Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Feliz Año Nuevo!

We have returned from the chilly north with New Year's Greetings from our beautiful grandaughter, Isabelle!  Who could resist this face?   Here's another delightful image of her I took while we waited for our daughter, Wendy, to arrive at the Indianapolis Airport.  

As you can probably tell, I spent most of the time in Indiana taking pictures of Isabelle.  She spoke her first words while we were there ("Dada" to Eric's delight), and she seems, at nine months, to be on the verge of sprouting teeth and trying to walk.  We enjoyed doting on her, but we also had a family reunion of sorts, with Wendy and Cassie joining us for Christmas.  We also had the privelege of becoming reacclimated to the cold; wind chills were measuring -15F for the firstr day or so after we arrived.  As I sit typing this on the terrace back in Mexico, it doesn't seem so bad.  What we lacked in warm days we made up for with lots of warm memories.  Here is a photo of the kids with us (except Crystal, in this photo):

Eric and Crystal, like us, are diehard Unitarian Universalists.  UU's have a tradition of celebrating Christmas with very ecumenical services, sometimes a bit irreverent.  Theirs was no exception. As parents of a new baby, they were chosen to play the Holy Family in the pagent.  I never pictured Eric as the Joseph type, but he looked the part: 

Here are a few more photos of our Indiana visit, posted especially for Dad and Joy, including one of my soon-to-be 91 year old Aunt Alice, her son Rod, and Eric with Isabelle:

So now we're home in Mexico, and life is returning to normal. We are celebrating New Years with a quiet dinner with friends, and looking forward to 2009 with anticipation. We were at the Tianguis (market) this morning and noticed how the Lakeside area is much more crowded now. The snowbirds have arrived in force. The traffic is much slower, and we see many unfamiliar faces.

Our favorite vegetable and fruit vendors, Carmen and Aaron were glad to see us, and we found good looking mandarinas (tangerines), piňas(pineapples), and peras (pears) this week. Pixie found some three foot sparklers to shoot off, and uvas (grapes) for tonight. The Mexican custom is to eat 12 grapes at midnight for good luck. The other interesting custom is to wear red underwear on New Year's Eve for good luck. I don't know about Pixie but I'm wearing mine!

I have enrolled in a new advanced conversational Spanish class which starts at the end of the month. Pixie has found a teacher she loves from El Salvador who is teaching an introductory course at her home. She has been in this class for a couple of months and she is using Spanish more and is no longer as intimidated by learning a new language. We are able to practice everyday. I noticed on the plane that I could understand the Spanish announcements better than I used to. Poco a poco!

To all the loyal readers of Maine To Mexico, feliz año nuevo (happy new year)!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Feliz Navidad!

The holiday rush is in full swing in Mexico, as everyone is rushing around Christmas shopping, attending traditional Posadas and Christmas parties, and making travel plans to join their families for the holidays.  Above is our beautiful, pointsettia which has bloomed in time for the season.  We have been fighting some type of fungus on it, as you can see, but it is still representative of the large pointsettias trees which grow prolifically here.   

I have a few photos to share of the St. Andreas fiesta in Ajijic.  It lasts for 10 days or so every November in honor of Ajijics patron saint: Andrew.  Virtually the entire town shows up for the evening festivities.  Here are some evening shots of the plaza during the celebration:

Fireworks are a big part of the celbration, which are difficult to photograph, but I have included these two which consisted of a movable display.  Here is an angel which moved among the crowd, spewing sparks:

Below is a very lucky kid who was selected, at random, to wear the fire-spewing shark and run through the crowd for a once-in-a-lifetime experience:

Last night we invited our friends Carol and Ernie over for dinner.  Carol is fellow member of the Ajijic Writers' Group and administers the English language instruction program which offers free English instruction to over 300 Mexicans this year.  This is the program which provides the class that I teach, which I have written about before.  She does a wonderful job keeping a bunch of eccentric gringos in line, more or less.  And Ernie....well, just look at him!  He's an interesting character; you can tell this just by looking at the twinkle in his eye! 


We will be leaving to visit our son Eric, his wife Crystal, and grandaughter, Isabelle, in Muncie, Indiana next week.  Our daughters Wendy and Cassie will be joining us, so we'll have the entire family together for Christmas.  This will be the last blog entry until after we return December 29.  

Feliz Navitas a toto nuestros amigos y nuestra familia!  

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Big Birthday Bash

Pixie turned 60 on November 10, and our friend Susan Barr turned 65 on November 19, so Steve Barr and I combined forces and put on a big birthday bash at our house on November 20.  Our house is very well set up for a large party, with a big common space inside, and a big yard off the terrace.  We rented some tables and chairs, hired a popular caterer who very reasonably provides a Mexican buffet with handmade tortillas and a large variety of Mexican dishes to fill them, hired our friend Billy to serve margaritas, beer and soda, and a Mexican guitar trio to serenade the group.  We had about 15 of our Mexican friends as well as many of our friends, most from our fellowship.  We had a Winnie the Pooh pinata for the kids which was, of course, a highlight for them.  Pixie and Susan were feted with toasts, gifts, and two traditional Mexican tres leches (three milks) birthday cakes.  There's really not much to say about it, so I just included these photos.  Thanks to our friends Kathy and Kelley who contributed some of these photos.  

We gathered with many of our friends from the fellowship, as usual, at Lew and Trudy Crippen's house in Ajijic to celebrate Thanksgiving.  It was a pot luck affair, and Pixie brought traditional homamade cranberry sauce to add to the wide variety of  dishes, not exactly a New England thanksgiving, but full of friendship and gratitude for our health, family, friendship, and prosperity. 

We have made a BIG decision and decided to return north for July and August next summer.  We will be, of course, stopping at Muncie to visit Isabelle, Eric and Crystal, but most of the time we will be staying at Curt and Judy Webber's house in Auburn.  This will give us a good chance for good visits with friends and family, and will still allow us to get our visas renewed in June and our Mexican health insurance renewed in September.  I will also be able to continue teaching English here, because the program does not continue during the summer. 

We will be going to Muncie for Christmas this year, from December 19-29, so I will be able to post new photos of Isabelle when we return.  Not much else to write about now.  The weather which has been quite cool (down to the high 40's), has turned milder.  We are both well and grateful that our children are all doing well.  We look forward to seeing them all in Muncie.  Here's a photo of us getting ready to celebrate Thanksgiving yesterday.  Notice Pixie's wild colors! 

Monday, November 17, 2008

Rincon De Guayabitos

We returned from our first trip to the Pacific coast since our arrival in Mexico.  Pictured above is the beach town of Rincon de Guayabitos (corner of the small guavas) located about 40 miles north of Puerto Vallarta.  I had never been to a tropical beach before.  We were used to Maine beaches and the ankle-numbing water temperatures.  November seems to be a popular time for people here to make the five plus hour drive to the coast because the climate has cooled from the summer heat and humidity and the high season has not yet begun.  We went with our friends Steve and Sue and Jeanne and Paul.  Here we pose on the terrace restaurant of our hotel.  
The drive down was fairly easy; a high speed "cuota," or toll road, took us most of the way from Guadalajara.  I knew we were getting near the coast when I could see banana and coconut groves, and tall palms everywhere.  We had arranged to stay at a largely Mexican resort, in fact we were, for most of the stay, the only gringos there.  The hotel is very reasonable, about $350 USD for four days with all meals and drinks included.  It was about half full of middle class Mexican families on vacation.  It was quiet at night, and the food was very Mexican and very good.
The beach  experience was somewhat different.  first of all, the water was about 80 degrees, very different from our "normal" ocean experience.  The waves are gentle at this beach and the water shallow.  We could sit under the shade of the palapas, shown in this photo.  We did lots of reading and relaxing.  We walked up to the fancy end of the beach and saw where most of the gringos stayed, in a fancy resort of the west end of the beach, not our style.  
We took a drive to some other beach towns north of Puerto Vallarta, and I could see that the close one gets to PV, the more fancy and expensive everything is.  

We also saw some wildlife on beach.  There were many exotic birds.  I really found the graceful frigates beautiful,  but my favorite were the pelicans:

On our last afternoon, Steve arranged a boat ride to the big island off the shore.  I chose to stay back, not wanting to risk my chronic problem with sea sickness.  But the rest of the gang went and, unexpectedly, had a chance to view a couple of whales.  Pixie photographed the one below:

Pixie is a BIG FAN of the beach.  In Maine she would endure the cold, wind and horseflies to "enjoy" a day in the sun.  Here she discovered how wonderful a tropical beach can be.  We will be making this a regular destination, I can see.  

Since returning, Steve and I are busy making preparations for the big birthday bash for Pixie and Susan Barr.  Pixie turned 60 on November 10, and Susan turns 65 on the 19th.  We are hosting a party at our house for 50-60 friends, with a Mexican buffet and a guitar trio.  I'll be sure to include photos in the next entry.  

I'll end this entry with a new poem I wrote after attending the Day of the Dead festivities in Chapala, about looking at the photo on one of the altars.  

Your Sepia Face

 Your sepia face stares soberly at me

From another day, distant from this evening,

Adorned with marigold blossoms

And relics of your time among us,

Which proves to me that you were here

And lived to taste the sour fruits of life

And cried sweet tears for love of those

Who remain, remembering your presence here.


And as I gaze at your framed, faded image

On your vibrant altar, fragrant with breath,

I imagine my family, now long gone

Who live largely forgotten, no color enveloping

Their likenesses with warm, living flowers,

Photographs which remain, unexamined, vaguely recalled,

In a dark box waiting for those who knew them

To pass into the obscurity of memory themselves,

Rendering them forever unremembered.


You are lucky to remain among the breathing

A bit longer, perhaps to remind us all

To look into your sepia face

Reflecting our humble fate.  

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Curt and Judy Webber Return to Mexico for Dia de Los Muertos!

Curt and Judy Webber, from Auburn, Maine, were our first visitors when we moved to Mexico in 2007. They enjoyed everything about Mexico and decided to return here this year for the Day of the Dead celebration. Last year, Pixie had a broken foot and could not get around very well. Well, this year we discovered another element of the celebration. I knew that the people decorated the graves and gathered there to eat, drink, and celebrate through the night. What I didn't know about was the tradition of creating public altars to honor their dead as well. One street in Chapala is set aside each year for these public altars. The altar usually has a photo of the dead relative, along with marigolds, which is supposed to make the passage easier for the dead person to revisit the living. The altar often has things the person enjoyed in life, like tequila, beer, special foods, or items which represent the activities of the dead, like guitars, saddles, or needlework. Some altars also feature a wash basin and mirror, so the dead person can "freshen up" when he or she returns for a visit. They are very creative; some are quite elaborate. Here are some examples:

Many young people here are not as into the sacred tradition of Day of the Dead as their elders are. My students told me they think it is a little over the top. But that does not prevent them from using the occasion to dress up, as Americans do on Halloween, and I saw lots of them celebrating with costumes and music within the altars:

On the right is Maria Elena, our maid, posing with a young reveler. Maria Elena built an elaborate altar with yellow crosses, pictured below. When we stopped by she showed us all the details and gave us fresh pineapple tamales to take with us.

We celebrated the Day of the Dead at our UU fellowship, where we remembered our relatives who had died. Pictured below are Curt and Judy at the service and the altar we used:
A few other bits: Pixie and I returned to Guadalajara Thursday to have our drivers licenses upgraded to four-year licenses, hassle-free with Fernando again. Tonight we are headed into the Degollado Theatre in Guadalajara to see the ballet. This theatre is a beautiful neo-classical building modeled after the La Scala opera theatre in Milan. This will be the first show we've seen there, and it is Pixie's birthday gift. I'm not so reluctant to drive into Guad. these days, as long as I know where we're going. Since the theatre is in the old historic district, I do know how to get there.

And finally....of course...the

Big News we are all celebrating this week:

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Odds and Ends

The weather is turning a bit chillier in the morning, the rains have ended, for the most part, and it won't be long before the hills start to turn brown and our snowbird friends return from the cold north. And, try as she might, Maggie has not been able to learn to fly. She runs outside into the garden with great earnestness and jumps into the air to try to catch one of the birds or butterflys. Hope springs eternal.

We finally decided to get our Jalisco drivers licenses. Pixie's Maine license had expired, and so she could not drive legally. I decided to get mine at the same time so they would expire at the same time. We had heard mixed reviews about the experience, but we decided to go for it. We got a copy of the questions in English from our next door neighbor, and Pixie practiced her parallel parking (she had not done it since getting her Maine drivers license.) We hired a facilitator to take us into the Guadalajara translate for us. His name is Fernando; he speaks English and promised us we would have no trouble getting our licenses. We left early in the morning to get there before it got crowded. He obviously knows everyone there and had done his homework. He brings all the necessary people little snacks and stops to chat with everyone. "These are my friends," he assured us, "So you will have no problem with your license."

We first took the written test. The Mexicans take it on the computer, but we needed an English version, so we needed to take a paper test. The questions were generally the same we'd seen, but not exactly. Some of the English translations made no sense. On my copy, someone had circled the answers, but I could see some of them were wrong, but some were confusing to me. We evidently passed, because they took our tests and returned several minutes later to have us take our absurdly easy eye test. The symbols were huge; anyone could pass it unless they were completely blind.

Now came the part we were dreading: the road test. There was a line for the test, but, thanks to Fernando, we were taken to a beautiful new Honda Accord almost immediately. (The others had to take their test in an old Nissan or a huge pickup truck.) Pixie went first, driving around the driveway, by herself, while the inspector more or less watched. When she went to parallel park, she bumped the sign in the back. Fernando told me not to worry because his friend was there. Then it was my turn. I also hit the sign, but we were both shuttled into another line which apparently meant we passed. SO here's a copy of my new license:

If you look closely at the expiration date, you'll notice it expires on June 27 of next year. "It's a new law," Fernando explained, just for foreigners. Your license expires the date your immigration expires. Since our FM3 expires every year, so does our license. It seems like a tit for tat for the way Mexicans are treated in the US. Oh well. But last week we noticed an article in the newspaper which indicated that a group of foreigners had hired an attorney to challenge the law. Come to find out, this policy was made up by the Guadalajara office, and the rest of Jalisco was not doing this. It was straightened out, so we will have to go back with Fernando, and they will issue a new license for the full four years. We'll hope for the best!

I had a successful book signing event at the Lake Chapala Society. One thing I have learned about publishing your own book here is that the people who buy your book are generally your friends. I had lots of friends and fellow members of the writer's group attend and buy books. Some even bought extra copies as gifts. As a result, I made my publication cost back, and now I am collecting money to donate to the English language program at Wilkes.
Here I am with some of my Writers' Group buddies: Next to me is Alex Grattan, the founder of the group and editor of the Ojo del Lago. Victoria Schmidt is next to him, a new arrival who worked in the film industry, as did Alex. In the front is Karen Blue, author of a popular book on living here, Midlife Mavericks (no reference to McCain or Palin), Jim Tipton, an excellent poet, writer, and good friend of Isabelle Allende, and Jim Rambo, my friend and fellow Phillies fan from Wilmington.
Here are Vicente and Donna. Vicente is the artist who did the cover illustration and Donna did the translation of the title poem. It was a fun event, and I felt lots of affection from my fellow writiers.

The lakeside area has been excited all week because of the arrival of the circus. The circus pulled into town last week, set up a big tent, and had been driving a truck with a trailer with tigers in the back selling tickets. The cheap seats are only 25 pesos, or $2.50 US, so families can afford to go. We went on Thursday night with our friends, the only gringos at that show. We saw death-defying acts, clowns, and lots of animal acts. For some reason, however, there was a problem with the tigers so they did not appear. It was a fun way to spend an evening.

We are awaiting the arrival of our friends from Maine, Curt and Judy, on Tuesday. They were down last year and are returning this year for the Day of the Dead festivities. Democrats Abroad has been very active with the election this fall, although most of us voted absentee weeks ago. The Mexican TV station even did a spot about the gringos voting here. The Mexicans are obviously very interested in the results of this election, and when we wear our Obama T-shirts, we get many positive comments from Mexicans. The Mexican peso has been dropping in value since the beginning of this economic meltdown, which is good for us expats but terrible for the Mexican economy.