Friday, October 29, 2010

Muchas Verduras!

Now that we have been experimenting with our vegetarian diet for about five weeks, we are learning a few things.  Some of the vegetarian recipes are wonderful, but they often take considerable planning.  The other thing we’re noticing is that when we make a batch of vegetable curry or cabbage tomato soup, for example, we end up with a ton of food, often enough to last for two or even three days.  We’ve been talking so some other friends who happen to be in our New England group which meets for dinner once a month.  Brian and Evelyn have been vegetarians for many years.  Brian is a vegan; he eats no dairy or eggs either.  When they re out, Evelyn will eat cheese and sometimes fish.  When they’re at home, they chop up a bunch of vegetables at the beginning of the week, and they cook a big pot of dried beans.  Then, they do a lot of stir fries or other recipes, using these pre-prepared veggies.

Brian and Evelyn invited us to dinner recently along with a couple who arrived here within the last year, Karl and Janet.  They made a wonderful vegetarian chili; we contributed a salad.  We spent  good deal of time picking their brains about their diet and how they manage it.  It was interesting and fun.  Below are Evelyn and Brian with their dog (left) and Karl and Janet.  

One issue for us was that we weren’t sure how to get enough protein.  Most vegetarian literature says that as long as you eat a well balanced vegetarian diet, you don’t really have to worry about so much protein.  Many plants have protein, especially legumes, and if you eat a variety of whole grains as well, you can get complete protein.  The only vitamin that you can only get from animal products is B12.  We both eat yogurt, and I eat cheese and eggs too.  Pixie is trying to avoid them. 


At any rate, our commitment to this diet is strong.  We both feel good and have lost a bit of weight in the process. 

The big news of the week is probably that we finally officially put our house on the market.  We’re now listed with International Realty, a Mexican-owned company with a number of North American agents.  Our agent is Lynda MacMahon, a Canadian with many years of experience selling real estate here.  We’ve finished our extra painting and fixing things and have had two couples come to look at the house so far.  We are prepared for the long haul, though.  There are a lot of properties on the market now (of course ours is superior to most!) but it could take a while to sell.  We’re happy here in the meantime.

Chuy is almost a year old now, and he’s calming down and developing his adult personality.  One thing he loves to do is dig in the garden, which I am trying to discourage.  Even when he doesn’t dig, he gets filthy.  He loves to stick his head into whatever smells good to him.  We decided to give him a shorter haircut to minimize his grubby look.  Here are before and after photos.

The local Democrats Abroad group has been busy organizing phone banks and volunteering to help states with their get-out-the-vote efforts.  Since many people like us have internet phones to call back to the US (Vonage, Skype, Magic Jack), it’s easy for people to do political calling for elections.  We are not active in Democrats Abroad, but we are interested in the election.  We watched Barack Obama on John Stewart’s show last night on our Canadian satellite TV system.  Doesn’t look good for our team this year, but we’re hoping for some surprises.

I have a few more photos of Ajijic to share.  Chapala and the Ajijic area has been a popular site for expatriates from the US, Canada and Europe since the early 20th century, and it has a tradition of Mexicans and Gringos coexisting here by Lake Chapala.  In the early days it was a well-known place for authors to congregate.  At the time, the place to be and to meet was what we now call the old Posada, or Hotel.  This is where author like Tennessee Williams, Somerset Maughm, and DH Lawrence often met for drinks, according to legend.  Today, it’s still a popular bar and eating place, though far from its glory days. 

Here are a few more street scenes showing  the colorful village this time of year.  We are now seeing the return of many “snowbirds,” many form Canada, who flock down every winter season, making the traffic worse, but filling the restaurants and bringing more prosperity to the area.  We are counting on some snowbirds to arrive with the idea of buying a home here.  We have just what they’re looking for! 

Finally, as we are getting close to El Dia de Los Muertos, Day of the Dead, celebrations on November 1 and 2, it is also Halloween season.  There is a sense of Halloween here; you do see some Halloween decorations and costumes in the stores, but it is really eclipsed by the Day of the Dead.  Yesterday, Pixie and Evelyn (who is now working with Pixie at the orphanage) taught the children about Halloween. They dressed them up in costumes and showed them how to cut a Jack-O-lantern.  They were very excited; these underprivileged children had never seen how one could carve a squash into a face. They were delighted.  Of course they also got candy!  Here are some photos. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

Glorious Wildflowers

Fall is the season for wildflowers in Mexico.  Although there are flowers here all year round, the roadways are covered with more of the wildflowers, very similar those we see in Maine, during late September and October. Chuy and I take walks every morning.  We walk about two miles down the main road through Riberas and down by the lake and the way into the town of Chapala.  I enjoy seeing the wild, lush vegetation, including wildflowers, as we walk. Chuy's too busy looking for poops to smell and people to greet.  The other day we saw this beautiful blue flower growing out of a pile of gravel.

We even have wildflowers growing up over the back wall of our garden from the empty lot on the other side.
Here are some photos of the area where I walk with Chuy.  We are fortunate here to have a bicycle path, or ciclopista which goes next to the busy main road or carretera. You can see in these photos the lush greenery which grows in the undeveloped land between Riberas and Chapala.  These plants will begin to turn brown as we get into winter, because now that the rainy season has ended, we will have no significant rain until June.  I've also included a few photos of the park next to the lake we visit on our walk. Note the egret.    (Remember, you can click on any photos on the blog to make them bigger so you can see more detail.)

Things are pretty quiet here, news-wise.  There is a bit of a controversy in Guadalajara concerning gay rights.  Surprisingly, Mexico, although it is overwhelmingly Catholic, has a rather strong gay community, and Mexico City has passes a law allowing gay marriage.  There is an annual gay pride parade in Guadalajara, and a thriving gay community here at Lake Chapala.  All this is in spite of the fact that our state of Jalisco is one of the most traditionally Mexican and politically conservative areas of Mexico.  The Governor of Jalisco last week engendered a controversy when he said that the idea of gay marriage "makes me nauseous."  Over 300 people, as a result, filed complaints with the Jalisco Human Rights Commission. He also created a controversy a few weeks ago when he refused to disperse the money which the federal government allocated to the University of Guadalajara, instead giving it to support Church activities.  This resulted in several days of protest marches by thousands in Guadalajara.  The Mexicans have a long traditions of political protest marches.  We often see them going on in Guadalajara in the colonial district, but we often can't figure out exactly what they are protesting about!

A friend of mine from the Ajijic Writers' group, Mel Goldberg, has been organizing local readings in a coffee house in Ajijic on Sunday afternoons.   Although it's a small space, and none of us sold any books, it was a fun opportunity to listen to fellow writers and enjoy a lazy afternoon with coffee and muffins.   Here is a photo of Mel reading his poems in both Spanish and English, and one of me with my writer-friend, Jim Rambo.

We are enjoying pleasantly cool weather in the mornings and evenings and pleasant weather about 80 degrees during the day.  We now have the predictability of knowing it is simply not going to rain.  I took a walk down by the lakeside in Ajijic and was able to capture some photos of the new malecon and some evidence of the high lake level at the end of the rains.

Did you know that according to the National Butterfly Association, there are over 2000 species of butterflies in Mexico, compared to just 575 species in the continental United States?  I often see very unusual colors and patterned butterflies here; each seems unique.  On my walk the other day I found a dead butterfly, or mariposa.  I took it home and photographed it from both sides.  I include large photos of it here so you can see the interesting pattern.

And finally, here's another butterfly Pixie found yesterday.  Another beautiful specimen.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Cool October Mornings

As we have moved into October, the weather has abruptly changed.  Gone are the rainy nights and cloudy mornings, the humid haze over the mountains, and the streets running with the water streaming down from the mountains.   The air is fresh and cooler, especially first thing in the morning when Chuy and I set out to walk east along the carretera towards Chapala.  I need to wear an extra shirt these mornings, and we routinely see the Mexicans riding their bikes into Ajijic to work, wearing winter jackets or hooded sweatshirts.  Men sell mesquite firewood by the side of the road as we prepare to build fires to take of the chill in our drafty, concrete houses during the winter months.  The surprising thing, for me, is not the fact that the rains are ending and  the weather is turning cooler, but that it happened so suddenly.  One day we had the humid, rainy weather, and the next day, about ten days ago, we suddenly had cloudless, blue skies.  

This dry weather is allowing us to get our garden wall painted in preparation for the listing of the house this month, in time for the snowbirds who start arriving in November.  And we hope some are coming with the idea of buying a beautiful home like ours!  Although, realistically, we expect it may take some time to sell, for many homes are for sale these days.  Americans are not buying as much because they are having so much trouble selling their homes.  Canadians and Guadalajarans are being targeted by the real estate agents here; they are financially better-off than Americans, now.  We'll just have to see who shows up to look.   

A couple of interesting pieces in the local paper this week.  The Chapala police chief has created a bit of controversy by no longer making crime reports available to the local media.  He noted that crime is not a serious problem in the area, that most of the crimes involve local street disturbances and some theft and robbery.   He made the point that in "Mexican culture, the less we identify problems, the more we live in peace."  True, to a point, but this intentional lack of transparency is difficult for the expats here to understand.  

In another article the plight of the elderly citizens in Mexico is explored.  About 12% of the 10 million Mexicans over the age of 60 live in 'extreme poverty', and some 80% live in "some degree" of poverty.  Unlike the US and Canada, old age pensions are relatively rare; only 13 percent qualify.  Most pensions are small by US standards, averaging about 871 pesos (about 70 US dollars) a month.  While many live with their children, about 30% of elderly Mexicans are left to survive on their own, without family support. 

In contrast, those US expatriates who live in Mexico are still enjoying a good exchange rate of  about 12.5 pesos to the dollar.  It was about 10 pesos tot he dollar when we emigrated here in 2007.  Since the Canadian dollar is roughly equivalent to the US dollar now, Canadians also enjoy this 25% increase in the value of their dollars.  

We recently invited some friends over for dinner.  Since we are trying to eat more vegetarian meals, we are trying to use up  some of the meat in our freezer, so I prepared a pork tenderloin with fresh mango sauce.  Carol and Ernie (left) just returned from a trip to Israel last month.  They  returned with stories of life in Israel these days, including the uneasy situation with the Palestinians and the influence of the Orthodox Jews.  Although as many as 90% of the Jews in Israel are secular, the laws are influenced heavily by Judaism.  Many buildings even have buttonless elevators so Jews don't have to break the Sabbath by pushing buttons.  The elevators automatically stop at every floor.  In terms of the peace talks, they both believe, as do many Israelis, that a comprehensive peace agreement cannot ever be achieved, a depressing prospect!  Carol teaches English and is an active member of the Ajijic Writers' Group.   Mark and Lell (right) are relative newcomers to Lake Chapala.  Mark, also a member of the Writers' group,  is a poet himself, and has a long-standing interest in the poetry of the Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin.   I've also included a photo of Pixie and I from that evening. 

My friend Kelley just introduced me to the Picasa software from Google which is a robust, easy-to-use program which enables you to manage and manipulate photos on the computer.  One feature I like is that it allows you to insert captions into the photos.  Below, I've included some photos taken this week of Ajijic (and one of Chuy) to which I've added captions.  

We are still working on our vegetarian diet.  Our friends, Donna and Vicente, have been on a vegan diet for a long time and are very helpful in telling us where to buy vegan food.   There is a new organic market which is now open Tuesdays, where we can buy hummis, fresh organic produce,  and tofu.  Donna has given us the name of a woman in Ajijic who makes her own tofu and sells it by the kilo for 44 pesos, about $3.50 US.   When we go out to dinner, like we did last night, we will eat fish, since vegetarian foods are not popular here.  An Egyptian restaurant recently opened here.  It is run by an Egyptian man and his Mexican wife.  They serve many meatless dishes and delicious Arabic coffee.  They are doing a brisk trade; we hope they can stay in business.  

Today is a busy day.  Pixie is taking her yoga class this morning, and this afternoon we have our Great Books discussion where we are discussing the French philosopher, Simone Weil, then after that we have dinner with our political discussion group, the Cosmo Club.   Chuy will have a play date with Layla, the golden retreiver next door.  Sometime soon, we need to go down to the clinic to get our flu shots, when we can find the time.