Thursday, July 31, 2008

Back in the USA.

We are now in the Best Western in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Watching Burn Notice on the USA Network. Funny thing. We have Canadian satellite TV in Mexico . . . and Canadian satellite TV doesn't have USA Network.

We got an even later start this morning -- and got a little lost getting out of Torreon. We didn't arrive here until 6:30. Except we got an hour back because we're now on Mountain Time. It was really 5:30. Yay!

We barely stopped on the way, so there's not a lot to say about the drive. We moved into desert. We drove through Chihuahua.

It took about an hour to get through the line in customs -- but once we hit the front of the line, we got though in a minute.

Our hotel is only about 45 minutes from the border. They have a restaurant attached (Tres Amigos) and the hotel is dog friendly . . . so, who could resist? They're really, really dog friendly. I already don't like the barky little dogs next door. I'm not complaining. Honest!

We were here about a minute and it started pouring. We were here about 20 minutes and heard thunder. After 30 minutes, we lost power. But at least they have windows that open, or we'd cook. Ross had to go to the restaurant to order dinner, because the phone didn't work. The poor waiter guy had to come here twice for clarification, because the phone didn't work. About a minute after he brought our salads, the power came back. Yay.

Da boyz are SO good at traveling. And sitting in a truck all day seems to make them as tired as it does us.

Tomorrow, Denver.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

On the road.

We got to the Torreon Marriott in record time -- about two and a half hours sooner than Streets and Trips said it would take. They didn't know about the new toll road.

We started out just 15 minutes later than intended -- 6:15.

We went past (but not exactly "through") Zapotlanejo, Racine's sister city,right after leaving Guadalajara.

So far, the scenery is even more beautiful than when we came down.

We went through a city, Aguascalientes, that was much more modern than the cities we're used to. And all the countryside is very clean -- no trash.

The toll roads are amazing. You can go very, very fast. There aren't that many other people on them.

Ross made us breakfast and lunch. Egg salad sandwiches. (We had a lot of eggs left yesterday.) At lunch time, he just pulled over to the side of the road and got the stuff out of the cooler and started making sandwiches. The Green Angels stopped to see if we were okay. So they're not a myth.

The Marriott is beautiful. A little hard to find. It's also expensive. It was the only hotel in town that said they'd take dogs. So I guess it's reasonable when you divide the bill by four.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Packing up for the return trip is a lot easier than packing for the stay here. We're leaving a ton of stuff. I'm bring back some clothes that I never wore because it was too hot for them here. I keep thinking . . . should I just leave them? But I may need them in Seattle. I guess. And we're driving, so no one will charge me $15 for my extra bag.

We'll be taking off early-early tomorrow. I hope I get a connection tomorrow night. We're staying at a Marriott (I think) in Torreone.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Restaurant Number 4.

We have a very trendy new restaurant in town.

That means we all have something new to talk about! Whoohoo!

Seriously, since most of the English-speakers here are Canadian, we've had more conversations about Restaurant Number 4 than about Barack Obama.

Like every other restaurant here, it's indoor/outdoor. Other than that, you could see it thriving in New York or San Francisco. (Oh, if only those cities had better weather!) It's really gorgeous. The piano bar provides elegant, live background music. The linens are linen, not paper. The avocado tree in the courtyard is dripping with fruit. The booths in the back are lined in velvet.

What's more, the food is fantastic. It's elegant Italian. Very yummy. And I dare you to get a better filet mignon anywhere.

No one has a problem with any of this.

The conversations are about the prices. They are higher than anywhere else in Ajijic. Shocking! They're not New York prices, or even Seattle prices. But some vocal people have a problem with paying $10 for a plate of pasta. Even if it is handmade pasta with prawns the size of your fist. Served by a very well-trained waitstaff. (It seems like you get two waiters per customer.)

Anyway . . . it's kind of amusing how seriously these folks take this. I guess it's upsetting to have a restaurant in town that you feel you can't afford. But does that mean the restaurant should lower its prices for you? If the prices are too high for everyone, they'll go out of business. No need to take it personally. But some people are furious!

In the meantime, it seems like there are plenty of people going there and enjoying it.

The trendy part: It has a unisex bathroom. I haven't run into this in Seattle. Only on Ally McBeal. I was washing my hands and a guy walked in . . . looked at me . . . looked confused . . . I had to say, "Yes, you're in the right place."

Friday, July 25, 2008


I didn't take this picture. (Like you might have thought I did! Ha!) I found it on Flickr. It was taken in Cypress in 2006, but it looks a lot like what happened here last night. I didn't know light could hurt your eyes when you had them closed! I could still count to five before the thunder, but the noise was almost painful as well.

We didn't completely lose power . . . but what happened was odd. When we got up, half the outlets had no electricity, the other half were on half power. For some things that might as well be none. It all came back an hour ago -- before I had to start worrying about the stuff in the fridge.

I know the whole thing made Ross very unhappy because he's cooking for several guests tonight. The stove and oven are gas (propane, actually), but he has a lot of power tools in the kitchen, not just his workshop.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Being green.

I don't normally talk about work on this blog . . . but today we got an article in The New York Times! This is a big deal for us. It's about the Green Marketing Coalition we started. I've been getting some phone calls and emails. Not an overwhelming amount. But still.

Before I give you the link to it, I have to warn you that they mock us a little. Direct mail and the environment don't go together in people's minds. This just shows we're trying to do our part and lots of others aren't. So there.

The dogs think it's pretty cool.

Anyway, here it is.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Los Restaurantes

I've been doing a little math in my head. Yes, Randy, I'm probably going to need your help again.

They tell me about 2,000 to 3,000 gringos live here in Ajijic/Chapala. And I know for a fact we have close to 100 restaurants that cater to Norte Americanos.

Ask me how I know this. Please.

Well, it's because they list them all at -- your source for everything that's happening here. Except the weather. I gave you that link already. And I, being a complete geek, have created my own (updated) Excel spreadsheet, complete with hours of operation. So this morning, when Ross asks, "What's open for breakfast on Sunday?" I can answer.

Soooooooo anyway. This morning, breakfast for the two of us (including coffee) cost $6 at Restaurant Jardin Plaza -- a nice, very popular place, right on the square. I feel kinda cheap leaving only a $2 tip, but what do you do?

So how do these 100 -- give or take -- restaurants make it? Say the average couple eats out ten times a week. That's 20 meals. Say the average meal is $10. That's $200 per week per couple -- or $100 per week per person. If there are 3,000 people spending $100 a week, that's $300,000 a week. I think that averages out to about $150,000/year per restaurant, gross. Now take out the cost of the food, rent and labor . . . and how in the world does that pencil?

They must make it up on the drinks. When coffee isn't already included, of course.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


One thing about a house with tile floors . . . when it needs cleaning you should be able to just hose it down.

Yesterday, as I was getting all my ingredients together for the dogs' dinner, the oatmeal container went flying. I'm lazy and didn't want to sweep it up. So I went to the closet for the vacuum cleaner.

By the time I returned, both dogs were cleaning up for me!

Now I'm going to start calling Bob "Hoover" and Slick "Roomba."

Monday, July 14, 2008

Another vet visit.

We brought Slick to another vet this morning. He had a rough weekend. He got a cortisone shot today -- so we're hoping that fixes things. The vet thinks it's just a muscle spasm, not a spine problem. I'd kind of like to see an x-ray -- but Dr. Aguilar says it's not necessary.

Both of da boyz have lost weight on my meatloaf diet. I measure it out quite strictly. They needed to lose a couple of pounds, but now I think it's time for "maintenance" as they say in Weight Watchers. That means . . . more cookies!

Ross is starting to work on the plans for our trip back. Can you believe it? Just three more weeks. We'll be taking a different route north than the one we came down on -- and taking a little longer, too.

We also have to figure out what to do with Casa Gecko while we're gone. We don't really want to rent it out. Too bad there's no one we know here who temporarily needs a place to stay while they're looking for a permanent place. (But I guess that's unrealistic.) We're going to talk to a management company that will pay our bills. And maybe we'll need to come back a couple times to see how it's going here.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Nancy Who?

It isn't a mystery that I loved Nancy Drew as a kid.

My sister, Nita, and I were just talking about White's Bookstore, where much of my collection was bought. I remember the great consternation when the price of a hardcover Nancy Drew (the yellow spines) went from $1 to $1.25. Talk about inflation!

Last year they came out with a Nancy Drew movie. It took me until today to see it because (naturally) I waited till it came out on video. (You've heard me rant about U.S. movie theaters enough already.)

It was a cute movie, but it wasn't Nancy Drew. Neither was the TV series I watched when I was a teenager. This Nancy was an obsessive-compulsive smarty-pants who couldn't make friends at her new school.

In the book, Nancy was excellent in everything she attempted -- ballet, acting, playing the bagpipes, whatever -- but not obnoxious, and she never, ever went to school. Oh, she had her detractors. Occasionally, other girls might be jealous -- but they always turned out to be bad guys. Most people thought Nancy was pretty swell and they wanted to be her friend.

Did anyone else see this movie? Didja like it?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Lupita's chicken.

Everyone (well, nearly everyone) tells you not to be too adventurous about food in Mexico. Having gotten turista a few times my own self, I understand the sentiment. But what's the point of being in Mexico if you're going to eat like an American?

Eating Lupita's is not exactly daring in these parts. Her roasted chicken is highly recommended by the Canadians and Americans we've met. Plus, everyone standing in line in front of us today was clearly Mexicano.

But you wouldn't see this process in the states. The roaster is outdoors. The sauce container is a plastic garbage can. The end of the big rotisserie skewer is resting on the dirty concrete as chickens are being pinned on them, just about three feet away from us.

It cost about $7 for a chicken, which I think is more than you pay for a roasted chicken at Costco nowadays -- but I'm guessing this one didn't have salt water injected into it. Plus, for some reason, we got a chicken and a half. A sale, maybe?

This photo is a little blurry, but I was trying to be sly and look a little less like a tourist, so I shot from the hip (literally) and didn't focus.

By the way, the chicken was as good as I'd hoped.

Next week, I promise I'm going to try the roasted corn from the woman who shows up around 3 p.m. at the end of our block.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The rainy season.

If you've listened to me brag about living in Mexico for more than, oh, half a minute, you've heard me talk about how the weather is always beautiful and spring-like.

In the past two months, we've experienced many, many more seasons than just spring. I don't feel bad about this. After all, this is why we came down here before rashly selling our home in Seattle. We needed to see what it was really like here.

When we arrived, we quickly learned it was palmetto bug season. Palmetto bugs look like overgrown cockroaches. Like cockroaches, they're a little horrifying and they move really, really fast. They respond best to a great big stomp of the shoe -- which was nice, because by the time we got the big cans of Raid, palmetto bug season was over.

Next came dust season. The Spanish word for dust is "polvo." This is a handy word to know if you're going to communicate with your housekeeper. It also helps at the grocery store. "Polvo de horno" . . . dust of the oven . . . baking powder!

Then we had construction season. This is like a plague of locusts, only it's a lot of workers crawling all over your house, creating lots and lots of polvo. Yes, these two seasons generally overlap.

Just on the heels of construction, we had mosquito/bobo season. Bobos are harmless, but annoying, mosquito lookalikes. We saw billions of them. We knew a couple of them were actually mosquitoes, because we got the bites to prove it. Fortunately, mosquito season seems to last about as long as palmetto bug season.

Thunderstorm season came next. John and Anita were here for this one. Very, very loud and dramatic. I thought it would continue for our entire time here -- but it seems to be over. (Unless I'm sleeping through them.)

Housefly season came upon us and lasted long enough for us to buy flyswatters. Between us, Ross and I killed seven or eight flies in one afternoon. Now they seem to be gone.

We're now about a week into the rainy season. We're having an unusual one. The average rainfall for July is nine inches. As of today, the 10th, we've had 8.59 inches. We've had 2.08 inches in the last 24 hours. Ross went out this morning and said the streets were like rivers. Yesterday he went upstairs to the studio and one of the drains was plugged and we had several inches sitting up there. He immediately dubbed it Lake Mirador. Fortunately, nothing leaked into the house.

It's now been raining long enough for me to learn the Spanish word for it: lluvia. Our cute little Lake Chapala Weather website is now saying: "Stop the lluvia -- no mas, por favor."

What could possibly be next? I'm quite sure there's no fire season here . . . unless one of the volcanoes erupts.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Thar be dragons.

I promised Brother-in-Law Ted's dragon boat photos when I got them -- and they turned out great! Isn't this a colorful float? Doesn't it make you want to get out on the water and paddle?

I know if this were the Vintage Sake team in the parade, they'd be air-paddling. Dena would be coaching us from the front. (I'd be frantically hiding from her in the back.)

If this sounds tempting to you (not the hiding . . . the paddling!), and you'll be in Seattle in August, you can join Anita's team, the Steele Dragons for the Celebrate Life Festival.

Or, if you're in Racine this week, you could check out the Great Midwest Dragon Boat Festival! According to their website, it was voted the #1 event in Racine County! (Better than last week's parade? Wow.)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Rules of the road.

I was talking to my family this weekend about driving in Mexico and realized it's a bit different from what we're used to in the US of A. Let me 'splain you.

In El Norte, driving is an individual sport. He who ends up in the front of the line, wins.

In Mexico, driving is a team sport. Let's all keep moving the best we can. If it means some people will be driving on the shoulder, so be it. Avoid hitting each other. If everyone makes it to our respective destinations in one piece, we all win.

This distinction -- team vs. individual -- gives us the most confusing aspect of Mexican driving for the Norte Americano/a: the use of signals.

In the U.S. (except Texas), we "signal our intentions." In an individual sport, however, signals give too much information to the enemy -- so Texans don't use them.

In Mexico, we use signals to tell others what they can safely do.

That means, what Americans would call a "left turn signal" means "it's now safe to pass me on the left." If it actually meant I was going to turn, I'd already be in the left-hand lane. (Yes, I'd be driving in the lane with all the cars coming toward us.)

If I've gotten bad information from the driver in front of me and I'm passing -- but you're hurtling toward me at 90 kph -- you are expected to head for the shoulder so that I can safely pass the slowpoke.

What Americans call "hazard lights" are also used differently here, i.e., defensively. In the U.S., you turn those on when you're parked someplace unexpected and potentially dangerous. You've had a flat and you're on the side of a two-lane highway, for example.

In Mexico, hazard lights are more of an offensive tool, used while driving. It means, "I'm coming up on something going very slow, or stopped. Don't you rear-end me! I'm signalling you -- so it'll be your fault if you do!"

An arm waving out the drivers' side window usually means much the same thing.

Many rules of the road are considered suggestions here.

Speed limits? Just don't get caught.

Passing on the right? No problema.

Stop sign? Slow down and proceed with caution.

So far, I like the more relaxed approach here in Mexico. It seems to keep everyone moving with a lot less tension. But, philosophically, it may be too fatalistic. Probably a little of both styles would work best in the long run.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Walk this way.

Went for a walk today. That was one of the things I meant to do every day once I got down here -- and this is probably the fourth or fifth time I've done it. Take a look at that gorgeous photo. The Lake Chapala area is a beautiful place to walk.

Except today.

I took that picture several weeks ago. Today it was overcast and threatening and very hot and extremely humid. I tend to brag about the weather here, but today was nothing to brag about. It was the worst of all possible summer weather scenarios.

I feel a little guilty walking without the boys -- they love it so much and I hate walking with them. They just make it so hard when we meet other dogs. Maybe I can find a time when all smart dogs are taking a siesta.

I only have about four more weeks here. Let's see if I can pick up the pace.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

4th of July Parade

According to USA Today, the second biggest 4th of July parade is in Racine, Wisconsin. (The biggest is in Washington, D.C.) I don't remember how long it's been since I've gone. But this year, my sisters and I made it. My sister, Elaine, had a friend save us a prime section of sidewalk along the route. It was great! Many parts of it were exactly as I remember. The differences:

1. I don't remember anyone drinking beer at 8 a.m.
2. No one was selling helium balloons.
3. No one was selling ice cream bars.

One of the cool parts of the parade for us was the section from Zapotlanejo, Racine's new sister city -- that happens to be in Jalisco state, near Guadalajara.

Another highlight was the Dragon Boat Team float -- but my camera battery had died by then, so I don't have a photo yet. (Brother-in-law Ted is going to send me one.)

After the parade, we had burgers at my brother's house. When it got dark, my sister, Anita, and I braved the world famous Wisconsin mosquitoes and went to the lakefront to watch the fireworks. Not quite a spectacular a production as watching the Seattle show from John's penthouse deck, but very nice . . . and the getaway was a lot faster.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Chestertonian Twins

Great photo from the American Chesterton Society Conference. They linked to my blog, so now I'm returning the favor! (Just click on the title of this post to go there.)

Foreign movies.

We went to the movies again last night. We saw Hulk: El Hombre Increible.

Just like Indiana Jones, this one was in English and subtitled in Spanish. Except for when The Hulk was in Brazil and it was in Portuguese, subtitled in Spanish. Or when he moved up to Guatemala and Chiapas, when it was in Spanish with no subtitles at all.

Who knew you needed to be such a linguistic master to watch such a silly movie. (I think we got the idea without knowing exactly what was said.)

After the movie, we stumbled into karaoke night at one of our neighborhood restaurants. I will leave you with the line that is still running in my head this morning, from the last song we heard, because it's exactly how I feel about you: "You are so beeeYOOOOOOOOOOOOteeful, and I have loved you dearly. More dearly than the spoken word can tell."