In the last post I told you a pair of barn swallows (golodrinas in Spanish) had built a nest on the wall of our house, just outside the sliding glass door from the master bedroom to the patio. Well, the four hatchlings have learned to fly and are spending their days checking out the neighborhood. They still come back to the nest at night, though.
I shot a brief video that shows the kids chilling on the backs of our patio chairs, and suddenly one of the adults swoops in. We have lots of swallows in this area, and it’s fun to watch them — usually during breakfast — dart and dive through the air. Here’s the video:
BREAKING NEWS: Sort of. If you’re Facebook friends with Leslie you already know she took third place in judging at this month’s meeting of the Culinary Arts Society of Ajijic — better known as CASA. The theme was Southern or Louisiana dishes, and Leslie made New Orleans red beans and rice using a favorite recipe from her long-time friend Deanne Faucheux, who lives in New Orleans now. We were happy that our good friend Carol — a Kentucky native — won first place in the dessert category for her Derby Pie. I had some — yeah, it was a winner!
CASA members are required to present a dish at a monthly meeting at least four times a year. This was Leslie’s fourth entry and her fourth award. Three of those were from the judges — most of whom are local chefs or restaurant owners — and a fourth was a People’s Choice Award. Not a bad record so far!
Next month’s theme is Méxicano food, and Leslie is already researching recipes for pre-Colombian dishes, which should be an interesting twist. The idea comes from a special meal we enjoyed several years ago at Topolobampo, a Rick Bayless restaurant in Chicago. I’ll let you know how that turns out.
That’s all the excitement for now. August can be a boring month in this part of México because there are no fiestas en Agosto. That changes in September with Diez y Seis de Septiembre and other festivals. More on that next time.
The title of today’s post uses the Spanish word hogar (home) rather than casa (house) because Leslie and I are gradually trying to turn this house in México into our home. We spent three weeks in San Diego recently, and it felt great to come back to familiar surroundings instead of moving on to another new city or country. We did that for a little over two years as “vagabonds.” Now we’re settling in. And we like it.
We’re fairly confident the leaks in the roof have been fixed — for now, at least. We haven’t had a torrential downpour like those that brought this problem to light in the first place, but one is coming! There are still a number of “issues” with this place but now we have Eddie, the best handyman in México, on our side. Eddie spent many years in the U.S. and is fully bilingual. In addition to fixing a toilet and other repairs, he hung up most of our art work for us. Builders don’t use lumber and drywall here, they put up brick walls and cover the brick with concrete — for interior as well as exterior walls. Bricks and concrete cost less than lumber and drywall here, and no wood in the house means fewer termite problems.
Hanging artwork here is not as simple as nailing a hook in the wall. We marked spots where we wanted to hang something, and Eddie drilled a hole in that spot. Then he inserted an anchor into the hole and put a screw into the anchor, left it sticking out a bit, and hung the picture on the screw. Having our art on the walls makes the place seem more comfortable — more familiar. Eddie admired some of them, as did Salvador, our bottled-water delivery guy.
And here’s a surprise. We have roommates! Sort of. A pair of barn swallows has built a nest on the wall of the house, just outside the master bedroom. We’ve seen at least three baby birds in the nest, but there may be four. There are lots of swallows in this area right now. Leslie and I enjoy watching them dart and dive around as we have a meal on our patio. Lots of hummingbirds here, too, but they tend to be camera-shy.
As promised, here are some photos of how the house is turning out, all full-size so you can see better:
Finally, in the last post I left out something important. With the rainy season comes higher humidities and lower temperatures. You may recall that when we moved into this house three months ago, temperatures were high (90° F.-plus) but low humidity and a nice breeze off the lake made it more comfortable. In rainy season it still gets into the low 80s during the day, low 60s at night. But now the humidity can be as high as 70 percent. We still think this is a nearly perfect climate. After all, it has never snowed here!
A few weeks ago I posted about the beginning of rainy season here in the Lake Chapala area. It’s mostly a good thing, but not so much when there are cracks in your roof. Leslie and I returned from three weeks in San Diego to find the roof of this brand new house had leaked and damaged one of our rugs. Then we experienced two nights of torrential rain that forced us to put towels down to soak up the rain and prevent further damage.
The good news is the damaged rug is not one of the prized oriental rugs, and the leak did not extend into the living room. The bricks in the boveda ceiling got wet, and still show dampness nearly two weeks later. But a leak in the living room could’ve been much worse. We think it’s fixed now.
And we have rosemary, thyme and basil planted in neat containers on the terrace, but they seem to be dying. The owner of the local garden store — who gets rave reviews from our friends — said “too much water.” Not much we can do about the amount of lluvia (rain) God sends us, so we may have to replant those herbs.
The rain comes mostly at night, although I got slightly damp last week walking home from my Spanish class at 11 a.m.! And the storms really light up the night sky. Here’s what it looks like from our back door, looking south across Lake Chapala:
On the positive side, nobody waters their lawns at this time of year. Rain comes almost every night — sometimes in torrents, sometimes in soft showers, and often at 3 a.m.!
This is when things get really, really green. When you look north out our front door, you see part of the Sierra de San Juan Cosalá mountain range. When we moved in, there was nothing but brown on the mountains. Now, it’s lush and green, and it will stay that way until the end of the year.
Leslie and I are cat-sitting in beautiful downtown San Diego while daughter Stephanie is enjoying a well-deserved vacation on Italy’s Amalfi Coast. It’s sort of a vacation for us. We walked two blocks to Petco Park to see the San Diego Padres play the San Francisco Giants (Stephanie has a season ticket package).
The Padres lost, but it was a good game. On Independence Day, we watched fireworks from the crowded Embarcadero (a city park along the marina). Best of all, we’ve attended worship services at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church on Coronado Island, where our friend Tom exclaimed, “Welcome Home!” the first time we walked in.
Dining out is one of the best things about living in San Diego. We’ve already been to some of our favorite places, such as the East Village location of Breakfast Republic and The Blind Burro. We still have a few places on our go-to list, but Stephanie recommended a new spot on J Street called Whip Hand for burgers. Leslie had a glass of wine with her burger, but I had to try their Beer Bank — you get a card to use at any of about 20 different self-serve taps, mostly local craft beers. You can pour as much or as little as you like and pay by the ounce. I poured a healthy taste of five different IPAs and spent roughly the same as buying one brew. Burgers and beers were excellent. We’ll be back.
We’ve also done some shopping for things that are hard to come by in Ajijic, like the shampoo I use for thinning hair — can’t buy it in Mexico (except through Amazon) so we’re “importing” some. Also, an optometrist in Ajijic warned me that soft contact lenses, unlike most things in Mexico, are about double the price we pay in the U.S. So I got a year’s supply from the Costco optical shop here in San Diego.
You may be wondering if the two recent California earthquakes caused any problems for us. Only in the most minor way. We barely felt the first one, a 6.5. The epicenter was hundreds of miles away so all we noticed was a slight movement. A day later there was a 7.1 that happened while we were driving home from shopping in Carlsbad and dinner at the Del Mar location of The Brigantine seafood restaurant. When we got home, we pulled into the parking garage and found the elevators were out of order. We were glad Stephanie’s condo is on the second floor and her parking space is on B1!
San Diego isn’t close to any active fault lines, so it’s rare to feel a quake in this area. But this one was strong enough to trigger the earthquake protocol on the elevators in our building. As we came out of the garage stairwell onto the ground floor, a resident taking his dog for a walk asked excitedly, “Didja feel it?” But we didn’t, since we were on the freeway at the time. We were only slightly inconvenienced by walking up two flights.
We’ve enjoyed taking care of Lewis and Piper, Stephanie’s two Maine Coon cats, and they seem to appreciate our attention. Lots more to do and see while we’re here. We’ll be driving to Los Angeles to pick up Stephanie on July 13 (for direct flights to and from Europe, LAX is better than SAN), then we have a few days to spend with her before we go home July 19. I must admit, I have enjoyed driving her BMW!
In a previous post I noted that May is the hottest month in the Lake Chapala area. It got up to 90° F. or more several times during May, but low humidity and cooling breezes off the lake or the mountains made it feel comfortable. Now “rainy season” has begun. That means lower temps, higher humidities and lots of much-needed rain.
One storm sent driving rain out of the north, and it came in under our front door. I mopped up a full bucket of rainwater!
A few days later, our new best friend Eddie came and installed some weather stripping on the front door and two other doors that were problematic. Eddie lived in California for many years and is fully bilingual. We hope he’s going to do lots more in coming months.
We’ve been told that as the season progresses, the storms come more frequently out of the south. We’re not sure that’s true, but it would be great because the two doors on the south side are sliding glass doors and rain won’t come in if they’re closed.
Rainy season runs until September or October. The mountainsides outside our front door are already getting a bit greener. I have a “before” photo. As soon as it gets to peak, I’ll snap an “after” shot and post them.
On another note, Leslie won another prize at the June meeting of CASA — Culinary Arts Society of Ajijic. The theme was “picnic” entrees and desserts. Leslie’s “open-faced spicy pimento-cheese sandwiches” took the People’s Choice Award. She got lots of comments from CASA members saying those sandwiches took them back in time to family picnics where pimento-cheese sandwiches were a staple. I, too, have fond memories of those sandwiches. But my grandmother never put jalapeño peppers in them!
Finally, still no photos of the inside of the house. Sorry! Hopefully, Eddie will come tomorrow to help us hang art on the walls and the place will be more photogenic. But we still need to locate some necessary items of furniture. First priority, however, is for me to decide on a new grill.
Leslie and I are headed back to the States this week. While daughter Stephanie is taking a well-deserved vacation to Italy, we’re going to be house-sitting and cat-sitting for her. So we’ll be back in San Diego for about three weeks. Looking forward to seeing friends at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church on Coronado Island. I’ll try to post from there, since this is sort of a vacation for us.
Leslie and I are still settling into our new digs with challenges on a near-daily basis, mostly due to poor workmanship or cheapest-possible materials used in construction (e.g., broken toilet seats, broken shower head). We’ve harbored thoughts of bailing out and trying to find something better. But that would mean moving all our stuff again, so we’ve decided to do what we can to make the place habitable. So no photos yet. Please be patient. We still have work to do.
There is news, though. Last week, Leslie did a “presentation” at the monthly meeting of the Culinary Arts Society of Ajijic — better known as CASA. Members must present a dish at least three times a year but are encouraged to do more. Presentations are judged by three local food service professionals — chefs, restaurant owners, etc. Attendees get to sample everything and vote on the People’s Choice award.
There are two categories: entrees and desserts. For May the entree category was cold soups or salads, and the dessert category was bar cookies. Leslie presented “Ajo Blanco (AH-hoe BLAHN-koh),” or white gazpacho. It’s a Spanish dish with Moorish influences. Ingredients include almonds, cucumbers, garlic and grapes. Her soup was one of 10 entree entries…and the professional panel awarded her third place!
I’ve never been a big gazpacho fan, but this was an outstanding soup. Fortunately, there was some leftover to bring home.
May is Lakeside’s hottest month. Daytime highs have been in the upper 80s to lower 90s F., but humidity is usually less than 20 percent. That’s why most of the white pelicans have migrated north. The dry air and the constant breeze keep things fairly comfortable, even without air conditioning. But rainy season is coming, and we’re looking forward to watching the mountainside turn from brown to lush green.
Leslie and I have arrived in our new Ajijic home and we’ve had multiple challenges. But after a day of dealing with one problem after another, we can have a glass of wine on our patio and watch an amazing sunset. And since we moved in, we’ve eaten nearly every meal outside. Every day is a good day in Ajijic!
Our furniture and household goods arrived safely – a little late, but without any serious issues. Just a few scratches and scrapes here and there. We haven’t unwrapped all the artwork yet but it appears everything is intact. No broken frames or broken glass that we know of. We have a little less storage space than expected, and in the unpacking process we have (several times) said, “why did we bring this?”
But here’s the main thing: Since we began this vagabond journey at the beginning of October 2016, Leslie and I have slept in nearly 50 different beds — some good, some not so good. (Leslie says she gets credit for one extra bed because she was in the hospital in San Diego!) Now we have our king-sized memory foam mattress, the one from our home in Westmont, and we’re both very happy.
Every box we open reveals some item we haven’t seen in three years. It’s like Christmas in May! I’ll share inside photos next post. If you were ever in our Westmont home, things will look familiar!
There are frustrating things about the house, some of which are typical of Mexican building practices and some of which are simply due to the owner’s builder cutting corners and going with the cheapest stuff possible. We’ve been promised some upgrades over the next few months. Stay tuned for updates. Then there are other issues, like going a full week without wifi! That’s a long story, but it has a happy ending because we finally got a much better wifi than I originally thought was available.
Our home is in Ajijic’s Riviera Alta development. It’s a three-bedroom, three-bath home but relatively small and a bit more open than most traditional Mexican casas. We are at roughly 5,000 feet elevation. From the patio we have a view of Lake Chapala and the mountains on its southern shore. The house faces north, with a great view of the San Juan Cosalá Mountains. But this is fire season in the Lake Chapala area, and our views this week have been impaired by smoke. One day the smoke was so bad we could not see the other side of the lake.
This time of year, local farmers traditionally prepare for new planting by burning off last year’s crops from the fields. It hasn’t rained here since the end of January, and that was less than one-half inch. So it’s very dry, and sometimes the fire gets away from the farmer so we see smoke billowing up from just on the other side of the mountain, or on the other side of the lake. We’ve also heard that people camp up in the mountains and burn their trash rather than packing it out. That’s a problem too. Driving home one night, I saw flames on our side of the mountain — very high up. Apparently that’s the first time it’s happened in decades.
For several days we saw a helicopter with a huge bucket hanging about 30 or 40 feet below the skids. The chopper flies from the north over our house to Lake Chapala, dips down (too low for us to see), then comes back up with a bucket full of water and heads back north, which is where most of the fires are.
The fires began April 27. As of May 12, most are either out or controlled. Rainy season begins roughly in mid-June, and the mountains will become a gorgeous green. Right now, Leslie and I are learning that May is the hottest month in this area. Most gringos go back to Canada or the U.S. for several weeks to escape the heat. We may do some European travel next year, if only to avoid smoke from the fires.
Actually, the heat is not that bad. It gets into the upper 80s to near-90° F. during the day, but the humidity is low — sometimes as low as 10 to 20 percent. And there’s usually a nice breeze off the lake. At night, that breeze sometimes intensifies and the temperature drops to the upper 50s F. Right now, at 7 p.m. on a Sunday evening, it’s 83° F. with 17 percent humidity. Perfect for dining alfresco and watching the hummingbirds and swallows.
I just realized it’s been a month since the last post, but there hasn’t been that much to write about lately. I also realized that we’ve been in our home at Independencia 22 for six months. That’s the longest Leslie and I have lived anywhere since we sold our Westmont home three years ago.
But now we are packed up and ready to move to our new rental in the Riviera Alta neighborhood on the mountain side of the carreterra (main road). The lease is for one year and is renewable. More on the house, including photos, once we move in.
Leslie flew to Chicago at the beginning of this month to supervise a moving crew that loaded our furniture and household goods for transport to Ajijic. It’s been in a storage locker in Lisle, Ill., since the end of September 2016. Last we heard, everything was in Laredo, Texas, waiting for U.S. customs to give the go-ahead. The original plan was for the shipment to arrive at the house May 1. Looks like it may be a day or two later but we were prepared for that.
I’m sure you remember that a warm climate was one of the key factors in our decision to relocate to Mexico. We’re heading now into the warmest part of the year: May and June. This afternoon it’s 86° F. with 22 percent humidity. We think it’s pretty comfortable, especially since it still gets cool at night. But many of our Canadian friends have already gone NOB (north of the border) because, “It’s so hot!” That’s okay, and we will miss you, but there are fewer gringos dining out now so we don’t need reservations at many of our favorite restaurants!
You may have noticed we have a new title for the blog: “Ex-pats in México.” Since Leslie and I are no longer vagabonds, I thought it was time for a change. The URL is the same, though, and if you signed up for notifications, you’ll still get an email to let you know a new post is up.
Meanwhile, it’s definitely springtime in our little corner of México. There are several flowering trees — most notably the purple jacaranda (hah-kah-RAHN-dah) — that make the landscape colorful. Climate is a big reason we’re here, and we’re not disappointed. At night we leave the windows open in our bedroom and have the ceiling fan on. I no longer need a sweatshirt for my daily jogs along Ajijic’s malecón as it’s in the low- to mid-60s F. at sunrise. During the day it’s been reaching the upper 80s F., but with low humidity it feels great. Of course, our Canadian friends — and there are a lot of them here — often complain about the heat!
The snowbirds have already started leaving, most of them going back to Canada. The next influx is the sunbirds, mostly people from places like Arizona and New Mexico who come here to get away from the heat! They should start arriving soon.
Another benefit of living Lakeside (as the Lake Chapala area is known) is culture. During March, Leslie and attended the final concert in this year’s ¡Viva La Musica! series. We enjoyed a mandolin soloist and piano/harpsichord accompanist, both Israeli musicians and exceptional talents. We also saw a performance of “Sweet Charity” at the Lakeside Little Theater. This is a community theater group, but many of the cast and crew are seasoned theater professionals who have retired to México. They did a great job.
We also benefit from membership in the Lake Chapala Society. Leslie and I attended a class on death in México. Things are different here, and gringos need to be prepared. It’s most important to have a local doctor, and Leslie has already found a great doctora (woman physician) that she likes. I attended a class recently on how to watch U.S. TV shows here in Ajijic. And I got help with an e-mail problem from the LCS tech guys. Free.
The Social & Hospitality Committee — better known as “S&H” — at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church ushered in Spring with its annual Garden Party. It has traditionally been a fun event for ladies to gather in spring dresses and fancy hats, but this year the luncheon was also open to The Company of Gentlemen (that’s the St. Andrew’s men’s group). Leslie helped make the lunch and hosted a table, while I tended bar.
Finally, our neighbors Gail and John invited us to join them on a boat ride last week. We got a chance to see our adopted home from the water. Our little boat motored west from the Ajijic pier down to San Juan Cosalá, a small town just west of Ajijic. It was a fun morning.
Every so often we just have to take a “down day” because there’s so much going on!
Leslie saw this on a bumper sticker last week, and they are words to live by if you’re a retired ex-pat living in Mexico: Carpe mañana! Latin mixed with Spanish, but hey — that says it all.
No, we’re not going to put that bumper sticker on our “new” car, which is a 2013 Honda CR-V, black with beige leather interior. We opted for a used car because Leslie didn’t want to cry when we got our first “ding.” And if you’ve seen our photos of the narrow cobblestone Ajijic Centro streets in previous posts, you know it’s just a matter of time. Actually, the most dents and dings occur in the Wal-Mart and Super Lake parking lots. A photo was promised, so here it is.
Leslie and I survived Fat Tuesday, which is called Carnaval here in Mexico rather than Mardi Gras. There are small parades leading up to Shrove Tuesday — as it’s known in the Anglican tradition — and a big parade on that day with elaborate floats and people dressed in outlandish get-ups. Rather than throwing beads, people in the Ajijic parades douse the crowd with flour and smash confetti-filled eggs on people’s heads. Leslie and I are familiar with these cascarones (cask-ah-ROAN-ez) from our time in San Antonio, Texas. It’s been a week since Carnaval and you can still see confetti in Ajijic’s main street and main plaza.
Check this link to the Ajijic News website for details about Ajijic celebrations from New Year’s Day through Easter. Carnaval is about halfway down.
St. Andrew’s Anglican Church celebrates Shrove Tuesday each year with a pancake supper: pancakes, sausage links and applesauce served at 5 p.m. in the church garden. This year, I volunteered to flip pancakes while Leslie helped serve. She also contributed her famous raspberry sauce. The church kitchen has two stoves. With cast iron griddles attached to both, my friend John and I turned out enough pancakes to feed about 50 people — and the raspberry sauce was a huge hit. One of the Social & Hospitality Committee ladies claimed she saw at least one person licking their plate!
Finally, we’ve started the process to have our household goods moved here from the storage locker in Lisle, Ill. Move-in date for the house in Riviera Alta is May 1. More on that to come.