Saturday, November 24, 2007

Counting my blessings

Do you remember Bing Crosby crooning to Rosemary Clooney....
When I'm worried and I can't sleep,
I count my blessings instead of sheep.
And I fall asleep, counting my blessings.

Well, my blessings wake me up! Witness the time stamp on this post.
Usually when this happens, I get up and pour it all out into a spiral bound notebook. I've got quite a few. But I also realized that this year I never really acknowledged Thanksgiving DAY, except to talk about where we ate! How crass is that?

OK, my family always celebrated Thanksgiving a day or so late anyway. Thanksgiving was always a travel day to the Hope family reunion in Oklahoma, and we'd usually have Thursday lunch at a Dairy Queen in Snyder, Texas. If it was open. Our big celebration was on Friday or Saturday when about 100 relatives would finally get together.

So it's .... what day is this? Saturday! OK I'm not TOOOOO late. The fact is that every day has been a day filled with gratitude and thanks for the last several months. And truth to tell, it was gratitude, daily, minute by minute acknowledgement of God's love, care and protection, that brought me through the hard and painful times before the whole brouhaha this past September. Gratitude, praise and thanksgiving have just become so integrated into our lives lately, that it seems almost incongruous to say, OK, this special day we're going to be thankful. Every day has been a special, joyfilled gift -- that I am officially acknowledging right now, digitally, rather than with pen and paper.

Here's a list of the most immediate things I'll count as blessings before heading back to bed:

I'm grateful....
  • That my long time friend Patricia and her friend John made it into Puerto Vallarta late yesterday afternoon, and there were no glitches in picking them up.
  • That it was daylight almost until we got back to Guayabitos and I didn't have to drive that road in the dark.
  • That Patricia is still around! She's coming out of a soul-trying few years. The criminal trial for her former husband was resolved this past September. He was sentenced to fewer months in jail than she spent in the hospital after he tried to kill her almost two years ago.
  • That she looks radiant and happy with her new life, and that she's transforming what could have been a life-scarring circumstance into a Life-sharing opportunity. She's now a spiritual and public activist, working for a change in attitude and response to domestic violence in New Mexico.
  • That we have even just this weekend together to renew a friendship that began almost thirty years ago when I enrolled in her French class way back in Midland, Texas.
  • That my mom in Lubbock, Texas, had ALL her grandchildren together for a few days before T-Day. Two sets of them were without parents at the time, so she really had a great time focussing entirely on the kids. That was like a nano-second in the whole scheme of things, but a particularly special time for her.
  • That....dare I say this? That Home Depot is now open in Puerto Vallarta. You cannot imagine what a difference that makes in the lives, not only of American and Canadian immigrants building houses and condos left and right, but of Mexicans in the lower economic levels. When we got here a year ago, I couldn't find a little table lamp around here for under the U.S. equivalent of $30. My housekeeper was amazed when I brought back little reading lamps from the States and how little they cost. Home Depot has scads of little lamps. And big ones. And lots and lots of other stuff that makes life better and homes more liveable -- at China-produced U.S. prices. The customers there were Mexican, and they were having the time of their lives.
  • That we're surrounded by friends here, that we have friends in far places, that I saw many of them in Boston last week, and that I'm going to see a lot of them in California this coming week when I go back for friend Cynthia's wedding on December 2. I can't begin to count how many blessings and how many friends! So I'd better stop or I'll be awake forever.... 'night all!

Friday, November 23, 2007

What I Made for Thanksgiving Dinner.....

Reservations! Old joke. Great idea. We had a very full day with friends and friends of friends at two different restaurants. Included in the company was an extremely photogenic five-year old, Marina. She appropriated my hat, as well as lots of hearts.

It was a full but slow-paced, satisfying day. First we introduced everyone to the wonders of the Thursday tianguis in La Peñita. Then adjourned for lunch to Un Rincon del Cielo, literally, a Corner of Heaven, the tiny little restaurant up on the bluffs above Punta Raza. Some of you may remember a previous blog I posted on this place. It's been a five star favorite of our guests this whole past year. You can see more pictures of it stored in an album. Go over to the sidebar on this blog, and click on the link that says "Susan's Photo Albums." Pick the album "Un Rincon del Cielo." (Incidentally, the photos from Tuesday's parade in La Peñita are up now, as well.)
In the evening, we joined other Americans at the brand new Xaltemba (old spelling of Jaltemba) Gallery and Restaurant for a traditional Thanksgiving buffet dinner.

Partners Eduardo Dominguez and Roberto Gil de Montes live six months in Los Angeles and six months in La Peñita. They recently opened their art and eating establishment just off the plaza, transforming a ruin and a wreck of a building as well as a dismal little alley into one of the trendiest spots on the Riviera Nayarit. Their professional chef, Oregonian Marisa, creates and presents dishes that could easily grace the pages of the foodie section of either the New York or LA Times.

Bleakness turned to blessing -- officially! Last November 2, at their opening party, the priest from the church across the plaza came to seal the deal. :-)

British friend Lucy, back from her Oxford graduation and re-thinking her mini-career as a Decameron Resort dancer, pronounced her first Thanksgiving dinner delicious. Why don't we have this holiday in England? she asked. Nothing like a history lesson over dinner. Lucy had to leave early because she had a show last night. There's nothing like putting on a costume and feathers and dancing on stage after a Thanksgiving dinner, is there? The REST of us went to bed!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Big Day in La Peñita

Look at those curls! Something special was going on!

Yesterday was Mexican Independence Day -- the BIG one. November 20, 1910, was the day designated in Francisco I. Madero's Plan de San Luis, that the proletariat should rise up and overthrow the aristocratic government of Porfirio Diaz. They did, starting a revolution that, according to some, continues today. At any rate, the parade continued, practically the whole day. We caught the beginning, about 9:30 in the morning, and pooped out a couple of hours later when the heat and humanity became a little overwhelming. We hear the high school bands and charros in the afternoon were pretty spectacular. Maybe next year. This year, at least, we enjoyed seeing the very young kids present a parade of Mexican history.....

This is the way I would have enjoyed teaching eighth grade U.S. Social Studies back in Plainview, Texas. Talk about getting kids involved with the subject matter!
What I was really impressed with was the patience and fortitude of these very young kids standing all dressed up in the hot, hot sun.
The teacher wearing red spike heels was also impressive. Ouch!

There were battle re-enactments: stamp on firecrackers and all fall down!

These two guys had a job that every little boy envied...putting firecrackers down a home made cannon. This was not a quiet parade!

There was lots of dancing to the corrida which honors Pancho Villa, La Cucaracha....

enthusiastic musicians...... (look at those cheeks! watch out for those drumsticks!).....

and historical Maximilian and Carlota, Emiliano Zapata, Francisco Madero, and Victoriano Huerta. (They were all wearing name tags, but I would have known them anywhere! Right.)

Members of the press were represented, a very dignified contingent of the fourth estate. The main focus seemed to be keeping the false bigotes (mustaches) in place.

There were vast numbers of the proletariat....

who would overthrow the aristocratic class, all spit and polish and parasols.

Following all this were groups of kids marching, representing various rights guaranteed by the new constitution. Every school child had a part to play, and every parent had a camera. And I can see now why every Mexican has a rich sense of history.
I'll put up an album of more pictures from the parade under the link "Susan's Albums." It will be called something like Independence Day in La Peñita.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The learning curve: stalled in the half-pipe

Larry and I figured it out this morning. Teenagers know everything about cell phones and computers because they DON'T HAVE TO DO ANYTHING! Safe in their own little worlds, out from under foot, they can practice the technological equivalent of ollies, fakies and grinds in total privacy. Total privacy and time to focus: a privilege few of us in the "real world" get to share.

Maybe that's an age-ist remark, but for the last four days I've been trying to get a nice block of time together and get acquainted with my Macbook. It ain't happenin'. Not with painters, roof tile layers, pool service people, housekeepers (ours and out of town neighbor's) needing direction, attention and MONEY. If I'm home, it seems, someone is at the door.

So I'm back at desktop PC Nellie just to play catch-up on where we are construction-wise. I also want to introduce you to a few friends I hang with and places I hang out when I escape. And NONE of these people have websites! And I don't think they skateboard, either.

PS -- Since I've posted a lot of blogs today, I'm adjusting the post times so they'll appear in consecutive order as you scroll down. Less confusing. I hope.

Shade arbor on the roof -- almost done

We've had the concrete columns and beams up for months. Had to wait for the end of the rainy season to continue, in order to coordinate with Javier the painter and his crew. At last progress! Last week Leo and his boys put the iron beams and rebar in place. And today -- Sunday, no less -- there is a crew above us placing curved terracotta tejas in precise rows. Larry had wanted wooden vigas closely spaced to let in partial sun. But he never could find either the wood or the person to do it. We both agree now that the clay tile roof will work much better after all. Rain totally out -- as well as those calling cards that feathered creatures tend to leave behind.

Salad days

A week or so ago my down the street neighbor Ally and I went south to Sayulita for a little Rest, Recreation, and Retail Therapy. And lunch on the beach. This is the place next door to the rightfully famous Don Pedro's. I think it's called Breakfast @ the Beach or something. It's a cyber cafe with a less extensive menu than Don Pedro's but much lower prices. These salads don't look too shabby, do they?

Pura Vida!

Pure Life! That describes Hala Hazzi. Her shop, Hamaca Maya, is close to the plaza in La Penita. Hala is Egyptian, lives the summer in Toronto, and speaks fluent Arabic, English, French and Spanish....and I'm probably missing an idiom or two. Her shop is full of colorful hammocks and fun things to remind you about Mexico and what life is all about. She doesn't have a website, but here's a cute one in Spanish with animations showing you how to get into a hamaca. I can't wait for that shade arbor to be finished so I can visit her shop and do more than just talk!

Another cosmopolitan....

This is Daniel. Say it like the girl's name Danielle. He's Argentinian and when it's hot here in the summer, he heads for Buenos Aires -- or Mexico City. But for the next several months he'll be serving Italian dinners nightly and breakfast on Thursday mornings for market day. He's right on the plaza in La Penita.

This just in....

Climbed up and made a progress check a few minutes ago. This roof is happening!

Care and Feeding of Hummercita

Larry has made friends with the guys at Saratoga Car Wash, but from time to time knocks the dust off with our hose. Early Sunday morning is a good time. We normally keep Hummercita in the underground garage/basement, but as you can see, it's a pretty tight fit!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

To market, to market

Yesterday it was Walmart in PV. Today it's the tianguis in La Penita. Tomorrow it will probably be the little fruit and veggie shop in Guayabitos, just because I like Miguel and his wife Janet. Miguel always picks out a good pineapple for me. "Para hoy, o para manana?" he asks. Today or tomorrow? It makes a difference. He'll get one that's just the perfect ripeness for just the moment I want it. Larry and I missed great fruit while we were in Boston. The hotel really tried, and if we weren't so spoiled, we would have been impressed by what they laid out for the breakfast buffet. But how can you compete with perfection?

We went to "market" while we were in Boston. I shopped for a new pair of jeans. One of the brighter spots in this summer of surgery and tooth extractions is the unplanned loss of a lot of excess Susan. I keep thinking of the tabloid headline: "210 Pound Woman drops 70 pounds: A Third of Her Left Behind!"

Well, my behind is considerably smaller, both right behind and left behind, though I can't say I've lost 70 pounds. More like forty. Like I say, the loss was unplanned, sort of thrust upon me by having to look at everything I eat and asking, Can I chew it? Will it process? Is it gentle, or will it make me cry later?

I've been asked to share. Here are the basics:

Nothing with corners or sharp edges. Absolutely no fried or breaded anything. No chips, tostados, whole nuts, seeds, popped corn, or chili peppers. (I KNOW! That bowl of salsa is off limits! )

Cheese in small amounts -- so I make it count. I go for the really intense flavor of brie, bleu, feta or goat.

Beef - NO. Pork -- Maybe. Chicken -- broiled, really moist. (I buy one of those rotisserie chickens once a week). And fish -- grilled, baked or poached. We live in shrimp heaven, so I've always got some on hand.

Eggs, yes. Hardboiled, they're a staple.

Corn, iffy. Beans, yes -- smashed (like in hummus). Rice, noodles, pasta, potatoes, bread, and oats -- yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. Olive oil instead of butter, but when butter is better it's in pats, not vats.

Fruits: Just about anything without little seeds. My breakfast smoothie has three kinds, plus yogurt, plus peanut butter. Makes me smile just thinking about it!

Veggies: Anything, anyway. Though raw stuff can be challenging. I disinfect all produce in a ten minute bath laced with Clorolex or the stuff in the purple bottle they sell in the produce department at Sam's Club. I time the disinfection bath by steaming things in the microwave. Ten minutes for quart size Pyrex bowls of carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, winter squash, beets, green beans. I get a real rotation thing going. I also bake sweet potatoes, potatoes, apples, and chayote in the oven together. Yeah, it takes about a day's worth of preparation. But, hey, we're retired! And after all the work, everything is ready in the fridge for reheating, grilling, sauteeing, blending in juices, putting on flatbread pizzas or on sandwiches, or use in cold salads. It takes a lot less prep time for each meal.

To drink: No soda pop, diet or otherwise. Basically, lots and lots of water. Lemons, limes, a little fruit juice makes it interesting. And sweet. Because.....

.....Refined sugar is pretty much out of the picture. Lots of sweet comes from the fruits and root vegetables just by themselves. Honey is good -- and a piece of really good dark chocolate after dinner.

That's pretty much it. How it goes together and what makes it interesting -- the smoothies, the soups, the sauces, the spices and herbs -- that probably merits a separate blog. I've had requests to share -- and I like getting ideas from others as well. If I get one started, I'll announce it here and put a link on the sidebar. Anybody interested?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

blogus interruptus

I was ready to blog! I leapt out of bed, sped to the side of my loved one, and jiggled her mouse. Ah, but my desktop, roused from her slumbers, must go through a morning ritual that rivals any aging beauty queen. She retreats. This will take a while. Excluded from intimate contact by a frosty screen, I find myself staring at her hourglass figure and wondering....What's she doing in there?

Evidently I'm not the first to approach her this morning. She's already been in the arms of Microsoft for some internet "update" intercourse. It's always like this. My rival leaves a note behind, saying my computer had to be "restarted." I think she fell asleep instead. At any rate she is not responding to my advances with the same urgency I feel coursing through my creative loins....

OK, that's what I wrote in a spiral notebook while waiting for PC Desktop Nellie to get it in gear. My ardor has diminished. On my list of things to do today: Hooking up with that new macbook I just brought back from Boston. And maybe start writing a romance novel..... But where did this guy in my head come from??!!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Some stories are better in English

This is the little plastic mouse I got from the dentist a few weeks ago when I had a tooth extracted. It has my tooth inside. Yuck. Hilda saw it and explained. Mexicans don't have the tooth fairy. They have the tooth rat. The tooth rat carries away your tooth, and if you are a child, revisits you every night to bring little pieces of tooth to replace the one he took away.

I'll take a tooth fairy any day over a tooth rat, especially if the rat is going to be poking around in my mouth. Now that's creepy!

Día de los Muertos

Last Friday night the graveyard was the place to be. The Panteón Municipal on the highway north of La Peñita is now filled with fresh ofrendas, wreaths of flowers both fresh and plastic, relics of a night spent remembering the nearest and dearest dearly departed.

For myself, I was at a party. (Larry came, too, but only for a few minutes. He’d spent five hours in the dentist’s chair that day, but that’s another story.) Even there, there was an altar for a departed member of the community. I never met Bob Howell, as he was ailing and in seclusion when we arrived last year, but he was known for his good works and for bringing out good works in those around him. The altar with the bright pink cutouts behind it was set up in the entrance room to the newly opened Xaltemba Gallery and Restaurant. It had photos, notes from friends, things representing what Bob liked most (evidently good cigars and good tequila) – and the ubiquitous candles, sugar skulls and marigolds.

There was also a loaf of the dome-shaped sugar-dusted pan de muerto. They were selling that bread everywhere prior to the holiday. Sam’s Club, Walmart, every bakery and corner grocery. Evidently no Day of the Dead altar is complete without it, including the much more modest altar built on an old adobe oven around the corner and down the street from us.

Friday afternoon I talked to Rosario, the old woman who was setting up the ofrenda. For a long time I’ve wondered about the outdoor oven under the huge huanacaxtle tree. It turns out that her husband used to bake bread there, as well as camotes – sweet potatoes. He sold them to people who passed by. But he was killed just a few years ago while walking down the highway between La Peñita and Guayabitos. I asked her permission to take this photo later that night. It was dark on my way home from the party. No moon. But I saw the candles glowing in the dark.. There were his hat, his huaraches, and a few personal items the family had saved. Rosario, her daughter and granddaughter seemed to be enjoying themselves remembering and reminiscing.

To be honest the idea of this holiday used to really creep me out. Not so much anymore. I still have both my parents, but Larry’s parents are no longer on the scene. They were not just inlaws to me. They were great friends. I think about my mother-in-law Chloe every time I use a particular teapot or see the books we shared on my library shelves. I think about Hank every time I see his hat still on our coat rack or when I peel a hardboiled egg. He loved hardboiled eggs. I can see how setting aside a day to celebrate and remember together who Hank and Chloe were and acknowledge their continuing influence in our lives would be a joyful occasion – not creepy at all.

And as Chloe said to the lady at the Neptune Society when she heard how Hank's body would be sent to the crematorium in Santa Ana in a panel truck along with five others: “Well, Hank always did like company.”

Excuses, Excuses

I've got about six good blogs in my head, and I WILL get them down and then posted. But I've been involved with getting another blog up and running, namely the Guayabitos Zona Residencial Homeowners Association newsletter. (I don't think that's the official name of our organization....come to think of it, I don't KNOW the official name of our organization! Actually, we're not a very official organization anyway.)

Finally sent it out this past week to sixty-five members, and a whole bunch bounced back as undeliverable. That and a few other glitches. If you want to take a look at my efforts the link is over on the side, titled "Life En La Zona." Or you can click here: Life En La Zona