Thursday, December 31, 2015

the other adams family

There is a good reason I am not a hobbyist.  I simply do not have enough discipline to even be a parvenu.

Over two years ago, I told you about one of my projects -- to read at least one biography of the 43 men who have occupied the White House (pail by comparison).  I had crossed off 16 names back then.

You would think in the past two years (considering the amount of reading I do), I would have whittled down the list considerably.  If so, you would be wrong.

I have bumped off only two more presidents.  Admittedly, big names.  Wilson and Truman.  But just two.  Rumor has it that the Mafia has a better track record than that.

This is how the list now looks.

My original thought was to read the biographies in chronological order.  And it appears that is how I started.  But appearances are deceiving.

One of my college degrees is in history -- with an emphasis on the Federalist-Republican era of America's founding.  The checks beside Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe represent a stack of biographies -- and an ongoing interest in the period that was sparked by a trip to the East Coast during the summer of my junior year in high school.  I would have read those books without the artifice of a project.

And then I stopped at John Quincy Adams -- just about the same point where school children lose track when trying to recite the list of presidents.  If it had not been for the parcel of human interest stories during the presidency of George W. Bush comparing the legacy of the two Bushes with the tale of the two Adamses, I doubt most people would remember John Quincy.  That is, unless they have seen Amistad.

My problem was finding an authoritative biography on our sixth president.  Most of the better-known presidents have attracted professional biographers with academic credentials.  Not so John Quincy.

I am auditioning the latest attempt -- John Quincy Adams: American Visionary by Fred Kaplan.  One of the great marketing tools Amazon uses to sell books is to provide free samples of their offerings.  Just like Costco.

Having taken advantage of that option, I am now prepared to buy it for my Kindle.  (Amazon's customer service results in revenue.)  Kaplan is an academic with a rather light writing style and an eclectic set of biographical subjects: Lincoln, Twain, Dickens, Henry James, the irascible Gore Vidal.

But he will provide me with enough information (672 pages) to put a deserved "X" beside the name of John Quincy Adams.

I will then face the task of finding a good biography on America's first professional politician to be elected president -- Martin Van Buren.  Now, there is an interesting figure.

In two more years, I may actually have done just that.  Finished off only John Quincy Adams and Martin Van Buren.  But I am slowly edging toward the 50% mark.

Just in time to add another president to the list.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

people, let me tell you 'bout my best friend

So, there I was sitting in one of my favorite San Patricio restaurants when I heard the refrains of a tune I have probably not heard since the year Richard Nixon was re-elected president.

It was an instrumental arrangement, but my fading memory head had no trouble filing in that familiar opening line.  And I have handily provided it to you as the title of this piece -- a choice that will undoubtedly boost my Google hits.

Those of you who were television watchers from 1969 to 1972 (and whose memory is still firing on all cylinders as a good Duesenberg should) will recognize the line as being from The Courtship of Eddie's Father.  One of those single father situation comedies that peppered our lives in my youth.

That little stroll into a nostalgia cul-de-sac was timely because Barco Rubio has discovered a new playmate in our neighborhood.

Before I bought Barco, I seriously thought of adding two puppies to my dog-less pack.  The best argument for two (maybe the only one) was to provide companionship for each of the puppies.  I am no spring chicken.  I am not even a winter rooster.  With two dogs, I hoped they could amuse each other.

I decided that argument was not good enough to counter my concern whether I could handle two puppies simultaneously.  And I would have failed -- if dealing with Satan's Spawn (Barco's nickname this week) is any example.

We are in that stage of puppyhood that I had almost completely forgotten.  House-breaking.  Barco has decided that the courtyard is a perfect place to relieve himself.  We have a bit of a disagreement on that.  Translate 'bit of disagreement" into what Ted Cruz thinks about Obamacare -- and you just about have our polar positions.

Fortunately, life is not just about toilet venues -- even for bladder-challenge puppies and OCD dog owners.  Barco has added a good deal of amusement to what was becoming a far too comfortable life -- the malady that convinced me to move away from Salem.

My failure to provide Barco with a fraternal playmate has turned out to not be a problem.  He is a puppy.  He can create fun out of a discarded plastic bottle.  Or four legacy stuffed animals only slightly-used by Professor Jiggs.  Or some hapless butterfly that crosses his path.

And then there are the goats across the street.  Three of them.  He treats them as if they were dogs.  Initially wary of him, the goats now treat him as a mere nuisance.

But there are real dogs.  Lilly, a large breed owned by my neighbor Mary, is a replacement mother figure.  For Barco's first week here, Mary was fostering a young English sheep dog.  Bella and Barco could run and roughhouse for hours -- if we had let them. 

Bella has now gone to her permanent home.  I thought that would leave Barco without a playmate -- other than the goats.  Once again, I was wrong.

Over the Christmas weekend, a pug showed up while Barco was in the goat field gathering ticks in his ears while looking for just the right plastic bag to swallow.  Barco forgot all about Bella.  This time he was larger than his playmate.

The pug lives just down the street.  His name is Lucky -- it could be Loki (even though that strikes me as a bit too Nordic for my neighborhood).  My lack of understanding the name could have been right out of an I Love Lucy episode with Steve playing the part of Ricky Ricardo.

For all of the restrictions Barco has placed on my life, he has added far more than he has taken.  He has reminded me of small joys -- even when it is nothing more than the same food in the same dish three times a day.  Or his desire to simply be held and to trick me into feeling that I have some role in protecting him.

He has also taught me to laugh again.  Watching him hunting butterflies is a reminder that predator DNA lies just below the surface.

Lucky may be his best dog friend.  And Barco is mine.  But you have figured that out already. 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

twas the night before christmas

When I bought the house in Barra de Navidad, the first words out of a friend's mouth were: "Just think what you could do with this courtyard decorating for Christmas."

She obviously did not know my feeling about celebrating Christmas.  I generally don't.  Even though our town has Christmas right there in its title.

I won't bore you with my reticence to join in the usual Christmas goings-on.  No, I am not a Scrooge.  Yes, I am a firm believer in the incarnation -- or, at least, a version.  And, yes, I do have some great memories of Christmases past.

These pages have included my family's rather eccentric calendar for holidays.  We did celebrate Christmas.  And still do.  When our calendars let us get around to it.

But as far as decorations go, I am a minimalist.  Yesterday our blogger pal John Calypso shared his Christmas tree with us over at Viva Veracruz and Viva Puerto Escondido.  (If he buys any more houses, I am going to have to start abbreviating that title.) 

His post gave me an idea.  It was time to break out my Christmas tree.  After all, traditionally, they go up only late on Christmas Eve to surprise children on Christmas morning.

There it is at the top of the page, hanging on the frame of a portrait of the late great Professor Jiggs.

I am not certain where I got it.  The label says Ecuador.  I suspect it was a gift from my mother as a memento of one of her travels.  Wherever it came from, it is enough to let me know that Christmas is just around the corner.

Lest you think I do Christmas on the cheap, I have also put out three Christmas candles that I purchased from a neighbor boy when I lived in Milwaukie.  For a school fundraiser.  There are always school fundraisers.  Even here. 

That must have been 1988 or so.  I put them out if I remember where I last put them.  Had I not made the trip to Bend in November, these items would still be in my mother's garage instead of symbolizing our remembrance of the birth of the messiah.

So, there you have it.  Christmas at the house with no name, brought to you by the dog with many names.

I will say it once again, now that it is a bit more timely, I wish you all a blessed Christmas. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

driving in mexico -- the christmas special

It is Christmas week.

You could not tell that by our 90 degree days with their 75% humidity.  It feels a lot more like the Fourth of July than two days before Christmas.

But there is no doubt: it is Christmas.  And I have evidence to prove it.

Exhibit A is that bell at the top of this essay -- complete with night-time lighting.  It is the sole civic Christmas decoration on the main street in my part of town.  I am certain there is a story behind it.  And I suspect I know the guy who will help us out on the subtext.

But the bell's shimmer pales in front of Exhibit B. 

Every Christmas (and several other holidays during the year) the local traffic police show up in town to write tickets for infractions that go unnoticed the rest of the year.  (It is hard to shake the feeling that the Policeman's Benevolent Fund for the Children of Policemen is being replenished with a healthy dose of new pesos.)

Expired license plates.  Riding a motorcycle without wearing a helmet.  Going the wrong way on a one-way street.  Not wearing a seat belt.  Driving while sitting on a fat wallet. 

I sit on the sidewalk in front of a restaurant across the street from our only bank.  The bank parking lot is a regular hangout for the police.  The street theater is worth spending a full afternoon.  Almost everyone stopped gives the policeman a good dose of fauxrage.  So far, I have not seen any of the police accept a bribe in lieu of a ticket.

The police have plenty of pigeons, though.  Our seaside villages are packed with tourists.  The northerners have started arriving.  But this is the week when residents of Guadalajara visit their seldom-used beach houses.  And busloads of highlanders show up for a week in the sun and sand.

Of course, there is always a flock of former locals who show up in town with their Volvos, Escalades, and the odd Hummer here and there.  Most have license plates from the more affluent states that crowd around the Federal District.  But there are plenty of California license plates, as well.

I know the drill -- having spent my time growing up in a dirt-poor logging community in the coastal mountains of southern Oregon.  Almost all of the families I know from there have moved away to find fame and fortune elsewhere.  But they love to show up for the annual summer town picnic with their achievements dutifully displayed.

For those of us who live here, it is a time to be very careful driving.  We live without traffic control devices.  Those that exist are customarily ignored if the situation is safe.  And I use "safe" very loosely there.  I have been amazed how our mix of traffic works like a well-choreographed ballet.

But things are different when new drivers are tossed into the mix.  Most American and Canadian drivers simply do not have the local rhythm down.  They believe a stop sign means stop. 

That is fine unless the guy riding your bumper believes the stop sign  means tear through the intersection if no one is coming.  The ensuing rear-end collisions are as predictable as a Trump insult.

And then there are the returning Mexicans who have not been here for a time and are uncertain where they are going.  Immediate left turns then veering into a right turn are common enough that I slow down when I see an out-of-state plate. 

I won't even waste time talking about cars headed the wrong way on one-way streets where illegally parked vehicles barely allow one car to drive through.

Fortunately, driving in Mexico has taught me patience (and a desire to speed that is a trait to be unused for the next two weeks).  So, I drive carefully through town, trying to keep up the local rhythm.  Knowing this too shall pass.

I may not get back to you before Friday.  Therefore, let me wish all of you a very merry Christmas -- from both Barco Rubio and me. 

We will talk about the new year later.


Monday, December 21, 2015

my bite is worse than -- almost anything

It may be Christmas week, but it's starting to look a lot like Halloween around here.  Or Day of the Dead to be more local.

In February of 2014, I surrendered and gave up on trying to save my last upper left molar.  It had harbored infection for over a year, and eleven months of root canal work could do nothing to salvage it.  The root was irreparably cracked.  So, out it came (the tooth -- the whole tooth -- and nothing but the tooth).

There has been a gap there ever since.  Not in my smile.  I would need a Martha Raye display of teeth for anyone to ever see it.

But there is a gap nonetheless.  A chewing one.  The two molars on my lower jaw sit there unpartnered like two lonely bachelors.  They are ready to mesh and masticate.  However, they lack a mortar to go with their pestle.

Not for long.  This morning, I am driving to Manzanillo to start the process of restoring my gnash and grind.  The same young dentist who extracted my old molar is going to give me two new implants.

Well, not "give."  He will install them.  At a cost.  More on that later.

Unfortunately, there will be another procedure before the implants go in.  I do not have adequate bone between my tooth line and my maxillary sinus -- that big hole in my head that friends, teachers, and absolute strangers have remarked on for decades.

There is just not enough bone in jaw to take the implant.  But, medical technology being what it is, there is a solution. 

The young dentist will graft two pieces of bone (one from a human cadaver, the other from a cow -- I will let you do the punchlines on that one) into my jaw to create what nature has not provided.  It may not be as sexy as new breasts or calves, but it will be far more utilitarian.

When he grafts the cadaver bone, he will also install the implant for the recently-deceased tooth.  The cow bone will take longer to set.  After six months, he will install the second implant in that bone.  And once all of that is in place, he will install crowns on the implants.

I have never priced implants in The States.  I really had no need until now.  So, I cannot tell you if what I am about to pay is more or less than up north.  Nor did I shop around to see if the implants could be accomplished here for less than what I am paying.

Tomorrow, I will reach deep in my wallet and pay $22,000 (Mx) -- or $1,285 (US) -- for both bone grafts and one implant.  When the second implant is installed, that will be an additional $10,000 pesos -- $584 (US)

That does not include the cost of the two crowns.  I have no idea what they will cost.  Because I did not ask.

However, it all seems to be reasonable enough to me.  I look forward to being able to chew a nice piece of extra rare prime rib on the left side of my mouth.  The right is getting tired of carrying the load.

For those of you who are concerned, little Barco is staying with my neighbors who love golden retrievers.  I hope he is on his best behavior.  There is a bit of the Bark Simpson in him.

The dentist was kind enough to tell me that I will be in the dental chair for about three hours, the left side of my face may turn purple, I will need to keep ice on my jaw, and he wants to wait in his office for an hour after the surgery before e will release me to drive away.

For some reason, that did not sound entirely reassuring.  I just need to keep focused on that prime rib.


Thursday, December 17, 2015

the naming of dogs

"The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn't just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES."

So claimed T.S. Eliot in -- well, what else? -- "The Naming of Cats."

And his couplets very well may true.  I know little of naming cats.  Or keeping cats.  I am a dog man by nature.

But naming a dog is the essence of dog ownership.  Get it wrong and the dog is marked for life with a name that will cause titters rather than catching his dog spirit.

Well, I faced that problem this week.  To be honest, I had chosen a name for my new dog before I had ever seen the dog -- a very dangerous prospect.

I wanted a name that had Hispanic roots, but one that bespoke dogginess, was descriptive, and had a bit of wit at its root.  One of the dangers of naming in two languages is that the name can have an inadvertent double meaning.  And mine suffers from that problem.  In a very small way.

Yesterday was my delivery date.  But I did not get out of the dental chair until late in the evening.  Two friends persuaded me to wait until this morning to pick him up -- when I could spend the full day with him before the dreaded first night away from the litter.

It has been a great day.  I have introduced him to some friends, took him swimming, and let him play with children.

For those of you who have asked for photographs, you may need to wait for a bit.  The puppy has been running around the courtyard so fast I cannot get a very good shot.  There will be plenty of time for that.

But we were talking about names.  I was originally looking at the puppy called green.  However, when I heard the red puppy was very vocal, I knew the name had found the dog.

So, dear readers, let me introduce you to the latest regular in this situation comedy called Mexpatriate: Barco Rubio.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

the puppy kit

I have a puppy.

Well, I am ready to receive a puppy.

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours in Manzanillo searching for supplies to receive my new acquisition.  Walmart came through, as usual, with a crate (big enough for one golden retriever during puppyhood), a dog bed, and water and food bowls.

Now, all I need is the dog.

I just returned from the current owners' house.  Pesos were exchanged.  But not the puppy.  Not yet.  A major hurdle showed up on my calendar rather suddenly on Monday. 

I will be spending a good part of the day in Manzanillo (again) having an x-ray of my mouth, and, if all goes well, I will be sitting in a dentist chair for a couple of hours getting a bone graft on my upper left jaw.  And, possibly, one or two dental implants to replace the molar that was extracted about a year ago.  Same dentist.

When I drive back from Manzanillo, I will pick up my bundle of golden fur.  And my life will once again change.

You will be the first to know when he arrives.  I don't know what could be a better incentive to focus myself during this surgery.  There will be a dog at the end of the tunnel.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

faith of our fodders

"Donald Trump would make a great president."

"I like chili dogs."

One of those things is true in the house with no name.  But, Interestingly, it is the thing that is true that seems to stir up more blog controversy than coiffure-confused political figures.

I give you as an example Sunday's essay on food budgets in Mexico (moving to mexico -- food budget).  I thought I was writing about what I could stuff in my pocket rather than what I stuff in my mouth. 

But I have learned that discussing what we eat can create far more swarming than most other topics.  Just look at the number of comments on the food budget piece.  73.  And they are still coming in.

Now, the magnitude of my shock at the reaction is a 10 on the Captain Renault sincerity scale.  I knew very well what was going to happen when I wrote the piece.  It happens every time I mention food.

I am not certain when it began, but the consumption of food has turned into a religion amongst those who no longer need to worry about the source of their next meal.  I saw it before I moved to Mexico.

My house in Salem was a prime stop on the dinner party circuit.  That is, until about 2007.  I was putting together a dinner party for eight friends and acquaintances.  The first call elicited concern about what I might be cooking.  The wife had developed an aversion to anything in the onion family.  Not a sensitivity.  Not an allergy.  Just an aversion.

The second couple wanted to make certain the lamb I was serving was raised within 50 miles of Salem.  "Think globally.  Buy locally."  I said it was.  After all, there must be a Salem somewhere in New Zealand.

The third call was to a single woman who wanted to know if she could bring her own macrobiotic food.  I told her not to bother.  There was not going to be a dinner party.  It would have helped if my guests had all signed up to exercise the same sect of food faith.

And it is a faith.  That is clear just by looking at the diet books on offer at Amazon.  All claim to be based on scientific studies.  The problem is that the faiths are contradictory.

Eat a diet of legumes; eat no beans.  Eat lots of red meat; eat no animals.  Eat fruits; do not touch fruits.  Avoid salt; salt is a necessary component of life.  Eat no bread; eat nothing but bread (not really, but I am still looking).

And that may be one reason why Americans keep on eating what they have eaten habitually.  They tend to be agnostic about promises that stop just short of promising eternal life.  When told that what they are eating will kill them, they reply: "Yup.  It probably will.  And you are going to die, as well."  Because we all are.  No matter what faith we adopt as foodies.

Maybe it is my libertarian nature, or my underlying belief that most food studies eventually turn out to be junk science, but I would never dream of telling someone else what they should eat -- or what they should wear, for that matter.  I have enough trouble keeping my own life in order.

That may be the reason I am getting a puppy.  Out of chaos, I may find the order my life lacks.  Or I may just enjoy having the ultimate chaos in my life.

More on that later.  

Sunday, December 13, 2015

moving to mexico -- food budget

"You must save a lot living in Mexico."

It is an assertion I hear repeatedly when I am up in the northern colonies.  The most recent was a guy sitting at the next table in our favorite eggs benedict restaurant in Bend.

The moment I said I lived in Mexico, he assumed I lived there to cut my costs.  At least, it was a far more positive response than the far-too-frequent: "Is it safe?"

I suppose Mexico is one of those places where people can live if they want to save money.  There are lots of northerners who live here primarily because they see Mexico as the Walmart of retirement havens.

I am not one of them.  There is no doubt I have saved a lot of money here.  My home purchase is a perfect example.

If I needed to, I could save a lot of money on my food purchases.  And I do on most items.  Even though food prices have increased markedly since I have lived here, my staples cost far less than they do in Oregon.  Vegetables and fruits still look like bargains to me.

But a lot of my purchases are imports.  And, for that, I pay a premium -- just as Mexicans do in the United States for prepared food items imported north.

Look at the photograph at the top of this essay.  Everything came from my favorite grocer in San Patricio -- Hawaii.  Alex, the owner, has a sixth sense for marketing to middle class Mexicans, as well as northern tourists and expatriates.

All of that marketing comes at a cost.  Most of the imports come from the United States.  With a strong dollar, the prices have increased.  That is the price we pay for wanting some tastes of home.

The groceries came home in two shopping bags.  At a cost of $797.50 (Mx).  About $46 (US) at today's exchange rate.  (About 17.4 pesos per dollar.)

That total is inflated by the imported items.  For instance, a small can of Hormel chili without beans costs $98 (Mx) -- $5.63 (US).  That is high.  But I had a hankering for a chili dog.  And it was well worth the cost.

So, here's the bottom line.  If you want to save money on food (and most other costs), Mexico offers the opportunity. 

When I first visited Mexico in the 1970s, the local grocery stores offered very little variety.  Things greatly changed when I moved to Mexico in 2009.  And they are still changing.  That photograph is evidence of just how things have changed.

And that is Mexico's beauty.  It offers something for everyone.

Friday, December 11, 2015

he'll be baaack

Brother Darrel is winging back to Oregon tonight.

Time has an odd way of passing when you are enjoying each moment.  It was just over a month ago that I picked up Darrel at the Manzanillo airport.  It seems like yesterday -- and a year ago.

In between 7 November and today, a lot has happened.  His arrival saved me from one of my obsessive moods that was pulling me into gullies where I had no business treading.  For that alone, I thank him.  Pulling me away from here for a few weeks was just what the doctor would have ordered if she had heard about my delinquencies of the mind.

But we did far more.  We spent days and evenings reminiscing about the scars (some of them physical) that we inflicted on each other over the years.  Each one is a treasure.

And, of course, there was the Sebring 500 run for the border on our quick round-trip to Oregon.  It was great to free up my mother's garage and guest room from most of my belongings.  But the rummage sale boxes we retrieved were hardly justified by the trip.  What made it worthwhile was having time to monopolize my brother -- and, of course, the burrito at Dorris. 

Our colds ratcheted down our usual verbal ripostes.  But it was still a memorable visit.

The best thing about seeing Darrel off was knowing that he will soon be back -- along with Christy.  And we can start it all up again.  I may even be tempted to fly up to Oregon for Christmas.  Even though that prospect is quickly fading.

When I opened the garage gate tonight, I realized this is the first time since mid-July I will be living in the house by myself.  I do not mind that.  After all, that has been the story of my adult life.  It is just an odd change to return to my normal life cycle.

It will give me an opportunity to work through the "no dog; one dog; two dog" decision I intend to make by tomorrow.  The fact that I have leaned in each of those directions over the past two days means that any answer is a good answer.  The fact that I may go to Guatemala in February and to Colombia in March is going to play a big part in my decision.

But, for now, I am wishing Darrel godspeed on his way to Bend.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

puppies on the half shell

Today was puppy day.

At least, it was puppy shopping day.

Darrel and I spent the first part of the week accomplishing what must be done to get a house back in operating order -- even after a short absence.  Because most of those tasks were completed, I decided today was a day of pleasure.

My neighbors' golden retreiver gifted them with nine puppies.  Several have been sold.  While I was up north, the owners told me at least one of the male pups would still be available when I returned.  It turns out two are.

During the birth process, the owners placed different colored yarns around the neck of each pup to keep track which pup was which.  I already wrote about the "green" pup (going to the dogs).

In a comment, Tancho (I think it was) wisely reminded me that we never choose dogs; they choose us.  I put that adage to the test on our visit.  When the owner released the pups and the mother into the yard, I sat down to see which pup would come to me.

They all did.  As did the mother.  Of course, it was a stacked test.  These are golden retrievers.  They see everyone as a friend and ally.

But the "green" pup paid more attention than the others.  I was also pleased to hear that he has a very laid-back disposition.  We have lots of loud noises around here (including firecrackers and fireworks).  I find fearful dogs to be a bit tiresome.

The "red" pup is the bad boy of the litter.  He is very alpha and vocal.  And a bit disdainful of the antics of his litter mates.  I like that in a dog.  Professor Jiggs had a lot of that attitude.

I promised the owners I would contact them by Saturday.  Darrel flies back to Oregon tomorrow.  I will not be flying with him -- even though I may join the family for Christmas in Bend later in the month.  Or I may not.

A dog I will get.  (How could I avoid that conclusion after being surrounded for an hour by puppy flesh?)  The question is whether I should buy two brothers.  They would keep each other company.  But raising one puppy will be hard enough.  Two would be exponentially more than twice as difficult.

So, I have some thinking to do.  And I know you will all give me a hand -- whether I ask or not.

Remember -- anyone who says I should get one dog (or both) is a potential dog sitter.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

moving to Mexico -- documents for home ownership

Today was task day.

I know.  I said that about our trip to Manzanillo yesterday.  But this was a multiple task day.

Whenever I am away from the house for long periods (even though this absence was less than three weeks), small tasks seem to accrete.  I was going to say like patina.  But mold may be more apt.

I started with a list of about a dozen items; it quickly grew to 18 before the day was done.  Amazingly, Darrel and I accomplished all but two of them.

One task stood out from the others.  While I was on the road returning to Barra de Navidad from Oregon, I received an email from my realtor that was one of the best pieces of news I had received in a long time -- finally, the recorded copy of my deed was ready to pick up.

You may recall that the closing on the house with no name took place in October of 2014.  On the 15th, to be exact.  Since then, I have been waiting for word that the deed had been recorded.

It was a bit like living in sin.  I had all of the privileges and responsibilities of being a homeowner.  But I had no legal proof the place was mine.

What you see at the top of this essay is the unassuming
façade of one of the most important documents I have ever held.  And it is unlike any other deed I have owned.
One of the results of the Mexican revolution was to restrict foreign ownership of Mexican real property.  Article 27 of the 1917 Constitution provides that foreigners may not own property located less than 100 kilometers from the border or 50 kilometers from the coast. 

As a result of NAFTA, the Mexican government reinterpreted that provision to mean that a foreigner can acquire an ownership interest in property within the restricted zone through a
fideicomiso -- a bank trust.

The fideicomiso is a clever legal fiction to give the impression that foreigners do not actually acquire an ownership in restricted zone property, when they really do.  Through the trust, the bank acquires title to the property.  By the terms of the trust, the bank must allow the "owner" to use the property as he legally sees fit.  That includes the right to sell the property -- and to designate a beneficiary.

The current Mexican government attempted to amend the constitution to remove the requirement for the legal fiction of the fideicomiso.  But the legislation died in the legislative branch.  According to my sources, there is little chance it will be revived before the president's term expires.

As Joe McCarthy might say: I now hold in my hand the name of a registered homeowner in Mexico.  Me.

Now, all I need is the document that proves that the original owner has settled out the assessment owed to Mexico's social security on behalf of the workers who built this beautiful house.  The night before we drove north, she told me everything was settled.  We will see how long it takes for me to receive the document that bears out that fact.

But that will be a task for another day.

For those of you who are waiting for puppy news, I am afraid I will have nothing to tell you until later in the week.  Tomorrow I am taking the Escape to Manzanillo for some tardy periodic maintenance.

There is always another day in Mexpatriate's world.

Monday, December 07, 2015

this little light

Years ago, when asked how I was, I would respond with what I thought was a rather factual: "One day closer to death -- just like you."

My co-workers took up an intellectual collection to buy me an alternative greeting.  It has now become my trademark: "Practically perfect in every way -- in this best of all possible worlds."  As if I were the love child of Dr. Pangloss and Mary Poppins.  The Spanish version is occasionally on offer.

Whichever version you like, either one is fitting to today.  It is my brother's birthday.  A rather major one.  It is not often I get to share such an event with my best friend.

And how did we celebrate?  In true Cotton fashion, we went on a scavenger hunt.  In Mexico, that means trying to accomplish too many tasks in one day.  To make it more difficult, we tried doing them in Manzanillo.

Here is what we did:

  • Switched a Telmex account from my name into my friend Ozzy's name
  • Picked up a modem from Telmex
  • Settled a personal account
  • Re-filled my three prescriptions with only two pharmacy stops -- it usually takes three or four
  • Had a birthday lunch at Monster Burger
  • Clarified the payment system on my new Telcel plan, and made a three month deposit
  • Bought a battery backup for my computer system at Office Depot -- the prior backup was fried in one of our electrical storms
That was it.  It doesn't sound like much.  But the pharmacy, Telcel, ad Telmex stops ate up the vast majority of our day.  As a result, we were unable to get to the Ford dealership to set a service appointment before it closed for the two-hour lunch break.  But I can do that by telephone.  I hope.

Then came the grand finale.  Darrel and I drove over to La Manzanilla for his birthday dinner at Magnolia's -- where I delivered a muled package to Alex, one of the co-owners.

Magnolia's has long been one of my favorite restaurants.  I can always count on a well-crafted meal of quality ingredients.  But, most of all, the menu always offer some choices not readily available in the area.

For instance, I had a chicken pot pie that owed far more to haute cuisine than its diner name would imply.  It was just the right size to be complemented by a mixed berry pie topped with vanilla ice cream.

Best of all, though, I was privileged to share the day with my brother's wit.  He probably knows me better than almost anyone I know.  So, it is a waste of time for me to pretend to be anyone else.  And I truly like that.

Not only do we share our pasts, we talk about our futures.  In less than a year, Darrel and his wife Christy will be moving into the house with no name.  It will be a new world for all of us.  One that will be filled with adventure.

But that is the future.  For today, I will simply wish my baby brother the happiest of birthdays.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

booking my future

We are back in Barra de Navidad -- after a 5000 trip north and south during the past three weeks.

Three weeks?  Actually, two days less than than.  t seems as if I have been away from the house for at least a month.

One of my rules of travel is to empty the car within an hour of arriving.  And then putting everything away.

The requirement was met.  Almost.  Darrel and I unloaded most of the plastic containers and stored (or displayed) the contents.  Books are shelved.  Clothes are hung.  Kitchen goods are sorted and drawered.

By carting my goods down from my mother's garage, I have managed to impose part of my old life on my Mexican modern dream.  When I bought this house, I intended to start with a fresh look.  Clean lines.  New furniture. 

That was the idea.  Even though everything I brought down has utility (well, maybe not the pile of sweaters), they are part of my past, rather than my future.

Take theses cook books.  I gave away about 80% of my collection to Goodwill when I moved out of my Salem house.  There appears to be no consistent thread to the rump I retained.  Some were gifts.  Some have recipes I cannot find elsewhere.  Some are simply pretty.

But there they are.  Just waiting to assist me in putting together the dinner parties I dream (and write) about.  And I have no excuse now with a full complement of china, flatware, and linen napkins.

And maybe that is how this trip has furthered my life in this house.  The accessories may not be Mexican modern, but there is no reason I cannot live a Mexican modern life.

Bring on the guests.

Friday, December 04, 2015

clearing the borders

Darrel and I have been on the road since Tuesday -- on our return road trip to Mexico.

Our largest challenge was to find a weather window to allow us to get out of Bend and on our way.  Tuesday morning there was still enough ice on the roads to make driving a challenge.  But a freezing rain was racing toward Bend -- and an even larger storm was aimed at the Siskiyous; right in our path.

I would like to say we braved the ice to avoid worse weather.  But "brave" is hardly the word.  Only the first 50 miles of our trip was on ice -- and Darrel drove them.  After that, it was clear sailing.

You will not be surprised to hear that I do not have a lot of photographs to illustrate our adventures during the past four days.  That is just as well because the internet connection at the motel where we are spending the night is anything but broadband.

And I do not have many photographs.  Darrel and I are more likely to comment on the immediate beauty of a view rather than to stop and take a photograph.  What I do have are a handful of shots through the window of my SUV driving at speeds designed to escape the Earth's gravitational pull.

To say that Mount Shasta is stunning is a cliché.  But it is.  It nestles against one of my favorite stretches of I-5.  As long as the road is free of snow.

I am almost equally impressed with the golden hills -- more golden than usual, thanks to the state's drought -- of central California with their hedonic interplay of light and shadow.  The Impressionist in me wants to pull out a paint box every time I see them.  They also remind me of one of my favorite years (1973) that I spent at Castle Air Force Base.

Shasta and whispering hills had to take a back seat, though, to my favorite event in California.  My brother insisted we stop at Dorris -- barely across the border -- where he introduced me to the "best burritos" he had ever eaten.

He was correct.  El Ranchito is operated by a man and his wife who know their burritos.  I had tongue.  It mixed perfectly with a home-made salsa that blended the beans and rice together.

The place was filled with Mexican-born truck drivers.  I could just as easily have been outside of Guadalajara.  And I had an opportunity to put my Spanish lessons to work.

Because we got a late start, we spent the night at a Motel 6 in Santa Nella not as far south as we would have liked.  We made up for lost time on Wednesday by skirting Los Angeles through the Mojave desert -- dropping us onto I-10 just in time to witness the manhunt for the shooters in San Bernadino.

We were so close to Phoenix that I could not pass up the opportunity to see my friend Leo.  He took off a full day from work to squire us around Scottsdale.  It was nice to spend the time at "his resort" -- as he so accurately calls it.  Both of us needed the break.

Our border crossing this morning at Lukeville was a bit slow.  The customs people wanted us to unload a portion of my household goods and to try to estimate a value.  We were then stopped at two other customs stations along the way, and asked the same thing.

The good news is that all of my stuff is now in Mexico -- and we are headed back to Barra de Navidad.

onight we are in Navojoa  Usually, I would try to drive through all the way to Barra de Navidad from here.  I doubt we will do that.  Darrel is still suffering from residual cold symptoms, and my right ankle infection is not fully resolved.

We will take our time.  Maybe with an overnight stay in Puerto Vallarta.

That is the nice thing about these trips.  We can do what we want to do, when we want to do it.

And that is another reason I love Mexico.

Monday, November 30, 2015

moving to mexico -- your stuff

I do not like driving on snow or ice.

It is not a fear.  I have only one fear, and that is not it. 

The dislike stems from letting my driving skills go rusty.  When I skied, I would regularly drive in the snow.  And I was rather good at it.  But those days are long gone.

Or so I thought.  Our roads in Bend look a bit like scenes from Dr. Zhivago.  Not the Moscow ballroom scenes.  More like the winter dacha where Yuri and Lara resume their affair in ice-drenched salons.

I have dusted off my cold weather driving skills, and I have been enjoying re-learning the feeling of driving on a surface where I have next to no control.  Just like life.

The time is drawing near when I will need to use those skills -- even if it is just as a backup driver.  We are planning to leave Bend early Tuesday morning.  Our route will subject us to about 200 miles of roads packed with snow and ice on the first leg of the trip.  Darrel will be the primary pilot.

Yesterday afternoon I went back to the emergency room.  I ran out of antibiotics.  The cellulitis in my right ankle seems to be under control.  But, to be certain, I saw medical advice. 

In turn, I received five more days of antibiotics.  And a clearance to travel -- as long as we stopped for frequent rest breaks.  (Doctors do not read my essays about the Cotton School of Driving.)

The primary purpose of the trip north was to retrieve the goods I had left behind in my mothers garage when I headed south in the shiftless Escape -- back in early 2009.  I have now sifted through those boxes.  My sister-in-law suggested re-packing everything in plastic containers to save space. 

I did just that.  Books.  Clothes.  Kitchen items.  Games.  Things I did not need as a renter, but that will be useful as a home owner.

There is one task I have not yet accomplished -- completing a menaje: a detailed listing of each item in each box.  Some people even include an estimated value.  All of that is to ease the calculation of any duty that may be owed for bringing my personal belongings into Mexico.

I have decided against the full list.  The plastic containers make it easy to see the contents.  The only question is whether I will need to pay any duty.  We will discover that when we cross the border at Lukeville -- later in the week.

It is turning out to be a good time in Bend.  I have picked up my ice-driving skills.  My health is back on an even keel.  Darrel and I are ready to face another 2500 miles of adventure.  And there may be a puppy at the end of all this.

What could be a better life?

Sunday, November 29, 2015

going to the dogs

I am about to become a Dad.

Actually, I am about to become a dog owner -- or to be owned by a dog.  That is, if all goes well.

A golden retriever in Barra de Navidad had a litter of 9 pups on 14 September.  They are now ready for their new homes.  I understand the majority have taken up residence with their new owners.  But at least one is still available.

When Professor Jiggs died (just over 6 years ago), I was unclear if I wanted another dog.  At the time, I was traveling a lot, and that is not something to which I wanted to subject another dog.  During Jiggs's young dog days, I spent a lot of time traveling on business.  And Mexico is certainly not the most convenient country in which to travel with a dog.  Especially, a big one.

But I have missed the companionship of a dog.  During my morning walks, a lot of people bring their dogs along for the exercise.  That image was enough for me to put "get a dog" back on my "to do" list.

So, let me introduce you to who may become my boon companion.  He was born sixth among the nine.

I have already chosen a name for him.  But you are going to have to wait for its unveiling.  The name had to be Spanish -- or Spanish-ish.  It is two names.  The first has to do with what dogs do; the last describes his color.  It even has a political significance.

However, there is no need to tell you the name until I have the dog in hand.  That means getting back to Barra de Navidad -- which I hope we do soon.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

thanks in a world of giving

Happy Thanksgiving.  Whether you celebrate it on a conventional date or, as we do, whenever the mood strikes.

I have a lot to be thankful for this year.  My health, even though I have undergone a few setbacks, has been good.  I have friends who constantly add joy to my life (while I remember the friends who are now memories).  And I have a great family, who has been with me through good and bad times during the year -- and who will be much nearer before the next year is out.

I thank God for providing all that.

Take a look at the photograph at the top of this essay.  On their face, they are three "get well" cards.  You have seen the one on the left (thinking of patti).  It is from my friend Stephanie -- who I have known from the sixth grade.

The card in the middle is from my cousin Dennis.  Of the seven cousins in our family, he is the closest in age to me -- and an occasional cruise partner.

The golden retriever card is from my friend Leo.  You remember him.  We have been friends since college.  He visited me in Barra de Navidad in August, and added some new adventure to my life.

Some people would see those cards as mere pieces of stiff paper embossed with rank sentiment.  Maybe they are.

But, to me, they are far more than that.  The people who sent them took time from their schedules to pick out an appropriate card, to write me a note, and to then place it in the hands of a postman,  They are physical representations of a bond that exists between giver and recipient.  Between friend and friend.

So, Stephanie, Leo, and Dennis, I thank you.  I am thankful for the relationships we have had over the years -- and for those to come.

And I am equally thankful to each of you who have sent me well wishes through comments on this blog, on Facebook, and email.  It is almost worth having a few health maladies to receive what has been a very reassuring outpouring of love.

For all of that, I am thankful.  But, most of all, I am thankful for my Mother, my brother Darrel, and my sister-in-law Christy, who I will be sharing a slice of bird with in a day or two.

I trust your day -- and year -- will be as blessed.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

cashing in some memories

Memories are buried like treasures in our lives.  And, often, in the most unlikely places.

This afternoon, I was rummaging through several months of medical bills to submit to my insurer.  Due to the wide-spread use of thermal paper for receipts, two-thirds of the pharmacy bills will not be reimbursable.  Even I have no idea what I purchased.  They are lost memories. 

I need to remember to scan them when I receive them. 

But they are small potatoes.  The ones where I could still read the totals added up to $3,224 (Mx) -- or about $195 (US).  Dinner for twelve in Melaque or lunch for one in London.

While rifling through bills long paid, I ran across a type-written note.  I knew immediately what it was.  But it was an odd piece of paper to slip into my financial work.

When my brother visited in October of 2014, he told me the bathroom in his room presented a slipping hazard.  Water from the shower dampens the ceramic tile on the floor, and a fat, white boy like him could easily be injured.

The note is from my friend-sister Patti who died two months ago.  When I last saw her before I left on my trip to China, I must have mentioned the bathroom floors had safety problems -- in the eyes of some.

Several weeks later, a package arrived from Olympia.  The contents?  Four bath mats.  Two gray.  Two black.  A perfect match for the evolving look in the house with no name.

I remember chuckling when I opened the box.  The cost of shipping bath mats to Mexico was expensive -- certainly more than the cost of the mats.  But that is the type of person she was.  Her friend had a problem; she was going to help set it right.

I was going to excerpt what she wrote.  But let me give the floor to her in her own words:

Hi Steve --

Just wanted to get these off to you -- you may not get them until you return from China, but who knows?  When you were here, you mentioned an issue with the showers -- water splashes into the main part of the bath on occasion.  I think a good old-fashioned bath mat may be the solution -- you can launder it like a towel, it dries quickly (unlike a rug) and it can be hung up.  If that doesn't work for you, at least we tried!

Have a wonderful cruise, dear friend.

Love, Patti.
I immediately put the bath mats to good use.  And Patti was correct -- as she almost always was with her practical tips.  The mats work perfectly.

But why did I save that little note?  Her death was not imminent.  In fact, it appeared she was regaining strength.

And it certainly was not because I am sentimental.  I usually do not save anything for its sentimental value.  If it does not have a current utility, out it goes.

Maybe that's it.  I knew the note would have utility.  Because it brought back fresh memories of Patti's kindness, thoughtfulness, and ability to put herself second to others.  In other words, the very virtues that make true friends.

I have now transferred the note from the financial documents pile to a folder containing items that trigger similar memories concerning others.  Its contents will be my secret.  For now.  After all, nothing remains secret for long in the land of Mexpatriate.

And that may have been the cheapest hook I have ever written.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

not driving in a winter wonderland

I love surprises.

Even the one we received from Jack Frost this morning.

My dislike of driving in the snow has been a topic on these pages before.  That dislike is exacerbated by the fact that my current Escape is not 4-wheel drive.  That was not an option in Mexico for 2013 Escapes.

Usually, that would not matter.  Unless I wanted to take up off-road racing (a thought that has sauntered through my Walter Mitty imagination more than once), I have no need for 4-wheel drive in Mexico. 
But it matters now that winter has invaded the Cascades and Siskiyous.
There are two major routes to return to Mexico.  Down I-5 through California -- or through Nevada.  The I-5 option includes driving through both the Cascades and the Siskiyous.  The Nevada option includes both mountains and expanses of high desert that have already received a fair amount of snow.

It is far too early to talk about our route options.  Weather conditions tend to change day by day, and we are nowhere ready to leave.

I need to shake off my cellulitis and the remnants of a rough cold.  Darrel is still in the midst of his cold.  We are probably a week away from driving on health issues alone.

Then there is the SUV.  The ABS warning light came on in Puerto Vallarta.  Darrel and I suspected the used tire we bought (which was slightly a different size than the other three) had thrown off the sensor.  After buying new tires here, I took it into the Ford dealership to reset the light.  No go.

The mechanic said he could fit us in at the end of next week.  But he could not guarantee a completion date if a part needed to be ordered.  The fact that the Escape was built in Kentucky for sale only in Mexico was a potential complicating factor.  The dealership in Bend does not get many Mexican-licensed vehicles.

So, we will wait on the ABS warning light until I can get it to the Manzanillo Ford dealership.  After all, we drove both ways across Baja -- including some racing terrain -- with a failed brake cylinder, using only the hand brake in a Meyers Manx (calling stirling moss).  Life always offers options.

And options we still have.  Because I have been fighting the cold and cellulitis, I have not started inventorying what I can take back with me from my mother's garage.  A quick look has made clear that it will not be everything.  Maybe tomorrow.

The surprise I would like to see next is a weather envelope at the start of next week a day or two after Darrel is fully recovered from his cold.  We can then make a reasonable drive south.

I wonder if we can do it in two days?*

* -- The printed word often disguises what would have been an Oscar Wildeian tone on that last sentence.


Monday, November 23, 2015

on the first day of -- thanksgiving

The Cotton Thanksgiving Marathon is off and running.

I have mentioned before that our family seldom celebrates holidays on the day someone in authority decided we should.  Not because we have authority issues.  Well, not entirely.

Our traditional excuse for non-traditional behavior is that our respective schedules precluded getting together on what I will call "normal people days."  That sounds good until you realize we are talking about merely four people.

Today was ham.  We will save the turkey for either Friday or Saturday.  And then we will talk about a departure date south.

That date may have just moved into December.  In one more time, I informed you my right leg has taken on the symptoms my left leg suffered last September.  There have been developments -- as you can see in the photograph.  Not all of them good.

I wanted to get ahead of the infection curve this time.  Before I left Olympia on Thursday, Ken took me to an urgent care clinic.  The receptionist was very helpful until she asked for my insurance card. 

I whipped out my Medicare credentials along with my Air Force card declaring me one of the great retired.  She sheepishly informed me the clinic could not accept Medicare or Tri-Care patients -- in a military town.

Because I wanted to start the inevitable antibiotic regime I knew was coming, I told her I was willing to pay cash for the services -- knowing full well I was writing a blank check to the clinic.  The receptionist saved me from my hubris.  The clinic cannot provide service for cash.

Flabbergasted, I headed south on the train to Salem.  My first stop was the Salem Clinic -- where Medicare and Tri-Care are happily accepted.

The doctor's diagnosis?  Cellulitis.  He gave me a prescription for two antibiotics, injected my butt with a third, and sent me on my way.  My way turned out to be worsened cellulitis.

Yesterday I stopped at the emergency room in Bend's St. Charles Hospital.  That was a very reluctant decision.  My last visit in 2014 did not commend the place to me.  Hours of tests and prodding left me discharged with the same high blood pressure that took me there.  (good news -- bad news)  Not to mention the nurse who mistook me for her 8-year old son -- or husband -- and lectured me accordingly.

But in I went.  Whatever my misgivings were, everything operated smoothly.  I was admitted even before anyone saw my insurance cards.  The doctor actually listened carefully to my recitation of the facts, and concurred with the Salem doctor.  Cellulitis.  My medications were adequate -- with an additional injection.

All in all, one of the most pleasant medical experiences I have had in the United States. 

Now, I rest and watch and wait.  The infection seems to be holding in place.  And, for now, that is all I can do.  I do know I look forward to getting off of antibiotics; I have been on some variety almost continuously since late August.

As soon as my cold and the cellulitis let up, we will be on our way south to Mexico.  Whenever that is.  After all, the Cotton Boys -- and Girls -- are not well-known for their plans.