It’s official! We are permanent residents of Mexico!

Leslie and I picked up our residente permanente, or permanent resident, cards yesterday from the Instituto Nacional Migratión office in Chapala. In the U.S., we call those “green cards.” Here, they’re called visas, and strangely enough they really are light green! Now we can sign up for health benefits available to people over 60, and we can get a Mexican driver’s license.

Next up is buying a car, and we have a lead on a good one but the owner won’t be back in Ajijic until the end of the month. No rush.

We’re both getting more involved at St. Andrews Anglican Church. Leslie is a rising star on the Social and Hospitality Committee and enjoys the monthly Book Club meetings. I’ve agreed to help run the sound system for Sunday morning services (it’s not complicated), and I’m getting more involved with the men’s group called The Company of Gentlemen. Leslie has started a new Spanish class, and I’m still working on my skills. I have a decent vocabulary, but I need more practice in putting sentences together and understanding Spanish speakers. I can make myself understood — mostly. Google Translate helps.

Más mariachi! Last weekend, we walked down to the Lake Chapala Society for a concert featuring two groups from the U.S. that play Mexican music: Mariachi Estrellas de Chula Vista from San Diego, and Grupo Bella from the Los Angeles area. It was a great concert.

Here are a couple of short videos. The first is the (almost) all-female Grupo Bella. Their leader has done a lot of research into Mexican culture and music, and she shared some of her insights with the sold-out crowd. The second video clip is the group from San Diego, which I thought had flashier costumes.

Hasta luego!

We visit Tequila and drink tequila. Confused? You won’t be.

First, please open this link for a Happy New Year gift for everybody. It’s a YouTube video of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” performed by an award-winning all-female mariachi band from right here in the state of Jalisco. They’re very good. Runs about six minutes. All traditional mariachi instruments, plus a non-traditional piano. Enjoy!

Speaking of Jalisco, did you know that tequila is only made here in Jalisco (and just a few places in some nearby states)? On the day after Christmas, Leslie, Stephanie and I went with a small group to a boutique tequila distillery just outside the village of Tequila, about 90 minutes northwest of the Lake Chapala area. We learned a great deal about tequila-making, and we tasted 10 or 12 different tequilas. Then we spent some time in Tequila itself, where Stephanie had a great idea: “Shouldn’t we drink a margarita in Tequila?” Well, the answer was yes, so we closed our day with margaritas at the Jose Cuervo gift shop and bar.

I found a very good explanation of tequila-making on a website called The Spruce Eats. There’s also a Wikipedia page that offers much more detail, if you’re interested.

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Javier explains how agave plants propagate.

Our excellent guide, Javier, started us out in the agave fields at Tequila Selecto, a small distillery that makes many different kinds of tequila. We learned that it takes seven years of growth before an agave plant can be harvested. During that time, the plant shoots out rhizomes that are removed from the mother plant and transplanted in another field. Javier said the agave plant, “makes little kids.”

Harvesting the plant entails chopping the leaves off and digging up the ball, called a “pineapple” because — well, it looks like a pineapple. He then walked us through the process of roasting the pineapple, fermenting and distilling the liquor. Some tequilas are distilled twice, and some even three times.

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The “pineapples” will be roasted for three days in the building behind the pile of plants, or in the tanks to the left for several hours.

There are several different kinds of tequila. Javier said the white tequila, also known as blanco or silver, is his favorite. Silver is not aged. It goes straight from distilling to the bottle. Reposado is aged in oak barrels from three months to a year. It’s a slightly darker color and tastes more oaky. Añejo is aged from one to three years and is even darker and smoother. There’s also an extra-Añejo that can be aged up to 10 years, and a crystallino, which is aged tequila with the coloring removed.

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Tequila is aged in oak barrels to make reposado and anejo tequilas. There were hundreds of barrels in this warehouse.

According to Javier, you should only buy tequila that is labelled “100 percent agave.” Tequila is made from the blue agave plant. There are other types of agave, but they are used to make other liquors, such as mezcal. He also gently chided North Americans who “do tequila shots.” He said, “That’s not how you drink tequila. You sip tequila.” When you have really good tequila, sip it neat. No rocks. No salt. No lime.

So what’s the best tequila? Javier had the answer, and it was the best piece of advice he offered: “The best tequila is the one you like.” Of course, that means you must “do your homework.”

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At this small distillery, labels are applied by hand.

After lunch in an open-air restaurant overlooking the beautiful Sierra Madre Mountains, we went into Tequila for some free time. The biggest tequila producers are in Tequila, including Jose Cuervo, Sauza and Patron. However, Javier says bigger isn’t always better. He recommends trying a few of the less-well-known brands. Quite a few of our tour group left with bottles from Tequila Selecto.

If you come to visit us here in Ajijic and are so inclined, we’ll be happy to accompany you on the tequila tour! But be sure to check your luggage so you can take a bottle home. You can’t have liquids in a carry-on.

As this year ends and we look forward to 2019, Leslie and I are focused on finding a long-term rental property we’ll be happy with for years to come, and learning more Spanish. Stay tuned!

My closing last time included Prospero Año Nuevo, or “Prosperous New Year.” But today the locals are greeting us with a simple, Feliz Año! It’s always good to do as the locals do, so Leslie and I wish you a happy year!

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Joined by new friend Rita, we had an outstanding margarita at the Jose Cuervo gift shop..
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This was the view we enjoyed during lunch.
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Every barrel of aged tequila is sealed with a label like this one to control quality.

Feliz Navidad!

It’s time to wish everybody a Merry Christmas! Only this year I’m doing it in Spanish, since we live in Mexico now. As an added bonus, I will not include a video of me singing the José Feliciano song. You’re welcome.

Leslie and I are still in temporary housing, so we debated about how to decorate for Christmas this year. We thought about a live tree, and we checked Costco in Guadalajara for a “permanent” tree. Then we attended an arts and crafts fair one Saturday afternoon at The Lake Chapala Society and found two gems, both from the same vendor.

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This is our Christmas tree this year.

Our front door is now adorned with a cornhusk wreath, and inside we have a “decorated” green cornhusk Christmas tree. By next Christmas we expect to be in our long-term home, so we can bring these back out and add to them.

Our daughter, Stephanie, is coming to Ajijic for Christmas this year. She’s thrilled to be on a plane for a few hours instead of the full 24 hours it took her to get to Malta two years ago. We’re taking her on a tour of Tequila, Mexico. That’s right — there’s a town called Tequila, and we expect to visit at least one tequila distillery for some tastings. This much we know: If it’s not distilled in the state of Jalisco, it’s technically not tequila. More on that in the next post. If this tour works out well, all our visitors can expect a trip to this town, one of Mexico’s “Magical Cities.” Need any more incentive to come down?

UPDATE: We visited the immigration office in Chapala last week to provide photographs and fingerprints. That’s the last step before receiving our permanent resident cards. Good news is, that means our applications have been approved. Bad news is, we’ll have to wait until January to get the actual cards. Stay tuned!

Feliz Navidad y Prospero Año Nuevo!

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Our cornhusk wreath. We are in Casa #1, Maria Felix. She was a Mexican movie star and singer in the 1940s and ’50s. The other two casas in the “Tres Divas” complex are named for Delores Del Rio and Frida Khalo.

Now we hear the bottle rockets!

This first month in our new home has been fraught with illness and the pains of settling in. But Leslie and I have kicked our colds and are both healthy now. We’ve accomplished our biggest goal — getting the paperwork started for our permanent resident cards. Just two more steps to go. We hope to have our cards before Christmas.

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Javier from Chiapas had some beautiful rugs for sale. Next year, for sure!

This is a busy time in Ajijic — it’s party central until the end of the year. For example, recently we went to the annual Feria Maestros del Arte in nearby Chapala. It’s more than just an art show, it’s a celebration of more than 80 highly talented Mexican artists in a variety of fields: pottery, textiles, baskets, jewelry, etc. It’s a way for artisans to sell their work, but it also raises awareness about the nature of Mexican folk art. The artists use local materials in their art, using techniques that have been handed down through many generations. The Feria is about saving this art and helping the artisans.

Following Día de los Muertos is Día de Revolucion on Nov. 20. This celebrates the 1910 revolution that toppled Army general Porfirio Diaz and brought democracy to Mexico. We missed the parade. On Nov. 21, a fiesta began in honor of St. Andrew the Apostle, the city’s patron saint. We heard some of the late-night partying and wandered through a bazaar set up on the malecon (boardwalk). Then I happened upon some locals in the main square one afternoon where a band was playing (fairly well) and a guy was singing (pretty badly). There were several caballeros (people on horseback) watching. One man’s white horse was dancing to the music, but no humans were.

The San Andres Fiesta lasts until the end of the month. Every day there are bands playing, church bells ringing and cohetes (bottle rockets) going off at all hours to announce masses being held in local churches. There are several parades, too. We can hear band music at 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., as well as during the day. Streets around the main square are blocked by carnival rides and food stands. One of our new friends here told us that when November ends, then the locals start celebrating Christmas. These are apparently two very noisy months!

Leslie and I are trying to establish some routines in our new home. She’s already involved in the book group that meets monthly at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, and I plan to attend the monthly men’s group lunch later this week. We’re looking forward to a pot-luck dinner and Christmas carol singing event on Dec. 7. We had dinner with new friends Carol and David, and they invited us to join an already big group at their home for Thanksgiving dinner. There were nine in all, and the food was fantastic.

We’ve also signed up for the “Introduction to Lakeside” class offered by The Lake Chapala Society on Dec. 13. We attended the class last year when we were here for six weeks, but going through it again — now that we’re full-fledged LCS members — will get us updated on banking, health care, housing, traffic and other important topics.

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Sunrise on Lake Chapala, taken during a morning jog.

Oh, and while the Chicago area endures its first big snowstorm of the season, Leslie and I enjoyed a glass of wine and some charcuterie on our patio yesterday while we watched the sunset wearing T-shirts. It was about 75° F. It’s not perfect, though. A few weeks ago the daytime highs were around 68° and unusually windy. The forecast for the coming week calls for some rain and a couple of days in the mid-60s. It’s in the low-50s around sunrise when I go out for my daily jog on the malecon, so I just toss on a sweatshirt and I’m fine.

More to come. We’re just getting started!

Hasta luego!

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Ernesto from Zacatecas did some amazing work with colored pencils. We thought of our good friend Linda, who works in the same medium.
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Pottery is a common form of Mexican art. Leslie admired this artisan’s work in green glaze.

 

Ajijic, our new hometown

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One of many Catrinas on the plaza, this one with a cornhusk skirt.

Leslie and I arrived safely in our new home about a week ago, right in the middle of Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations. We like this Mexican tradition. It’s far better than what Halloween has become in the U.S. There’s a fun element to this three-day holiday, but much of it is sacred. The link above takes you to a very good National Geographic piece, and there’s more in this link to Trip Savvy. I encourage you to learn more.

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The largest altar on the plaza. You can see a photo of the honored family members on top.

Even though we were sharing a bad cold, we walked through the Día de los Muertos displays in Ajijic’s central plaza. Families set up altars to honor deceased relatives, and organizations like the Lake Chapala Society also participate. Most of the altars are made with dried flowers — primarily marigolds — so they look a little like Rose Parade floats. And everywhere you see the iconic skeletal character Catrina. Even the gringos get their faces painted to look like Catrina. We saw one woman with full Catrina make-up. She even put make-up on her dog, who seemed to enjoy the attention he got!

There are many other events here, such as parades and an outdoor screening of the movie “Coco.” Illness kept us from participating, but we’re looking forward to next year!

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Family members start on their altar by drawing the outline in chalk. Then they fill in with dried flowers, like the completed altar in the foreground. Some of these altars were quite moving.

We like our new place. It’s a townhome on the west side of downtown Ajijic, a short walk to the lake, to the central plaza, and to many of our favorite restaurants and shops. This is new construction. We are the first residents, so we’ve found a few little glitches that our property manager is fixing. We’ve found it’s also much quieter here than where we lived last year. We have yet to hear any bottle rockets going off at 5 a.m.

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Driving in Ajijic can be challenging. You can see the cobblestone streets, and here’s a minor traffic jam with a golf cart (ahead) and a guy on a horse. Normal.

Yesterday we went to the immigration office in nearby Chapala to start the second part of the process to get our permanent resident cards. More paperwork to fill out, more ID-style photos to take and more money to pay. It shouldn’t take us long to pull everything together, but we’ve heard it can take several weeks to get our cards. When you live in Mexico, it’s very important to be patient!

Leslie and I went to church Sunday at St. Andrews Anglican, and we were welcomed back. We saw some familiar faces and met several new friends. The greeter even helped us find our old name tags from last year. They knew we’d be back!

We’ve also been to the weekly Wednesday street market, known as the tianguis. We can walk there easily, but walking back home with a load of fruits and veggies is not so easy. Fortunately, parking is adequate. Next week, we’ll hit the organic market on Tuesday, and a new Monday market we just learned about last weekend.

So we’ve begun the third year of The Vagabond Retirees, but we plan to stay in Ajijic for that entire year, and possibly longer. Stayed tuned, there’s more to come…

Hasta luego!

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We were greeted on our first night by this stunning sunset. You can see lots of people, mostly locals, on the malecon (right).
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Leslie liked this Catrina because she’s in a sexy pose. “She’s showing a little leg!”

Goodbye, U.S.A.!

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We looked out the window Saturday, Oct. 20, and saw this — just flurries, but with a blizzard-like appearance. Our reaction was to say, in unison, “We’ve stayed here too long!” 

The vagabond years are over. Leslie and I are headed for our new home — Ajijic, Mexico. As the temperatures dropped here in Chicago’s western suburbs over the past few weeks, we have enjoyed seeing the beautiful fall colors. However, we didn’t expect to see snow flurries. It’s a sure sign we stayed in the Frozen North too long!

We’ve been in the U.S. since mid-July, and we’ve accomplished a lot. For example, Leslie has excellent vision now, thanks to Dr. Lafayette’s cataract surgery, and she was able to spend quality time with her two sisters and daughter Stephanie. The best thing about being here so long is that we were able to have great breakfasts, lunches and dinners, some at old “favorite” places, with our many friends in the western suburbs. And we can both hit the road with excellent haircuts! Thanks, Traci!

We also enjoyed worshipping with our friends at Grace United Methodist Church in Naperville, where Director of Music Dan Wagner has begun a monthly Evensong. If you like great choral music, you will love the Grace Evensong series. And we had a ball visiting The Morton Arboretum in Lisle to see the trolls. If you live in Chicagoland — or if you plan to visit here — you gotta go see the trolls! (See big photos below.) This terrific, slightly quirky, display of art will be at the Arboretum until the end of 2018 and possibly longer.

People who learn of our plans often ask, “When are you coming back?” We’ve been approved for Permanent Resident status in Mexico, so we don’t expect to come back! We may return to the U.S. for a two-week vacation next summer to see family and friends. We might also vacation in Europe. Realistically, though, we’ll remain at least one full year in Ajijic and evaluate after we’ve experienced all the seasons.

Many of you have asked if the blog will continue. Definitely, yes! And I hope you’ll continue to follow us. Leslie and I already have plans to join friends in Léon, Mexico, for an international hot-air balloon festival in mid-November, so we expect to have lots of things to tell you about during our first full year of non-vagabondness. (That may not be an actual word, but it’s really descriptive!) And, of course, all our friends have a standing invitation to visit us south of the border.

Now it’s goodbye to the U.S.A. Next post from Ajijic!

Hasta luego!

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We enjoyed seeing the gorgeous fall colors. Nice, but it’s time to leave now.
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Leslie with Joe The Guardian. You can see this huge work of art from Interstate 88, with the westbound lanes giving you the best view. There are usually lots of people around Joe. It was a little quiet on a chilly Tuesday morning.
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We think the car was threatening the beautiful trees, so Rocky Bardur is just being protective. The rock on the car, by the way, is real. The one Rocky is about to hurl, is not. 

 

 

 

Mexico!

Three weeks from today (Nov. 1), Leslie and I will become full-time ex-pats in the town of Ajijic, Mexico. We’re getting so excited that I’ve had a song going through my head lately — James Taylor’s “Mexico.” Click on that link to see a You Tube video of a live performance that will get you out of your chair. You may even feel the need to have a margarita, or some chips and guacamole!

Leslie regularly visits the “Ajijic Newbies” Facebook page. It’s a terrific resource and will help us learn more about our new home. Here’s a great article from Forbes magazine on some of the misconceptions many people have about living in Mexico. Somebody posted this article on the “Newbies” page.

As for our time here in the U.S., we’ve just about wrapped up all our appointments with physicians, and we’re continuing to have lunches and dinners with family and friends. But temperatures are starting to drop — frost advisory tonight — and that means we’ve been here too long already.

We’re watching two hurricanes that bear our names! Yesterday, Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida panhandle at just-below Category 5 strength. Hurricane Leslie, on the other hand, is ravaging the open seas of the Atlantic Ocean and is no threat to any land mass. Well, where we’re going (5,020 feet above sea level) we won’t have to worry about tropical storms, whether they’re named for us or not.

More as we draw closer to departure.

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Sunset over Lake Chapala. We hope to enjoy many more of these.

 

It’s official!

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These visas are the first stage in a two-step process to gain permanent resident status in Mexico.

Earlier today (Wednesday, Aug. 29), Leslie and I picked up our visas from the Mexican consulate here in Chicago. The folks there were very helpful and easy to work with. Thanks, Jorge, for all your assistance! Oh, sorry — I mean, gracias por todos, Jorge! Now we can purchase plane tickets for our flight to Guadalajara, probably on Oct. 31.

Once we arrive, we’ll have 30 days to appear at the immigration office in Chapala and complete the two-step process for our permanent resident cards. Those cards identify us as legal permanent residents of Mexico. We can come and go as we choose, and there’s no need to renew.

Last week, we sent in a deposit and signed a six-month lease on a casita in Ajijic. It’s new construction on Privada Independencia with three casitas. We got #1, which is closest to the street. We’re excited about moving into this place. There are two bedrooms, two baths, a nicely equipped kitchen, water filtration system, washer and dryer, and a mirador shared with the other casitas (remember, that’s an outdoor space on the roof, usually covered and with a view).

We’re looking forward to reconnecting with St. Andrew’s Anglican Church and the people we met there a year ago. Hope they still have our name tags! This is a vital church that does a lot of good work in the community, and we hope to find ways in which we can contribute.

Finally, Leslie had cataract surgery yesterday (Tuesday, Aug. 28) on her left eye and is really excited at how well she can see just a day after surgery. Her doctor is very pleased with her progress. Final step is a visit with an optometrist in about a month to see if she will need glasses for reading or driving. Hopefully not!

We’ll keep you posted as the time approaches for us to leave for our new home. The vagabond days are almost over!

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I took this about an hour post-surgery. Looks weird to have only one eye dilated.

Gettin’ stuff done

I know it’s been awhile since the last post, but there hasn’t been much to report on. Leslie and I have enjoyed seeing family and friends, dining at favored old haunts and being back at Grace United Methodist Church in Naperville.

Once we decided on Ajijic, Mexico, as our new home, Leslie put the word out that we were looking for a place to rent, starting the first of November. It paid off in the form of a tip from our friend Anita about a two-bedroom house within budget that has a lot of amenities. It’s new construction in the heart of the village just a block from the shore of Lake Chapala. It’s easy walking distance to one of the weekly markets and many of our favorite restaurants. We should be signing a six-month lease within the week.

The rental agent says trees effectively block a view of the lake from the mirador, and that’s a downside. Also, it’s not in our preferred location, but the photos look great and we’ll be the first residents. The six-month lease gives us the flexibility to try out this spot while we look for something farther west that has a pool and maybe a lake view. If our “dream” location becomes available, we’ll move. If not, we’ll renew the lease and enjoy being in the village.

Leslie had her first cataract surgery Aug. 7. Everything went swimmingly and she’s back to normal activities. Dr. Lafayette will do the left eye Aug. 28, giving her a full two months recovery time before we head south. If all goes as planned, she won’t need contact lenses or glasses (except maybe reading glasses) anymore. She’s excited about that.

Finally, we have an appointment Friday, Aug. 24 to apply for our Residente Permanente Jubilado visas (Permanent Resident Retiree). That begins the process for the Mexican equivalent of a “green card.” We’ve heard good things about El Consulado General de México in Chicago. We’ve got all the required documents and we’re hoping the process will be simple and fast. More on that to come.

That’s all for now. I’ll post another update as needed!

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This may be our new home. There are three condos and we like the middle one with the blue facade.

New year, new plan

Happy New Year, everybody! May this be a great one for all of you. Leslie and I have been sharing a bad cold since right before Christmas, so we’ve been staying pretty close to home and doing very little of interest. Nothing to post about. We both feel much better now but we still have lingering coughs that sound worse than they are.

A new year brings new plans. We will be here in San Diego until the end of January (longest we’ve been anywhere since this project began). Unless our circumstances change significantly, San Diego is not on our list of possible retirement locations.

The cost of living is stunningly high here. For example, there is a one-bedroom, one-bath condo for sale on the first floor of the building we live in right now. It’s 717 square feet and is listed at $398,000. A two-bedroom, which is what we would need, is closer to $500,000+ in the downtown area. In nearby towns like La Mesa, one of our favorites, you can find two-bedroom places under $500K, but they’re generally quite small. And rents are high throughout the area. I’m not going into detail about real estate because everything depends on location. Prices are affordable if you don’t mind owning a double-wide in El Cajon. Want to see water from your house? Now you’re looking at seven figures.

Groceries cost a lot more here in Southern California. Ralphs is the biggest and best grocery store in the downtown area, and it’s an easy 10-block walk from our condo. (An aside here for my editor colleague John: It’s Ralphs, not Ralph’s. No apostrophe — checked their website to be sure.) The best thing about Ralphs is getting 30 percent off all wine (mix and match) if you buy a minimum of six bottles! That’s a great deal. These prices, though, not so much:

  • gluten-free penne pasta, $2.79.
  • Classico pasta sauce, $2.99.
  • zucchini, 1.29 lbs., $1.92.
  • grape tomatoes, $3.99.
  • Silk almond milk, 1/2 gal., $3.49.

Across the street from us is Grocery Outlet Bargain Market, a discount food store. Prices are lower and the walk is less than a block, but they don’t carry the range of stuff Ralphs or Whole Foods does:

  • 5 limes, $1.00.
  • zucchini, 1.29 lbs., $1.02.
  • Quaker oats, 42 oz., $3.29.
  • Ritz crackers, $1.99.
  • pineapple, $1.99.

When we have a rental car, we go up to the hip Hillcrest neighborhood to Whole Foods. There are some things we can only get at Whole Paycheck, like our favorite Intelligensia House Blend coffee, which sets us back $13.99 for 12 ounces. It’s worth it. Some other stuff:

  • guacamole, .85 lb., $7.64.
  • romaine lettuce, $1.99.
  • coconut milk coffee creamer, $4.49
  • low-sodium bacon, $5.49.
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People-watching is great at the year-round Little Italy farmers market.

Then there are the Little Italy (Saturday morning) and North Park (Thursday afternoon) farmer’s markets. I have no idea what we spend there, but it’s dramatically more than at the tianguis in Ajijic, or the mercado in Mérida. For example, you may recall me bragging about getting 13 limes at the Santiago mercado in Mérida for about 75 cents. At the Little Italy market, one vendor was selling limes at three for a dollar. Sometimes, though, you get what you pay for, like free-range eggs from Three Sons Farm in Ramona, Calif. — expensive at $7 a dozen, but by far the best eggs I’ve ever had.

I looked back at cost-of-living posts from Mexico, and you should feel free to do the same if you like. The Orowheat whole wheat bread I enjoy, for example, is $3.49 at Ralphs. We paid $2.30 for the same loaf at Wal-Mart in Ajijic, Mexico. At Ralphs, a dozen large eggs is just a penny shy of four bucks. In Ajijic, less than two dollars.

Mexico still seems to be in the lead in our home search, and cost of living is a big factor. But we’re giving Europe — France and maybe Italy — another chance in the spring. More on that when plans firm up.

Finally, some sad news. We had to say goodbye to our cat Sam last week. He was only 10 and suffered from episodes of poor health about once a year since he was a kitten. Dr. Berg, the best vet in the world, would give him a B12 shot and some other treatment and he would bounce back as if nothing had happened. She did that several times while we still lived in Westmont.

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Sam

This time, after more than a year of excellent health, he didn’t respond to treatment as he had in the past. He stopped eating and his kidneys and liver were shutting down, so we consulted with Dr. Berg and with our dear friend Barbara, who was caring for Sam in our absence, and made the tough call to end his suffering. We deeply appreciate Barbara, who did all she could for him. She and Sam had bonded, and we know she feels the loss as we do. We bring these little creatures into our homes and into our lives knowing their life spans are shorter than ours, but it’s still hard to handle.

2018 started on a sad note as Leslie learned that her second cousin, Helen Thoman, died in New Jersey at the age of 99. She was a grand lady, and a lot of family history may have been lost with her death, especially information about Leslie’s Hungarian relatives.

And we were shocked just after Christmas to learn of the unexpected death of our former neighbor Dan Smith. Dan and Zdenka were the best neighbors we ever had. I remember Dan shoveling his own driveway, then shoveling ours, then shoveling Monica’s driveway across the street, after her husband Ed died. Dan was one of those really big men who was never without a smile. Except, maybe, when the Chicago Blackhawks lost a hockey game! He was truly a gentleman, and a gentle man. Z, you and Christopher are in our prayers.

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We miss you, Dan. So glad we had this dinner together last summer.