Colon Sur Traffic Jam

I know you like photos, and I sure wish I could show you some, but my little seven year old, $50 Kodak EasyShare may have snapped its last.  Or it could be that the seven year old rechargeable batteries I use in have recharged their last.  Either way, while I would love to show you some photos of my street Colon Sur (South Columbus), it’s just not gonna happen, so you’ll have to envision it.  C’mon, you got mad skills for that!

Imagine, if you will, a dusty cobblestone (and I DO mean stone) calle in a pueblo in the Mexican central highlands.  On the left side of the road, you have houses, for the most part, with sidewalks in front.  On the right are fairly tall trees and bushes with a chain link fence running through the bushes to protect the berry field across the street.

The street is probably the equivalent of about two relatively small vehicles wide.  It IS a two-lane road, but there’s no way two large trucks, even two large pickups can comfortably pass without the truck headed south (on the tree side) having to go into the bushes.  In other words, if the right-hand window is down and you have a passenger, you’ve got a problem.

From the carretera (highway), Colon Sur is only about three blocks long, but it gets quite a bit of traffic…..50% composed of vehicles and 50% composed of horses, cows, dogs, burros, and pedestrians since my block has quite a few sidewalks, but the other two blocks don’t.

So now you’ve got a picture in your mind of Colon Sur; right?  Muddy during the rainy season and dusty the rest of the year, particularly in the dry season .  The pedestrians, both two- and four-legged, know instinctively to get over on the tree side when there is vehicular traffic (cars, trucks, motor scooters, and quads) coming, although the walking people and dogs and occasionally burros will use the sidewalk if available.

For instance, one morning I heard a bit of a ruckus outside my front door and when I opened it, I found myself eyeball to eyeball with a burro who was checking out my garbage can.  I’m willing to bet that you readers in urban or suburban areas of the United States or Canada may sometimes find yourself eyeball to eyeball with asses checking out your trash, but not ones with tails and HUGE teeth!!!  I’m not sure who/which one of us was more startled!

Nonetheless, even with all the kinds of traffic we get on Colon Sur, it’s not often that we get a real traffic jam where nobody is going anywhere.  But, boy, did we get one this morning!

It was about 10:10AM and I had just opened the garage doors to back out Stormy the pickup so that I could go play cards with my friends when I saw “my” propane truck coming down the block.  We all depend on propane to fuel our stoves, at a minimum, and usually our water heaters as well, and we all have our favorite companies and/or drivers that we use over and over.

There are lots of propane distributors and they all drive up and down the streets of all the pueblos filling up or exchanging tanks.  Some people have tanks like this:

and when the gas guys with those kinds of tanks come by, they exchange your empty tank for a full one, like our water guys do.   The guys who drive the trucks with those stand-alone tanks usually have an announcement system on their vehicle so throughout the day, all through the pueblo, you hear “GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAS” or, from one particular company, a little song, “Zeta, Zeta, Zeta Gas.”  So you can go outside and flag them down.

But those of us who have non-movable propane tanks call our favorite driver (they all carry cell phones) and have them come by to fill us up.  They’re usually very good about giving us an estimate as to when they’ll be showing up, which always delights me.  None of this “we’ll be there some time between 8AM and 5PM.”  No, no.  It’s usually (since you’re talking to the driver himself) more like, “Okay, well, I’m in San Juan Cosala right now, so I’ll be over in an hour or less.”

Man, is that cool!!  No hanging around the house all day waiting as a rule.  But sometimes your guy is on the other side of the mountains filling up his truck and he’ll tell you it might be three or four hours before he can get to your place.  Still…..way better than the 8AM to 5pM stuff!

Now I have a small propane tank here.  It looks like this:

but it’s much smaller.  Maybe half the size of the ones you know, maybe even one-third the size.  However, I still need the “regular” large propane truck to come and fill it up with the hose.  You know, kind of like this:

Since I was backing out of the garage on my way to cards, I figured I would wait until I got home to call my gas guy.  But as I backed out, “my” gas company truck was coming up the street.  Too good an opportunity to miss!  So maybe I’m a little late to the card game, so what.  I’m down below 15% full in the tank and I wanna do some baking.

So I jumped into the middle of the street and flagged the guy down, then hustled over to the front door to open it up so that he could put the dispenser tube through it and top me off.  (Most large propane tanks in our area of Mexico sit on the roof, so all my guys are delighted that they don’t have to climb the ladders they always carry to give me a fill up.  That delight is always tempered by the fact that I have such a small tank.)

There are always two guys in every propane truck.  The driver/money guy and the guy who does the actual filling up.  I was chasing after the truck when the real “worker” showed up next to me, having jumped out of the right-hand door when he saw me.  Scared the crap out of me!!

Anyhow, once we established where the tank was, the worker motioned to the driver to back up close to the front door and we got the process going.  Now you have to go back and remember how wide my street is.  Definitely not wide enough for the propane truck and anything other than a scooter, quad, or animals.  As a rule, not a problem.  However, my water bottle delivery guy happened to be headed north on Colon Sur at the same time as the propane truck pulled up to my front door headed south.

So our first stand-still traffic jam occurred.  And then it got even more exciting!!  (Remember, I am easily amused.)  A pickup truck came along headed north and, for whatever reason, he had a small (like mine) propane tank in the bed of his truck and he, too, need a fill.  So he pulled in between my pickup (now on the street) and the propane truck and proceeded to get some propane.  “My” propane driver was thrilled!  Two fill ups and no climbing!  Just like that, 1,200 pesos or more in his hand!

And you know the really nice thing about it?  My great Jocotepec Water bottle delivery man who had to sit there just waiting for us to finish up so he could pass sold two bottles of water to the folks in the house he was stopped in front of!!  And I know for a fact that those people use a different brand of more expensive bottled water, so I’m hoping he picked up a new customer….or at least a good tip if they paid him what they normally pay.

And that’s the story of the great Colon Sur traffic jam of 2 October 2013!!  You’re probably breathless with excitement, as I was, so take a siesta if you need to!

Posted in Fun Stuff, Lake Chapala, pets | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

What Should I Bring with Me?

One of the things that we expats in Mexico (and probably expats anywhere) get asked constantly via web boards is “What should I bring with me and what should I leave behind when I move?”  While expats as individuals have individual answers, of course, here are some of mine.

Bring your good cookware.  While there are some fabulous ceramic cooking pieces that you can buy down here at probably a much lower price than you can get them elsewhere, stainless steel pots and pans are very expensive, at least around Guadalajara.  Before I moved down, I bought one of those cookware sets that they were selling on QVC and I am so glad that I did.

I’ve been lucky in that all three of the furnished places I’ve rented have had such things as microwaves, blenders, dishware, and flatware.  And two of them have provided cookware.   But I’m still glad I brought my own, because I knew how to use it and as it gets battered over time, I don’t have to pay to replace it for my landlords.

Since I love word games and logic problems and pretty much pencil and paper games of all kinds, I am so happy that I ordered two very large boxes of Dell PennyPress puzzle books to cart down here.  [And, yes, that’s one of my first ever commercial “plugs,” but I totally stand by it!]  I purchased two 40-book packets and those lasted me for two or three years.  Then a couple of years ago when my friend Jonnie drove up to the U.S., I ordered two more big boxes of them and I still have puzzles upon which to work.

Hand-in-hand (literally) with the puzzle books go some really good mechanical pencils with No. 9 lead refills.  To paraphrase the old ad for Timex watches, they take a licking and keep on writing.  And they’re almost impossible to find down here.

Between the pencils, the No. 9 lead refills, and the puzzle books, I’ve been able to amuse myself for an amazing amount of time.  So if you’re a word/math puzzle aficionado, keep these things in mind and save some space for them if you’re driving to your destination.  Mailing the books would be pretty much cost-prohibitive.  I checked it one time and the postage for one box of 40 puzzle books was, as I recall, about $42US and that’s without the duty that the government and/or the mail service would charge!!

And, yes, I know you can find all these things online for free or way less than $42US, but I like to work on them in bed at night, and I don’t want to drag the computer in there.  (However, I am willing to entertain your suggested replacements, because I KNOW some of you will have some!  And, no, Joe J., I don’t mean suggested replacements for things to do in bed instead of puzzles!)

While it seems like almost daily we get access here around Lake Chapala to things we might be missing from our homelands, there are still a few things that seem to be impossible to find or which cost a great deal more down here (like flannel sheets from L.L. Bean).  I’ve mentioned before that in the five years that I’ve lived here, I find that I miss less and less from the U.S.  I think that’s primarily because I’ve found perfectly adequate substitutes, but also because my tastes have literally changed over the years.

So what I might bring with me were I moving to Mexico today might be different than what I moved with me five years ago.  For example, I’m pretty sure that I would bring a Kindle or some other Ereader with me instead of the two HUGE boxes of books I brought.  But I’ve never regretted the space they took up because not only did I have things to read, I had books to exchange at what pass for our local English-language libraries (e.g. Cafe Magana, the American Legion,, and, mainly, my friends).

I’ve written previously about photos and souvenirs and gifts that I’m glad I brought, each of which has provided me with a little taste of “home.”  But I must say that many of those things have now been shifted into the background in my home to be replaced with new photos, souvenirs, and gifts that remind me that my home is now in Mexico.  You’d never be able to convince me to give away the going-away album my friends at Petrified Forest gave me when I left for Mexico, but it’s the photo of Kathi, Jonnie, Sher, and I that sits on my dresser in the frame that Jonnie especially picked out for us.

And while my pink flamingo pens from Everglades National Park are still in my cup from Death Valley, it’s my corn husk Virgin of Guadalupe made by a woman in my pueblo of San Cristobal Zapotitlan that has pride of place in the living room.

My friend Shep gave me a set of Death Valley playing cards that we actually used today for games at my house, but otherwise they’re stored in a drawer.  However, last year’s Christmas gift from Kathi, my Virgin of Guadalupe backpack, has never missed a trip to IMSS with me or to immigration because it’s my “lucky bag.”

So if you ever immigrate, or even move far away from your home, I suggest that you bring not only what’s practical, but what you care about, and keep in mind that the longer you’re gone from “home,” the more likely your definition of “home” is to change.

Posted in Food, Fun Stuff, Lake Chapala, Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

Random Thoughts from Joco

The description of our blog says ‘Here be random thoughts.’  That was written by my friend and fellow author, Michael, I believe, but it be true nonetheless.  So here are a few of my own random thoughts from the past few days.

IMSS:  This is the governmental institution through which I get my medical care down here in Mexico.  Every year since I’ve been here, I’ve paid premiums of about $350US a year for this coverage and never had to use it until this year.  In some ways, it’s like an HMO in the US, or, I guess, the socialized medical clinics and hospitals in Canada.  Full-time workers can join, but you’re limited to where you can go or who you can see.  Many gringos keep it as a backup plan to their private insurance and/or Medicare which they may have in the US.  For me, it’s my only health insurance.

During the past 10 days, I had an appointment with the medical oncologist at the IMSS hospital in Tlajomulco, about 30 miles north of me, as well as an appointment at my local IMSS clinic here in Jocotepec.  When I arrived at the hospital at Tlajomulco about 8:45, I checked in with the receptionists’ desk (called ‘Control’) and presented my booklet which showed I had an appointment for 9AM.

The clerk found my folder and I was almost immediately called back to Control and taken into the area to be weighed and have my blood pressure checked.  Weight was about the same as it was the last time I saw the medical oncologist a few months ago and my blood pressure reading was fabulous (128/82).  For that, I thanked the doctora at the Joco clinic since she and I had been working on getting my BP to within normal range for a couple of months.

For whatever reason, there are never enough seats in this waiting room.  Aside from those needing to see the medical oncologist, there are kidney patients to see the nephrologist, as well as those waiting for respiratory therapy.  In other words, a fairly sickly group, most all of whom need to sit down.  As a comparison, there are way more seats in the cancer surgery, ENT, and dermatology area.  Frankly, I find that odd.  But maybe one of you medical people can explain it to me.

Anyhow, as usual I stood  around for a while since all the seats were filled (including those with folks in wheelchairs whom I sometimes, embarrassingly, envy), but eventually snagged one as people were called in for appointments.  And then I sat and sat and sat.  Three and a half hours later,  when the waiting room was all but empty, I knocked on the medical oncologist’s door and told her I was still waiting for my 9am appointment.

She looked flustered, but called me in and then disappeared out to the receptionists’ desk.  Through the open back door into her office, I saw she and one of the receptionists scuttling up and down the hall, obviously looking for my file.  This is now the fourth or fifth time they have lost my file up there, and this time they lost it in the 10 feet between Control and the doctora’s office!

All I really needed from the doctora was another prescription for Tamoxifen, since Joco doesn’t seem to have any in their farmacia (another oddity).  So she gave me a prescription for a four-month supply and sent me on my way to the farmacia….who refused to give me any more than a one month supply and said they would see me next month.  (Guess I’ll be making Costco runs for folks every month since Costco isn’t that far away!)

ON THE OTHER HAND, I had an appointment at 9:15 at the Joco IMSS clinic this past Thursday.  I arrived about 9:00am, only to discover that the receptionist was out sick.  So I checked with some of my fellow patients and was told to just throw my booklet into the cardboard box on the desk.  Fifteen minutes later, right on time, the doctora came out and called me into her office!!

Since she was a doctora I had not previously seen, I went quickly over my history, in my bad Spanish, and told her I was there about my blood pressure.  Not only did she listen and look at all the documentation I handed her, she called up my records ON HER COMPUTER and knew just what to do!

And this is in Joco, my friends!!!  Not at the fancy new hospital in Tlajomulco where they still write notes on scratch paper and give you prescriptions with other people’s information written on the back!  It’s a mystery!  (But I’ll bet it’s one you can figure out if you think about it!)

Hidden Things:  I have a lovely young housekeeper who comes to my house once every two weeks for about six hours.  She does a great job (having been trained by my fabulous Canadian landlady, Nonie), but she hides things.  Not on purpose, I don’t think, but just in the process of cleaning up.

Whenever she leaves, there’s always something missing.  Definitely not in the sense of having  been taken, just in the sense of “it’s not where it was.”  Usually it’s just a matter of things getting buried under other things, or dishes or utensils being put in other shelves or drawers from whence they did not come.  But sometimes it really is a mystery.

For instance, I dislike talking on the phone and hardly ever use it, but I keep a list of phone numbers by the phone so that I can recognize the number of incoming calls.  We get a lot of extortion calls down here (totally random) and I would just as soon not answer those, so I use the caller ID.  But because I make almost no outgoing calls, I don’t recognize the numbers so I have a list that I keep by the phone.  (See the phone on the left side of the TV?  Well, that’s where the list normally stays.  No, no, it wasn’t there the day I took the photo.  This was taken the day the hand-built entertainment system arrived.  You know, during that 24-hour period when things are totally tidy!)

Well, I DID have a list.  Yep, you got it….it disappeared!  Now, I know it’s somewhere in this house…..I just can’t figure out where!  However, in the past I have found my electric bills and the cat food dishes, so I know that the phone list will turn up some day, too.

Slots:  When I lived in Vegas and then Death Valley and then was on the road installing front desk systems at various motels around the US, I loved going to casinos and playing the slots.  (My good friend, Shep, when asked on some random email questionnaire what my favorite form of exercise was, accurately answered “Walking from her truck to the casino.”)

We do have a few casinos down here and they do have slots, but they’re at least five years behind the times as far as what they have in Vegas.  I know that because I haven’t been in Vegas for at least five years and the few times I’ve been in casinos here, I’ve seen the same machines.  But I’m too poor to be gambling these days, so I make do with the slots on Facebook, where I can play for free.

That’s not my random thought, however.  My random laugh out loud comes from one of the emails that I receive almost daily in my Spam file.  You’ll just have to take my word for it that I never go onto porn websites, and yet I constantly get emails from a place called “Loose Sluts”!   Ja ja ja ja!  I’m just guessing that maybe whatever country is sending them out doesn’t realize there is a difference between slots and sluts.  (The primary difference, I guess, is that most of the time, you get something for your money from the latter, but almost never from the former.)

And if you’re wondering why there’s a photo of slot machines at the top of this posting, it’s because all these things I’m writing about seem to deal with luck.  Maybe putting a photo of the craps table would have been more appropriate, because, in particular, dealing with IMSS is always a crap shoot!

And those are my random thoughts for today.

Posted in Bureaucracy, Fun Stuff, Getting Older, Lake Chapala, Medical, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Let’s all go to the fair!

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Monday was “Free for Geezers Day” at the Yellowstone County Fair.  For all of you who don’t speak AARP, geezer is defined as anyone over 62 whether you have gray hair or not.  “Free for Geezers Day” is kind of like the early bird special at a restaurant in Florida.  Arrive between 12 noon and 5 pm and there is no admission charge.  Just the kind of deal we like!

From the minute you walk in the gate and “can smell all the hot dogs and french fries they sell” your inner child takes over.

Karen's inner child dragging her to fun land.

Karen’s inner child dragging her off to a fun evening.

Now there’s certain rules you just gotta follow at the fair.  The first place one must go is to the Agricultural Arts buildings.  Here displayed it all their glory are the crafts, veggies, jams, pies, cookies, and quilts that all the entrants have been working on since last year’s gathering.

Boy, doesn't this little beauty make you want to sit down to dinner with the canner?

Boy, doesn’t this little beauty make you want to sit down to dinner with the canner?

Now that's a real Montana quilt--- Bison and Buffalo Bill.

Now that’s a real Montana quilt— Bison and Buffalo Bill.

Pickles and Jams and Jellies, Oh My!

Pickles and Jams and Jellies, Oh My!

Not everyone can cook, bake, preserve, or quilt so there is a whole building devoted to folks who build stuff and collect stuff.

A gazebo built from K"NEX.

A gazebo built from K”NEX.

Every little boys dream (and a few older ones  too).

Every little boy’s dream (and a few older ones too).

Okay, now that all the education stuff is behind us, we venture into the animal kingdom.

As Sir Mix-a-lot sang, "I like big butts and I can not lie."

As Sir Mix-a-lot sang, “I like big butts and I cannot lie.”

Who wears short, shorts?

Who wears short, shorts?

Ain't I cute?

Ain’t I cute?

I don’t know about you, but looking at all that meat walking around just makes a guy hungry, right?  And, man, is this the place to be.  Especially if you want something on a stick.  Bacon wrapped in chocolate on a stick, fried cheese on a stick, pizza roll on a stick, viking on a stick, but, alas, no jalapeno on a stick.

Brazilian food in Montana.  Go figure!

Brazilian food in Montana. Go figure!

Yuuum!  Beef wrapped in  bacon.  It's almost un-natural.

Yuuum! Beef wrapped in bacon. It’s almost unnatural.

Greek food, too.

Greek food, too.

Can’t leave out the entertainment now, can we?  All day long, somewhere on the grounds, were musicians, dancers, yodelers, and other live acts.

Young singer and dancer from the Crow Reservation in full Fancy Dance outfit.  He was actually doing hip-hop.  A real mash up of cultures.

Young singer and dancer from the Crow Reservation in full Fancy Dance outfit. He was actually doing hip-hop. A real mash up of cultures.

Get your groove thing on!

Get your groove thing on!

Remember, you’ve got to wait 30 minutes after eating to go on the rides but, HEY, it’s the fair. Go ahead and go wild.  They got things that go up, go down, go around, go slow, go fast, and go high.

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Tired of riding?  There’s always a few games to throw a fistful of dollars at.

Every duck a winner!

Every duck a winner!

Come on now.  Don't you  need a goldfish?

Come on now. Don’t you need a goldfish?

Show the little lady how strong you are or maybe not how strong you are.

Show the little lady how strong you are or maybe not how strong you are.

And let us not forget the underlying reason for this whole thing!

Lusting after brand new never before seen farm equipment.

Lusting after brand new, never-before-seen farm equipment.

As all good times must end, we say goodbye to the fair for another year.073

Posted in Fairs, Fiestas, Food, Fun Stuff, Montana, Music | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Our Spiritual – and Spirited – Summer Thursday Nights at St. John’s

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Steve Riddle, of The Mission Mountain Wood Band, enjoys the moment, as he entertains – and entrances – some of the younger audience members.

Despite the weather and the date on the calendar, summer for us doesn’t officially begin until the advent of St. John’s Summer Concert Series in Billings in early July.  This retirement and nursing home community has as its mission to provide “living opportunities within nurturing environments of hope, dignity, and love.”  It’s a stunning and inviting campus – with acres of green grass, ponds, ducks, and flowers that practically rival the floral abundance and beauty of the Conservatory at Bellagio.

One of the many ways they fulfill their mission is through a six-week (this year was a little shorter, with five weeks) free concert series (sponsored by a multitude of local businesses) on the lawn, inviting the whole community in to share the musical love.    Why do they do this?  Well, from their series brochure, they explain it:

  • Concerts bring joy to our seniors, their families, and our staff.
  • Concerts allow our residents to welcome you to their home and into the life of this dynamic campus.
  • Concerts provide a precious occasion for interaction and sharing across the generations.
  • Best of all, they are a lot of fun and help make our community a great place to live.

Awhile back, I wrote a post about breakfast at The Prairie Winds Cafe in Molt, Mt (sadly, the cafe closed earlier this summer) and about how it had all the elements of a gospel church feel – the symbolic breaking of bread together, of course, along with reverence, awe, communion, joyfulness, great uplifting music…… and most importantly, I think, community.   Did you know that the word community is derived from the Latin communitas?   It’s from “com” which translates to “with or together” and “munus” which means “gift” – the gift of being and having fun together.

So, for several glorious Thursday evenings in the summer, we share the gift and energies of being together with the residents, the employees of St. John’s, the thousands who sit together with us, the sound techs, the vendors and St. John’s chefs preparing great food, and of course, the musicians.   You can definitely feel the higher energies of people immersed in the joy of music.

What I truly love at the events are the kids enjoying the music.  They just abandon themselves to it, and are always the first ones to start the start the dancing, and I love sitting on the ground, more or less at their eye level, so I can capture their luminous joy.

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I love, too, that the attendees range from infants to centenarians, with us beyond middle-aged geezers as well.  Check out the baby bird hair on this cutie-pie:

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The music selection at the concerts  is always a wonderful and eclectic mix with groups from all over the country.  Our favorite local group, by far, is The Midlife Chryslers. This group of physicians started up their band many years ago as a way to relax.  Then one of their wives booked a gig for them, and that was the start of their second career.  We’re really grateful to that wife, as they’re a fun-to-dance-to band with great hits from the 60’s and 70’s, including an off-the-charts version of Proud Mary.

On the last Thursday, St. John’s pairs up with the Magic City Blues Music Festival, and one of the headliners from that great event plays on the campus.  This year we got to hear Jacob Jones (be sure and check out his great song, Play It Loud Ray, on his website).  In past years, we’ve been introduced to Davina and the Vagabonds (our favorite artist and group so far), Michelle Shocked, and a little Cajun Zydeco with C. J. Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band.  Other highlights over the years have included Johnny Rodgers (he used to play and sing with Liza Minelli), Phoebe Hunt (part of her performance got rained out this year, but we were grateful we were introduced to her), and the incredible Missoula, Montana group, The Drum Brothers.  As we left last Thursday night, Michael asked a wonderful – and rhetorical question –  “How many other great musicians, singers, and songwriters are out there that we don’t know about?”   Hundreds of thousands, most likely, but thanks to St. John’s, we’re grateful to the ones we’ve been introduced to.

In addition to great music, I love documentaries, and one I’ve enjoyed recently was Ten Questions for the Dalai Lama.  In it the interviewer asks the Dalai Lama how to achieve world peace.  He gets a Mona Lisa smile on his face that then breaks into a great grin, and responds – “Have more picnics.  And festivals!”

I’d say that St. John’s has definitely achieved a little corner of world peace Thursday evenings in the summer in Billings, Montana.  And even though we’re a little sad that the end of these concerts also signal the beginning of the end of summer, we’re so thankful for the reverence, awe, magic-in-the-air joy, communion, and community that these concerts provide.  Thanks so much St. John’s and sponsors!

© Karen Kinser and Start the Evolution Without Me. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Kinser and Start the Evolution Without Me with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
Posted in Fiestas, Fun Stuff, Montana, Music, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Life in Joco: Errand Day

While most of the things I need and/or want can be purchased right here in Joco, sometimes an errand day to Chapala and/or pueblos in between is required (as, occasionally, is one to Guadalajara).

Last week, my friend Kathi and I agreed that we needed an errand day.  Errand day is comprised of everyone involved making a list of where they need to go and normally consists of going to every place on the right-hand side of the highway until you reach the last outpost of your shops and then turning around, heading back toward Joco and doing the same thing, i.e. stopping at all the places on the right-hand side of the road.

Now it’s not that Kathi or I fear making left-hand turns, but sometimes they’re just a pain.  And then trying to turn left to get back onto the only highway that runs from Joco to Chapala is even more of a pain.  Oh, and we usually throw lunch somewhere in the middle to make it feel more like a social outing so that takes some left-hand/right-hand planning as well.  (And you young people think we old retired people don’t lead exciting, intellectually-stimulating lives!)

But this time was a bit different.  Kathi really only had one errand to run (to the dry cleaner in Ajijic), but I had a list of stuff and I wanted breakfast out instead of lunch, so we re-arranged the whole day.  We started with breakfast, ignoring all the stops on the right-hand side of the road because a lot of them weren’t open when we were passing by at 9:30AM.

FYI:  10AM to 2PM, then 4PM to 8PM are the hours for a lot of places with the hours between 2PM and 4PM reserved for comida (lunch) and maybe a short siesta.  Much more civilized, in my opinion, than working from 8AM until 5PM.  Getting off work at or after dark allows you to go out, enjoy the nightlife, get to bed by 1AM and still get a full eight hours of sleep before you have to get up to get ready for work again.  (On the other hand, most Mexicans around here work six days a week, although they do finish for the day at 3PM on Saturdays.)

But I digress.  For whatever reason, I got it into my head on Thursday that what I REALLY wanted for breakfast was biscuits and gravy.  And while, oddly enough, there are several restaurants at Lakeside that serve them, I wanted mine from the American Legion in Chapala, mainly because I had some books to drop off for their library.  As one of the few of my friends who does not have at Kindle or a variation thereof, I am the recipient of MANY paper books (both hard and soft cover) from my friends.  Lately, I have become inundated with them and passing them on has become more difficult as private book exchanges/libraries have also become swamped with books.  But I figured the Legion could handle 15 good ones without causing the library to implode.

So, about 9:30am, off we went.  Only after we started our drive there did it dawn on me that I can no longer eat gravy.  Gravy is made with milk and recently, I’ve developed lactose intolerance, so gravy would definitely ruin the rest of the day for me and for Kathi and for my underwear (if you get my drift).

Nonetheless, to the American Legion we went and we each had a delicious breakfast.  While the restaurant itself wasn’t exactly jumping, there were lots of folks on the patio outside, either selling things, buying things, or playing games.  And I was able to drop off a bag of books for their library before Kathi and I set off on our real errands.

We’d already accomplished a few of them when we wound up at the Lakeside Animal Shelter so I could buy some canned cat food, which I have yet to find in Joco.   Also, in a fit of optimism, I bought flea collars for Sierra and Rosalita.  I don’t even have a PLAN for catching Rosalita, much less putting a flea collar on her.  I’m thinking it would probably be easier to just put the flea collars around my ankles.  Otherwise, I’m gonna need a pussy wrangler.

Although now that I think about it, I did buy some twine that day also, so perhaps Antonio could fashion a lasso for me.  Then I could borrow Tiko (one of Kathi’s dogs) or Tasha (Jonnie’s dog), put Antonio’s son Pedrito astride the dog and have a little cat-roping contest here at the barb abode….complete with water hazard in the form of the swimming pool.  I’m gonna have a couple of drinks and think about that.

I know, folks, that you’ll be shocked to know that Kathi made a scene and embarrassed me at the ferreteria (hardware store) where we stopped for the twine.  Antonio’s been asking me to buy some raffia (twine) that he uses to tie up all kinds of plants at my house….particularly those that surround the sidewalk leading into the kitchen door.  He does that so I don’t have to use a machete during rainy season to hack my way from where I park Stormy the truck into the house.

I asked the woman at the store if they had any and she said, “Oh, si, en muchos colores.”  So I was pretty excited and was gonna get myself a colorful ball of twine until Mrs. Hoffman (that would be Kathi to you newcomers) insisted that the ball of twine they would sell me would last me way past the end of my life.  (Kathi, having spent the past couple of weeks clearing out the belongings of a recently-departed friend, has suddenly developed an aversion to any “large” acquisitions.)  “No, no,” said Mrs. Hoffman, “you just need to buy a few meters of it.”

So off trots the young woman, gets one of the guys to drag down a big old spindle of twine and starts measuring off four meters of the stuff.  I take a look at what we’ve got and there’s no way that this amount is even gonna wrap up the bougainvillea plant between the patio and the kitchen sidewalk, so I ask for ten meters, and they start measuring out more.   (We’re conducting all this business in Spanish, you understand, ’cause we’re cool like that.)

I look at the ten meters of raffia and decide that I still need more when the guy says to us, in perfect English, “Why don’t you just buy this 10 peso roll of twine?  It comes in nice colors and sounds like you need it and you can always buy more later.”  And he whips out exactly what I’d been envisioning, except in neon yellow.  Even better!!

Now Kathi swears that she thought a “roll of twine” was gonna be the size of the world’s largest ball of string like in the movie “Michael” with John Travolta, but I say she was just making me look like some kinda of gringa fool in front of these nice folks in the ferreteria.  Really, who are YOU gonna believe????

Posted in Food, Fun Stuff, General, Getting Older, Lake Chapala, pets, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

R.I.P, Pepe the Prozac kitty

100_6887My loyal readers will remember when I adopted Pepe Zorillo from the local animal shelter.

And you’ll also remember that I had to put him on Prozac to keep him from attacking me.

Unfortunately, the Prozac did not work.  From the time I got him at the shelter until 18 months later, while I was undergoing radiation treatments for breast cancer, he attacked me 24 times.

The last time he did it, during my fourth week of radiotherapy, he broke off a claw in my arm and a tooth in my leg.  The doctor at the radiotherapy clinic said this had to stop.  My system was too weak to fight off a massive infection at that point.

So I had my friend Georgia talk to our local vet, Dra. Nina, to see what, if anything she could do.  Dra. Nina’s first thought was that she would take Pepe and re-adopt him out.  But when Georgia explained to her the attacks on me, Dra. Nina said he would only get worse and needed to be put down.  Apparently Pepe was what Cesar Milan, TV’s dog whisperer, calls a red zone case.

He was beyond rehabilitation.

And so I had to make the really hard decision.  Put Pepe down (okay, let’s be blunt, kill him) or just live with his attacks on me.  And according to my radiotherapy doctor, it pretty much came down to a choice of Pepe or me.

If you’ve known me for the slightest period of time, you’ll know that it’s all about me, me, me.  But, in this case, I still couldn’t make a decision.

What finally convinced me to do what I did was that Pepe was no longer welcome in the house.  He had to live outside.  That was the only way I could guarantee that he wouldn’t attack me again.  But actually even that wasn’t enough.

You see, to get to my bathrooms, I have to go outside.  No, they’re not outhouses.  They’re perfectly normal bathrooms.  It’s just that they can’t be reached from inside the house.  And every time I had to use the bathroom, I took the chance of being attacked again.

And, I told myself, it’s not like Pepe would have a good life living outside all the time.  He would want to come in so that he could sleep on the bed or the sofa or some other comfortable place.  I’d made him a comfortable bed on top of the dryer with blankets, but he ignored those.

But I had to make a decision, and any one of you who have had pets know how hard it is to have them put down even when they are old or in pain.  I had to rationalize to myself that Pepe was in psychological pain.  Otherwise, he wouldn’t have been so mean.

And, so, on the Sunday afternoon before my fifth week of radiation, the week I went up to stay at Georgia and Tony’s house in Tlaquepaque, Kathi and I took Pepe to Dra. Nina’s and she put him down.  Over and over she assured me that I was doing the right thing.   Over and over I hated myself for doing it.  And I still do.

Posted in Getting Older, Lake Chapala, Medical, pets, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 12 Comments

Life in Joco: At the Supermarket

The other day I was at our local supermarket (Bodega Aurrera) and happened to be in line at the checkout counter behind another gringa who embarrassed me.  At first I thought I was embarrassed because I was behind her in line here in Jocotepec, but then I realized that I would have been embarrassed (or at least upset) to have been in line behind her ANYWHERE.  Trust me, you’ll recognize the type.

I arrived at the one and only open checkout counter immediately behind her.  I could see that she had a grocery cart in front of her, but I couldn’t see what was in it since she was broad enough to block my view.  The gringa (let’s call her Red) pushed her cart up to the end of the checkout counter (you know, past the scanner) at exactly the same time as the woman from the pharmacy inside the grocery store arrived at the register with a few boxes of medicine.

This is not unusual around here.  Often the person behind the counter at the pharmacy won’t or can’t take your money.  I haven’t yet definitely figured out why this is, but instead of letting you pay for your meds at the pharmacy register, the pharmacy clerks walk the meds up to the grocery checkout counter and leave them there with the cashier until you show up.

I figure with gringo purchasers it’s fairly easy to indicate to the cashier who is buying what meds (we’re pretty obvious in Joco), but I’ve always been curious about how they indicate which one of the other customers are purchasing the drugs.  Maybe the checkout cashier just asks every single person in line “Are these yours?” until she gets an answer in the affirmative, or maybe she gets a description (e.g. “the woman in the red blouse” or “that guy with the Raiders cap”).  Anyhow, it always seems to sort itself out.

At any rate, the gringa in front of me said that yes, those were her meds and proceeded to pay for them.  Figuring she was done, I began to put my purchases on the conveyor belt, only to have everything come to a screeching halt.  Turns out that Red had a half cartload of items in her basket which she was apparently unable to lift onto the conveyor belt.  So she summoned over the bagger to put the items on the belt, forcing me to push all my stuff back to make room for her stuff.  In addition, I had to scoot myself and my cart back so that the bagger could reach the non-scanned item side of the belt, which, of course, created a domino effect of people behind me shuffling backwards.

As an explanation for all this, Red turned to me and said, loudly, in English, “You just never know how much money you have with you, do you?”, as if she and I were in this together.  Well, personally, I do always know how much money I have with me.  Or at least I know whether I have enough to pay for my meds and my food.  And most all of my Mexican neighbors seem to know as well.  Occasionally they return an unpriced item to the cashier, but that seems to be because it costs a lot more than they thought once they see the scanned price.  They don’t hold up an entire line with a half-cart full of groceries while they figure out if they’re cash-sufficient.

This gringa’s method of checking out reminded me of those people in front of you in line at Safeway or Kroger or Publix or Wal*Mart in the United States who are going to pay with a check.  You know, the ones who don’t even take out the checkbook until the last item has been rung up, and then, and only then, do they begin to write in the date, the name of the Payee, and sign their name to the bottom of the check.  Now I understand leaving the amount due empty until the final total appears, but, for heaven’s sake, is the DATE or their name going to change during that time???

Just one of my pet peeves, I guess, but I was willing to stand idly by while the bagger got the groceries from Red’s basket onto the conveyor belt.  The cashier ran them over the scanner and I honestly thought for a moment that MY time had come.  HA!

What I hadn’t seen was that Red had some towels in the baby seat area of her shopping cart and she again needed the cashier to give her a total to see if she had enough pesos to pay for the towels, as well.  The cashier gave her the preliminary total with groceries and then, at a signal from Red, began to scan the towels.  But, of course, one of them was without a scanner tag and was different from the other five towels, so everything had to come to a screeching halt again while the bagger went off in search of a similar towel with a UPC code on it.

And it was at this point that I really got embarrassed.   During the “lull” in the activities (after I had once again pushed back my groceries and backed up my cart and caused yet another domino effect), Red turned around, got a good look at me, and said in a loud voice “Say, don’t I know you?”

I’ve been living in Jocotepec municipality for five years, but I swear I’ve never met this woman.  Of course, I don’t attend events that gringos in Joco attend and, really, I’m not that social, so I could honestly respond, “No, I don’t believe we’ve ever met,” while muttering to myself under my breath “Thank God!”.

“Well,” she announced in her booming voice, “I think we have met.  My name is so-and-so and I live in such-and-such area.”

“No,” I responded again (truthfully), “I think I’d remember if we had met before.”

She then glanced over at my items on the conveyor belt and cried out, “Oh, I see you have several bottles of Kermato.  I guess you’re going to make some of those whatchamacallits that the Mexicans like so much!”

As little as I wanted to, I really WAS going to respond to her with the answer “Micheladas,” but the bagger had returned from the towel area with a good UPC tag and thus I had no need to answer.  My new “friend” was caught up in the second (or third) semi-total and now completely ignoring me again.

By this time, I probably had 10 other shoppers in line behind me, and I was absolutely thrilled that the 11 of us were going to get through this line in a very short period of time.  We each only had a few items and I knew that I, for one, had enough pesos to pay for what I had and that I did not have to pay my phone or electric bill, both of which slow things down.  I, for one, was at least headed out the door in a matter of minutes!  The gringa in front of me had her cart packed up, towels included, had handed over the cash, and had had the bagger make arrangements to unload everything into her vehicle in the parking lot.  It was full steam ahead.

Until, of course, as Red pushed her cart away from the checkout line she saw the pillows on sale in front of her.

Sigh.

So if you’ve ever wondered what daily life here in Joco is like, sometimes it is so different than it was for me in the United States……and sometimes, it’s just the same.  Sometimes it just depends where you are in line.

Posted in Food, Fun Stuff, General, Lake Chapala, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 13 Comments

The Big Search

Since the beginning of 2013, the rules for gringos in Mexico have been changing pretty thick and fast.  Even our local gringo lawyer can’t keep up with them.  When I moved down here in 2008, there were basically four kinds of visas for expats:  tourist (FMM); FM3 (kinda permanent resident); FM2 (pretty much permanent resident); and immigrado (living here full time and wanting to be a Mexican citizen).  And, yes, yes, my Mexican friends, both expats and locals, I know that I am simplifying!

But generally what it meant was that if you flew or drove down on vacation, you got a tourist visa that was good for six months.  If you wanted to stay longer than that, you needed to apply for an FM3 or FM2 and pay for that for a year (proving that you had enough income or money in the bank to support yourself for a year) and then you renewed it locally annually.  After a few years on an FM3, you could move to an FM2, and after a few years on that, you could move to immigrado.

(Don’t even get me started on why the United States couldn’t do this same type of thing instead of throwing up border walls and/or attempting to enact discriminatory laws.  It might have made things a lot easier….and certainly more clear.  But I refuse to discuss that.)

But enough about that.  For five years, I had an FM3.  While my monthly income (Social Security payments from 2010 on) did not actually meet the income requirements, my rather small IRA account was more than the annual income minimum, so I was allowed to remain in the country.

Additionally, we gringos were allowed to have US- or Canadian-plated vehicles here.  We could drive them, get them insured, and as long as our visas were current, they were legal.  Most expats opted to keep their registration current in the US or Canada, but there were some who drove around with plates that had expired years before because they could.

But this year (2013), everything changed.  All of a sudden, we expats who live here all or most of the year were required to go to Permanente status (much like the immigrado status of old).  Depending on how long we had lived here, we might be able to continue our temporary (FM3, FM2) status for a year or two, but generally if we had been living here for several years, we needed to change to Permanente.

The good news about this is that while it would cost us more for the change-over, we would never have to renew our visas again.  And if we fell into a certain group, we got “grandfathered” in and didn’t have to prove we had enough annual income to stay here.  Luckily enough, I fell into this category, so on 10 June (my visa expired on 18 June), I turned in my paperwork to the immigration office in Chapala.  And now I sit and wait for them to call me in again for photographs, fingerprints, etc., so that I can become Permanente.

And as soon as that happens, I need to get my truck, Stormy, nationalized and get Mexican plates on him.  This is where it starts to get into big money (i.e. maybe $3000 to $4000 US), so I don’t want to do it any earlier than need be…..just in case I get turned down for Permanente status.

But it was to search for the place where one gets one’s vehicle nationalized that sent my friend Kathi and I off on a spur-of-the-moment trip to Guadalajara yesterday (Sunday, 28 July).  And that’s why this post is called “The Big Search.”  Kathi and her husband now have their Permanente visas and their primary vehicle was purchased in Mexico so therefore does not have to be nationalized.  But Kathi and Warner also own a classic Morgan that they DO need to nationalize.  (That’s a photo of a Morgan kind of like Kathi’s at the top of this blog.)

And that’s what sent us out on our search yesterday.  Both of us had heard and/or read horror stories about finding the place and the fact that people had to arrive at 0:dark:30 (7am or earlier) just to get in line to get a number so that their vehicle could be inspected.  Then it supposedly would take 10-12 hours to get it done.  So Kathi and I decided to take a run up to Tesistan to see if we could find the place so she would know where she was going.

Kathi’s internet was down, so she came over about 9:30am on Sunday to see if we could find an online map to the place before she had to go and/or before she had to borrow somebody’s Garmin.  After about 20 minutes of searching online, we both threw up our hands and said, “Let’s just GO!”  And off we set.

Kathi had a general idea of where Tesistan is and I was along to try to read/find street signs.  (Streets are not generally well-marked in Guad, so a co-pilot is pretty much essential.)  But we were lucky.  We made two easily-correctable wrong turns and then I noticed some small writing on a big green road sign for the name of the street we were looking for and within a short while, there we were!  I had seen the Mexican flag flying on our left in a walled and well-fenced area and was absolutely sure we had found Tesistan aduana (customs office) and so we had!

Right street; right number.

We also located a nearby no-tell motel if Kathi wants to stay the night and park Morgana the car in a safe spot, and an excellent restaurant very close thereto.  So to celebrate our victorious discovery, we dined at Karne Garibaldi (http://karnegaribaldi.com.mx/) on delicious carne in su jugo and had a leisurely trip back to Joco.

It was a good, good day!  First time in months that I’ve felt like myself!!  That cancer stuff can do very, very bad things to your psyche!!  But if you can conquer something else, it helps a lot!

Posted in Bureaucracy, Getting Older, Lake Chapala, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

The Day the Microwave Went Out

Sounds kind of like the title of some 1950’s horror movie; doesn’t it?  And it was kind of was.  I had friends over to play cards one morning last week and was using the microwave to make three cups of tea.  (Yes, yes, I’m the only one who enjoys a cocktail in the AM.)

Anyone, got our nice drinks and an hour later my friend Kathi went to make herself some more tea.

“Hey,” she said, “is your power out again?”  (The power goes out somewhat regularly during the rainy season here and it’s not always obvious that it’s out during the daytime.)

But when she opened the fridge, the light was on, so power was obviously not the problem.  Well, except to the microwave.  Light didn’t come on when you opened the door to it; 0:00 was not lit up on the timer.  Yep, dead as a doornail (whatever that means).

I hate it when things (or people or other animals) just die without any warning.  I want bells, whistles, and sirens going off to indicate that there is a problem.  And, yes, I mean with people, too.  Myself included.

But the microwave had been working just fine and then suddenly, it wasn’t.  Me no like.

I offered to heat up some water on the propane stove, but nobody wanted me to “go through all that bother,” so we finished up our game and all was fine.  As Kathi was leaving, she said “I know a place that repairs microwaves here in Joco.  I”ll send you the information.”

The next morning, I needed to go to the local IMSS clinic for a checkup on my blood pressure and as I was driving home, I saw a place that sells and repairs microwaves just where Kathi had mentioned it might be.  So I figured that the next Wednesday when Antonio was here, I would have him double-check the power outlet and then we would take the microwave to the repair shop.

That left me with five days to live without a microwave.  No big deal; right?  And, yet, friends, after two days I could not remember how to re-heat things!!!

How sad is that!!  I must have done it for at least 40 years of my life, but I could not recall how to do it.  In my fridge were lots of tamales, but I didn’t know how to get them warm again!  I actually had to post on my Facebook account and ask!

Thank heavens my friends came through for me….even if their recommendations came with snickers and on a “slant.”  My friend Becky reminded me that we used to use double-boilers for such things.  Now I don’t have any double boilers. but it did remind me that I have a vegetable steamer that I can put in a deep frying pan, add some water, cover, and make my own double boiler!!

It worked like a charm and actually made the tamales taste better because they got steamed!

So I’ve been using the stove to reheat and cook things for the past 10 days.  And the weirdest thing to me is that I’ve been eating better!  No more microwave popcorn.   No more instant oatmeal.  No more melting cheese on chips for quick nachos.

Oh, I’ll still get the microwave fixed.  No worries about that!  But in the meantime, I’m actually making meals on the stove!

Posted in Food, Fun Stuff, Lake Chapala | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments