouse. It lay very still like maybe we wouldn't notice. It was hard to coax out the door. We had to chase it from room to room dodging it as it flew over our heads.

Since there are caves in the Sierras I imagine some of them live there. We see them every night at sunset. Never in swarms, but sometimes pretty thick. They dart like little birds feeding on insects which is a good thing. They are probably leaf-nosed bats (Macrotus californicus), a Sonoran desert species, though I'm not sure. There is an endangered species in the area that feeds on fish and another type that feeds on cactus fruit. They have long snouts to reach into flowers for nectar like hummingbirds. I've seen photographs of bats suckling from hummingbird feeders. I guess that's kind of cute. Naaah.

Bats. Don't like em. Never will.

Creepy critters

Eeeeeeek! Not a mouse, but a gecko! Crawling on the wall. Inside my house. Late at night. Everyone's asleep but me.

I was online. The door outside the library to the terrace suddenly creaked loudly as though someone was entering. I sat frozen. Nothing human could scale the fortress-like wall outside. Had to be a mysterious gust of wind, I reasoned. Then the creepy, late-at-night, where-is-everybody-else? feeling took hold.

Soooo, maybe I'll just head downstairs for bed. I saw it. Attached to the wall on the stairwell. Almost the color of bloodless flesh. Little black eyes. Creepy and grippy. Is that what made that noise with the door? Are house geckos really giant monsters that shrink when spotted? Just like the other night when some phantom thing went rustling in Betsy's dog bowl. It sounded very large. Marta guessed it was a gecko.

So now I've seen one. Wish I hadn't.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Taking shape

Publish Pos
Loreto Bay is finally looking like a village rather than a bombed-out concrete Beirut. It's beginning to take shape as a neighborhood as more of the houses take on roofs and windows and doors. Concrete pathways are being laid and beautiful landscaping dresses everything up almost overnight. Every day another house gets its color which is fast filling in the canvas of the village landscape.

Each house has an assigned exterior color ranging from desert neutrals to some bolder choices like chili pepper red, lilac, a minty green. One particular house started out a shocking colbalt blue. Everyone gasped. You'd think after one stroke of it someone might have said, "Wait! Let's think about this a minute." It took a few incarnations before it settled down to a more mild, but still vivid blue. It's beginning to grow on me and may prove helpful as a locator for our house: "Look for that blue house--we're just two rows down!" Our house color is "Loreto Mist" which is a fancy phrase for white. I can live with that. We are close to completion with just flooring, cabinetry and lighting left to install. The iron railing around our terrace just went up. The spiral staircase to the viewing tower should go in next, then the pergola.

Tonight we went to a party in one of the completed and now inhabited homes. It's a thrill to see one finished with all the furniture, the interior plantings and fountains in place, but more thrilling to see it come to life with people. Friends and future neighbors gathered all through the house and terraces while a mariachi band played in the lower courtyard. I drank a fruity sangria and watched a pink sunset on the viewing tower as our host played his guitar and sang for us. "Cue the sunset," as Jim Grogan, a co-founder of Loreto Bay, once joked. Loreto can be counted on for its ambiance. Tonight, it was in big measure.

For many people their houses were 2-3 years in the making as the project prepared for take-off. Ours will have taken a year. To those unconnected to the project it's just a bunch of adobe and concrete and promises of eco-friendly sustainability. To us that are invested it's so much more. It's the place we're making to enjoy life. To hang out with friends and family in a beautiful setting. I think Robert hoped our little casa with the extra big terrace would be the "party house of choice" but I think we'll have much competition in that. Everybody here has the perfect party house and plenty of them have the same idea for "mi casa es su casa." The development is structured to encourage community. I believe it attracts sociable people who want lots of interaction. It will be interesting to see how this experiment plays out. It's no less engineered than most developments in America with certain factors attracting or repelling certain people. This particular development, or village, so far is very, very appealling to us. We have liked the people we have met here. We like the principles behind the planning. We really like the weather and the scenery. Robert likes the ocean. What do I like best? I don't know. I think I just enjoy watching it all unfold.

Cute puppy

Since I have nothing interesting to talk about I'll just post a cute photo of Loreto puppy. Awwwwwh.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

"That's $470 dollars to you."

We are idiots. That's the conclusion we came to this morning after Robert revisited the misunderstanding over the catered Easter food from the Camino. After examining the order more closely he said to me, "They weren't trying to charge us $4700 dollars; they wanted 4700 pesos." He had argued with the cashier and then the chef about the Visa bill being $4700 dollars, a price inconceivable to him for the three items he was picking up. Surely, they were wrong. After all, it was just a salad, some roasted potatoes, and some fruit. Chef Jose tried to explain that it was 4700 pesos , but that would be $470 US dollars, Robert argued. "No way, Jose."

The price must be 470 pesos(about $47 US dollars) Robert insisted (which was a heck of a deal.) After thinking he'd convinced the chef of his error, Robert signed the Visa charge for $4700 pesos ( he didn't have glasses on) and went on to compliment Jose for the reasonable price and promised to have him cater a future big party with us. "Good man," and a big back-slap and a grin.

And what about his proclamation to me that Mexicans are so proud and hate to be wrong? We moaned in disgust at ourselves. But "Uggghhhhhh suddenly turned to "Heyyyyyyyy.... isn't $470 dollars a bit much for salad, fruit and potatoes?" Hmmmmm.

The dollar-to-peso exercise has stung us a few times. Our first week here we took our car to be washed. After paying the 60 pesos (6 bucks), Robert fished through his pockets for an appropriate tip. Being unfamiliar with the Mexican coins in his hands, he plucked out an American quarter and handed it over. As we were leaving the boy who washed our car took a look at his "tip" and became incensed. He muttered something and threw the coin in our direction. We got the message that he was displeased at the cheap gringos. Mortifying to us, because that is the last thing we are guilty of. We just didn't have the money thing down yet. Obviously, we still don't, or rather, I don't.

Now I must go see Chef Jose and work through this mess. Robert washes his hands of it, he's had enough of the dollar-to-peso game.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Elephant Parade

On the way home last evening we saw that a big circus tent had been raised at the town park. If it was the same sorry outfit we saw on the way back from Constitution months ago I was not interested. Those animals looked miserable tied down in the dirt. I'm certain this group would have a list of infractions so long as to land them in jail back home. But Robert said the animals looked well-fed and Allison said, "Please let us stop and see them!"

Truth is I'd already seen them. Saturday, when I was in town at Norma's beauty shop. I happened to glance out the windows to see what I thought was an elephant walking down the street. I did a double-take and it indeed was an elephant, followed by camels, horses and a monkey, all parading down the main street. Only in Loreto!

A happy Easter

Well, our Easter day at the Olona's went very well. The only snafu was when Robert went to pick up the catered items from the Camino and the girl ran his Visa card through for over $4700 dollars instead of 470 pesos. At first she insisted it was correct until Jose, the chef, intervened. Correcting the error became another problem and after a long struggle he was so embarrassed and exasperated, he wouldn't take a tip. Robert has formed an opinion that Mexicans have a lot of pride and hate making mistakes. They will do anything to make it right. But it's different than home in that when something, for example, on your plate isn't satisfactory, instead of taking it off the bill or replacing it with another duplicate item, here they will try hard to improve that item. Maybe it needs a little more sauce or salt. They run your plate back to the kitchen to fine-tune. I think it's that old resourcefulness at work: Anything can be fixed, not everything has be to tossed out and replaced.

At Marta's house I went to work, taking charge of setting up the table and food putting Pepe's mother to work making the sandwiches since she seemed anxious for something to do. She knows no English but explaining how you want sandwiches made is easy with sign language.

I put the kids to work decorating eggs. I gave the task of hiding the easter eggs to Pepe's older children. Robert hid the golden egg and incredibly it was the last egg found.
He'd perched it on a low spot on the palapa roof of the small utility shed outside on the patio. I took the annual photo of him instructing the kids on the rules of the hunt. You can see in the photo that Allison is ready to go, with a foot in the direction of the patio. For all her determination she did not find the golden egg and was kind of pouty about it. We tried to explain to her how it might not be the most polite thing for our daughter to make out with the biggest party favor of all. Toward the end of the search we were all, adults and children alike, looking for that thing. The banker's oldest son, Allison's classmate, found it. We cheered and clapped and just like home, all the kids ran in to survey their bounty.

Allison didn't do as well as the others due to their older age or help from mom and dad. As hosts, Robert and I weren't inclined to help her too much, and maybe I should have. I was reminded of an Easter egg hunt long ago, at our neighborhood clubhouse when our older sons were 6 and 8. Dozens of kids lined up at the start line and on the go Ryan lost his loafer in the grass and became so undone by his delayed start and the rush of the other children reaching into the grass and screaming. "I found one!," that he dropped his basket and starting wailing. We felt so sorry for him. He was our second son, so already tormented by internal pressure to be as fast and able as his older brother and his friends. I think Aunt Susan passed a 20 dollar bill to him later that afternoon in sympathy. But, Allison, she just had to be tough and gracious today. Or so I thought. When we got home I heard she and her daddy whispering over some transaction that I suspect was a monetary, sympathy pay-off.

Other than the language barrier, our gathering was as similar to any at home. It's always the same when people share a meal and watch children play. It needs no translation. It's just simple pleasure.
That's Marta and me in this last photo.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Welcome to my Easter

Robert and I are hosting Easter at Marta and Pepe's. That's what I get for giving such an illuminating tale of Easter-yore at our house. I described the baskets, the colored eggs and chocolate bunnies, the Easter feast; the ham, the potato salad, the deviled eggs, followed by the hunt for the obscenely excessive golden egg stuffed with a hundred dollar bill. This tradition is Robert's fault though I can't remember exactly how.

Well, naturally, Marta was worried that we should not deprive ourselves of our time-honored tradition. Why, of course, we should try to duplicate this wonderful event for our Mexican friends! Let the Easter Bunny come to Loreto! Just because they celebrate by going to Mass and walking in the Passion of Christ parade from the Mission through town, doesn't mean they're not open and eager to see our version of Easter.

I didn't know about the parade until I came up on it Friday afternoon. The police had halted traffic to allow the parade to pass. I parked and trotted up for a closer look catching a glimpse of Jesus pass under the Tecate beer sign near the four-way stop on Juarez street. He was dragging a massive wooden cross while men dressed as Roman soldiers in red robes pretended to strike him with whips. The townspeople followed behind looking solemn with hands folded together. I suddenly felt embarrassed. I had that guilty feeling you get when you've been caught with your eyes wandering during prayer-time, or like when you realize you're the only parent who forgot to send your child to school with a canned good for the food drive that day.

So in the last few days my enthusiasm for my Easter debut has waned considerably. But I'm committed and I must follow-through even though there have been plenty of obstacles. For example: there is no such thing as a ham in these parts. I drove all the way to Constitution to look for one and learned they are only stocked at Christmas time. So I settled for shaved ham for sandwiches. There is no such thing as sweet pickles here, so my potato salad went out the window. No PAAS egg-coloring kits. No easter baskets, so I bought the available hand-woven variety from the vendors near the Mission. I looked all week, everywhere, for brown sugar for my chocolate chip cookies that Pepe requested, but had to settle on what I could find--raw, unbleached sugar. I decided to have the chef at the Camino hotel fill in the holes with roasted potatoes, spinach salad, and a carved watermelon-half filled with melon balls.

Tonight, while I lifelessly boiled eggs and baked cookies, Robert and Allison filled plastic eggs with candy and coins. Robert also brought back from his trip home the infamous Easter "Peeps," those nasty marshmallow chicks and bunnies that he claims taste best stale. Whatever.

So tomorrow we will ruin forever the true meaning of Easter for our Mexican friends. Their children will gorge on sweets and grapple for party favors. Greed and competitiveness will overtake them as they push and race each other for the gringo c-note inside the golden egg hidden in the cactus. Even I may never feel the same benign acceptance of the Easter Bunny. In my imagination he is fast morphing into a bucktooth-grinning monster come to steal away souls. And I, his accomplice.
No, truly, I love our Easter and will miss not being home.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Pride, a dirty word

I am in awe of the protests over illegal immigration. If the following images and sentiments are any indication of how huge numbers of hispanics in America feel about the U.S., then we are in big trouble. I'm astonished at the spiteful and even hateful attitude toward our desire to remain a sovereign nation living by laws, with borders, with reasonable interests in security and safety and the ability to absorb the world's refugees.

If we had only enforced and managed the flow of hispanic immigration earlier. If we had helped Mexico develop its own resources to retain its people, if we had cracked down on U.S businesses that exploit illegals, if we had bore pressure on politicians who turned a blind eye, if we had worked to assimilate these immigrants rather to allow them to create pockets of sub-culture, unwilling to learn English and unable to participate fully in American life.

If we had not let our political correctness cloud our pride in our country, if we had not stood for fringe groups tearing down our traditions in the name of civil rights, if we had insisted our youth respect authority or at least pretend to for civility's sake, if we had not let the world see us bicker and express vile hatred of one political party for the other, if we stood a little more united in our love for our country, if we were not afraid to be proud of our country in spite of past mistakes, if we believed in the blessings and goodness of our country and the opportunity it offers--maybe we would have immigrants who want to be Americans, not Mexicans living in America.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

That boy!

Not long ago Allison, recounting her day at school, mentioned that a little boy had pulled up her skirt at recess and that she and G. proceeded to chase him. She told the story with an enthusiasm I recognized as delight for the horseplay of friends and the newfound naughty feeling of being discovered by the opposite sex. But, Robert--he saw it competely different.

"What boy?", he gruffly demanded. Was he in her class? What was his name?
"I don't know," she said. "Their names all sound alike--Alonso, Alfredo, Alejandro, Francisco."
Then he entered into a stern lecture on propriety.
"That's not right. You don't let a boy get away with that. Boys shouldn't be doing that kind of stuff. They've got to know that's wrong early on. You can't let them grow up thinking that kind of thing is okay. I don't like boys like that; they grow up to be bad. When a boy does that you go tell the teacher and get that boy in trouble. The next time a boy does that you'd better bop him good or tell the teacher on him. NO, bop him and tell the teacher...."

I kept looking at Robert trying to determine how much he was believing what he was saying and how much he was performing to get his unequivocal message across to his daughter. I could not tell. I sat in an amused silence while he finished his rant and watched Allison's expression go from gleeful to stunned worry. I think we were both surprised by his gusty reaction to what we saw as goofy playground mischief. So we did what smart wives and daughters do. We gave the "yes, sir" attitude and hoped the matter would drop quickly.

This weekend Allison and I went to Pepe and Martas for dinner, the usual, a casual gathering outside around the grill. A young couple that Robert and I really like arrived with their three young sons. He is the town banker, and she a beautiful former schoolteacher. Their oldest son, a handsome boy, name ending in -o, is in Allison's class. Oh we need to get these two together to play. "-o, you know Allison, right? Allison, you know -o?" They both nod, shyly. How cute. We all smile. When everyone's gaze is off of her Allison leans into me and timidly whispers, (you guessed it) "That's the boy, mom."

I don't think I'll mention that little discovery of "that boy" to Robert when he returns from America next week. We got the message clear enough the first time.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

humble tools

Occasionally, if I'm not too lazy or distracted I will read to Allison at bedtime. I brought with us several young reader books with a similar theme: life in early America. Stuff about pilgrims, colonists, George Washington, Ben Franklin, Betsy Ross; things I knew she'd be learning about if she were in school back home. She should know a little of our history to balance out what she's learning here, especially, since she's standing for the Mexican pledge of allegiance every morning.

All this reading about pre-industrial life brings up a lot of questions about how people managed without the conveniences we know today. As far as I knew, I told her, Betsy Ross did not have a sewing machine. Well, how then did she make the flag?, my daughter asks. She had it designed and peasant women in a Chinese factory assembled it by hand, I tell her. No, no. I'm joking. "Needle, thread and fabric," I answer, which led her to inquire as to how one does that. Then, "I want to do that. I want to sew. Teach me to sew."

The lazy person in me started to say, "later, when you're older." But I was instantly overcome with the feeling that the women who have passed before me were peering down at me awaiting my answer to the call. I have been summoned to pass the torch, from mother to daughter, an important tool in civilization--the ability to sew and therefore make articles necessary to man's survival. I saw my grandmother, my aunt, my seventh-grade home-ec teacher, and even Betsy Ross glaring at me, expectant, waiting. But God, the tediousness of it. All the stuff to buy and no Hobby Lobby in sight. What's the spanish word for "pincushion?," "thimble?"

"Sure, why not?," I answered.

I remember my grandmother showing me how to crochet (though I was much older than six.) I think I learned one summer vacation at her cabin in the pines of Prescott, Arizona. She lived with a Depression-era mindset, simply and independently before the days of cable tv and Nintendo. Days at grandma's house were what good literature is to pulp fiction. Being with grandma was good for you, good for your developing character. Left to my own devices at home in the California suburbs, I might waste my days on roller skates dashing to the 7-11 to throw money away on Charms pops and giant Sweet-tarts or sit at home three feet in front of the televison for marathon viewing of cartoons, Star-Trek, Brady Bunch and other brain-rotting programs.

After a few days exploring the terrain around her house, catching horned-back toads, collecting pine cones, jumping from one mossy rock to the next, I probably grew quite bored to where her crocheting paraphernalia began to look interesting. She wasn't a patient teacher, and she sighed a lot (a response I understand fully now.) But I learned to make a granny square and was quite proud of myself.

So, today I taught Allison to thread a needle, make a knot and sew on a button. She is a quick learner and after a few passes with the thread she sent me away to do it by herself. My reward? When she came running to me with her scrap of fabric now outfitted with a button, exclaiming, "Look, mama. I can sew! On the way to dinner at Pepe and Marta's we stopped at the fabric store and I fuddled my way through purchasing a yard of fabric and the notions for her to take up the craft. We put it all in a rubbermade container. She was barely through Marta's door before she was pulling it all out to demonstrate her new skill. The other women there were delighted and so happy to help her and she found a spot under the arm of one who guided her, saying, "Mira, mira." "Look, look." I smiled at the power of the most humble tool with the awesome power to cross time and culture.