Home by Christmas?

Maybe. The renovation is on schedule. Work on the kitchen plumbing and electrical is done, as is the wall repair and painting. The appliances have been delivered and the carpenter is taking last-minute measurements for the cabinetry. So the kitchen, at least, may be finished on time.

The new addition is finished, from the outside at least, and the new facade is looking great. Envision, if you will, lots of plants growing on top of that half wall and a new gate with less steel and more style. We still have a lot to do on the front courtyard, but that comes later.

We’ve been picking out tiles and fixtures for the new bathroom, and the old bathroom is almost ready for the washer and dryer. I’m providing as many photos as possible at the end of this post.

In other news, Leslie and I always believed there was a bit of “magic” in our charming little village of Ajijic. Now the federal government agrees. Ajijic was just named a “Pueblo Mágico,” or Magical Village. It’s one of 11 new Pueblos Mágicos throughout Mexico. There are now nine in the state of Jalisco.

This program promotes tourism, especially among Mexicans. So there is some concern about how the village is going to handle lots of new turistas. Parking is quite limited in the village and there are not a lot of hotel rooms available. The upside is that local officials expect a number of improvements — most notably an enormous project to move all utility wires underground. That will likely take years to complete. We’ll see.

Leslie and I have been to several Pueblos Mágicos in the time we’ve lived here. We think this designation will be great for the Lakeside area.

Finally, the pandemic continues. We’ve heard news reports that Mexico has a plan for distributing the Pfizer vaccine early in 2021. We are in the third priority group, right behind health care professionals and people over 80. No discrimination — natives and gringos will all be treated the same. Maybe this is the beginning of the end.

Hasta luego!

Lots more counter space and storage space in the new kitchen. The stove will go in the slot you can see in the lower left corner. The fridge will go straight ahead, where the laundry used to be. That frees up lots of room to the right of the new stove.
The new laundry area. Washer and dryer will go on the wall to the left, and there will be a sink to the right that our maid can use when mopping the floors.
Our new shower. The hole in the wall to the left will be a nice space for shampoo and other products. Two sinks will be just to the right of the partial wall.
New appliances waiting to be installed.

Walls are going up!

This is the “before” picture. Lots of changes coming.

The crew has been hard at work since Oct. 20, and the outside walls are almost done for the new master bathroom. The guys should be starting on the plumbing in just a few days. Then the outside work will be finished and they can start converting the bathroom to a laundry room.

Architect Cristina Allera has been working closely with Leslie to make sure we get all the nice touches, like a vanity in the new bathroom where Leslie can sit to do her makeup. Similar to what we had in our Westmont master bath.

Our excellent carpenter, Heriberto, is building the kitchen cabinets in his Guadalajara shop. We’re excited about having more storage space and more counter space.

The foundation of the new bathroom.
The window you see will be right over the two sinks. They’ve got about two more feet of wall to build. Eventually we will change the entire facade to get rid of the bars and the purple. That’s next year, though.

Here in Mexico there are no studs and no drywall. All walls are made of brick with cement/stucco over the brick. Trees are hard to come by here — bricks and concrete are cheap and easy. Plus, there’s no reason for termites to invade your home because there’s very little wood.

In another development, we both got Mexican driver’s licenses last week. Leslie’s Illinois license expired on her birthday (Oct. 16). There’s no chance we would go back to the States right now, so the option was to get a license from the state of Jalisco. So we both got brand new licenses, even though my Illinois license is good for a few more years.

We hired someone to get all the paperwork put together, then they walked us over to the license bureau where we took a 10-question test — all about road signs — in English on a computer. Then we got pictures made and in about 15 minutes we had our new licenses.

While the Lakeside area is still not seeing a lot of new COVID cases, the governor of Jalisco has clamped down because hospitalizations statewide are at a critical point. Leslie and I are still doing everything we can to stay safe — even avoiding friends we think are not being careful enough.

I will leave you with a few shots of the hummingbirds and butterflies that hang out in our yard. Our Canadian next-door neighbors Sharon and Quentin have two hummingbird feeders on their back patio. I’ve seen as many as 15 to 20 hummers over there, and most of them pause in our yard to dine on real flowers. They’re fun to watch.

More renovation updates coming! Hasta luego!

We get lots of hummers visiting our yard.
Unsure about the name of this butterfly, but we see it a lot. It may be a Giant Swallowtail.

Renovation begins!

Leslie and I are finally getting the renovation started on our house — six months later than planned. We hoped to have all the work done in April and May before we moved in. Because of the quarantine, our homeowner’s association did not allow workers into the neighborhood. Later, when that was allowed, we decided it was not a good idea to have people we don’t know coming into our house. We’re taking extra precautions during this pandemic.

Also, as we’ve lived in our new home, our small project grew bigger. The original plan was to get the washer and dryer out of the kitchen to gain more storage and counter space. We planned to get stackable machines and squeeze them into a space in the master bedroom closet, then update the kitchen cabinets with new doors and buy new appliances.

Over the last four-plus months we’ve started thinking bigger, especially after we found a few issues in the master bath. Now we’re adding a new master bathroom onto the front of the house, reworking and improving the closet and other storage, and putting side-by-side laundry units where the bathroom is now. We will also get a new linen closet and utility closet, neither of which exist now. And we’re gutting the 12-year-old kitchen down to the walls. All new cabinetry, all new appliances, more storage and more counter space.

In fact, the kitchen is already gutted and the bathroom will be gone in a few days. Everything was removed carefully by Fernando, who works as a gardener for at least two of our neighbors. Fernando is building a house for his family in Chapala on a shoestring budget, and he can use all the cabinets and appliances from our house.

We feel fortunate to have hired Juan Alera and his daughter Cristina as our architects. Juan has done home building and renovation for years in the Lakeside area. Cristina studied architecture at the university in Guadalajara (where one of her professors was her father) and for a year at a university in France. She speaks English and French in addition to her native Spanish.

Construction begins Oct. 19. Juan says it will take two months, but we’re allowing for three just in case. And since now we have no kitchen and no master bath, and things are about to get very dusty and dirty, we’ve moved out for the rest of this year. Again, we’re very fortunate to have rented a home right here in our neighborhood, just two streets down the hill. It will be easy to go back and get things we need, and to check on construction progress. We hope to be back in our house before Christmas.

Here are a couple of “before” videos:

Here’s the kitchen before the demolition. Lots of changes coming!
And here’s the master bath and closet.

So many challenges!

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Our house at Andalusia 3 in Riviera Alta.

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!

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The rear of the house with our Mexican style dining set, which is right in front of a sliding glass door into the living-dining area. The glass door to the left is the master bedroom.

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.

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Smoke rises from a fire on the southern side of Lake Chapala. The white rectangles you see are berry farms. 

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.

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We watched this helicopter make multiple runs to gather lake water for use on the fires.

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.

Next time, a wrap-up on the move and more photos!

Hasta luego!

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Tonight’s sunset was just okay. Really great ones coming soon!

Break’s over — back on the bus!

Tomorrow afternoon (Thursday, Sept. 14), Leslie and I begin the second year of our two- or three-year plan to find a new home — a place to retire where the weather is always warm (or mild, at least). No more snow. No more sub-zero Chicago winters.

We’ve both gotten clean bills of health from our various physicians and we’re ready to go back on the road.

Over the past year we’ve been through eight countries, 12 airports, eight train stations and four bus stations. We’ve stayed in eight different homes or apartments we found through Airbnb or VRBO, and in nine hotels, including the one we’re in now. We’ve slept in 21 different beds.

Since returning to the States we have dined with old friends, attended our church and readjusted the storage locker at U-Stor-It in Lisle, Ill., containing all our worldly goods.

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Leslie and I worked ALL DAY to move our stuff into this big storage unit.

We moved the contents of a large unit and a small unit into one huge unit, and (we think) more properly stored our king-sized memory-foam mattress. We also made two more trips to Goodwill and one to a consignment shop.

Many thanks to Bill and Linda for hosting us for two weeks at the end of July. Their lovely home offered a great re-entry into the U.S. for Leslie and me. We could only pay them back with a nice dinner of Fish Veracruzano style, and by introducing them to rum and tonic, our favorite tropical drink.

Then we moved into the Hyatt House here in Warrenville. Hyatt House has been our home since Aug. 1 and we have mostly enjoyed it. The part we didn’t enjoy is when the fire alarms went off and we had to leave the building. It happened much too often — and there was never a fire. We think it’s people cooking in their rooms without turning on the vent over the stove. The smoke detectors are very sensitive.

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Hyatt House in Warrenville.

This hotel offers a two-room suite, so we have had a bedroom/bath separate from the living area and kitchen. The hotel has a good location, comfortable bed, well-equipped gym, nice patio with gas grills and an excellent breakfast. One of the best things about the Warrenville Hyatt House is Patricia, a cheerful Guatemalan woman who makes amazing omelets every weekday morning. She’s always got a smile for all the guests, even though her back is hurting from being on her feet for over two hours.

We had fun visiting our friend Judy in her new place at The Lakes at Waterford. We were so taken with her bright, spacious two-bedroom, two-bath duplex that we met with the sales director! It’s a place we might think about as a “Plan C” a few years from now (Plan “B” is living in San Diego, close to our daughter). It’s something to consider if the idea of living in other countries loses its luster or if we just feel we need to be back in our old stomping grounds. We think the costs are low enough that we could live there in spring, summer and fall, while getting to a warmer climate for winter.

I know what you’re thinking. When we told Bill and Linda we were considering Waterford, Linda was speechless. Slack-jawed, in fact! But we’ve gotta consider all the options, right?

Now we’re headed back to Mexico to spend about six weeks in Ajijic (ah-HEE-hick), on the shores of Lake Chapala just south of Guadalajara. More on that once we get there.

This time next year, we expect to either decide on our new home or at least narrow the choices down to two cities and spend six months in each. The way we make decisions, though, it could actually be three finalists and four months in each!

Thanks for following us! I hope you will enjoy reading about our exploits in places to come: Costa Rica, France, Italy and who knows where else!

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The best neighbors anybody could want! We had a ball catching up with Dan and Zdenka (we just call her “Z”).

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Leslie got to spend some time with both sisters, Laura (center) and Cathy, who flew in from Florida for a few days.