Thursday, January 31, 2008

una vida de perro

I was flipping through some of my photographs from Mexico this evening. What I needed was a little psychic energy boost. I am still a bit under the weather and the weather is getting under my skin. I skipped Jiggs's walk because it is very rainy tonight. But, more than anything, I wanted to feel that certain magic I feel when visiting Mexico.

This picture did the trick. Every morning in La Manzanilla when I went for my morning walk, I would run into the same dog. He seemed to be everywhere: at the beach, at the grocer, at the butcher. On this morning, I was waiting to catch the bus to Barra de Navidad. And there was the dog -- not actually sleeping on a park bench, but enjoying the last few moments of calm before his day swung into high gear.

I almost called him my friend. He was not that. We were merely acquaintances. When I offered him my hand for a pat on his head. he had absolutely no interest. He was a cool dog, who had no need for human companionship. He knew that part of his ancestry most likely went back to the Aztecs where his kin were both revered as being sacred and as being a very healthy meal. He was no longer treated as sacred, and, fortunately, in post-Spanish Mexico, he is no longer seen as the main comida course.

It is not a great life, but he is admired by those who pass through his ancient world.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

sail of the decade

I have been watching Bliss of 1st Mate prepare for a sail south from the Sea of Cortez. I started to say part of me wished to be sailing -- but all of me does.

Our usual sailing grounds are in the San Juans in Washington or the Gulf Islands in British Columbia. And neither place would be the best place to sail for me today because I want some heat. Both the rain and the cold are getting to me this evening.

In an attempt to conjure up the impression that each day is just one day away from a pleasant sailing day, I will publish a picture from our group's last sail in June. Transport me south and I am ready to go again.

tax and spend

Woo hoo! My federal income tax refund appeared in my checking account this afternoon. That was exactly 9 days from filing to money in hand -- or in my electronic account. (I am still having trouble thinking of money as nothing more than electrons floating from account to account. But Adam Smith would have loved it -- drawing a clear distinction between money and currency.)

And it is a timely appearance. The final payment is due on my April cruise to Brazil-Morocco-Spain-Portugal. Think of it as me doing my patriotic duty to fight off the evil recession -- while kicking up my heels on my aft balcony. (I can barely wait for a couple of fellow bloggers to take on that opening.)

I will do whatever I can to keep those economy wheels lubricated.

Monday, January 28, 2008

board to tears

I have signed up with several Mexico message boards over the last few months. This is my first experience with this particular medium. I suspect that most blog readers know what message boards are. You find a topic of interest and share information with supposedly like-minded people. Something like a group mail box.

What I have discovered is that each group tends to have its own personality – dependent on the membership. For instance, almost every Mexican town has its message board. These boards have a very chatty, in-group feel to them. You really need to live in the community to understand the exchanges – exchanges that generally have the feel of a Methodist social (even though “naughty” topics -- such as, the best “gentlemen’s” club -- creep in now and then, to everyone’s giggling delight).

Now and then I run into a local group that has a broader scope on what it means to live in Mexico. There are even philosophical discussions on etiquette, anthropology, or history. These boards often have the faint smell of cherry pipe tobacco in a faculty lounge. One of my favorite forums in this category is Veracruz Forum – a witty, amiable group always ready to make a point and share insights.

But, like all communities, there tend to be seedy bars where community members hang out because they probably have trouble fitting into other social environments. I belong to two message boards that fall into this category. They tend to attract people who believe that they know everything, but, in truth, have little experience to share with others.

Let me give an example. A woman wrote a very timid posting indicating that she was moving to Mexico with her handicapped husband, but she had certain fears for her safety. Obviously, what she needed to hear was that the city she was moving to was safer than most American cities and that with the usual cautions that people use in their lives, she would be fine. Instead, she got a series of stories about beatings, robberies, kidnappings, and physical disfigurement – all of which had either happened to the tellers or to their very close personal friends and neighbors. Most of the stories sounded as if the tellers had missed out on a couple days of medication.

I felt sorry for the story tellers. They obviously have control issues in their own lives. But I felt even worse for the woman who had asked the question. She had stumbled into the local dive thinking she was in the reference library.

And I guess that is the point of this posting. My good friend Andee of Life in Chacala was fond of saying: “If you can help someone out – why not?” That is why I enjoy all of the comments posted here. They are meant to be helpful and informative. And when the comments are also witty – even better.

Why not? Indeed.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

el gouge-o

This should really be a procrastination posting. I ended up doing very little planning or sorting this weekend. "Very little" translates to none in this part of the world. Yesterday I did not even manage to get out of my pajamas. And even though I made it to church this morning, I was quickly back in bed with my old friend Nyquil. I feel a bit of flu-like virus headed my way.

But I managed to pull myself together to go to dinner in Portland at El Gaucho with my friends, the Millers. They wanted to help me celebrate my birthday -- not one of the Big Ones, but it is a prime number. I realized during the meal how much I enjoy good food at good restaurants (even when the prices approach the level of being shameful). And amusing conversation with erudite friends who truly know how you operate cannot be purchased anywhere.

I raise that point because none of those items appeared on my list of things that interest me in Mexico. There is, of course, good food all over Mexico. But that is not the same thing as a good restaurant. There will be acquaintances, and perhaps maybe one or two friends. But visits from the friends I have accumulated over the years will be very important to me. Thus, easy access to transportation will need to be high on my list. The complexity of traveling to Morelia is bit one example. On the other hand, the Manzanillo airport is a delight.

For now, I am putting my body into the care of the Vicks Corporation.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

strike three -- bases loaded

I missed the moon on tonight's walk -- partly because the damp is rising and there are clouds. I rushed Jiggs around the park. This was not a night for poetic thoughts -- no moon, desperate cold. Not even Emily Dickinson would have deigned to spin iambic pentameter out of such meager gruel.

But I did start thinking about Mexico -- a lot. Three separate articles in The Economist have got me thinking when I should sell my house in Oregon and buy a home in Mexico. (I know. Not until I rent and get to know an area. But the timing may prove problematic.)

Here are the three news items.

1. Everyone knows this one. The big R. The ski jump. The precipice. Pick your cliché. A recession is on the way. That will mean that housing prices will be depressed a bit longer. My home town already has a glut of unsold houses on the market -- some in my own neighborhood. But everyone knows this story.

2. This little piece of bad news is not as well-known. Buckle your seat belts for a series of mortgage insurance and bond insurance bankruptcies. The big banks may be writing off some debt, but all of those mortgage insurance policies that brokers scared young marrieds into buying will now come due. And too many were sold. After all, in an ever-expanding economy who is going to lose a job, and, if they do, they can live off of their windfall equity in their big home that their parents could never have dreamed of owning. Those insurance bankruptcies should start hitting in the next two years -- just about the time that the recession is waning.

3. But this is the big one -- and the most disturbing. All of we boomers have risen to the top of the economic pyramid with our big houses and big cars. We are now ready to retire. The kids are gone. All is well. But those darn big houses are so -- BIG. We will want somewhere with less space to care for. Maybe a 1 bedroom or a 2 bedroom. The trend has already started, but it will be in full swing in the next 3 years. The effect will be that a lot of big, formerly-expensive homes will come on the market. And who will be there to buy them? Remember all of those new schools built for boomers -- that needed to be shut down because boomers were busy having careers rather than kids? The long-range forecast is that big houses will drop in price because there will be no market for them. Opportunities for some, reversals for others.

Adding all of that together, if I time matters well, I may be able to sell my house in about 18 months or so. That will give me time to retire within the next year and to rent somewhere in Mexico for 6 months before I make the final move.

On the other hand, I could just play it by ear and enjoy even these nippy nights.

As I write, the moon has broken through the cloud cover.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

moon in my window

It is a night for poets and sled dogs. Jiggs (you will recall him from several chapters back: the dog doing his Camille impression, who is now livelier than ever) insisted on going for a second walk. So, off we went into the 29 degree weather.

For we western Oregonians, this is cold. But I soon forgot all about the chill in the air. I looked up. The sky was not only cloudless, it looked like a black dome studded with lights. And lights of varying colors. Blue stars. White stars. Red stars. I do not recall a night when I could see the different colors in the stars. No wonder the Greeks thought the heavens were made of crystal spheres.

But all of that was the supporting chorus. Onto this stage stepped Luna in full glory, lighting up everything in a ghostly imitation of day. Today Michael Dickson wrote in his blog:

Tonight a giant moon will light this expansive patio, and visitors will see what their ancestors saw a hundred or more years ago.

As I stood looking into the creek reflecting the moon's light, I thought about the numerous generations of new and old Americans who stood on that very bank and looked at the magic of the moon on the water -- the same moon that tonight shines on a patio in Pátzcuaro evoking memories of generations gone by and many more to come.

Monday, January 21, 2008

pekes and pollicles

I started to write a blog about the ongoing civil war between gringos in (or coming to) Mexico: the invaders, the idealists, the realists. It all started with the following post on a message board:

We are looking to Mexico to retire since I'm over 60. I'm looking for a comfortable life in my old age, and an affordable one. I think I can have that around Puerto Vallarta. At least I hope so. I would like to see the poverty level raised in rural Mexico, but I think that will be a very slow process. Exposure to new ideas will hopefully raise their awareness. They don't need to come to the United States to have a better life, they can create a much better life right where they live.

For a moment, I thought Ross Perot had escaped. The message struck me as the type that really gives Americans a bad name in Mexico. The same poster had commented earlier how she now felt safe to move to Mexico because she was going to live in a gated community. The only thing missing was a comment that she thought President Polk had done a piss-poor job in 1848 of grabbing only half of Mexico.

Then I decided not to go off on a rant. (Or did I just do it?) We all have our personal reasons to move to Mexico. Once we arrive, some of those reasons change. And I know I have made the mistake of being a bit imprecise in some of the messages I send. But we need to remember Mexico belongs to the Mexicans. They do not need our help to develop a society. They have one of their own. We are the guests.

OK. Enough rant. I just want to get down to Mexico and get settled in.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

another Aix to grind

I took this photograph in Aix in the spring of 2006. I have been working on various captions and short stories. It started as a market snapshot. But there are tales aplenty in the photograph. The subtext is where the tale resides. The expressions on the faces of the older woman on the left and the younger woman on the right are what make the photograph -- in my opinion. I have tried cropping it, but the parts lose the dynamism of the whole. There are details galore in this shot. You may want to click on the photograph for a better view.

I thought I would try something different today. Those of you who are willing, add a caption or a very short story about the photograph. I will then take a stab at my own entry. I am certain my muse will visit soon. Michael Dickson could have a field day -- and I invite him to do so.

(By the way, for those of you who have not figured it out yet: this is another mechanism to avoid sorting and cleaning. But it should be fun.)

Saturday, January 19, 2008

bump in the night

Even though I live in the most urban part of Salem, my back yard has proven to be a veritable Walden Pond. In addition to a wide array of birds, my yard has hosted various snakes (including the neighbor's escaped pet boa), raccoons, and opossums. Jiggs has managed to wisely avoid any direct confrontation with the raccoons. Opossums -- they are a different story.

A small opossum lives in the ivy on my garage. Jiggs has now killed it three times. (He does not understand the entire concept of play acting. The opossum, on the other hand, bears many scars from the reality.) In honor of his great battles, Beth of Minto Dog gave Jiggs an official Audubon-sanctioned stuffed opossum for Christmas 2006. Being a spoiled dog, Jiggs has lots of stuffed toys, but the opossum became his pride and joy. During a usual day, he manages to cart an armful of stuffed animals into the yard -- his canine version of a teddy bear picnic. One nightly ritual is the retrieval of the toys. Jiggs picks up one; I usually pick up five to ten. Several weeks ago I was in a rush to pick up "my share" of the toys. The last one was Jiggs's opossum that he had left in a dark corner under a bush. When I grabbed it, it seemed heavy. Then it moved. It was the opossum who lives on the garage. It flew into the air along with the other stuffed toys. I swear Jiggs merely laughed.

But revenge is a dish best served cold -- along with a dollop of pomegranate sauce. Last night I heard Jiggs barking while I was in the hot tub. He had spotted the opossum in the yard far enough from the garage that it could not find an easy escape route. I told him to lie down. He sulked. The opossum slinked away. This morning I was taking Jiggs for a walk, and I saw him go into his stalking mode. He had spotted the opossum by the gate. He crept up on it. Pounced. And I had my revenge. He had just stalked his stuffed toy.

For you sentimental sorts, I was enjoying a sunny day with my dog. For you practical folks, I was shamelessly avoiding getting down to sorting.

going to pot

Ok. I was supposed to be sorting today, and I slept in instead. And then I started trekking through my list of blogs -- and posting the great comments several of you have added to this blog.

Brenda and Michael have raised a point I thought of last night while using my best skillet. Should I bring my best pots and pans to Mexico?

That leads to the next question. I rely on Costco here in the States; I will rely on Costco to some degree in Mexico. I already know that the Morelia Costco does not stock books in English (a crushing blow to one of my plans for reading material), but what is the story on goods such as -- oh, pots and pans?

And how about lap tops? Bring one? Buy one there?

Friday, January 18, 2008

counting my blessings; tossing my trash

The sorting begins this weekend. And it very well may take me 18 months to do what I have planned. I have decided that I want to do this only once. (I hear the laughter already.)

One of the categories I have developed could end up as the "I-don't-want-to-think-about-it-now" category. I just need to be brutal in getting rid of things. After all, when I start trying to fit the remainder into my Escape for the trip to Mexico, I will be happy that I tossed or gave things away.

Here are the five categories I will try to use:

  1. Trash -- stacks of papers that were supposed to be memory books, old programs, Christmas cards for the past decade; all can go out right now -- lots of candidates

  2. Salvation Army -- anything that any of our rummage sales groups can use, nothing that is simply passing through on the way to the trash

  3. Gifts -- heirlooms from relatives, art work, valuable books that specific people can actually use -- and not accept grudgingly (no sense in providing fodder for others who need to fill their own Category #2)

  4. Keep for 18 months, then sort -- items I will need day-to-day; a month or two before moving, divide into the other four categories

  5. Take to Mexico -- this group should include only those things that I know I cannot buy in Mexico and that I cannot live without

The categories appear to be simple. But, as my favorite president once said: "They say the world has become too complex for simple answers. They are wrong. There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers. We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right." Translated: That means that I should have done this a long time ago -- whether or not I move to Mexico.

Several of you have also told me that I am really overanalyzing this process. I will concede that point. From here on, I will try to streamline the process.

Possessions -- prepare to meet your categories.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

move on

an Andee Carlsson photograph

One of my favorite Stephen Sondheim songs is Move On. I was just thinking of Andee again -- what her life meant to a lot us. And I started humming the tune. The reason is simple. I can hear Andee passing along the opening lines:

Stop worrying where you're going, move on
If you can know where you're going, you've gone
Just keep moving on.

I am convinced it is Andee's way of saying that it is time for all of us to live life just as she did -- caring for those who needed care. And realizing how much she added to our lives in even the most mundane things. I noticed this morning ever since Jiggs's recovery, I now pick up litter as the two of us walk around the neighborhood. A small thing. But it was Andee's acts of modeling kindness that caused the change.

I have always liked Andee's photograph posted here. It is now part of my life. And now it is time to live that life.

Andee, thank you for being with us on this journey.

Monday, January 14, 2008

loss of a friend

I am stunned. I just discovered a member of our blogger community passed away yesterday. Andee of My Life in Chacala was an inspiration to all of us who have decided to move to Mexico, But she was far more than that. She was one of those souls who brought the light of truth and joy wherever she went. She was the sole inspiration for this blog. Without her insistence to share my travels, I would never have started this project. (I just noticed that I had included a reference to her in yesterday's posting.)

We shared email on Friday evening. I was very worried about her on Friday night -- almost to the point that I was ready to fly down to Chacala.

We will miss her. I especially feel sorry for her brother and her son; she absolutely adored both of them.

Wayne of Isla Mujeres Bliss of 1st Mate have posted very moving tributes to Andee.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

color and light

I have noticed one thing that has changed in my taste as I continue this quest for a place to live in Mexico: I am more attuned to the feel -- as opposed to the look -- of a place to live.

Here is what I mean. In my little burg of Salem, living in a "nice" house means living in a big new house in the right part of town. I have friends who live in the "right" part of town who will not come to my older section of town because they do not feel safe.

My house was built in 1926 and has the distinct feel that a craftsman put his life into building it. And that life gives the house a feel of being a home -- where other lives can be lived. Never mind that the closets are small and there is a bathroom to be shared with three bedrooms.

I would like the same sense in my new house in Mexico. The picture I posted is a stairwell in a smaller house in Barra de Navidad. The colors and the curve make me feel that I am in a place where people enjoy life. (As an example, the house door next to this one is essentially a box stacked on a box -- and it costs half as much more.)

I should note that one blogger (My Life in Chacala) has taught me to truly apperciate the effect that color and structure can have on a home. I always appreciate it when she posts new pictures because I know I will discover something new in life.

That is the sense I am looking for in my new Mexican home.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

an avian visitation

Hey! Has anyone seen Tippy Hedren?

Robins in January. Flocks of them. Having never been a police public relations officer, I have no way to estimate large crowds. But I swear a flock of at least 80 robins are currently stirring up the neighborhood. They have covered the neighbor's lawn and have now begun the equivalent of the Normandy landing on my fence. Apparently, cottonester berries are the daily special.

I called a friend to tell him about my Alfred Hitchcock moment and noticed that from my computer I can see the robins, several juncos, a nuthatch, two chickadees, and a flock of bush tits. If John James Audubon were to stroll through my back yard with a breech loader, I would not be the least bit surprised.

Mexico planning has taken second -- or third -- place for a moment. Jiggs's recovery has been amazing. (I use "recovery" advisably because I am fully aware his leg problem is only going to be the first in a series of problems.) He is running on a regular basis during our walks. To accommodate his leg pain, he runs like a rabbit propelling himself with both rear legs simultaneously. It looks funny, but it is utilitarian.

I am going to enjoy his companionship in the moment. If I have learned anything from nursing him through this crisis (I think he may have provided more care for me), it is that worrying about the future is a sucker's game. Playing the cards we are dealt in the moment is far more important -- and then doing the right thing.

I have also decided to not cancel a trip to Brazil, Morocco, Spain, and Portugal in April. I was getting far too concerned about finances. Professor Jiggs says: Go.

My brother and I have not yet made plans on when we will go to Pátzcuaro. We are still trying to get together to celebrate Christmas. We can make our plans then. This morning, I caught myself thinking about living in Barra de Navid. I guess I have not completely eliminated the idea of living near the ocean.

And in just a few days, I will celebrate another birthday. It is time to enjoy the day. I think I will order a pizza.

Monday, January 07, 2008

enjoy it now

Having rolled in the mud, Jiggs inventories the ducks in the stream.

I will start with an apology. I realize this is a blog about moving to Mexico, not a pet owner's photo album. But I have placed all of my planning on hold while I dealt with Jiggs's health. I have been prepared during the past week to post how I took Jiggs to the vet for his final visit.

Well, it has not happened; and it looks as if that day will not be soon. This evening, we went for a walk in the park. Rather, I went for a walk -- Jiggs went for a jog. He literally ran more steps than he has for years. I was amazed.

Is this the burst of energy before the end? Does he really feel that much better? Have I witnessed one of God's small miracles? I don't know. What I do know is that I am going to enjoy life just a little better because of what Jiggs and I have been through. I have had my first real taste of grief. After 58 years, it is time I learned to taste that particular dish. But, more important, I have learned to enjoy each moment as it occurs.

That is an incredibly important lesson that I can take with me to Mexico.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

death be not proud

I was looking through some of my pictures of my trip to La Manzanilla tonight. (Yes. I am still dreaming of living in a little fishing village.) And I ran across this picture. The structures are tombs in a cemetery right off of the beach. Two things struck me. As I look at the picture I realize that the three tombs almost look like a sailing ship -- as if the whole structure was ready to sail to the Undiscovered Country. The more poignant point, though, is not apparent in the picture. The black tomb is for the body of a 14-year old boy. From the pictures left on the structure, I would guess he succumbed to cancer.

All of this caused me to think again of how cultures deal with death. In our rushed culture, we go through our ceremonies and forget the dead. (This appears to be a relatively new American phenomenon. I remember going to the ceremony with our full family on Memorial Day and decorating the graves of all our relatives -- not just veterans. And the other families in town were there, as well. Maybe we can no longer stop for death, but he will certainly stop for us. -- Sorry, Emily.) My father's ashes, for instance, are in a cardboard box on my piano. On Father's Day, I put a tie on him and take him to church.

The Mexican remembrances of the dead are well-known: day of the dead, night of the dead, standardized mourning customs. All designed to steal part of death's sting. As long as we remember those who have gone before us or were taken from us, parts of who they were will always be a part of who we are.

For those of you wondering when I am going to return to writing about my planning for Mexico, you just read a segment of those thoughts.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

a guy can dream -- can't he?

I now understand the value of having a plan for this move despite my comments on the wisdom of Calvin Coolidge.

I spent a lot of time this evening looking at real estate listings on the Pacific coast on ejido land -- even though I have tentatively decided to rent rather than buy, to rent in the highlands rather than on the coast, and to never purchase real estate in ejido ownership. I may as well be looking at pictures of supermodels and imagining what it would be like to be married to one.

Even so, it would be nice to get up every morning and sit on my patio watching the waves rolling in. And then relaxing each warm evening with a constant stream of visitors escaping the cold up north.

The plan is not a strait jacket. But it is for focus. And focus is what I need right now.

just do it

I received an email from the friend I have known longer than any other. He had read my blog through, and, as always, had some sage advice.

To paraphrase, he told me stop thinking and start doing. He suggested that I retire right now and head off to Mexico and start renting.

There is wisdom in that advice. But, for some practical reasons, I will need to wait until at least next year at this time before I begin my permanent change of address.

I will put a piece of his advice in operation right now, though. I need to stop overthinking this move. Calvin Coolidge once said: "Never go out to meet trouble. If you will just sit still, nine cases out of ten someone will intercept it before it reaches you."

Good advice.