May 28, 2009

Slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, but mostly slings.

My visit yesterday to the doctor did nothing to cheer me up. I found out the up-until-now-unknown-fact that I have two screws in my shoulder bone to which “fishing line” is tied to keep my ligament attached to my rotator cuff. I am to start passive physical therapy (someone moves my arm for me) with a physical therapist as soon as I can get an appointment. In the meantime I have 3 more weeks left in the DonJoy UltraSling Shoulder Brace (oh boy, oh boy, the soft gray color harmonizes with so many outfits!), then 2 more weeks after that of self-directed physical therapy (moving my arm myself). This means we won’t be able to drive back to Santa Rosalia until July 2. I am having serious cat and beach withdrawal! This is certainly different than the two-days-in-the-sling-expectations with which I went into this surgery. As we were coming out of one of our favorite Denver restaurants yesterday, Osaka Sushi, a man coming in said, oh what kind of surgery did you have? the newscaster was wearing the same sling just last night! Boy, talk about popular surgeries! I must admit I personally know of four other people that could be candidates for just the same operation that I just had.

Esperando leaves on Tuesday and my mother and sister come to babysit me for the next week until he comes back for a bit. I must admit I feel a little helpless with the use of just one arm. Now I know how that poor one-armed man that murdered Dr. Richard Kimble's wife in The Fugitive, must have felt. And see, that was a medical conspiracy just like what’s happened to me. Getting a hold of the physical therapy people was the worst. Yesterday when we left the doctor’s office, the doctor gave me a prescription form with their phone number and the written instructions on how they are to torture me. It says “Evaluate & Treat”, if that is not a wide instruction for torture, then I don’t know what one is. When I called them, there was no answer. This place has four offices scattered around the Denver metro area, open M-F 7 am to 7 pm (ha ha, like not.). We decided to drop by the Stapleton office (the one circled on my form) which is just a 5 minute drive from our house. When we got to it at 3 pm, their office it was closed, lights out, with a sign posted on the door indicating to call their Thornton office to make an appointment. Jason answered and after several times being put on hold told me that he would call back regarding our insurance. After a couple of hours with no response I called again. Oh, so sorry he said, I went to the gym, but we don’t take your insurance. Flaaa-aky. What does the doc see in these guys, is he part owner like he is of the orthopedic center where I had my surgery? Over the course of the last two days I have finally gotten it sorted out and have an appointment for next Tuesday.

Which brings me to my last issue—the strange dreams that plague me every night. My Mother turned 101 this last May. No kidding-she really did. Well I dreamt last night that she was pregnant. I briefly wondered how someone of those advanced years could get pregnant, but chalked it up to medical science. Then I decided that giving birth at her advanced age would be a serious hazard to her health. Finally, I was really furious. It isn’t fair I said to Esperando in my dream, she will be gone and we will have this child to raise. How could she do this? Boy I don’t know where that one came from. This sling is altering my whole sleep pattern. I wonder if I will ever sleep like a normal person once I am through with this whole thing.

May 25, 2009

"Eye of newt, and toe of frog. . .”

Two years ago we had serious drainage problems with the northeast window wells of our Denver house’s basement. This time of year in Denver we can get torrential rains. As much as 2 inches can fall in an hour on an exceptional day. Well two years ago we had that kind of weather. I sent Esperando off to his job in the morning. It had been pouring for about 30 minutes when I decided to go to the unfinished basement in my innocence still attired in my nightgown to see if we were having any flooding down there. Lo and behold, the floor had about an inch of water on it in the northeast section and more was gushing in through the window well as the water was 4 inches higher than the window ledge. I immediately ran over to grab the shop vac and starting suctioning water off the floor, then I would drag the shop vac over to the northwest corner where there was a sump pump and empty the water into that hole, race back to the window and start vacuuming again. Did I mention that standing for 10 minutes vacuuming in the same spot is mesmerizing and surprisingly I wasn’t really quite awake even yet? Finally I realized there was aThing swimming in the 4 inches of water. I thought I was going crazy. I looked closer and the thing was like a fish, but it had very fancy gills on it that looked like leaves. I decided that it was some kind of salamander. After about 30 minutes of my suction-and-dump routine the vacuum seized up, it was working too hard and couldn’t keep up with the influx of water. I called Esperando at work and told him to come rescue the basement which he did. Then before we moved down to Mexico, Esperando dug up and redid the water drainage systems surrounding the house to make sure we would not have that kind of problem ever again.

It is worth mentioning that Esperando and I are actually among those strange kinds of people who like reptiles. That is why last year after heavy rains when I went down to check the window wells for flooding and found toads and salamanders instead basking on the damp gravel I didn’t scream but picked a toad up to take upstairs and show to Esperando. Pretty soon we were carrying out toad rescue operations. As many as 4 or 5 toads would be in each window well, with no way to ever climb out of their dungeon. Initially we thought as little tykes they might have fallen through the grating and were just eating whatever fell down there in the in the way of bugs and spiders. We eventually pulled 22 of them out. Now this third year we have decided that someone is laying eggs down there, because although there were fewer toads, they were still there.We leave the salamanders in the window wells, it is moist and they burrow into the soil, but the toads were seriously overcrowded and we think they are happier in the garden where there is more variety to eat.

Yesterday after our first really big rain I went down and found six Great Plains toads, about 1-1/2 to 2 inches long, four Tiger salamanders about 8 inches long and one very small Garter snake of about 10 inches long. We have never had a snake before. I was sure it would crawl into a crack and be very hard to catch, but Esperando with his boyhood training in snake hunting had him in a second, so he joined the toads in the release program. Later I regretted that we hadn’t kept the snake for a few days to admire him, he was so cute.

May 22, 2009


I have been recovering from the surgery I had on Tuesday for bursitis. I had a bone spur removed from my left shoulder, which turned out to have worn a hole in my tendon so that that also had to be stitched up. This will keep my left arm in a sling for the next month not just the few days the doctor initially envisioned, not so great for typing blogs. No doubt this will also delay our return to Santa Rosalia while I get started on physical therapy. But even that can’t take place until I see the doctor next week. Today is a banner day however. I get take my bandages off, stop wearing my anti-embolism stockings, take a shower, wash my hair, and stop icing my shoulder constantly—in short become a semi-real human being again and not a smelly bed-ridden blob!

Esperando and Sweet Pickle have been my constant company through all of this. The Dog somehow is sensing it is not cool to be his normal boisterous self and jump on me. He has faithfully lain at my feet and worried when I have been in pain, coming close to press his nose against me in reassurance. How can dogs be such sensitive creatures? This is the same dog that can also stand on your feet like a Shetland pony and not notice when you scream in pain.

On our trip back up here Sweet Pickle was one happy dude. I don’t know if he knew we were on our way to Denver, but he did know that he was king of the mountain, no cats participating. Once we dropped over the mountains on I-70 and he could smell Denver in the air he started whining with excitement as he would greet an old friend.

After we got here he went to the groomers to become a new and cleaner dog, although he was not a cooperative dog. He simply hates baths, I am lucky to have a groomer who will put up with him. Unlike our yard of dirt in Santa Rosalia our Denver yard is filled with lawn. He no longer can wallow in the soil three times a day in a rife imitation of Pigpen, raising little clouds of dust every time someone pats him.

And then there was Dog Society to rejoin. All his neighbor dog buddies that he likes to play with, as well as a whole hillside of prairie dogs that he pretends to ignore when we go on walks. He used to be mildly interested in catching one, but now that he knows how hopeless it is, he ignores them while they whistle and call, rolling around doing the back stroke in the dirt of dog town not 5 feet from his face. Ah, what a noble dog.

May 17, 2009

Gardening is a matter of your enthusiasm holding up until your back gets used to it. ~Author Unknown

Gardening doesn’t come easy for me in Santa Rosalia. I wallowed with indecision throughout our first year’s planting season, and thus missed the opportunity to plant the millions of flower and vegetable seeds I brought with me as I didn’t realize that November and December, the coldest months, are the time to start planting. And I could never settle on where to plant anything at Casa Boleo. So much of the usable beds are in the shade of mango and citrus trees. But in that I could never get organized with the watering of things, I fear my planting efforts would have been an abject failure.

First of all we only have water for a certain part of the day, but I have not been able to figure out when that is even after 8 months of living here. Secondly, the guesthouse has four rotating shift guards; our guards do all the watering, but selectively, which seems to mean the big trees and flower beds get lots of water, but my potted plants don’t get much attention. Even though I water them by hand I can never get to a functioning hose to spray the foliage off. When I go away I know they are somewhat neglected. This includes the two English roses I brought here which were doing great until we left for a month, but looked rather sorry when I returned. They became infested with everything known to man, and pesticides are not available here. The one miniature rose I purchased here must be better aligned to the climate as it only got aphids which I could handle using soapy water in a spray bottle. I’m sure when I get back this time after a month’s absence they will all be dead.

Then I tried to put in a small lawn with some Seashore Paspalum grass seed I purchased on-line ($50 for a pound-ouch!) suitable for our hot salt water climate. The gardener cleared the area I wanted planted and scattered the seed (quite unevenly). The grass was beautiful where it was in patches. Unfortunately a great number of nasty weeds and alfalfa that had laid in wait probably for years for water came up mixed in with the grass and overwhelmed it. It was such a mess the gardener finally cleared the whole lot out again. I am going to put crushed shell there now.

Then we finally found an olive tree to plant at Casa Abeja as Esperando has hopes of pickling olives, or whatever it is that you do to them. The Lads planted it and when I went back to look at it a week later it was almost dead because no one watered it. I don’t know if it will recover. My brother Juan-in-a-Million kindly took me around his yard in the Bay Area so we could dig up some baby olive trees to take back with us. I have just sent for some Jacaranda Tree seeds in hopes of planting one; we have never seen them in Santa Rosalia, but have seen a few in Mulegé which is more humid. I’ll see if they can grow there, I have some concerns about the wind in winter. We do have flame trees in Santa Rosalia and I would hope the climate requirements would be similar.

Right now at the guesthouse, we have an abundance of hibiscus—orange, red, white double and single blossoms (which attract the hummingbirds and orioles); the bougainvilla are starting in; Tree of India (ficus—here it is a grand stately tree reaching 40 feet); fruit-bearing fig trees; mangoes that are now about the size of a golf ball; Easter lilies (although ours have no fragrance); and the Noche Buena (poinsettia) which I had planted in the side yard after Christmas.
One day driving through the desert to the beach, it occurred to me that I would like to plant some of attractive desert plants of which there is a multiplicity. Although most of them have thorns, not all of them do and it would go a long way to solving the watering issues. Now and then, I would ask Esperando to stop so I could pick berries and seed pods off of appealing plants. When we got back to the house and I had to opportunity to consult our Baja California Plant Field Guide, I discovered that the bush with the pretty purple flowers and yellow berries was Deadly Nightshade, and the other with a deeper purple flower, simply known as Pega Pega (Glue Glue), had leaves that stuck to one’s clothing. And that has somewhat quelled my initial enthusiasm for natural planting. Nothing gentle grows on its own in this harsh environment. It seems that the thornless ones are just as contrary as the thorny ones.

May 15, 2009

My Friend’s Wedding

One of the reasons an expatriate comes back home is to attend important events, such as weddings. Esperando and I recently flew to the San Francisco Bay Area for just such a purpose. After 23 years of living in consensual sin, the Brainy Blonde’s Significant Other decided to make an honest woman of her. They had a smashing wedding. Really. It was one of the most enjoyable weddings I’ve ever attended if not the best (well next to ours). Their wedding and reception were held at Thomas Fogarty Winery on the Peninsula up in the coastal hills on Skyline Blvd. with a beautiful view of the San Francisco Bay and Silicon Valley. It was a gorgeous day, with a little breeze but perfectly lovely weather for a wedding.

The wedding proper was on an upper level garden terrace with the guests facing the bay view in front of an arbor decorated with spring flowers. A three-piece ensemble played flute, guitar and cello while the guests gathered. At the appropriate time we all took our seats. Her attendants were her grandchildren, a darling redhead girl and her baby brother serving as flower girl and ring bearer respectively. A college friend of many years served as a Matron of Honor and helped her plan the event; she was attired in a beautiful two-piece white satin floor length skirt with matching over jacket and pearls. The Blonde appeared wearing a strapless white satin gown seeded with scattered pearls and rhinestones which featured a high-low hemline that was tea length in front and floor length in back. She was well poised and she looked totally stunning. For the reception the ‘almost train’ buttoned up to the back of the gown to make it one length.

After the wedding while photos were being taken, the guests walked down a level to a large wooden deck that had the same fabulous view, but overlooking one of the vineyards as well. Thomas Fogarty’s fabulous wines were featured; complex and well structured, not a one could disappoint. There were several options of red–Cabernet, Merlot and Barbiolo; and the whites were Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer. The catering was provided by Componere from Emeryville who I would highly recommend. Fabulous hors d'oeuvres were passed around by the very professional catering staff: a rosemary salted grilled shrimp with mango salsa; teeny pulled pork sandwiches; and a fabulous mushroom tart. If this was any inkling of the meal to come we would be in ecstasy.

A plus for Esperando and I was getting to chat with some old mutual friends, for me a girl and her husband that I knew when I was first out of college and going to parties in San Francisco. Finally the bride and groom appeared from their photo shoot and we had a nice cocktail hour on the deck. Then it was time to go into the dining room, a beautifully appointed wood paneled area with windows overlooking that breathtaking view. We were served the most delicious meal, a choice of salmon or beef that melted in your mouth, and that bested any restaurant at which I’ve ever eaten. With the wine and the food and the convivial atmosphere of people all special to the bride and groom, I felt like I was at Babette’s Feast.

When they had finished dining The Blonde and her new husband moved from table to table to mingle and talk to their guests, moving on to cut the cake, and thankfully not smearing it on each other’s faces, but sharing bites of it with their handsome grandchildren (who did seem to get some frosting on their faces). I can’t remember being so happy in a long time. It did my heart good to see the radiance on my friend’s face. Being expatriates themselves, they are off soon to respective assignments in Abu Dhabi and Montreal.

May 14, 2009

My Friend Flicka, Not!

Living the expatriate life brings an intrinsic set of rewards for those who want the adventure: learning a new culture and language, seeing new places, eating new cuisine and making new friends. One disadvantage can be maintaining two residences. When you go away to live on a job and leave your house behind, Things can happen that you can't even begin to imagine while you are gone. Three years ago when we were in Australia a serious freeze burst a water pipe in the kitchen. The break wasn’t discovered until several days later by a previous caretaker and the entire ground floor, which was wood, had to be replaced in absentia. Water leaked from the ground floor into the basement and destroyed many of my husband’s tools.

Last week, we drove back to Denver from Santa Rosalia to smog the truck so we could renew the registration. For that, and I am having surgery on my shoulder for a bone spur which has given me bursitis. Spring is getting on here, the nights are cool but the days are warmer, albeit windy. The birds and the bees, but especially the birds, are getting into the act. We have sparrow nests on most roof corners under the Spanish tiles. Regrettably we have a resident Northern Flicker couple who have decided that they must live in our house or die. We had them last year too, but the cat wasn’t living in Mexico then and he would get up on the roof and startle them away. Good cat. I used to really like flickers before I knew them so well. They are handsome, rather shy solitary birds. One time I even rescued a damaged one from under a car where it was spinning about. When I took it to the bird rescue place they said it had probably ingested poison, and destroyed it.

Maybe that is why the flickers are destroying our house, but I think it is because they like the deep eaves and the soft Styrofoam that forms a crown molding under them. They like to peck it out in popcorn size pieces all over the yard and make a nice 4-inch diameter hole that goes in about 5 inches deep. When they discover it is blocked by metal and they can’t get in any further they think—so okay, that hole was a failure, let’s move over a foot a try a new one—hmm, same result! And so they tried again to the tune of 31 holes. We had the animal and pest control specialist out to stop the havoc before we got home and they hung these ugly pink plastic flags all over the stucco to frighten the birds off. It was $100 for the first flagging and then another $38 to move the ladder and put flags at another site. Although a BB gun might sound like a good answer, The Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act protects Northern flickers. When we arrived back in Denver there was no sign of them. The flickers seemed to have given up. Esperando spent a good two days climbing up and down a 24-foot ladder and hanging out windows from the second story to fill the holes with Great Stuff, an insulating foam sealant that squirts into a hole and expands. The next day he went back to all 31 holes and lopped off the overfill with a machete. Needless to say it makes me quite uncomfortable to watch all this, thinking of falling boys that dash their brains out.

Silly saps that we are, we went away to California for a week to go to a wedding leaving our filled holes behind! But it was a different story when I got home minus Esperando who was attending meetings in Vancouver. The moment I walked in the house they started undoing all Esperando’s work. They are pecking out the Great Stuff. I spend my days racing outside at the first sound of tapping to chase them off. The dog, who drove up with us caught on right away that everytime that certain noise starts we must run up the stairs and race out the balcony door. When the noise starts up and I leap up from my chair, he starts in with that hunting bark "ow, ow, ow" and throws all the carpets askew on the wooden floors in his eagerness to get up the stairs first. When I finally catch up to him and open the balcony door, we charge out onto the deck but no matter how I try to show him its the birds that are bothering me, he just can't get it, but stays right in front of me to trip over. Too bad he's not a bird dog! The flickers squawk and fly away but I can hear them making that noise, what Wikipedia describes as, “a sustained laugh, ki ki ki ki.” I know they are laughing at me.

All this white popcorn crap is spread all over the lawn and patio, blown about hither thither by the spring winds. Here you see some on our doormat.

May 13, 2009

Feliz Cumpleaños

We had a birthday celebration at the Minera Boleo office for Señora Jueves and Don Diego. Nobody sang happy birthday, but we ate lots of food. There was a big long sheet cake decorated with tiny slices of jalapeno pepper on the top it; this was accompanied by crema de salchicha (a kind of spicy dip made with sour cream and hot dogs that had been blended to a liquid); refried beans with cheese; a macaroni salad with chopped ham and vegetables; and a green salad. It turns out the cake was actually 4 by 7 rows of chicken sandwiches on white bread, crusts removed, abutted to one another to form a “cake” with a “frosting” of cheese melted in milk. After all that food was consumed it was time for the real cakes.

There were two other 10-inch round sweet chocolate cakes with white frosting, one for each birthday person. No candles, but the birthday person faces the cake and leans over it and someone behind them whacks their head into the cake. No kidding. In Don Diego’s case his girlfriend was visiting from Mexicali and she forced him to put a big dent in it. In Señora Jueves’ case she just barely grazed the cake. The cakes were sliced and passed around the room.

Then as we drove up to Ensenada on our trip back to Denver, the restaurant we ate in had a large party of Mexicans celebrating a birthday. Interestingly they sang happy birthday in English first, and then they sang the Mexican version of happy birthday about three times throughout the meal. This song is usually sung to the birthday person outside their door at the crack of dawn. It is called Las Mañanitas and goes like this:

"This is the morning song that King David sang
Because today is your saint's day we're singing it for you
Wake up, my dear, wake up, look it is already dawn
The birds are already singing and the moon has set.

How lovely is the morning in which I come to greet you
We all came with joy and pleasure to congratulate you
The morning is coming now, the sun is giving us its light
Get up in the morning, look it is already dawn."

May 5, 2009

Two more months—ha!

Esperando has been dedicating every spare moment to the remodel of Casa Abeja (when not at the beach). You may recall this is the old French style house we purchased that is adjacent to the guesthouse. Through the town doctor, who is well versed in Santa Rosalia’s history, we discovered that our house was built in 1886 and was the only house on Mesa Francia (French Mesa) that was occupied by Mexicans instead of Frenchmen. The occupant was the government official who represented Mexico’s interests at the Boleo mine during the years of 1886 through 1953 when the French ran the original mine. We do not know if a Mexican official lived there that whole time but that was our house’s original purpose.

Esperando has taken the house apart board by board and replaced them on the outside to maintain the French style, and on the inside where the original lumber could not be used he has replaced it with drywall. As Esperando and the Lads have gone through room by room they usually find some coins in the walls. We have about a cup’s worth of old coins, most with no value, although there is an old silver peso, and another smaller silver coin from 1937. He also redid the plumbing and electrical to modern code. The corrugated metal sheeting on the porch roof has been replaced. We now have new cabinets and tile in the bathroom and the kitchen. Carpintero was so proud of his cabinetry he brought the owner of one of the better grocery stores in town over and he was so impressed that he declared it the best ‘rustic’ kitchen in town and wants one just like it. All the doors and windows have been replaced and the exterior is painted a darker turquoise.

Interestingly a fellow coworker whose wife is from Santa Rosalia told us that when her sister was first married many years ago she had lived in our house. The house had fallen into such disrepair that when she saw it the last time several years ago she cried because she had such fond memories of it. I keep asking Esperando when it will be ready for us to move into and the answer is always the same—two more months.

May 1, 2009

Vuelta de okis

Esperando was told early this week by the head office in Mexico City that he needed to go in person to La Paz to Hacienda (the Mexican equivalent of the IRS) to sign his taxes because he is getting a refund. This comes on a short week when we are preparing to head back to the U.S. for about one month to go to a wedding, celebrate my Mother’s 101st birthday, and get surgery done on my bad shoulder—in other words, really bad timing. However, yesterday morning at the crack of dawn we hopped into the truck and duly headed off for La Paz. Since we had to go, we planned to do some shopping for things we can’t get here which included a large water heater and water pump, a stove hood, paint, some hinges to match the others El Carpintero put in the kitchen, more wine and miscellaneous food items.

In La Paz we used to love to stay at Los Arcos, a great old Mexican hotel right on the malecon in the center of town. It has a good bar and restaurant but sadly has not been operating for the last four months due to striking employees. The main door was boarded up when we drove by and it was covered with striker’s signs. We headed on way south on Avenida Obregon to the other end of the malecon to Club El Moro, an apart suite hotel with free Wi-Fi. It’s really remote for walking to the heart of the malecon. However in the heat of the day their swimming pool was very inviting from the reception area, especially after the seven long hours of driving. All I wanted to do was stretch out on a lounge chair. The hotel is a white Moorish style building with alabaster flooring. The rooms were commodious and come with a kitchenette. A real plus here is they take pets. Our room sometimes had a bad sewage smell which wasn’t very agreeable. But their worst failing is that they make terrible margaritas, really sickly sweet.

I waved the swimming pool a fond farewell as we went off to search for the stove hood and hinges. The first place we went, El Ferry (on the corner of 16 de Septiembre and Revolucion), is kind of an upscale discount appliance center. They had some great stuff, but no 30” stove hood. Then we walked around to several hardware stores looking for hinges, but no luck, although one guy sent us off across town to another place which he thought would have them. Along the way we stopped at Ramos (Aquiles Serdán and 5 de Febrero) a great furniture store, to check out their stove hoods. No luck, then to another couple of hardware stores. We were pretty tired by now after the long drive and three hours of hot weather shopping. Finally we just decided to go to El Arco (corners Abasolo and Michoacan), a big hardware home products store. We were pretty sure they wouldn’t have the hinges. When we got there it turns out they had EVERYTHING we needed. We wasted three hour driving around when we could have done it all in 30 minutes.

We headed back to the hotel to enjoy the late afternoon sun by the pool, then had a delightful dinner at La Boheme (10 Calle Esquerro, about 1 block south of Hotel Las Perlas), a French restaurant with a great wine list. The food was fresh and delicious. We can recommend the pasta with spinach and smoked salmon, beef short ribs with tabbouleh, and a huge mansized ribeye steak. There is inside dining, but the real killer is a lovely courtyard with tinkling fountain and blaze of bougainvillea. The setting reminded us a lot of the wonderful old casonas (grand old houses) in Tlaquepaque.

The next morning we were up early for breakfast. Since Los Arcos is currently defunct we went to check out breakfast at the open air patio at Hotel Las Perlas. Breakfast was in full swing and we had delicious huevos rancheros and huevos divorciadas, then on to Wal-Mart to buy our food and wine in time to get Esperando to his appointment at 11:30 a.m. with Hacienda. It was here that the wait staff were all wearing masks to keep from catching swine flu, although it hasn’t been reported to be here in Baja.

When Esperando got to Hacienda he was efficiently ushered through the offices and was quite amazed how quickly things happened. Unfortunately they didn’t happen quite right. No one could find Esperando’s Mexican social security number in the system. Nope, he would have to come back again another time. So we drove all the way to La Paz and home, two days, for naught, and that my friends, is what the call a “vuelta de okis” in Mexico. No one seems to know the origin of the word “okis.” After this experience, we are beginning we feel a little more Mexican.