Wednesday, December 31, 2008

paradise recalled

I am feeling a bit off today. Just a head cold, I suspect. But enough that I am not up to drafting a long commentary.

Instead, I thought I would share with you one of those exquisite moments that seem to occur spontaneously in Mexico.

While walking through a poorer neighborhood in Melaque, I chanced upon a cul-de-sac that could only be described as eccentrically charming. It had a fountain. A few aging buildings. And a cluster of these flowers. The orange against the lime wall caused me to pause. And to savor.

As I sit here chilled, that moment is passed. Even though the fountain and the buildings await someone else's moment.

Oh, if life were made of moments,
Even now and then a bad one-!
But, if life were only moments,
Then you'd never know you had one.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

mystery solved

Last month in name the mystery tree and my so-called saturday , I posted pictures of a tree on the route Jiggs and I traverse through the Archives Park. Even though several people had seen similar trees, none of us knew its origin or its name.

I finally decided to follow up on as clue that my cousin's son,
Cory, provided to me. I wrote to Jill Martini, the Horticulture Manager of the Oregon Garden. She solved the mystery. Here is her response:

From your description it sounds like you are talking about a Clerodendrum trichotomum, common name: Harlequin Glorybower Tree or Peanut Butter Bush referring to its fragrance.

Thank you for your inquiry. Please come visit the garden soon.

Now there is a moniker. Harlequin Glorybower Tree -- and well-suited to the colorful fruit it produces. As for, Peanut Butter Bush -- sounds a bit programmatic to me.

The US Forest Service has an in interesting
fact sheet on the tree. What you will not learn is that the tree is originally from eastern Asia -- principally, Japan. But it also appears that it would grow as a specimen tree in Mexico.

Special thanks to Cory and Ms. Martini for putting this 2008 mystery to rest. Like Miss Marple, we can all go home now, put up our feet, and have a nice cuppa.

Monday, December 29, 2008

slnl's "best" 10 posts of 2008

At the end of every year, film critics, book reviewers, my ex-girl friends, start making lists of the good and bad things that have happened during the year.

SLNL (my new acronym for this blog -- a snazzy rip-off of a certain late-night television program at the end of each week) is no exception. The problem is that I have no criteria for what was good or bad about this blog -- even though I know several of you would be very willing to fill that gap in my database.

The only objective standard I can use for "good" is the number of comments that each post engendered. Coincidentally, there are ten posts from 2008 that started more dialog than the others. (And, yes, I know, if wordiness was actually a virtue, Bill Clinton, Rush Limbaugh, and Joe Biden would all be listed as first choices for dinner parties.)

So here they are, my nominees for the the talkies award for 2008:
  1. taking it all into account (October 22)
  2. pardon my permit (October 17)
  3. name the mystery tree (November 17)
  4. walking on the wild side (November 29)
  5. key to culture (July 30)
  6. my holga lens life (December 10)
  7. going to pot (January 19)
  8. chavela (September 25)
  9. my so-called saturday (November 16)
  10. there's no business like -- (November 13)

It is an interesting mix -- as are the comments.

I had planned on doing a little blog review at the end of the year. And this device would be as good as any. During the next few days, I want to group these topics and talk a little bit about what I have learned from all of you -- and how I should apply it to the coming few months -- as I head south to Mexico.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

practicing my lists


I told you in
the me in meme that I do not like them. Especially, those screaming meme lists.

But my antipathy applies to the garden variety "to do" list, as well. Probably comes from a lifetime of living alone. The cautionary tales of bachelorhood are well-founded.

But it is time for me to start putting together my final lists for my move to Mexico now that I actually have some specific dates for this project. On 31 March, I will retire. On 1 May my living arrangements are available in Mexico. The dog (if he is still alive) will go with me, and I hope to have an FM3 before I arrive in Melaque.

Those are the basics. Now I need to start putting together the steps of getting from here (Salem) to there (Melaque). During the next week I am going to sift through my old posts and your comments to glean the most important points.

I already know the one item that is going to pop up: learn Spanish. Several times this year I promised to set aside time to study, but I have once again proven that I have the self-discipline of a 12-year old boy.

Mexico Bob, bless his blogging soul, has come to my rescue with a new language tool. On Friday he informed his readers that he had found a blog, Señor Jordan’s Spanish Video Blog, that uses YouTube videos to walk the most novice amongst us through the joy of Spanish. I say joy because Señor Jordan is one of the most exuberant language teachers I have ever encountered. In fact, he is one of those people who you would simply like to invite to a dinner conversation. In this case, to learn a new language.

This may be the tool that helps me to keep up my studies -- at least, to the point where I can start using what I have learned. My 60-year old memory does not hold on to vocabulary very well. At times, I feel like an aging actor playing his 3000th performance of Hamlet, who continually gets stuck on "To be or not ---." (As an aside, I saw that very thing happen to Carrol Channing in "Hello Dolly." She didn't forget the soliloquy from "Hamlet;" she forgot the lyrics to "Hello Dolly." I saw my future writ large.)

Give it a try! It is now on my list of things to do before I join the rest of you in Mexico.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

dios de amor; gente de amor

Nancy shared a secret ("secret" only because I did not know about it) with her fellow bloggers the other day. Someone asked her how she found all of the interesting new blogs she tells us about.

Her response:

I subscribe to some Google Alerts…most of the alerts are realtors or people selling something but occasionally there are blogs listed that relate to Mexico. I usually watch them for a few weeks or a month to see if they post frequently, etc. and then introduce them to my readers after that.

I did not know such the tool existed. I typed "Google Alerts" in my Google toolbar -- and, YOWEE! -- all I had to do was type in "Mexico," choose "blogs," frequency of alerts, and I was done.

My inbox immediately started to fill with new information. And I am glad I did it. An entry on Friday contained the picture at the top of this post.

Six Spanish words (four in English) sum up my theology and what I have been doing my best to live. I could have used it rather than my prolix Christmas post.

But it is a good message as we head off toward the new year.

Thanks for sharing, Nancy.

Friday, December 26, 2008

manila extract

This should have been a November tale. 544 years ago, one of the world's great expeditions began. And it began on my little piece of beach -- or just south of it -- in Barra de Navidad.

The year was 1564. The Spanish Empire had expanded over the Americas, Africa, and Asia. Magellan, in the service of Spain, was killed in the Philippines 43 years earlier. Philip II (not yet chastened by the defeat of the Armada) decided that Magellan's discovery needed to be incorporated into the Catholic Empire. Where better to launch the expedition from than Mexico?

And that is exactly what happened. With no Panama Canal, the Spanish "enlisted" the services of Indian slaves to build roads and transport supplies from Vera Cruz to the west side of Mexico -- at Barra de Navidad. The Spanish built a fleet of five ships from local timber, and, with 500 soldiers, Miguel López de Legazpi set sail for the Philippines on November 21, 1564. Four months later, he landed in the Philippines, named them for his king, and set out to successfully conquer the islands for Spain.

The relationship between Mexico and the Philippines was enduring. Politically, the Philippines were ruled by the viceroy of New Spain from 1565 to 1821, of which Mexico was the crown jewel. (Of course, after 1821, other political arrangements had to be made, Mexico having decided that it could be a jewel in its own crown.)

Mexico and the Philippines were bound within the Spanish economic sphere, as well. Every year, the Spanish would ship silver from Mexico to Manila, and silk, spices, ivory and porcelain from Manila to Mexico in the famous Manila Galleon.

What made the trade routes work was a military secret. The Spanish had discovered that they could easily catch trade winds by sailing contra-intuitive courses. Francis Drake discovered the same trick and was able to use it to his advantage in attacking the Manila Galleon.

Barra was not easily defended, and pirates took great advantage of that fact during its decade of being Mexico's port of entry for Philippine goods. The Manila trade then slipped away to the more easily-defended Acapulco. (We can now be assured that Babs will not be spirited away by pirates during her post-Navidad holiday in Barra.)

Older guide books refer to the expedition being commemorated by "a simple monument in Barra de Navidad's small plaza." That is no longer the case. The Phlippine-Barra connection is now recalled at the end of Barra's malecón with a rather grand monument, celebrating a truly grand chapter in Barra's past.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

merry christmas

To all of you who read this blog, thank you for your comments and your suggestions. For the past year, I have attempted to do two things:
(1) introduce myself through my writing, and
(2) to provide some of my thoughts on why I am moving to Mexico.

Sometimes they overlap. Often, they don't. But with each post, I try to share a little bit of who I am. Thank you for letting me to indulge myself.

But more than anything today, I wish each of you a very Merry Christmas.

There is a promise of peace that comes with this day that teaches us to love our God with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind, and with all of our strength. And, just as importantly, to love each other (friend and enemy) as we love ourselves. If we can, then truly the promise of peace will be ours.

the me in meme


Where on earth does the blogosphere come up with these words? The fact that the word is two "me"s stuck together gives me a rather good idea of its genetic makeup.

I try to avoid them. But Theresa has one on her blog that caught my eye and taught me a lot about her. I thought I would share mine with you. Why not give it a try yourself?

The idea is simple. A list of 100 activities trails off almost into infinity. Be patient. Read. Learn.

The items in bold are the ones I have done; the items in italics are things I would like to do; the items in italics with an * are things I really want to do. And then there are the items in regular font -- haven't done, don't care to. (Too bad "eat creamed corn" is not on the list. It would have been first in the "wish I hadn't, never will again" category.)

So, here goes. Remember, there are 100.

1. Started my own blog
2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower (see #2)
6. Given more than I can afford to charity (don't like the tone of this one)
7. Been to Disneyland/world
8. Climbed a mountain
9. Held a praying mantis (not a big deal)
10. Sung a solo
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched lightning at sea
14. Taught myself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child (fortunately, not -- for the child)
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown my own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on a overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitchhiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb (does a chop count?)
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice (why?)
29. Seen a total eclipse (of the moon and the sun)
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset
31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the land of my ancestors
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught myself a new language
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David (Donatello's Mary Magdalene is more impressive)
41. Sung Karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful Geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger dinner
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had my portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris* (and I have no idea why not)
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain (might explain #94)
53. Played in the mud (after all, I am an attorney -- and a failed politician)
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China*
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout cookies
62. Gone whale watching
63. Got flowers for no reason (have I ever got them for a reason?)
64. Donated blood,platelets or plasma
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp* (as should everyone)
67. Bounced a check (there is a tale there I may share one day)
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial (everytime I am in DC; I like talking with Abe)
71. Eaten caviar (as often as I can)
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job (once; deserved it several other times)
76. Seen the Changing of the Guard in London
77. Broken a bone (despite #65 and 78)
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person*
80. Published a book
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem*
84. Had my picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible (annually, when I can)
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life (my cousin's son -- another story)
90. Sat on a jury (grand jury)
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby (see #15 above)
95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake*
97. Been involved in a law suit (lawyer, remember?)
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee
100. Rode an elephant (I thought so; but cannot remember; too many questions)

OK. I have counted the list several times, but I think I have 69 items checked off -- and quite a few I would like to do.

My first observation is that the list was most likely designed by a woman for women. I will not bother pointing out the obvious biases. The Euro-scent of romanticism is one potential culprit.

What I discovered about myself is that I have visited a lot of the world, but I have failed to visit some of the most popular landmarks in America. And that is probably not going to change once I get to Mexico.

But there is my Rorschach test for all of you to see -- at least, through the prism of a third person's reality.

Do you want to share your own? Give it a try. It is more fun than a home run in Little League.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

florence à la king

On Saturday, there was a notice in my post office box that I had a package. For the rest of you, that would probably not be a big deal -- after all, Christmas and Chanukah gifts are currently clogging the postal arteries as effectively as a ball park hot dog.

But, not for me. I do not give gifts. As a result, I do not receive gifts.

The only exception is my friend Howard, who lives in Hawaii. He occassionaly sends me a box of macadamia candy. But I had just received one of those. What could it be?

To cut through the suspense, I turned in the slip and received, in return, (as is the custom in the post office) what felt like a book. My first conclusion was one of my recent order of Harry Turtledove books had gone astray.

Harry Turtledove it wasn't. Instead, inside the envelope I found a collection of Florence King's reviews: Deja Reviews. I was thrilled. Florence King is one of my favorite writers.

But where did it come from? My first thought was that my colleague Jennifer Rose, author of How to Capture and Keep Clients (a great Christmas gift for the lawyer in your life), had surprised me. She is the only other Florence King fan I know.

That notion had not had time to fully alight when I realized the provenance of the "gift." I recently renewed my subscription to National Review; the book was one of those renewal enticements. Apparently, we NR readers are sent into a frenzy by 72-year old spinsters -- a word she adores.

Of course, Miss King (another title she loves; no Ms. for her) can be infuriatingly contrary. Any woman who can call herself a misanthrope (and live up to the term) is the very essence of liberated woman -- a woman who can despise Sean Hannity while praising Jon Stewart. Or who dislikes Al Gore because he reminds her of an undergraduate suitor who threw up on her on the Ferris wheel.

Jennifer may not have sent me the book, but I can imagine that it was served to me from the very hand of La King.

I suspect you will all receive a goodly serving before too long.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

my white house

This time last year I had just returned from a house-hunting trip to Barra de Navidad and La Mananilla. After a bit of scouting, I had decided that was the area of Mexico I wanted to live in retirement -- and I was ready to buy a house.

The house that drew me to Barra is pictured at the top of this post. It was not on -- or near -- the beach and it had been through some construction halts, but it really appealed to me. It was built on a 10,000 square foot lot with three bedrooms and three bathrooms. There was also a 1-bedroom guest house on the lot.

It was priced a bit higher than I wanted to pay, but it appeared to be a good deal -- even though it would require some finishing touches -- such as windows -- and doors.

Like many a gringo before me, I was ready to buy as soon as I could. I booked a flight for late November. And -- as is the case in most real estate stories -- it sold the weekend before I could fly down. I had a backup house in mind -- but it sold the same weekend.

Fast forward about 8 months. The first house shows up on the market listed at almost three times its original price. Obviously, the seller was after another gullible gringo to snatch up what had been a virginal property and was now gussied up with more pancake makeup than a ten-dollar whore.

In late November the price dropped by over $200,000, but it is still far too expensive for its location. Maybe -- with a view. But a view it definitely does not have.

The lesson? Every book on moving to Mexico warns readers, blogs warn readers, expatriates warn listeners: do not buy until you first rent in an area. (I know there are exceptions. Some of whom write very good blogs listed to the right -- and who have been happy with their quick purchases.)

I suspect this little lesson is a reminder to me. After all, I am the guy who almost bought houses on a single trip to an area. If I had done that, I would not now be able to retire.

But I didn't buy; and I will retire in a fleeting few days.

Monday, December 22, 2008

electoral college dropout

Every four years, I feel a bit like a salmon.

I am not feeling any particular urge to spawn. Instead, I feel the urge every December to cast a ballot.

You see, I am a member of the Electoral College. Or, more accurately, I was once an elector. That peculiar American political institution was once merely an odd set of numbers to me. In 1984, that all changed.

The month was July. The place: Klamath Falls. I was attending the state convention of my party as chair of one of the subgroups of the platform committee. A political acquaintance asked me if I wanted her faction to nominate me as a presidential elector. I had not thought about running, but acquiesced. It wasn't ambassador to the Court of St. James, but I thought it might be an interesting experience.

I won. I joined six other names, and our presidential candidate received a majority of the votes cast in Oregon. In truth, my colleagues and I received the majority of the votes, because we were elected, not the candidate.

That was the first time I ever gave any serious consideration why the electoral college exists.

I knew the history. But that is not the same thing as understanding its current function. Its creation in the 1780s probably prevented the creation of the constitutional office of elected monarch. Instead, the nation chose an elected head of the republic, but one that would be chosen in a manner that retained the small state - big state compromise embodied in the makeup of the House and the Senate. The electoral college still carries those genes. Those who would alter it should think long on that pedigree.

For me, I wondered what would happen if I chose to vote for someone other than the candidate I had pledged to support -- the dilemma of the unfaithful elector. In Oregon, the answer is simple: my vote would be cast for me, and I could be cast into jail.

That did not happen. What did happen, though, is that I launched my own political career with a failed campaign for the legislature four years later, and an aborted campaign for Attorney General eight years after that.

I no longer long for political office. However, when I hear that the electoral college is meeting, I feel as if I should be there -- to, at least, audit a course.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

the cauldron bubbles

That is how many work days I have before I retire.

Hard to believe. But now the final kick starts on my sprint to Mexico.

I was going through some of my old posts and email to put together a final checklist for the move. My decision to not sell the house has postponed a lot of decisions. However, there will be plenty of things I need to do before I show up in Mexico this Spring.

Exactly one year ago, Andee Carlsson sent me her first critique of my blog. She liked it, but she was worried that I was a bit too tied up in financial concerns (a theme Michael Dickson has echoed several times).

Rather than paraphrase, I will let Andee speak for herself.

Hi Steve,

When I wrote that, I was thinking about something along these lines.

I am not sure what is drawing you to Mexico, but if it is in hopes of
having a very different life, this was my thought.

It might be hard to balance the sort of gringo thing of wanting to make things as financially secure and as out and locked in as possible.

i think we have be brought up to try to make a safe economic nest for ourselves. And I have the impression that might me what you are trying to do. And that might not be the important thing.

Of course we all know we can't predict the ups and downs of the world economy or whatever, but we can focus on day to day contentment and friendships and satisfactions.

i guess I was reacting to what seemed like your trying to make everything as financially safe as possible. Maybe other things are more important, especially since the money thing can blow up in our faces in a second.

other thought. Don't buy a non-regularized lot. No ejido lots that haven't been regularized. Really really really.

Have you thought about buying something were you can rents a unit out?. Or live in the little place and rent the big one for the three or four months of winter. Of course you have.

And you working hard at learning Spanish????

Get your own lawyer for real estate deals. The notary is a special attorney and is not for you and probably has established relationships with the other party and your realty. Your realty is not your friend. He is making a commission. You need your own English-Spanish attorney recommended by an independent party, when you are ready to buy.

anyway. Andee

And there it is.
  • Don't worry about perfect finances
  • Relationships trump finances
  • Avoid unregularized ejido land
  • Practice your Spanish
  • Hire your own lawyer

Good advice then; good advice now.

As a result of Andee's encouragement, I decided not to buy a house in La Manzanilla (it was not regularized), and I started looking at my finance realistically. But I still need to get serious about my Spanish studies.

Andee, of course, is merely representative of the long line of advisers who have joined discussions on this page. I have learned from each of you.

But, Andee was first. And she will always have a special place in my decision to move to Mexico.

Next month, we will pause to remember her. Or we can do that right now.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

there's no business like snow business

Today is a snow day.

For children those words hold more joy than almost any other pronouncement.

Of course, on a Saturday, to my senior ears, they are simply a warning to stay warm indoors -- and take a nap.

As I sat at the computer, I noticed how the street sounds changed from the whir of wet pavement to the whoosh of sleet -- and, now, almost complete silence. Only the odd whisper that snow makes as it caresses branches on its way to its big sleep.

Florence King interrupts my reverie at this point with her pointed reminder: "Writers who have nothing to say always strain for metaphors to say it in." So, I will stop there.

Of course, La King has nothing to say about writers who tart up their wit as spoof lyricists. And that is what I did this week.

Give me an occasion, and I can produce a spoof song. This week may be one of the last opportunities for me to do that in a business setting.

Our state Attorney General decided not to seek reelection. During a good portion of his 12 years in office, I served with him on the Department of Justice (DOJ) Ethics Committee (even though I am not a DOJ Employee). Each December the committee sponsors an ethics training for their colleagues. This year, several of us decided to give the Attorney General a bit of a roast as our respect for him.

My role was to merely write new lyrics to two standbys: "Georgia on My Mind" and "When You're Sixty-Four." As it turned out, I ended up MCing that portion of the program.

Blogs are the very epitome of self-indulgence. So, I will share the "When You're Sixty-Four" lyrics with you. Our version: "When You're Out the Door."

Now you’re retiring,
Hung up your job:
One more month to go.

Will you still be sending us more ethics drafts?
Twelve rewrites on conflicts for staff?

If we send you a question or three --
Will you say: "What for?"
Will you still read us,
Will you still need us,
When you’re out the door?

Oh, we'll be sadder, too – Ah
And if you just say the word,
We will leave with you.

What if Obama gives you a call,
Wants you as AG?
Where will we be able to forward the call?
To your house
Or the Capitol mall?

Will you be bowling?
Or digging weeds?
Is there any more?

Will you still heed us,
Will you still lead us,
When you’re out the door?

Every summer you could rent a cottage on the central coast,
(If it fits with PERS).
You will scrimp and save.
All your troubles out the door –-
In a life sublime.

Send us a postcard.
Drop us a line.
Tell us where you’ll be.

We will be here, working harder every day --
So sincerely, at DOJ.

Give us an answer.
Fill us in now.
Ours forevermore.

We will still miss you.
Sob in our tissue.
When you’re out the door.

Singers, such as 1st Mate, will appreciate the art form -- and the travesty it implies.

Well, just one more aspect of my life to doff and get ready for new ways to tango with English (and Spanish) -- perhaps, to feel the joy of a child's snow day.

Friday, December 19, 2008

the prodigal dog returns -- again

Cintia y miguel bring good news indeed.

Yesterday, their dog was returned to them. For those of who have been worried about Cynthia, Michael, and Sitka, there is joy in the house.

We will probably never know the full dog tale because dogs have their own secrets. But you can read about what Cynthia knows in
The Sitka Post. Perhaps we will hear more in the future.

But, for now, it is enough that Their Girl is home. And we can only hope that she is not tempted again to chase the wily el gato.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

ten little webdians

I usually don't put much stock in awards. Maybe because I do not get many.

But I was both surprised and (to complete the cliché: honored) that Same Life -- New Location showed up on a list of the
10 Best Expat Blogs About Mexico.

And great company it was for this little blog as it struggles to find its way to Melaque:

Of that group, I read seven whenever new posts appear. In fact, you will find them listed to the right of this post.

I do not know what the criteria were for selection. But the other blogs are extremely good, and I get a warm feeling just walking on the same red carpet with them.

On the other hand, I could probably come up with a list of blogs just as good.

What did not surprise was the limousine at the door with liveried footmen to escort me to the grand champagne award dinner. I say surprised -- because I am still waiting. In all fairness, though, I didn't expend any campaign money for the honor. And no cabinet positions come with the award.

Instead, I will sit home tonight alone, eat Sunday leftovers, and contemplate the state of man in a world of joy and woes.

Thank you, academy.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

a crèche course

Laurie, one of our colleagues in Honduras, has requested residents of Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America to post nativity scenes from their local areas.

I have only the photograph above to contribute. It is not meant to be arty. It is simply a bad photograph. Apparently, I had moisture on my lens that evening.

The nativity scene was in front of a public building in La Manzanilla last December. What struck me was odd was not the fact that Mary appears to be the daughter of Goliath (after all, there is a precedent in medieval art where size and status are visualized -- and this is Mexico) or that Joseph and Mary appear to be preparing the baby for the imminent arrival of Santa Claus down the chimney.

I took the photograph because of the eclectic nature of the scene. Where else could you find the Magi consorting with Arcadian shepherds, Hummel figurines, and a tiger. Almost as if a Frank Stockton story had come to life.

But a crèche has not yet been made to reflect the reality of that birth in a stable. They are all idealized or romanticized in one sense. The fact that the Wise Men most likely did not arrive until well after the shepherds does not matter. They all arrived. And if sheep and camels can crowd around the baby Jesus, why not dogs, cats, and tigers? After all, isn't that the very message of the nativity scene -- the Messiah was a promise for all creation?

Laurie does have a good point, though. I would like to see what other areas of Latin America have to offer during the Christmas season.

Can anyone match Giant Mary?


Last Friday, a bomb planted at a bank in Woodburn, Oregon exploded and killed an Oregon State Trooper and a local police captain, and injured the local police chief and a bank employee.

Unless you live in Oregon, you may have not heard the story. It is a tragedy.

I have not heard of a single story in the Mexican press warning tourists of the danger of traveling to Woodburn.

Interesting how stories of grenades and bombs south of the border seem to be better plots for fear-mongering.

Monday, December 15, 2008

i live to learn

"I do not read to think.
I do not read to learn.
I do not read to search for truth
I know the truth, the truth is hardly what I need.
I read to dream.
I read to live. In other people's lives.
I read about the joys, the world
Dispenses to the fortunate,
And listen for the echoes.
I read to live,
To get away from life!"

One of the more tragic figures of the American state is Fosca in Passion. The quote above is hers in response to another character's suggestion that she should have kept a copy of a novel to meditate on it.

Late last month, I noted in
could you help me place this call? that I had just finished reading American Front, the first novel in Harry Turtledove's trilogy of an alternate history of the First World War. The full set includes a total of ten books taking the story line past the Second World War.

Even though I noted that American Front was not very good, I ordered the full set from Amazon -- in addition to his novel that started the series: How Few Remain: A Novel of the Second War Between the States.

I wish I had read this book before I started the series. It is much better than American Front. The characters actually have depth. And, even though the plot is a bit fantastic (by its very nature as alternate history), it occasionally approaches literary status.

And that matters to me. Unlike Fosca, I do not read to escape: I read to learn -- about the human condition, for exactly the same reason I read biographies and histories.

I suspect that most people can learn far more about humanity by reading Hamlet as they can by reading Freud -- perhaps, more.

But authors like John Jakes, Tom Clancy, or John Grisham do not even bother to tell us much about who we are. They are tellers of tales with cardboard characters substituted for real souls. Any search for Truth is simply futile.

The sole reason I picked up the Turtledove books was its tangential inclusion of Guaymas as a plot device. Unfortunately, I learned nothing about Mexico -- other than the Mexicans and Apaches were hostile to one another.

But I did enjoy this bit of wit between a reporter (Herndon) and editor Samuel Clemmons (Mark Twain):

"Even the common, garden-variety earthquakes are bad enough," Herndon said with a shudder. "Makes me queasy just thinking about 'em." He deliberately and obviously changed the subject: "What's the War news?"

"They're killing people," Sam said, and let it go at that.

Any author who can be that concise understands something very basic about who we are.

through a snow, darkly

What an odd weekend!

Just as I was getting ready to head to an after-work social gathering (partly in my honor), my boss arrived at my door to inform me that we needed to get a contract put together to be executed Monday morning. It was a bit disappointing to miss the gathering, but I get paid good money for producing this type of work.

A colleague and I worked on the project on Saturday and Sunday afternoon (after church). I also managed to miss the Christmas concert of the local concert band. I could afford to miss another version of the Little Drummer Boy.

And then it snowed. Not a lot of snow. Maybe four inches. By Dakota standards, it is nothing. By Willamette Valley standards, it is a blizzard. And it has brought everything to a standstill.

Of course, that means that no one will be available to execute the contract on Monday. But, at least, it will be done.

What I have missed most of all, though, is staying in contact with my blog contacts. I just spent an hour catching up. Now, I am off to bed.

Whether I will even be able to walk the mile to work tomorrow will be something I will find out then.

No snow in Melaque.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

you saw me standing alone

All day on Friday I watched the rain wash away my hopes of seeing the evening moon -- the biggest and brightest full moon of the year. Counting on seeing the moon -- or the sun, for that matter -- during astronomical events in Oregon is always a crap shoot. And the chances are that snake eyes will end the round.

I had given up all hope of seeing the moon when I got home. While reading my blog list, I glanced out the window and noticed the rain had stopped. The clouds had thinned. And there was the moon. As bright as advertised.

Off I went with the dog for his walk, shooting away with my little digital camera. I long ago discovered that a camera with an upper ISO range of 400 is a lousy night shooter. The best of the lot is posted here, looking a bit like a illustration for severe astigmatism.

But the full moon was a wonder to behold. If you doubt that, take a look at what
Billie was able to do with a real camera.

Friday, December 12, 2008

mooning in mexico

One of Stephen Sondheim's rare romantic lyrics can be found in "Moon in My Window" from Do I Hear A Waltz? The song traces the lives of the cast as the moon passes across the sky.

Tonight's moon could be a star in its own right. I was browsing the
La Manzanilla Message Board and came across a post announcing that Friday's moon will be the biggest and brightest full moon of the year. If you want the scientific explanation take a look at this NASA story.

I watched the moon come up Thursday night, and it was noticeably brighter. Fortunately, our on Oregon skies were clear. There is a good chance that we will have snow clouds on Friday night -- and we Oregonians will miss the event.

However, for those of you in Mexico -- grab a loved one and watch the moon rise. Be amazed.

Or, as Sondheim reassuringly reminds us: "Come again tomorrow/ I'll be here."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

naughty or nice

On Tuesday, Juan Calypso of Viva Veracruz and Bliss of 1st Mate posted their impressions of how the American commercialization of Christmas has invaded Mexico like some form of holiday kudzu.

The blight appears to be far worse in the north where Bliss reports that for several years school teachers have been teaching their students to write letters to Santa for Christmas gifts. The schools appear to be the route for social indoctrination throughout Mexico; Calypso's small village of Ursulo Galvan is beginning to suffer the same Santa fate.

So what's the problem? Santa is the very essence of spreading joy to all, isn't he? Even Japan and China have Santa these days.

I refuse to use terms like cultural imperialism -- merely because they have become as meaningless as other political epithets: "fascist" being a prime example. But there is something insidious going on here.

Mexico, like all other Iberian-based cultures, does not include Santa in the pantheon of holiday saints. In his current incarnation, Santa is an Anglo-Saxon invention. His only Spanish connection is the Dutch Saint Nicholas, who lives in Spain -- probably in a condominium project where the market has collapsed -- and has a servant helper named Zwarte Piet. (Political correctness prohibits me from further describing Zwarte Piet, who has become an embarrassment to the race-sensitive Dutch).

What the Iberians have is the three kings (another Biblical extrapolation, with next to no scriptural support). On 6 January (Dia de Los Reyes) the three kings bring gifts (often no more than foil-wrapped chocolate coins) to children. The gifts are meant to symbolize the material gifts given to Christ at his birth -- gifts of sacrifice. (A little cultural footnote. Castro has now forbidden the Spanish embassy from distributing chocolate coins from a horse-drawn carriage on Dia de Los Reyes. With unintended irony, the ban described the practice as being a feudal practice. Pots and kettles, I guess.)

Of course, that is the very antithesis of a Santa Christmas where the whole family expects to receive absolutely anything that pops into their collective material mind.

I am not certain that I support either version of this cultural war. For all of its romantic notion of sacrifice and small gifts, my Mexican friends tell me that Dia de Los Reyes long ago became the same type of gift orgy that Christmas has become for Americans. The only difference is the day.

I have long disliked Christmas. But I could not tell you why. I enjoy getting together with my family. I love group feeding time. And the theology gave me hope.

But all of the symbols seemed to be a bit askew. The central message of hope and love seemed to be pushed to the rear by Santa and his horde of expensive toys -- along with all of the accompanying financial angst far more fear-enducing than the most horrid stories of Zwarte Piet.

Earlier this year, I read an interesting article by the philosopher, Roger Scruton. He also had the same uneasiness about Christmas, and summed it up in one word: kitschification. He was not merely talking about the material kitsch of plastic Santas. His concern was the very theological basis of the holiday (the incarnation) had been reduced to papier-mâché platitudes.

The dispute is not really about Santa displacing the three kings. It should be about not letting symbols take on a reality that makes a mockery out of the reason why we celebrate Christmas. If we focus on loving others more than we love ourselves, and that we often need to sacrifice to show that love, the symbols will simply fade into irrelevance.

Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I wish each of you the joy that loving one another can bring.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

my holga lens life

On Monday, my friend, Michael Dickson, posted a comment contending that 1) my Mexico blog had lost its focus; 2) I should split my current blog into several topical blogs; and 3) he was beginning to doubt that I was actually moving to Mexico.

I have been giving his comment some serious thought. After all, I have always admired his writing, and he has provided me with some excellent advice in the past on everything from computers to cars.

If I were called to court to enter a plea, I would plead nolo contendere to the first two charges, and not guilty to the third.

Focus is always a difficult topic with blogs. We have discussed this topic several times amongst ourselves. The consensus was that we do not write for others (although almost all of us started writing for family and friends). We write to please ourselves. For me, it is simply a joy to sit and string thoughts together. The fact that other people read those thoughts is simply a bonus -- a nice one, I will admit.

I did not have any intention of writing a blog before I started corresponding with Andee Carlsson of
My Life in Chacala. I thoroughly enjoyed her style and sense of adventure. I told her of my plans to move to Mexico and of my scouting trip to La Manzanilla and Barra de Navidad.

On November 23, 2007, she broached the idea of a blog: "I would like to hear about your trip. Do you do a blog or a trip journal? I love reading about other people's journeys. I'm much too curious for my own good probably."

Up until then, I had not thought of putting together a blog. But I kept a journal of the trip and shared it with Andee. When I told her I was thinking about a blog, she responded:

Hi Steve. This is just a quick note. I loved reading your email. I liked
Patzcuaro and the surrounding small towns a lot. I´m glad you are checking them out. And Morelia is only an hour away. And it´s a sophisticated city. I have to go. Let me know when you have a blog going. I would love to see your photos.

The next day, I created this blog, and I have been posting ever since.

As you can see, I am not certain I ever really had a focus for the blog -- other than to talk about what I needed to do to get from where I am now to Mexico.

And, I think I know the issue. Michael is a very analytical, logical person. I suspect that his editing background makes it easy for him to index topics into categories. You would think my legal training would give me a similar talent. It hasn't.

I tend to see everything I do as more of a process. Filing for an FM3 is about moving to Mexico, obviously. But so is my ongoing relationship with my dog. If he is not still alive, he is not going to make the trip.

I suspect that I will retain this same undisciplined Fibber McGee's closet approach to life when I blog in Mexico. It really is a reflection of my mind.

And, Michael, yes, there really is a Mexico. I have scheduled my retirement appointment for the first week of January -- with a retirement date of 30 April. I have signed my first lease running from 1 May through 30 October. And, if I get my FM3, I may stay in the same place through mid-December.

I am coming whether Mexico is ready for me or not. And I intend to buy some jalapeño corn bread in the square from La Guapa Señora

one heart at a time

Wayne just checked in with me to make certain all is well. He was concerned because I have not posted during the past two days. I have been busy with my volunteer work with the Salvation Army.

My term as chair of the local Advisory Board expires in April. That is one reason I chose a retirement date of 1 April for my move to Mexico. I promised the local officers that I would stay through the end of my term.

And I have stuffed enough activities into my schedule to start another term. On Monday, I spent a good portion of the day gathering contributions for the staff who work in our shelter and family services. Their pay is almost minimum wage, but they work with all of their hearts helping people who have less than they do. The board decided to collect as much in contributions as a Christmas gift for each of them.

Today, I began the day with a dedication ceremony at a new Salvation Army building project in town. Next, we had our appreciation luncheon for the board and the staff members. I then topped off the day with 3 hours of bell ringing for contributions.

I pass this along for only one point: my volunteer work keeps me busy, but there is always much to be done. And, as Wayne has shown with his knitting project, there is still much more to do.

So, Wayne, I am fine. Just busy. The blog will wait for me later in the week.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

the other kind of tortilla

Spain has not quite abandoned its resentment for that road game loss with England in 1588.

That, at least, is my theory why Protestant vegetarians are often confronted in Spain with sneak meat attacks. Ham appears everywhere -- in vegetables, in potatoes, in salads. Trying to find a ham-free dish in Spain is almost as foolhardy as Diogenes hoping to put a successful end to his search in Congress.

There is always one safe choice: tortilla española. Almost everyone has tried it. As a snack. In a tapas bar. For breakfast. It is Spain's answer to the all-purpose quick food: a potato-egg concoction that proves that quiche can have machismo -- and still meet vegetarian needs.

But I cannot leave well-enough alone. So, I have managed to tart up this crustless tart. I offer my very hammy version of tortilla española.

1/4 cup high quality olive oil
1-1/2 pounds of new potatoes, thinly sliced
1 onion, thinly sliced
1/2 pound sliced ham, sliced in thin strips
1 red sweet pepper, thinly sliced
1 yellow sweet pepper, thinly sliced
1 jalapeño pepper, diced
dozen eggs, beaten
sea salt
freshly-ground pepper

1. Heat the oil in a very large cast iron skillet. It should be very hot. Add the potatoes and season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium, stirring occasionally. Do not brown the potatoes. After 10 minutes, add the onion. Continue the same process for an additional 5 minutes, until the vegetables are beginning to soften.

2. Add the peppers and ham to the skillet. Cook an additional 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Pour the vegetables and ham into the bowl with the eggs. Then return the mixture evenly to the skillet. Let the mixture cook for about 2 minutes to set the bottom of the mixture. Cook at medium for about 20 minutes -- until the mixture is almost set. Flip the tortilla over and cook for an additional 5 minutes until the mixture is set.

4. Flip on to a warm plate. Allow to rest for 5 minutes.

5. Cut the tortilla into wedges. Serve with a spicy salsa and warm tortillas.

My addition, of course, is the ham and the peppers -- with a tip of my sombrero to Mexico.

Purists will quail. But this is how we develop new dishes -- some good, some not so much.

After all, without a bit of experimenting quiche lorraine would never have evolved into the gastronomic treasure that we have today: canadian bacon and pineapple quiche.

Who says that Canadians and Americans do not know good food when we see it?

Saturday, December 06, 2008

meals to go before I sleep

My family is still here as I write this brief entry for today.

My brother, his wife, and their daughter arrived yesterday afternoon and helped me clean up the house. My vacuum cleaner had died just before they arrived. And, if you have ever lived in a house with a dog, that is the equivalent of losing your rudder in the middle of a storm. But, troupers that they are, my family came to the rescue with brooms and mops. As a group, they were far better than Merry Maids.

This morning, we made the tactical error of trying out a new recipe for tortilla española for breakfast. Hint number 1: Never try out new eats on the morning of a major dinner. The tortilla turned out great, but we ended up losing about two hours of serious cooking time.

The menu turned out to be a success. I dropped the creamed onions because we had enough food already. And everything came out of the kitchen right on time. Compliments were universal.

But here is hint number 2: when having family over for the holidays, consider doing something other than a grand meal. After plowing our way through the piles of meat, starch, and carbohydrates, there was no time to sit and chat while opening our presents.

If I had the whole thing to do over, I would allow my American utilitarian gene to have full sway: pizza would have been just about right while we spent the time chatting, opening gifts, and playing games.

For now, I am off to walk the dog. When I return, Balderdash will beckon.

Friday, December 05, 2008

we gather together

Hubris is not worn well by the old. I know that, but I don it regularly.

Last week I was cheerfully noting in
giving thanks by the forkful that I would not have to worry about cooking a Thanksgiving dinner this yeat. My mother was going to be at my brother's house, and I would eat with my aunt's family. No need for me to worry about what to prepare for dinner.

Well, I barely set down that mug of smugness when my family informed me that everyone (my mother, my brother, his wife, their daughter, my nephew, his wife, their 1-year old son) would be showing up at my house this Saturday for Thanksgiving-Christmas-birthdays for everyone dinner. As far as I know, we will slip in Independence Day and Memorial Day for good measure. We are a people thrifty with time.

And being thrifty with time, I am now happy I posted my menu last week. I said that was what we would be having, and by jingo, that is what we are going to have.

So, here it is, the menu for The Cotton Omnibus Holiday Dinner:

Prime rib roast with cabernet au jus
Roasted new potatoes with stone ground mustard and horseradish
Broccolini/sweet pepper/ginger stir fry
Creamed onions
Peas with mint
Spring greens with balsamic

And, following dinner, we will will sit down with a cheese, fruit, and pepperoni board to play a few rounds of Balderdash -- and work on a jig saw puzzle.

As I said earlier. Nothing exotic. Just family enjoying good food and creating new memories.

After all, if we are going to get together for only one celebration a year -- it better be good.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

shirt off his back

Wayne often tantalizes us with a random piece of clothing he finds displayed in the most fantastic places on his Mexican island.

Well, Mr Minnesota. Before you start thinking your island has a monopoly on odd clothing displays, I offer you this:

OK. It's only a shirt. But what is it doing hanging there above the creek?

And, Wayne, I can hear your Midwestern response from here --


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

write myself a letter

I noticed in last week's edition of The Economist that an ancient profession is dying in Mexico -- or, at least, Mexico City. Not lawyers. Not prostitutes. Not drug lords.

If you walk a few blocks north of the Zócalo, you will find the small plaza of Santo Domingo. The district is the home to stationery stores and printing shops. But the progenitor of those businesses will be found in the stalls of the plaza: professional scribes.

They carry on a profession that seems to be from another century. Need a business letter written? Need a love letter? Want a duplicate of your deed? Receipts produced? A section of a text book copied?

These are the living descendants of cowled monks dutifully copying scripture. But like most copies, they have started to lose the allure of the original.

Technology is one reason. Why pay someone to copy pages when you can get an exact photocopy?

Why buy a love letter when you can twitter your sweetheart directly?

Why have a stranger draft a letter of complaint when it can be ignored just as quickly with an email to the government agency?

I have never seen the plaza. But I would like to. It is another example of an area ebbing away -- what some sentimental gringos call "authentic."

But the mobile telephone, the copier, and the internet that have displaced the scribblers are every bit as authentically Mexican. And, they too will be replaced by some other cousin of the scribes.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

sunday in the park with jiggs

Fall mushrooms in bloom

Birds. I love shooting them -- with a camera. I have been sharing my passion for birds on the Melaque message board.

Too often for a blogger, I forget to take my camera with me on my outings. Fortunately, this Saturday I took it along -- because it was one of the most pleasant Thanksgivings I can recall. Usually, our rivers are flooding and families somewhere in Oregon are evacuating from the holiday table.

Jiggs and I were making our rounds through his favorite park. He was marking far more landscaping, but I was taking more photographs.

I happened to glance up just in time to see a large hawk land in a tall oak tree. A moment later, a smaller version of the hawk alit in an adjoining tree. That, in itself, was unusual. Hawks are not known for hanging out with one another.

I did not give the reason much thought because I was trying to zoom in on the smaller hawk to identify it. I managed to snap off two quick photographs before I heard the reason for the rare hawk camaraderie. Crows were beginning to circle the trees.

I have long wanted to photograph the interaction between raptors and crows. And I thought this would be my opportunity.

But the hawks were far wiser. They had no intention of being extras in Friday the 13th vs. The Birds. They surreptitiously glided away -- using the oak branches as cover. Lollygagging is not a good survival technique when crows are mobbing.

The crows were befuddled. And I was left with no shot.

But it is a beautiful young red-tailed hawk. My zoom takes away most of the detail on its head. And, all things considered, I would prefer the head to be mysterious rather than pecked by the crows.

Monday, December 01, 2008

el malentendido mi español

Yesterday Theresa posted a very interesting piece about growing up bilingual. Even though she grew up speaking Spanish, she still encounters communication problems in Mexico.

I have been practicing my Spanish lessons on my Mexican friends at church. The usual look is one of bewilderment. (I am merely happy to be past the look of horror stage.) Last week, Juan and Irma went off on a tangent about some word I had used. They disagreed about what the correct word should be. As far as I know, they never came to an agreement.

Anyone who has acted as an editor can appreciate that problem. Spanish, just like English, is a very complex language. Vocabulary, accent, caste, and dialect can vary greatly.

That was brought home to me a couple of years ago. I was on a cruise to what the Ministry of Tourism calls the Mexican Riviera. Two entertainers, who I have known since 1999, were the house act on the ship. Juan is from Argentina. His wife, Eileen, is from Brooklyn.

We decided to have dinner at a sidewalk restaurant in Ensenada. The Mexican waiter approached our table and started talking with Juan, who ordered in Spanish. The waiter almost immediately looked distressed -- the type of distress that comes from adding just one too many peppers to a dish. Juan and the waiter exchanged a few words -- apparently explaining something. Now Juan looked distressed.

They both looked at Eileen. Juan spoke. Then the Mexican waiter. It turned out that the waiter could not understand Juan's Argentine Spanish. Eileen ended up ordering.

The number of taxi drivers and street vendors who have been distressed by my Spanish could easily form a line from here to the horizon. But, whenever I see that quizzical response, I remember that even native Spanish speakers can elicit the look, and I press on through.

I know that I will never know Spanish the way I know English, but I am going to continue to mind the gap.