Archive | August, 2015

What You Really Need is a Sense of Humor

30 Aug

The heck with fearlessness! Forget optimism. Without a sense of humor you will never make it as a foreigner living in Mexico. 

With permission from my friend Carla who does Facebook stand-up.

“My bottle of over-the-counter drugs contained pills in two different colors.
*Scenario one – Darn, we’re out of transparent gel caps. I’ll just use those brown ones until the new boxes come in.
*Scenario two – Hey, this bottle is only three/quarters full. That won’t do. Let’s see, there are some extras over here. Antibiotics? Ok can’t hurt, I’ll use them.

Two months later, I think it was scenario one”

Hahaha. Seriously this could happen to you!


As I see it, my choices are:


Live here and be miserable and complain incessantly, or

Get a sense of humor.

I choose the latter although many folks choose door number two and of course some people leave.

Laugh at death!

This week I went to retrieve the final approval to build LIsa’s mother’s house. A mistake on the part of our former builder, plus a regime change in the government agency equalled additional time and more $$$. We had received notice that the paperwork was ready so off I went to SEMARNAT, the agency that regulates waterfront construction.

Sitting behind her computer, the officer began typing. She stared at the screen intently, typed a little more and stared some more. I waited, and waited, took some deep breaths, and stayed calm. Gringos are notorious for being impatient. Finally I asked in my friendliest voice if there was a problem? She shrugged her shoulders and declared the network “slow”. It does no good to be frustrated with the lack of communication. “In a minute” could mean a half hour (if you’re lucky).

Mañana doesn’t mean tomorrow. It means just not today.


As the move-in date comes and goes for our new home, we keep busy and know the universe has its own timeline. Our house is full of workers laying tile, painting the floor, building a stone entry, sanding concrete counters, installing appliances, lights, ceiling fans and more. Our bulldog project manager David meets tomorrow with the key players needed to get electricity installed!! The meeting took four months to arrange. Send prayers.

Tile placement for the stairway to heaven.

Tile placement for the stairway to heaven.

This is a pivotal week. The push is on to finish the interior so that we can begin moving. In the meantime, no taking ourselves too seriously. If it’s not fun, it’s not worth doing. DOS TORTAS

Life Is Hard – It’s Harder If You’re Stupid

23 Aug

August 2013 we left Austin, Texas for retirement in Mexico. After more than a year of research and planning, visiting and asking questions, we thought we knew something of what we were getting into. Jajaja – that’s laughing in Spanish.

Two years later we are still not living in our own home. Dismantling our expectations has been a daily practice. We are however within spitting distance of completing construction, but my patience is wearing thin. Lisa on the other hand is calm, cool and collected. A real role reversal for us! She is keeping me sane, saner? sanish? Here is a house progress report.

The palm frond overhangs protect from sun and rain. They will be completed is week.

The palm frond overhangs protect from sun and rain. They will be completed this week.

Creating the mold for a poured concrete bathroom sink.

Creating a rebar mold for a poured concrete bathroom sink.

A lip creates an area for potted plants to create a

A lip creates an area for potted plants to create a “jungle” in our shower. Note the light from skylights.

Yesterday we sat in the corner of our porch enjoying the breeze. We've come so far.

Yesterday we sat in the corner of our porch enjoying the breeze. We’ve come so far.

Tile on the roof adds another layer of insulation.

Tile on the roof adds another layer of insulation from the heat.

The appliances have been purchased. The windows will be installed this week. As rooms are finished we can begin to move items from our present location. We are so close. My present anxiety is clearly stupid. There is no hurry. I am believing the lie that my happiness is dependent on where I live. I could be happy if only…. It’s a good thing I have Lisa who chooses to be happy no matter what. We make a good team.



The One Quality Most Needed to Live in Mexico

16 Aug

When life is so much about being safe, how do I process someone taking a risk, sticking their neck out and saving my bacon?

When we left for the good life in Mexico, everything went…paperless…bill paying, most communications, and all banking. We dotted our i’s and crossed our t’s. We even closed on the sale of our house in Austin from Mexico. It’s easy to feel confident and capable, even a little smug about our ability to live electronically in two worlds, that is until something goes wrong.

Pulling out of our drive in Austin two years ago with everything we own.

Pulling out of our drive in Austin two years ago with everything we own.

Last week I called the investment company where I have been squirreling away money for years. We had been planning to draw funds from the account for the final leg of our house construction. Apparently I had not set up banking information with them as to where to transfer money when I needed a withdrawl. Darn.

Sometimes it's like this, an angel riding shotgun with death in the backseat.

Sometimes it’s like this, an angel riding shotgun with disaster in the backseat.

I discovered that setting up the transfer would take much paperwork, a bank guarantee and a thirty day waiting period. But, but, I live in Mexico!! I’m building a house, I need the money NOW! On top of it all, the conversations were being conducted via Skype which dropped calls repeatedly requiring much redialing.

My dear wife and fellow Torta. What a ride it's been. (The god of corn with cacao pods.)

My dear wife and fellow Torta. What a ride it’s been. (The god of corn with cacao pods.)

I began with the person who answered the phone. After explaining what I wanted, was transferred to their boss, and eventually to THE boss, working my way up the chain of command trying not to sound victimy and whiney. (Not too good with that.) Each step I attempted to convince the person that apologies for putting me on hold were unnecessary. Explaining the rules were mostly unnecessary. I was looking for a loophole.


I understand that the procedures are in place to protect ME from a slick impersonator wiping out our savings. Requiring a bank guarantee of signature is actual insurance stating that I am me and my signature is mine. To transfer money without that written guarantee meant someone sticking their neck out and probably getting fired if I were a really really good scam artist. And that someone was head boss Maurice. In my book, the man is an angel. He gave me a list of all the documents he would need to make the transfer and provide the loophole. He made no guarantees. I even threw in a few receipts he didn’t ask for just in case. I wish I could have included a dozen roses.

Orchids blooming near an ancient pyramid.

Orchids blooming near an ancient pyramid.

I travelled this week to the U.S. Consulate in Cancun to get a copy of my passport notarized and sent an envelope of documents off via Fedex. Fingers crossed and gods invoked.


Yesterday the package arrived in New York. I won’t know for a few days if Maurice is convinced and the money is transferred. Our only option at this point is to stay calm and keep building. The one quality most needed to retire in Mexico?….fearlessness. And optimism doesn’t hurt. DOS TORTAS


A Not So Fun Ending To A Fun Vacation.

9 Aug

“Hiking?!! Why would you do that?!” was my friend Bella’s response to my swollen purple knee. Ha, she doesn’t know me very well. But that was Tuesday, so let me back up….

My last Sunday in San Miguel de Allende presented a cool clear morning and I was eager to soak it up before returning to the humidity that is Bacalar. Retired expats plan lots of activities in San Miguel and my host Nancy invited me to join in the Sunday morning hiking group. I, unlike Bella am always up for a hike, so off we went.

Serious hikers.

Serious hikers gathered at the gas station.

I guessed from the hiking boots and walking sticks that the group meant business. Never one to backdown, I didn’t ask questions as to the level of difficulty, type of trail etc. I also didn’t take into consideration the amount of rain we’d been having or my inadequate footwear. Little did I know the price I would pay.

Heading west.

Heading west.

Everyone spread out as the leaders kept a brisk pace.

Gentle incline.

Gentle incline.

While this wasn’t a technical hike, San Miguel sits over 6,000 feet. Being a sea-level dweller, I found myself expending some effort to keep up.

Mountain mist and muddy terrain.

Mountain mist and muddy terrain.

Picking and choosing my steps through the runoff, I actually stepped out of my shoe at one point as the mud grabbed hold and refused to let me go. And then finally…the top and a lovely view of San Miguel and the scrubby terrain.

Lunch break.

Lunch break.

The return trip was much quicker (downhill usually is). I listened in on the conversations. Some folks were full-timers and others like many retirees who love to travel, merely call San Miguel home-base. The main grumble was the traffic and parking. As attachment to individual transportation shows no sign of letting up, I am not surprised. However to their credit, the group encourages car-pooling and pays drivers for rides and gas.

And down we went.

And down we went.

A winding muddy trail.

A winding muddy trail.

We were ten minutes from the cars and I was ready to be done, perhaps too ready. The final obstacle was a swollen creek. All it took was one wobbly rock and down I went. I hit my knee hard, but saved the iPad, which of course is the most important thing!
imageBy Monday I was in considerable pain, bruised and swollen and wondering how I would travel back to Mexico City and catch the flight home to Bacalar. More information was needed so off we went to the emergency room. Less than an hour and a hundred dollars later I was X-rayed and learned that nothing was broken, thank God. For my ride to the airport on Wednesday, I took a shuttle from door to gate which was a big help. Two weeks later I am still healing and doing the dance, so to speak, between rest, pain meds, and walking. The house completion is moving at lightning speed. Let the packing begin! DOS TORTAS

The Sistine Chapel of the Americas – Atotonilco

2 Aug

During my recent visit to San Miguel, I used my host’s weekly tennis match, to amble down the road to the chapel of Atontonilco, aka the Sistine Chapel of the Americas. The village’s annual celebration had taken place the weekend prior and the fragrance of fresh cut flowers still filled the air. The church dates back to the mid-1700’s and was built after Father Luis Felipe Alfaro stopped to rest under a mesquite tree and had a dream. Jesus wearing a crown of thorns instructed him to build the church, and the rest is history. Buses of penitents visit daily.

Main Alter

Main Alter

A side nave dedicated to the Virgin of the Rosary was built in 1766.

Note the Gold Leaf

Note the Gold Leaf

We had previously visited this church in February 2014 when the Tortas passed through San Miguel. A side chapel (1759-1776) was closed for renovation at the time. This visit, I gladly paid my $15 pesos, about a dollar and passed through the gate to see the new area.


The Crucifixion of Jesus

I didn’t know where to look first. Every inch of the hall was covered in colorful frescos and life-like statues. It took a few minutes to realize that I was seeing the Way Of The Cross, a depiction of the crucifixion of Jesus. Having been raised Catholic, I knew by heart the images of Good Friday and could almost smell the incense and hear the prayers.

Jesus Dies On the Cross

Jesus Dies On the Cross

For non-Catholics, the imagery can be a bit creepy. People in Mexico who are deeply religious resonate with the suffering. Jesus died for their sins. It’s personal.

Jesus' Body Is Removed From The Cross

Jesus’ Body Is Removed From The Cross

I had the church to myself to wander and was in awe of its beauty and attention to detail. Centuries of faith and devotion were palpable. It is easy to understand how Father Miguel Hidalgo could visit the church on September 16, 1810, and be so inspired that he took the alter banner of the Virgin of Guadalupe and led Mexico’s fight for independence. While few gringos visit Atotonilco, it is well worth the taxi ride from San Miguel. DOS TORTAS image


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