Tuesday, August 31, 2021

i know for whom the bell tolls

Unlike people, all  bells are not created equal.

Christmas bells with their promise of social harmony have a far different voice than the ring of the Queen's bell that commands the presence of a servant or the subtle ring of an above-the-door bell in a shop on the high street announcing the possibility of a sale that will entail the far more mercenary sound of the bell in the cash register.

They all sing in the keys of their lives. Johnny One-notes with a purpose.

This morning, while sweeping up the debris from Hurricane Nora on my upper terrace, I heard the distinctive ring of a bell. Not one of the many commercial bells announcing fruits and vegetables or propane for sale. It was different. A sacramental bell -- so out of place in my neighborhood that I froze patiently waiting for it to repeat. It didn't.

Instead, it was followed by the amplified voice of a priest singing a hymn. At first, I thought another religious procession was passing through town. But I was wrong. When I went to my balcony facing the street, I could see that a funeral mass was being performed in front of my neighbor's house. The husband, Lino Salazar Figueroa, had died of a heart attack on the night of the hurricane. Today was a celebration of his life.

I was not surprised when I heard the news that he had died. Last week an ambulance had been called to his house because he had suffered a major heart attack. He was confined to bed on oxygen, and looked as if he was in immense pain. It is one of those situations where we can do little but pray for God's comforting presence.

Señor Salazar was one of the first neighbors I met when I moved to Barra de Navidad in 2014. The empty lot in front of my house has hosted a menagerie of animals since I moved in. A horse. Ducks. Chickens. Turkeys. And others that I cannot recall. Back then, it was goats. Goats that one day would be there and the next they would be in a pot of birria, only to be replace by another goat. And so the cycle went.

Señor Salazar was the ringmaster of them all. He would feed them. Tend them. See that they did not wander too far into the landscaping in front of my house.

He always had a friendly word for me. His extended family lives in several houses on the street. I met most of them through the graces of my golden retriever puppy, Barco Rubio. But Señor Salazar did not need the artifice of a cute puppy to break the cultural ice. We spoke with one another well before Barco showed up.

"Spoke" may be too elaborate of a verb. My Spanish at that time was almost nonexistent. And he had a severe hearing problem. So, our exchanges were primarily in the pleasantries category. No high-falutin' theological discussions for us. And that was fine. A neighborly relationship based on pleasantries is nothing to scoff at.

Today his mass was conducted in front of his home in the presence of his family and friends. Because he had been cremated, his remains were front and center during the celebration of the mass.

Even though I did not know him well, I felt something akin to a rip in the neighborhood fabric because one of us had died. I recently had a conversation with my Mom about medical diagnoses. Her typically unsentimental response has stuck with me. "We are born. We live. We die. That's it."

For my neighbor, Lino Salazar Figueroa, it was the living part that he shared with me that will live on. At least, in the memories of his family, his friends, and also in my own.

For those memories, we thank him.   

Monday, August 30, 2021

nora was a bad house guest

Had I lived in Old Testament times as a prophet , I would now lie dead stoned in the street.
All of the scientific data informed us that when Hurricane Nora passed us on Saturday, our area would be brushed by its eastern edge -- or "the right side" -- as it headed north. Rainfall was predicted at 6 inches with moderately high winds. And that is what we thought we were going to get.

Well, we did. At least, we experienced the bare touch of the eastern edge of Nora. But the rest of the predictions were wrong.

Even though Barra de Navidad and Melaque share the same bay, the land on which they are built is quite different. Even in our normal summer thunderstorms, Barra is subject to high wind damage. Melaque is subject to flooding.

And that is exactly what happened in Nora. Barra is built on a sandy alluvial plain with the ocean on one side and a lagoon on the other. Think Kansas -- but with more views, and a lot more water. It is a target for high winds.

When the edges of Hurricane Patricia touched us in October 2015, it left behind a huge swath of wind damage in Barra. The town was cut off from the highway for a day because of downed trees. It took CFE (the electric company) two days to sort through the giant pick-up sticks game to restore power to most homes.

Last year, Tropical Storm Hernan, though it passed by far out to sea, pulled in other weather systems to dump record rains on the entire area. Because it is flat, the rains immediately ran off in Barra with only minor flooding. In Melaque, the opposite was true.

Melaque has two major flooding problems. In the west, a river was diverted into a canal that overflows into the surrounding low-lying neighbors. In the central portion of town and in Villa Obregon, floods occur in what I call "the dip." The area between the main highway through town and the beach is a former drainage area to a lagoon. It is lower than both the highway and the beach, so it acts as a run-off stream in high rains.

And that is what happened on Saturday. Nora's winds toppled tree after tree along the road to the highway taking down the electrical wires as it went. (In the past, CFE has turned off all power in the area when a storm sets in. I suspect that happened once again. With the number of lines down, there would not have been power either way.) And, just like Patricia, Nora stripped trees of their leaves scattering them throughout town blocking drainage grates.

The winds had barely stopped when CFE started clearing the downed trees on the road to the highway. Within an hour, access was restored. The crews then began working on restoring electricity to the town. By 11:00 PM on the day of the storm, my house had power. (I understand some people in Melaque did not have power until last night. La Manzanilla may still be without.)

But it was Melaque that suffered the most from the rain. Even in summer rains, downtown Melaque suffers flooding around the jardin. This was much worse. The flood waters could not drain fast enough and spread into blocks that normally not flood. Businesses, like Hawaii and the funeral home, were filled with water. And mud.

The mud is often the most damaging. It is thick and greasy. Filled with sewage. When it dries it is almost like plaster. It needs to be mucked out immediately. After Hurricane Jova, my landlady Christina set up an operation to launder clothes and bedding encased in that mud. Cleaning out the mud in West Melaque after Hernan was a major recovery problem.

People were busy Sunday morning in the dip mucking out their homes -- doing what my neighbors do so well: being resilient in the face of nature.

The dichotomy between flood and wind is not as distinct as I make it. There was also wind damage in Villa Obregon. The Costalegre Community Church sits in the dip. The street in front of the church has been destroyed twice in major storms. But it was repaved. And on Saturday, it withstood the flood waters channeled into the lagoon -- operating just as designed.

What the church palapa did not survive was the wind. It collapsed. Proving that the wind knows no town jurisdictions.

Why were the predictions so off? And off they were.

I suspect the people at NOAA would say that all weather is unpredictable at its micro level. But that does not answer why Hurricane Nora as category one hurricane seemed to cause as much wind damage as Hurricane Patricia as a category five plus hurricane.

Maybe it is because Patricia was coming ashore when it hit this area. I seem to recall an urban myth that hurricanes are strongest on their "right side." And that is what we experienced with Nora.

It turns out the "right side" warning is not an urban myth. According to those who know, a hurricane's right side (relative to the direction it is travelling) is the most dangerous part of the storm because of the additive effect of the hurricane wind speed and speed of the larger atmospheric flow (the steering winds).

Maybe that is the answer. All I know is that to be a good prophet, one often needs to rely on skills science cannot provide.

My friend Nicole Fournier summed it up well this morning in a Facebook post: "Power was restored at 11:09 last night. It's a beautiful sunny day. ... Todo bien!"

Having said that, there are people who have suffered flood and wind damage who will need assistance. And that is happening already.

Friday, August 27, 2021

nora waits with bated breath

All storms share one common characteristic. 

At least, in my experience.

No matter where I have lived, while everyone waits for the arrival of The Big Blow, nature seems to take a siesta. Or maybe she is just drawing a breath. Either way, the old cliché ("the lull before the storm") bears a soupçon of truth.

I noticed the phenomenon on the afternoon of 12 October 1962 -- Columbus Day. My brother and I had just come home from school when we stopped in our front yard to look at a jumble of clouds moving in over a ridge above the west bank of the Willamette River. But it was not the clouds that caught my attention. It was a light in the sky. There was an odd greenish and yellow light as if the sky was being lit for a performance.

A scientist would probably deduce that it was nothing but the late afternoon sun refracting through the clouds. But it was eerie.

What was eerier was how quiet everything was. Even though the clouds were moving, there was no wind on the ground. No birds chirping. No dogs barking. Nothing.

Well, that did not last long. Within an hour Darrel, Mom, and I were experiencing Oregon's worst wind storm since the late 1800s. Had it been a cyclone, it would have registered as a category 3 hurricane.

So, what did the three of us do? We jumped on our bikes and rode around the neighborhood watching trees fall and power lines snap. Our neighbors thought we were nuts. Maybe we were.

When the silver maple in our front yard toppled into our driveway just missing us, we decided the rest of the storm would be best-watched from our upper story.

When Hurricanes Jova and Patricia hit the villages on Navidad Bay, it was the same. Silence before the wind rushed in.

For the first time this year, a cyclone is drawing near our coastline. A whole series have passed us by out at sea, but Tropical Storm Nora may actually give us a little buss as she passes by.

If NOAA's predictions are correct, Nora will be upgraded to a hurricane around 1PM tomorrow when she is as close as she is supposed to get to us. Still out at sea. But we will undoubtedly get some rain. And some wind. We are currently (and concurrently) under a hurricane watch and a tropical storm warning.

I drove down to the malecon in Barra de Navidad this afternoon to see how the town is preparing for our rather feisty visitor. (I emphasize that I drove because my doctor reads these essays, and I would not want her to believe I am not at least trying to follow her instructions about my toe surgery.) Life seemed to be normal for a misty Friday afternoon.

I had heard that Jalisco had ordered its beaches closed because of the weather. Even though there are Civil Protection people in town, that word has not yet made it to the vacationers who are enjoying the Barra beaches.

There were families picnicking on the beach -- and probably two dozen family members were swimming in the lagoon.

A romantic couple canoodling in the ocean.

Even the fishermen were out at the end of the jetty trying to entice the fish into believe it was just a normal day.

And, of course, the surfer boys were waiting for the perfect storm-born wave. To their disappointment, the waves were almost lake-like.

The waves reflected the atmosphere. Just like that afternoon in 1962, everything was tranquil. There was not even a hint of wind. The frigate birds were frustrated with each attempt at a stall. There was nothing to stall into.

Even the pangas moving back and forth across the bay seemed to be moving by some force other than their motors.

Next week I am going to write an essay about the lack of tourist trade this August. That is why I was not surprised to see, even though most of the bars, shops, and restaurants were open, there were not very many paying customers at hand. But it is not because of our pending storm. They simply have not been here this August.

What was interesting was that not one person I saw at the beach or the people streaming down the streets at the close of a Friday evidenced any concern about any pending weather (with the exception of a northern acquaintance who seemed to be a bit tense about what was on the way).When I told my neighbor at Oxxo that I was buying ice just in case we lost electricity, he looked at me as if I was an hysteric predicting the end of the world.

When I moved to this area thirteen years ago, the state of Jalisco had just installed a tsunami warning system along its coast. One of the speaker towers is hosted by the Barra jardin.

As I was getting into my car, the speaker announced something about Tropical Storm Nora. Because I was underneath the speaker, the distortions were too great for me to fully understand what had been said. A Mexican neighbor, who speaks a bit of English, was walking by. I asked him what the announcement said. His answer summed up what I saw on my walk.

Without missing a beat, he said: "Who cares? It was just something about the weather." It reminded me of Churchill's response to the great London killer fog: "It's just weather."

I am not quite that cavalier about our weather systems, though I must confess that harsh weather does interest me. And I have learned that hubris is a harsh master when I am forced to eat my words. But I think I am ready if Nora sends us her worst.

What I do not have is Mom and Darrel here to re-live our Columbus Day adventures 59 years ago. At least I have the memory.

Besides, my bike has a flat tire.

channeling mark twain with my left foot

A bandage on my left big toe was the first thing I saw this morning when I woke up. And it brought on one of those stream of consciousness torrents that feed the nostalgic.

The year was 1955. The year that Walt Disney first opened his dream-drenched amusement park to children.

My mother and my Dad's cousin, Kate, thought it would be a marvelous adventure to drive from the confines of civilization in Powers to the wilds of Anaheim -- both for them and their combined tribe of four children. I am certain I must have been excited about the prospect of being in Disneyland. I have several bits of memorabilia that prove I was there. But I remember almost nothing about the trip -- or the park. With one exception.

For some reason, Mom, Kate, and Kate's two daughters decided to go somewhere. Why Darrel and I did not go is a mystery lost in the eddies of time. But I do remember where they left us -- on Tom Sawyer's Island.

I was 6. Darrel was 4. To be left on our own on an island named for our boyhood hero was like living any boy's dream. We explored. We watched the limited wildlife. Ducks, I think. And we dug in the dirt. That is my most most vivid memory. Digging in the dirt. Lots of digging.

As I read more Mark Twain over the years, I realized my ideal of a boy was not Tom Sawyer. Who I wanted to be his far-less-establishment friend Huckleberry Finn. A free spirit swimming in libertarian aspirations -- or, at least, transactional libertarianism, which is not quite the same thing.

Now, those of you who know me may scoff at the idea of Steve Cotton as Huck Finn. To you, I have all the social constraints of Tom Sawyer -- or, worse, Becky Thatcher (if not her eponymous descendant, Margaret). But we are talking about aspirations here. And Huck Finn it was. For some reason, I always imagined him with a bandage toed around a toe, even though Twain never supplied that detail.

And that brings us back to that bandage on my left big toe.

As you know, I have ramped up my walking regimen in an attempt to restore my eating and exercise lifestyle change that worked for me for almost three years before I fell off the Discipline Wagon. For the past month, I have been restricting my walking to a moderate goal of between five and ten miles a day -- just enough to burn off some excess calories.

My telephone has a great app that collects my exercise data. Steps walked. Miles completed. Time exercising. Calories burned. I can then compare how I have done day-to-day on a choice of charts. All very snazzy. But also a bit dangerous for obsessive folk like me.

Because I have full control over whether the weekly graph goes up or down, I found myself competing to keep each column climbing higher than the previous one. In short, I started competing with myself. And when my competition gene kicks in, my common sense gene is sent to the bench for the duration of the game.

On one of our rainy days last week, I went for a 10-mile walk. My feet have a tendency to blister, and those blisters can lead to major problems. I could feel a pinch blister was beginning to develop between my left big toe and the toe next to it.

Knowing my blister problem, I have purchased some rather expensive socks to wick away moisture from my toes. In the rain, though, it would have taken a bilge pump to keep my toes dry.

A normal person would have stopped the walk and headed back to the house before the blister got worse. But when I am in my let's-get-this-walk-moving mood, pain means nothing. In fact, beating down the pain makes me exercise more.

When I eventually returned home, I knew what I would find, and there it was when I pulled off my sock. A small blister on the in-side of my toe. I walked around barefoot for the rest of the day hoping that my body would re-absorb the water in the blister.

The next morning the blister was still there. Instead of taking a day or two off for the blister to right itself, which would have been the sensible thing to do, I covered it with a band-aid, put on my shoes, and headed off for my walk.

I was not too far from the house when I could feel the band-aid was not cutting down on the friction as I had hoped. Instead, the pain was getting worse. The worse it got, the faster I walked. That was the day I beat myself by walking 15 miles.

I had also beaten my poor toe into submission. When I took off my sock, the blister was so large that it looked as my big toe was giving birth to another digit. I had literally grounded myself. I will spare you a photograph of my handiwork.

So, I put myself to bed. I limited my hobbling around. There certainly was not going to be any walking until the blister was resolved.

I hoped the blister was right itself. But after three days, none of the water had been sucked back into the toe -- and a redness had started developing. A sure sign of a small infection.

Infections in my left leg are always a warning sign to me, and not only because of my diabetes. Six years ago I was hospitalized for three weeks with cellulitis in my left leg 
that started with a blister on my foot (mad to be home). The thought of another enforced stay or of having my toe (or leg) lopped off is not high on my list of things to do just before I die. 

I may do some stupid things (see above), but I do know when I need expert help. Yesterday afternoon I asked my doctor if she had any suggestions. She did.

She said she would usually advise letting the blister heal itself. But the position and size of this blister along with the attendant infection required different action. She drained the water, anointed the wound with ointment, and then wrapped it in its Huck Finn coat. For the next few days I will take antibiotics and monitor that the infection does not spread.

The moral of this tale? There is the obvious one that I should stop walking when I feel a blister developing. But it is the same battle that an alcoholic faces when presented with a drink -- or a smoker with a cigarette -- or almost anyone when offered a piece of chocolate cake that they know they should not eat.

We all make our choices. And we all pay our prices.

My price, however, comes with a nice slab of nostalgia. With my Huck Finn toe, I can return in my mind to Tom Sawyer Island with my brother. And we can dig in the dirt until our hearts are content.

It is a pity that my patio is nothing but concrete. It would be a great place for dig therapy.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

and there was fourteen-e

The naming of things is an art.

And the naming of tropical depressions, storms, and hurricanes are no exception.

Most of us know the rules for naming storms and hurricanes. Every year, the World Meteorological Organization draws up a list of names (one list for the Atlantic; one for the Pacific) starting with A and running through W (Q, U, X, Y, and Z are not used because of limited name options). The names then alternate boy, girl, boy, girl like some stuffy English manor house dinner party.

If more storms show up than there are name tags on the table, the alphabet starts at the top again. The use of the Greek alphabet for the additional names in 2020 proved to be too confusing, so the Greeks have been sent off to their own party. Probably, on Lesbos.

When we last talked about storms, Hurricane Grace had smashed into the east coast of Mexico, made its way across the middle of the country, and died out in the mountains. But remnants of the storm made it to the Pacific where it re-formed as a small hurricane, and passed into oblivion in the Pacific.

I cannot remember now if it was re-christened "Linda" or "Marty." They come and go so fast this time of year. In fact, they come and go just like my memory.

There is a new disturbance brewing just south of Mexico, and it formed close enough to the coast, there is a possibility that its northern journey will bring it close to us. Off shore. But close.

Because it is only a tropical depression, it has one of those names that would sound more appropriate in a Lockheed fighter test facility. This one is "Fourteen-E." Hardly a threatening or sexy name. But it is coming our way.

According to the path NOAA currently projects, we will probably feel some winds Friday afternoon or evening. But, as I keep saying, the hurricane (and a hurricane it will be when it passes us by) itself will be offshore from us. But it looks as if the tip of Baja (once again) is going to be another target.

I talked with a couple of people who are on the Alaska flight to Manzanillo on Saturday from Los Angeles. That flight has had at least two run-ins with cyclones this year.

I was scheduled on a flight to head north in mid-June when Tropical Storm Dolores blew in shifting my departure by one day. The next Saturday on my flight south, Hurricane Enrique was headed directly at the Manzanillo airport. To my surprise, the flight left Los Angeles on time and arrived just as the first rain from the hurricane started falling on the tarmac.

Because the unyet-named tropical storm/hurricane will have passed the airport by Saturday afternoon, Alaska may still fly its plane south. But pilots (and airline executives) are always a bit edgy about flying when a weather event is directly in the path of the plane's usual travel.

Of course, the flight path can be re-calculated. I am interested in what Alaska decides, not only because I am always curious about such things, but I will be flying north in another week, and we certainly are not done with our storm season.

So, it is once again time to be vigilant, ye men of the West, with an eye toward the south. The troops of Mordor may once again be on the march.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

the smiling sign

I am a slow learner.

Several years ago, my friend Oswaldo asked if I would drive him to a friend's house In La Huerta -- about an hour drive on a scenic road that winds into the foothills of the Sierra Madre del Sur.

I quickly said yes, not only because he is my friend, but it also a nice drive -- the type of Sunday trip that is fodder for future tales. And it was.

As we were entering La Huerta, I asked him if I needed to turn left or right off of the main highway to get to our destination. He said he didn't know where the house was -- but he would ask someone. So, we drove into the central area of La Huerta. At the town square, Oswaldo jumped out of the car and talked to a hot dog vendor at the corner, who seemed to be gesturing in general directions.

"We need to go to the other side of the highway," said Oswaldo. So, we did, and drifted around for a bit until we saw a couple walking. Out of the car. Talking. General gestures. Wife points one way. Husband points the other.

Back in the car, Oswaldo suggested we drive in a direction different from either the husband or wife. After an hour of this, I will confess that I was getting a bit irritated with the inefficiency of it all.

It turned out we never got to the house because we saw his friend drive by and ended up chasing him down the mountain roads to Cuastecomates, a beach town ten minutes from where we had started our journey.

That happened once more with Oswaldo and another time with Omar. I then instituted a new rule for my taxi service. The car would not leave the garage until I had an address to put in Google Maps. No address, no trip.

I would like to say that was a good solution. But it hasn't been. A high percentage of my driving service trips have ended in the middle of a field instead of in the center of a town. And we then end up asking strangers for directions to places they really do not recognize.

Every time I include malecon next to the ocean on my walks in Barra de Navidad, I think of those trips -- and the improvised directions. Like many tourist areas that wish to tug on the nostalgia heart strings of tourists, Barra has installed a colorful sign post purporting to show the names, directions, and distances for various cities and countries. The only problem is that whoever erected the post either has a delightfully wicked sense of humor or suffers from the same spatial sense as Douglas Corrigan.

I like to think it is the former. And I suspect it is. Just look at the arrows.

Let me give you some context. From the perspective of the photograph, you are looking generally south toward Antarctica. Off to your right is west -- the Pacific Ocean, China. Off to your left is east -- Mexico City, the Caribbean, Africa.

Now that you are oriented (so to speak), the humor is evident. Brazil appears to have been re-located to Africa and London to Antarctica. And, as far as I can calculate, Miami must be a suburb on Taiwan.

The fact that some of the arrows seem to be spot on with their direction and distance makes the joke even better. Misdirection is always improved with a modicum of verisimilitude.

But I think there is another reason we all seem to have a visceral reaction when we see these signposts. And it is the reason that many of us still remember the classic example on MASH.

Seeing familiar names not only reminds us of places we know, but also of the places we call home.

When you are next in the neighborhood, stop by and have a smile at the courtesy of the Corrigan signpost. 

I wonder if I could find that address in La Huerta on it?

Tuesday, August 24, 2021


A tree may grow in Brooklyn, but two trees grow in my patio.

Two Queen Anne Palms, to be exact. Or cocos palms as my Mexican neighbors might say.

Native to South America, horticulturalists have toted Queen Anne palms around the world as a standard landscape tree. From parks in Australia to backyards in Scottsdale, its straight trunk and almost lacy fronds make great bones in architectural landscaping.

When I first saw the house I now own, I was first impressed with its Barragánesque lines. But it did not take me long to focus on the two Queen Anne palms that acted as sentries on each side of the stairway to the upper terrace. The lines and the palms perfectly complemented one another.

Then the troubles started. Trees are wild things. We only borrow them from nature -- doing our best to control or geld them. But they have ways of their own. And some of those ways are messy.

All trees drop things. In the case of the palms, it was flower stems that quickly turned into hefty seed pods (bring forth the guillotine). Then it was dead fronds. And a non-ending menagerie of scorpions, spiders, and cockroaches that would rain down on passersby during our not-infrequent winds.

Now and then, I need to pull out my limb lopper to clean up the frond stems that leave the trunk looking like my shaving results on stay-at-home days. Let's be kind and call it scruffy.

About a month ago, I decided to trim up one of the palms (killing me softly). There were plenty of living things that tumbled out of the frond stems when I pulled them from the trunk. But one insect surprised me. Longhorn crazy ants.

They are an interesting species. Instead of following the usual in-line formation of most ants, they dash around in what appears to be an erratic fashion. I would occasionally see them in the patio and very infrequently in the kitchen.

They are opportunity nesters. That means they do not need to build elaborate nests for their colony. A pile of leaves. A plastic bag. A plant. Anything that will provide partial protection for their eggs is worthy of an antly better home and garden certification.

I found their nests in almost every frond stem on the tree. And they ended up hurtling to the ground. Being survivors, they gathered up their young and scurried off to find new quarters without any concern from me.

I should have been more attentive. Some of those new quarters have included my kitchen and my bedroom. I found ants in my bed every night for five days until I decided to lift the mattress. They had built a small nest under it.

Almost everywhere I look I find them now. Especially after making more of them homeless yesterday when I cleaned off the trunk of the other palm.

Ants have always fascinated me. They are God's clean-up crew. When other insects die in the patio, their corpses are quickly carted off to feed the ant young. If someone leaves a speck of food on the kitchen counter, the helpful ants will perform a cleanup on aisle 2.

They do not bite or sting. Whenever I wander through one of their foraging crews on the patio, they will cover my feet and legs, but be quickly on their way.

I never owned an ant farm. I don't know why not. I am certain my parents would have sprung for one had I asked -- or I could have bought one with my grade school lawn-mowing money.

Maybe I did not settle for an ant farm because we had something better in our semi-rural neighborhood. About three blocks from my house was a field of an acre or two that would occasionally flood. It was populated with hundreds of anthills about a foot high that were designed to protect the colony from The Wet Times.

I would stop by regularly when I was supposed to be collecting money for my newspaper route. The ants were far more interesting. I would carefully break open a small portion of the hill to watch the ants at work -- especially the Barney Fife types who would show up to defend against the intruder.

The breaking was not malicious. I had friends who loved toppling the hills and then stomping the ants to death. I suppose my intrusion was of the same kind but only smaller in scale. But I like to think of myself as the James Audubon of ants. (Considering how the New Puritans who wish to cleanse history have taken on his memory, I am happy to carry the comparison.)

So, here I am in Mexico surrounded by the insects I have always admired.

It is well that I like them so much because I certainly now have enough of them to last several lifetimes. 

Monday, August 23, 2021

get out

I am not a happy person when I am stuck in the house.

Content, yes. Happy, no.

This externally-imposed travel hiatus due to The Virus has driven many of us a bit foot-tied and fancyless. My blogger chum Gary over at The Mexile and I have been commiserating with one another over our mutual clipped wings.

I was hoping to share a break-free story today about flying from Los Angeles to Tokyo to Dubai to Los Angeles (around the world in two days as something of an inspirational tale), but, unless I can work out two minor bureaucratic issues that would have been mere bumps in the road prior to These End Times, the only around-the-world tour will be on offer in my library looking at my college-era Goode's Atlas.

But who needs Tokyo when I can find tales to tell merely by walking the streets of Barra on my daily outings? Such as the truck in the photograph.

Concrete pumper trucks are not a rare sight up north. In fact, they are standard construction tools. And I assume that they are in the larger cities of Mexico, as well. But here in the villages around the bay, they are rare indeed.

There is a good reason for that. It is the same reason why large crews of men repair roads with picks and shovels. It is cheaper to pay wages than to buy large pavers.

When concrete is poured here, especially when roofs are poured, the construction method steps right out of the ancient world. If the operation is fancy, a concrete mixer will be used. Otherwise, the concrete is mixed right on the ground in a self-formed bowl. It is then loaded into five gallon buckets that are toted along a line of well-medicated workers up ladders and poured in one day to ensure it is set evenly.

The pumper truck cuts out almost the entire crew. It is another example where contractors could never recoup the capital investment of a pumper truck as long as wages are as low as they are -- even for a team of twenty or so workers.

In the 13 years I have lived in this area, I have seen exactly three pumper trucks being used in construction, and, in one instance, the boss insisted on paying a full crew merely to sit and watch the pumper because they would have gone without a job as a result of the equipment. There were undoubtedly more pumpers that I have not seen over the years. But they are truly uncommon.

The truck reminded me of a story I read in this week's edition of The Economist. California has a huge housing problem. One company is answering that need by constructing houses in less than 24 hours, rather than the usual two or three weeks. It can do that because the houses are made modularly from 3-D-printers. The cost of the houses is held down because the total labor cost is 5% of a conventionally-built house.

Increasing productivity is how national (and personal) wealth is created. The old ways step aside for the new. In a free-market economy, it is known as "creative destruction." Buggy-whip manufacturers learn how to make steering wheels for Model-Ts.

We often talk about Mexico's economy. How insulting it is to refer to Mexico as a "third-world" country -- when it has perhaps the 12th largest economy in the world and is a member of the G20 and OECD.

Even with its great resources, it will take a series of events happening before the local economy here replaces concrete carriers with pump trucks. The most important being the development of circumstances that will increase the market value of labor relative to capital investment.

Until then, I will be pleased to treat each pumper sighting as a rare event on a par with catching a glimpse of an ivory-billed woodpecker. After all, most of my younger Mexican friends make their daily tortillas as part of the bucket brigades.

And just maybe I can diversify my travel tales to take you along on some more-exotioc trips to Asia or the Middle East. In the future. The near future.


Friday, August 20, 2021

mykonos in barra de navidad

Change is a constant in the little fishing village by the sea that goes by the name Barra de Navidad.

For a town that makes its living off of tourists (Mexican and northern), that is to be expected. There are very few places on earth that depend on tourists for their daily bread that are mired in the past.

For the last year, my attention has been primarily focused on family matters up north. That is why I have been flying almost monthly to Oregon. In the process, I have not been keeping up with my daily walks through town.

That changed about a month ago. Even though I still do a good portion of my walking on the upper terrace of the house, I have been spending a couple hours each day walking through the various neighborhoods in town.

One sight caught me off guard. When I moved to the area a baker's dozen years ago, there was one restaurant I wanted to try in Barra -- Mar y Tierra. Sea and land.

From what I had heard about the place, it seemed to be the type of dining establishment where I could enjoy a good meal while watching the pageantry of sea changes. But I never did get to eat there in that incarnation. The restaurant had closed, and stayed closed for years.

Then Veronica moved her Ambar del Mare restaurant with its wood-fired pizza and fusion French-Mexican dishes to the premises. It was classy -- with a glass-walled wine cellar in the middle of the main room. It was a special place to spend an evening. The food was great. The waiters were always friendly and helpful.

But, Ambar also closed. And the building sadt there empty filled with the memories of evenings well spent.

Bit by bit, a series of storms had their way with the building. The palapa roof first deteriorated and then collapsed. The building started to look like your great-uncle Willy after one of his ongoing benders.

When I walked by the building last month, I barely recognized it. It still looked aged, but someone had tidied up the place by carting away the bits that were detracting from is very good bone structure.

I should have remembered that work had been done on the place. My friend Brayan had sent me videos of his job there carting off portions of palapa and concrete.

The building now had taken on the look of one of those Minoan ruins restored by Arthur Evans in Crete. Or maybe a villa on Mykonos. But it certainly did not look like the place I had watched turn from distressed aristocracy to just distressed.

I talked to the men who are currently working on the place. They were uncertain what was going to happen with the property. But their belief was that the building would be razed.

I cannot speak to the veracity of that assertion, but I do not that the property is currently listed for sale at Barratown Real Estate for 8,366,000 pesos. For $411,000 (US) and change, you could have a great downtown residence right on the ocean -- or open up a fine-dining restaurant.

I already have a house here and the idea of breaking my retirement to run a business is not going to be in my future, but it will undoubtedly appeal to someone. Maybe at a negotiated price.

The lesson for me, though, is to get back out in the neighborhoods with my walks. Things change so quickly here that I may miss a big event.  

Thursday, August 19, 2021

storming grace

It is always unwise to turn your back on an adversary.

Sure, matadors do it. But they are proving their skill and mastery of controlling the uncontrollable.

But we are not talking about the Hemingwayesque glories of bullfighting today. We are talking about the weather.

You probably already know that one of the first things I do on summer mornings is to open NOAA's National Hurricane Center page to discover if any weather freight trains are headed our way. Because this was a summer morning, that is exactly what I did.

What I saw is what you now see at the top of this essay. The only activity appeared to be Tropical Storm Linda that was birthed in the Pacific south of Pacific and caused a bit of undeserved hysteria that it was coming our way.

It never was, and it never did. But, if you live on Maui, it will undoubtedly be visiting you in the form of a tropical depression Monday morning.

Otherwise the Pacific map for Mexico was optimistically clear of all activity. Except for that pesky yellow "X" over Yucatan. What was up with that?

I usually do not pay much attention to weather patterns in the Caribbean. Now and then, a storm will blow in across eastern Mexico and then die when it crashes into the mountains of the highlands. I have a friend in San Miguel de Allende who looks forward to those rain referrals.

Well, we are about to find out how that theory works. A yellow "X" usually denotes a storm that is forming over the ocean.

Not this time. That "X" is already part of the cyclonic family. And we know its name. Grace. It is the tropical storm that crashed into Haiti while rescue operations were underway following the earthquake.

Grace has now come to Mexico, still as a tropical storm. After crossing Yucatan, it is on its way to the rest of the mainland. Here is its predicted course.

Early Friday morning, its winds will build enough for it to be a hurricane just before it makes landfall about 1 AM on Saturday. Because it is no longer over water at that point, it will return to its status as a tropical storm as it continues its flight plan across Mexico.

And what about the Costalegre villages? NOAA's model shows the arc of the storm heading south of us -- if it stays on its path. Over land, these patterns quickly become disorganized. So, like any weather system this large, the Costalegre could possibly experience some weather effects. Rain being the most likely outcome.

Some weather sites are forecasting up to 3 inches of rain Saturday night. That is not a large amount of rain for the summer.

On Monday and Tuesday Martin and Victor (you met them in keeping the house afloat) returned to my upper terrace to repair three leaks that appeared during our last large rain.

They re-sealed the grout in several places. All I needed to do now was wait for our next large downpour. We have had some rain recently, but not enough to see if the leaks are fixed.

Grace may offer that opportunity.

Looking forward to rain here is always a mixed intellectual exercise. We always need rain in the summer. And the more (within reason) the better.

That modifier is in that phrase because of the experience we all had with Tropical Storm Hernan last year. Even though the storm was hundreds of miles offshore, it pulled weather over us that resulted in one of the largest floods people here can recall. A lot of people are now a bit storm-shy when the smallest weather systems head our way.

I have no idea if Grace's progeny will drop enough rain to test my repairs. Three inches may not do the job. However  that amount of rain will challenge our impaired drainage system in this area.

For me, it is a reminder that I may want to open up the "Atlantic" tab on my morning map review. At least, now and then. 

Otherwise, I may be as unprepared as the British defense of Singapore in World War II.

Never turn your back on your adversary.

Monday, August 16, 2021

chipmunks on the prowl

Be wary of that cute little chipmunk who just snatched your proffered acorn. He might be carrying the next pandemic in his puffy little cheeks. Or not.

Last week, while reading the morning newspaper, I ran across a headline that had the type of fanfare usually reserved for the apocalyptic warnings from Weatherman Bob about The Next Killer Storm.

"Several Lake Tahoe sites closed due to chipmunks carrying bubonic plague."

Bubonic plague? Isn't that what the latter-day Jeremiahs were predicting would befall us after covid-19 had its way with us?

And chipmunks? What could be more benign than Chip and Dale. (The Disney characters, not the men who confuse taking off their clothes with entertainment.) What is next? Bambi signing up to spread chronic wasting disease?

My first impression was that I had opened The Onion by mistake or that one of my Day of the Innocent posts had made its way into the newspaper (even though animals are off limits in my Day of Irony essays).

For some reason, I thought of one of my favorite writers -- Ann Lamott. In her essay, "Knocking on Heaven's Door," she recounted a particularly unnerving flight with long delays, departing passengers, delays for unloading the luggage of the departing passengers, a white-knuckle turbulence rode, and, then, to top it off, a passenger had a heart attack.

Ann turns to her seatmates. "Man," I said. "I wonder when the snakes will get out of the cargo 

That is how I would usually have felt about the prospect that the black death is amongst us. The statistics are somewhat ill-defined, but nonetheless harrowing. Between 30% and 60% of Europeans died in the Black Death. The surviving European society was forever-altered by the plague.

That number is fresh in my mind because about a year ago an acquaintance of mine posted an article on Facebook reporting that several people in Inner Mongolia had contracted the plague. He wondered if it was going to be The Next Disease out of China.

He need not have worried. With a little bit of research, I discovered the plague has never really gone away. But it seems to have found a stasis in nature.

The first outbreak of plague in The States occurred in 1900 when Chinese immigrants brought it to California. There was a large outbreak in Asia at the time. The last American outbreak was in Los Angeles in 1925.

Between 2009 and 2019, there have been 58 cases of the plague in The States. Almost all of them in the western states. And it is a nasty way to die. Of those 58 people, 7 did.

And Mexico? The plagues that affected The States in the early Twentieth Century also spread to Mexico. Some Chinese immigrants also brought it in. But it did not survive long.

Scientists have often wondered why the several waves of plagues have not reached into the tropics. It turns out the bacterium that drives fleas to blood madness only operates that way in temperate areas. In higher temperatures, the bacterium, the fleas, and the rodents abide by an entente. And that is why Mexico was so lightly touched by the plague.

But, just as in The States, the bacterium is still here. Living quietly.

So, despite the headline, killer chipmunks are not about to turn Lake Tahoe -- or anywhere else -- into a Monty Python skit.

There are plenty of other things in life to worry about -- like bad newspaper editing. 

Saturday, August 14, 2021

geezer on a bench

That has been an unstated goal of mine for years -- to be one of those old guys who sits on park benches and worries the pigeons.

I now live somewhere that I could do that as often as I chose, but by the sea rather than in a park. It sounds like an even-better bargain.

Seven years ago when I moved to Barra de Navidad, my doppelgänger Rod told me that each morning he would stroll downtown, buy a coffee, and sit by the ocean sipping his caffeine. His word picture was appealing. I almost retired at Pacific City in Oregon to live such a seaside life. Why not do it here?

It never happened. I usually see the ocean only on my re-enactments of the Bataan Death March. I walk to burn up calories. Stopping to smell the brine simply does not fit that goal.

Even the photographs I take on my walks are the very essence of snapshots. I do not have the time to pause for such technicalities as framing or focus.

Speaking of my revived walking routine, it is going well -- though I have started slipping more miles in each day. It is the curse of being obsessive. But, my intake of calories has been reduced to the essentials, and I am burning them (and their stored relatives) quickly.

My glucose is already in an acceptable range, and, even though my weight loss has plateaued, it will start falling again. As it always does.

The only health issue that has concerned me was my blood pressure. I measure it in the morning and the evening. For weeks, it has been good. Then, four days ago, it jumped. By a lot. And stayed there. I had several theories. I hoped it was a failure of technology, rather than a failure of my circulatory system.

I was concerned enough to go see my doctor yesterday evening. She tested my pressure with her cuff. It was perfect. The problem was my monitor. So, I bought a new one from her.

She had not yet arrived in her office when I first stopped there. I had an hour to kill that I could by either by walking four more miles or by walking down to the jetty to catch up on my reading. To my surprise, I chose sitting on the jetty.

So, there I was, sitting on the pier like some Lancashire geezer enjoying James Joyce's "snot-green sea" in Blackpool. Though I had reduced myself to a literary cliché, I fully enjoyed the experience.

It did not take me long to close up my telephone and simply sit in serenity watching the sea and its moods. The large waves we were experiencing in the morning had been replaced by a less-tempestuous sea, but a rough one caused by strong winds from the west where a couple of storms were launching themselves toward Hawaii.

Some people here enjoy walking to the beach each evening to watch sunsets that could warm any soul. I do not do that. If I walk to the beach, it is part of a much-larger walk.

Having now spent an hour in my role as Geezer on a Bench, I may have to reprise it in the future. Topping it off with a sunset would not be a bad idea.


Thursday, August 12, 2021

dancing in the dark

The news was unexpected. Oliver was dead.

Looking back on what I knew, the end should not have been a surprise to me. All of the evidence made the end inevitable -- like a Shakespearean tragedy. But I had wished that the narrative would have had a different ending.

I met Oliver Adalid under unusual circumstances. Four years ago, I was toying with the idea of writing a novel based in Mexico. International intrigue. Double-crosses. Political ambiguities.

As part of that process, I started introducing myself to my neighbors in Barra de Navidad through Facebook. The device seemed to be perfect for filtering people I would like to interview about their lives here -- and elsewhere.

One of the first who volunteered to be interviewed was Oliver. We agreed to meet in the Barra de Navidad jardin and propitiously sat on the steps of the stage there. 

One reason I had wanted to interview Oliver first was that he spoke English. My Spanish conversational skills were much worse than the bad state they are now in. It was a good move.

I do not know if it was the fact that we were speaking English or that he trusted me, but in that first meeting he told me a lot about his life ambition and two things he believed were a hindrance in what he wanted to do.

His ambitious was to head up a dance company that would tour the world and teach children the power dance could add to their lives. He sounded almost like a Presbyterian missionary touting the glories of redemption.

He never fully-realized that dream. He was a dancer and he did teach children (and adults) the release of dance. Even though he never had an international dance team, he danced with passion at La Quinta Gran Bahía in Cuastecomates. Whenever I was in the village, I would stop by to see him or he would stop me in the street to let me know what was happening in his life.

We had several other interview sessions and we frequently relied upon Facebook Messenger to chat in the late hours of the night.

But, like all of us, he felt hampered by some circumstances in his life. His were his sexuality and his English skills. Even though this area appears to be very accomodating of a person's sexuality. Oliver said he had run into enough people who disliked him for his that he often felt ostracized. Some people he sought as friends avoided him.

The same was true for his ability to speak English. His impression was that some people looked down on him for it -- as if he thought he was better because he could speak English.

Oliver is not the first person to mention that to me. Several Mexican-born acquaintances who were raised in The States tell me that they have met social resistance here because of their English ability.

Someone once told me the feeling harks back to the Revolution when large groups of Mexicans headed north to avoid the revolutionary chaos. The people left behind considered them to be traitors to the Revolution.

He told me a little tale I will never forget. When he lived in The States, he enjoyed watching the old Hollywood dance movies. Primarily those in black-and-white. One song stuck with him. "Dancing in the Dark." He said that is what his life seemed to be.

Maybe both of his impressions were false. But, they seemed to drive Oliver to be popular -- an underlying motivation of many show folk. And he was.

Nothing could be better evidence of that then the last few days of his life.

Some people live their lives out on the pages of Facebook. Oliver was one. 

On 25 July, Oliver posted that he was suffering from the classic symptoms of the delta variant. On 30 July, he asked for prayers. That was his last post.

From that point on, others posted his progress and requested prayers. He was hospitalized and, at one point, seemed to have rallied. But it was not to be. The end came quickly this week. The funeral was yesterday in Jaluco.

It turns out that Oliver's fear that he could never be popular simply was not true (as is true with most of our fears). While he was ill, his Facebook page lit up with post after post informing him that because he was loved, people were fervently praying for his recovery.

And, in death, the number of accolades on the page keep rolling in. Page after page of people grieving for their friend who will never again dance for them.

Jesus preached that the second greatest commandment was to love your neighbor as you love yourself. If we started thinking of our neighbors as Oliver, someone who felt others could not befriend him, we could start treating one another to quell fears while we are alive.

Oliver gave me that piece of joy. Even though he felt socially restrained, he put everything he could into building a life that mattered. 

One thing he was wrong about. His life was not dancing in the dark. 

He danced in a spotlight that he wanted to share with each of us.

Dance on, brother.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

the end is not near

Scary things do not always come our way.

No matter how close they look.

Yesterday I was talking with a Mexican friend. He currently has two jobs -- as a waiter and as a construction worker. He told me that tourists at the hotel and his fellow construction workers had told him that two hurricanes were headed right at us. He wanted to know if that was true. He was a bit nervous about the rain and high winds we have experienced over the past week.

I can understand the concern. People here are starting to get worn down psychologically by the very real threat of The Virus amongst us. And with last year's storm-related flooding fresh in mind, it is understandable that people are a little more apprehensive than usual about the weather.

I start each day during hurricane season looking at the National Hurricane Center's web page. With maps and supporting data, it informs of weather patterns that could result in cyclonic activity, and then predicts the paths of tropical depressions, tropical storms, and hurricanes. As computer models for weather have matured, the results are impressively accurate.

Unlike Atlantic hurricanes that primarily form off of the coast of Africa, our tropical cyclones are home-grown. They form in the Pacific off of the coast of Central America or just south of the Gulf of Tehuantepec. Fortunately for Mexico, due to prevailing weather patterns, if the the formation results in cyclonic activity, it will usually head west or northwest across the Pacific.

But, not always. If the weather patterns are just so, the freight train can head north along the Mexican coast leaving this area exposed to its worst. Even if it passes us, poor Baja is often its next destination.

Currently, there are two patterns of interest off the coast of Mexico. But neither of them is heading our way.

Tropical Storm Kevin has been lumbering its way across the Pacific for the past week. It looks rather menacing, if you were not aware that its path has taken its away from any threat to Mexico -- where it will die by next Sunday.

The second has been brewing away as a disturbance for the past week, and turned into Tropical Depression Twelve-E overnight. Past experience would usually justify some cautious watching because of its birth relatively close to the Mexican coast. It is destined to intensify into a tropical storm later today and into a hurricane on Thursday afternoon.

But there is no worry about this one. Both metamorphoses will occur well out in the Pacific -- far away from the Mexican coastline.

The best antidote for fear is information.

NOAA predicticted this year's hurricane activity would be slightly above average. That is apparent with how quickly we are blowing through storm names. We have barely entered August, and we are already looking for an "L" name for the newly-formed depression.

At least, for now, we can relax that this area is not in the sights of a hurricane.

That does not change the fact that this is a year to stay vigilant of the weather. And to rely on information, rather than rumors and emotions. 

Most of all -- to stay calm and enjoy the life Mexico affords us.

Saturday, August 07, 2021

an eggcorn in a pear tree

No one would ever confuse me with St. Francis of Assisi.

I wear too many clothes for that role. Usually. But my house is quickly turning into an animal sanctuary, and I have become a protector of some creatures I would have readily chased off in the past.

Yesterday, as I was entering the library, I noticed a small lump of debris in front of the sliding glass door. I put the plate I was carrying on a table and went back to clean up whatever was disturbing the order of the patio. Something one of the turkey vulture neighbors had dropped, I thought.

When I went back out, the "debris" had moved. It wasn't until I bent over and had a closer look that I realized it was not a piece of detritus; it was a young ground dove. And I knew where it had come from.

About two years ago, a ground dove couple had set up nest-keeping in the vines in front of Omar and Yoana's bedroom. Several generations of doves have popped out of the vines since.

It was obvious that this little guy had left the protection of the vines far too early. He needed to go back home.

Of course, small birds do not distinguish between the kindness of strangers and the wiles of predators. When you are that low on the food chain, you are a potential meal for almost everything.

When I reached for it, he feebly flew away. I ended up chasing him around most of the patio until he simply resigned himself to his fate and let me pick him up. Back in the nest he went.

It was not until this morning that I noticed that he is not alone. He is one of three doves in the vines. They made me smile. But they also made me start humming a song. "The Twelve Days of Christmas" -- with its litany of bird and shrubbery references.

Because my mind works like this, the song 
reminded me that it contains one of my favorite eggcorns.

If you have not heard the word before, you should remember it. It is useful. We encounter (and often create) eggcorns daily.

An eggcorn is a word or phrase that is mistakenly used for another word or phrase because it sounds similar and seems logical or plausible. And some of them make just as much (or more) sense than the original.

The word came about because some people called "acorns" "eggcorns." They look like eggs -- and they are essentially the eggs of oak trees.

We all know them when we hear them (and often mistakenly use them ourselves).

  • "another think coming" 
  • "platemats" 
  • "takes two to tangle" 
  • "wet your appetite" 
  • "take it for granite" 
  • "one foul swoop" i
  • "death nail" 

But none of those eggcorns were the object of my dove-watching. "The Twelve Days of Christmas" is chock-a-block with birds. Partridge. Turtle doves. French hens. Geese. Swans.

And then there is verse four where my true love sends to me four "calling birds." I always found that phrase a bit odd. It is true that 19th century Brits referred to songbirds as calling birds. But it turns out "calling birds" is an eggcorn.

The original lyrics refer to four "colly birds." That word sounds a bit foreign to us because it has gone out of general service. "Colly" derives from "collier." A reference to coal mining. Black as coal. Thus, a blackbird.

So, there you have it. Eggcorn. A new word that you can slip into your leisurely conversations in Mexico.

And here is another. "Crash blossoms." We will discuss it next week when the subject of deadly chipmunks will be on the plate.

But, now, I must put on my monkly robes, and go tend to the animals -- before they decide I am lower on the food chain than they are.   

Friday, August 06, 2021

hawaii to the rescue

I am not a very good planner.

My life tends to be a constant ad lib performance. And I just indulged in another opening night recently.

I told you in killing me softly that I had decided to resurrect two life-style changes that had served me well for years, but that I had set aside almost three years ago. Due to some blood pressure and glucose issues, I decided to ramp up my exercise program and cut down my food intake. Neither of those changes were "diets," in the usual sense of that word. I was not giving in to the Dolly Parton diet for six-weeks only to slip right back to where I was before she and I started discussing Jolene.

For two years, I completely changed my lifestyle. I walked about 4 hours each day and cut back on my caloric intake -- eventually adopting a permanent intermittent fasting routine for my meals. I ate only between 2 and 6 in the afternoon. My weight dropped -- along with my blood pressure and glucose.

This time, rather than transitioning into my new program two weeks ago, I simply jumped. It was not quite zero to 200 MPH. But it was close.

I cut my walking back to 5 to 10 miles a day. That is working fine. The 2-6 intermittent fasting has not worked as well as it did last time. Probably, because the change was too quick. I have thrown off my metabolism enough that I cannot exercise far from the house because of -- well, "digestive issues." And I felt completely fatigued.

The worst problem was that I had almost stopped eating. For the past few days, I have barely been eating more than a few bites. If I were a dog, there would be whispers in the corner about the full life I have lived.

Uncharacteristically, I admitted that I had made a mistake. Today, I expanded my eating window to noon to 6. I will try to eat two medium-sized (planned) meals in that time.

This re-think was a direct result of my favorite local grocery store. I had stopped by yesterday afternoon to buy some tomatoes, when Carlos, the owner's nephew, whispered that they had just been to Costco, and had managed to score one of my favorites -- ham. I grabbed the first one.

For the past two weeks, I have been having a bit of trouble even thinking about being creative with food. The ham has changed that. On the way home, I imagined ham sandwiches, baked ham with roasted asparagus, ham and bean soup (with lots of vegetables), and other porcine delights. But I knew exactly what was going to be first on the list.

This morning I made what I call frittata de Estif. The ingredients change every time I make it, but this morning's version included sautéed onion, kalamatas, grape tomatoes, capers, Spanish olives, habanero, and diced ham covered with a mixture of two eggs, worcestershire sauce, and balsamic vinegar. A coating of marjoram topped it off. It is the start of a good friendship with that ham. (Interestingly, I was able to eat only half of the frittata.)

I will try the new eating window to see if it makes a difference. I already feel less fatigued. Maybe it was the rest of the cherries I bought yesterday -- and ate in the lsat hour.

Alex at Hawaii may not have a solution for every problem in your life, but he (and Carlos) certainly filled the gap this week.