Thursday, December 30, 2010

Baffin Bay

Christmas was over and it was time to head south.  But no need to rush!  We took the long way down Highway 77, stopping at one of our favorite little spots, Baffin Bay.
Nothing much going on - just a lazy day on the Gulf of Mexico.

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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Day

We got an early start on Christmas Day.  Mom, Stanley and I went to watch Grayson find his gifts from Santa Claus!  When we arrived it was still dark, but the Christmas lights helped us find our way to the front door.  Shortly after Stanley got settled with his newspaper, Grayson came tripping down the stairs.  
He was most anxious to know if Santa had found his milk and cookies, and he was more than a little disturbed that Santa had left half a cookie. 

He couldn't spend too much time on that problem because there was a mountain of gifts to unwrap.
It was quite a show!  At one point Grayson had to take a break!

Whew!  Just too many!
I had never heard of a Pillow Pet before December 20th, but it was all Grayson talked about. 

He was thrilled!

Later, we were joined by David's family.  We had a great Mexican food lunch.  Delicious!
Then, in the afternoon, we all met at Frosty and Jill's home for Christmas cookies.

In the end, we all agreed it had been a delightful day!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve

On Christmas Eve, we all gathered at the new home of Katie and Andrew.  The first two collages are my favorite shots of some of my favorite people.  
There were lots of tasty snacks, beautiful babies and good family time.
You will notice there are no shots of the rousing game of Gestures we played. 
I was either to distracted or too embarrassed for the participants.

Sterling was fussy all evening and when he fell asleep, his mother was more than happy to let him sleep.
  Charlie, on the other hand, knew it was show time.  
Every time she heard the camera, she hammed it up a little more.  

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Merry Christmas!

May you catch it
and keep it
until Christmas comes again!

First Night of Christmas

On to San Antonio.  The first night we were there Trey, Sarah and David - with Grayson in tow - all came  to Mom's for tamales and a visit.
 Here, we have an example of parallel play.  You will notice that Stanley is out of focus.  

He was moving too fast for the camera.

I had divided up an old coin collection to share with Panchi, Sarah, and Trey.  
I had hoped they would enjoy it, but I never expected David and Trey to be so engrossed.
Seems like this gift was a hit!

After the kids left, Mom, Stanley and I sat back and enjoyed the tree - 
along with a Spurs basketball game.
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A Few Days in McAllen

We had a grand time in McAllen the few days before going to San Antonio for Christmas.  We packed so many activities into the short time we were there - well, I almost lost count.

The biggest attraction was our first trip to Nuevo Progreso, a little town right across the river which has dedicated itself to Winter Texans.  Jim and Veti agreed to be our guides.  We walked across the bridge, took each others' pictures in front of various signs, got Veti's shoes polished and shopped!

The little town specializes in all things Winter Texans might need:
Cosmetic Improvements
Drug Stores
Gee Gaws
Hand-made Rugs
Pirated movies and tapes

There was something for everyone!

Time for lunch!  It was Veti's birthday so it had to be special!
Happy, happy birthday, Veti!

After lunch, there was more shopping and then back across the river.
We had survived Nuevo Progreso and we will definitely go back!

Another big adventure was the Orthodox Church Winter Festival.  
This was my first experience in an Orthodox Church.  
The question I am asked most often is, "What kind of Orthodox Church was it?  
Greek?  Eastern?  Russian?  Ethiopian?"
The answer:  "All of the above and more."
Not having enough population of any one of the ethnic groups, they are a collective force.
I made a couple of very important observations:
1.  The food was delicious!
2.  The priest was enthusiastic; he made his church seem inviting.
After checking out all the booths, and making a few purchases, we went inside the church for a brief lesson on orthodoxy. 
We learned about the significance of icons in the church, a little church history, and some of its most important characteristics.
The patron saint of this particular church is Saint George, the Dragon Slayer.  
Notice his icon front and center in the collage below. 

Posted by PicasaWe swam almost every day, consumed lots of good food and wine, attended a concert by the Rio Grande Philharmonic Orchestra (it was surprisingly good), and thoroughly enjoyed the company of friends.  
What a nice way to start off the Christmas holiday!

Monday, December 6, 2010

FM3 The Visa Story

Living in Mexico full-time requires a visa different from the tourist visa you get for a week-long stay at an all-inclusive resort on the Mexican Riviera. The Mexican government offers several options, but for us the FM3 Non-Immigrant is the best fit.
The document simply states that we cannot work for money in Mexico and have no plans to become Mexican citizens.
It isn’t cheap. Over a five year period, we budget between $500 and $750 at the Immigration Office.

It isn’t forever. The initial process is repeated every five years. The visas are reviewed annually. The same forms are required every year with additional forms along with a higher payment at the five year mark.
It isn’t stress-free. Along with the required forms which ask the most inane questions imaginable, there must be proof of marriage (no running around Mexico acting married with being married), proof of financial solvency (the Mexican government does not need any non-Mexicans running around the country without money for rice and beans), proof of residence (you absolutely must have a place to live; no sleeping in the park or the plaza or in your camper in the Wal-Mart parking lot), and proof of good citizenship (this is easy – as long as you have no legal infractions on your Mexican record, you’re home free).

Since we’ve been doing this for several years, I thought I had the process down pretty well. On November 9th, we took the 8:00 bus to Torreon, presenting ourselves at the immigration office at 11:00 with the required papers including copies of bank statements, marriage certificate, translation of marriage certificate, all necessary forms ready to submit, copies of our passports and our FM3 booklets.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that in the short 12 months since my last visit, everything had changed. The required documentation was still the same, but all the forms had changed and there was a new wrinkle: an additional form that had to be completed on the internet (Of course, there was no computer for my use at the immigration office; I would have to go down the street to an internet shop.) The pictures that had been required only once every five years were now required every year.
The office would close at 1:00PM.
I had less than two hours to complete a stack of new forms, find a photographer who could make the required photos, find an internet shop and complete the required form, go to a bank to make the required payment, return to the immigration office and somehow charm the clerk into filing the papers immediately so that I would not have to return the next day. As we scurried out of the office, I was really wishing I had brought an extra set of underwear because I was convinced we would be staying overnight.
At 1:00, I was back at the office, breathless from my run from the internet shop. Stanley was still there collecting copies.
All was well. The clerk agreed to file the review request.
An hour later, she called me to the desk to show me the terrible error I had made. In my haste to complete the internet forms, I had omitted our middle names. The names had to appear on this internet form exactly as they were on our passports. With a look that chilled my blood, she left me standing at the desk while she went back to her computer to redo the entire thing.
At 3:00, it was done. We signed yet another document swearing that everything was correct. Before leaving the office, we were given a receipt for our FM3 booklets. As usual, we left our booklets with the clerk. She told me we could pick them up in about two weeks; we should check the internet to know when they were ready.
Off we went in search of something to eat and a bus back to Parras. By this time, I was so hungry, I would have sworn to the veracity of almost anything.
On the way home, Stanley and I talked about the new forms and the internet connection we would have with the office. Although it was painful to experience initially, we decided it was a good idea. We were actually looking forward to monitoring our visas as they were subjected to review.
Just a few days later, I checked on the visas using the password I had been given. There they were: marching through the process, but still unfinished. It was just as I had expected.
Several days later, I checked again. No change.
It became part of my daily routine to check. I checked so many times I memorized both the seven digit identification number and the five digit password number. No change.
I started to wonder what was going on . . .
I started thinking . . .
Several months ago, on a trip back from the United States, I had brought a tray of tomato and herb plants and a small almond tree intended as a gift for a friend in Parras. To make a long story short, the plants were confiscated.
We had brought plants into Mexico many times with no problems, but on this particular day, the officer in charge was young and highly motivated and her supervisor was not present so the plants were confiscated.
That would not have been such a bad thing, but additionally, I had to submit my US driver’s license, my US passport, and my Mexican FM3 so that they could be copied. Then, we waited almost an hour for the clerk to type up a confession that I was required to sign.
The confession simply stated I had attempted to import plants into Mexico without a phytosanitary certificate from the United States and a CITES permit. The confession further stated I had voluntarily abandoned the plants when I was informed my actions were in violation of the law.
There was now a manila folder stuffed with copies of all my identifying documents in the Mexican customs office at the Columbia border crossing, but I didn’t give it much thought. It was just another entry to add to my collection of interesting stories about living in Mexico.
Nothing to worry about.
Until November 25th. That was the day it occurred to me that there might be a connection between the incident at the Columbia border crossing and the lack of resolution of my FM3 in Torreon.
It’s funny how one little thought can start the flow of acid in your stomach - or at least in mine.
Now, I was worried. A lot! Had the Mexican government become so tuned into the internet they had been able to link my manila folder on the border to the immigration office in Torreon? Would be my visa be denied? What would I do? How could I appeal? What would it cost? Would I have to leave the country? Was there another type of visa I could apply for that would allow me to stay even with my transgression? Would a bribe help? To whom would it be made? How much should it be? Or would an attempted bribe seal my fate as a criminal forever?
Because I speak Spanish, I had been the one to assume responsibility for the attempted plant importation. Stanley didn’t have a personalized manila file in Columbia. Would they give him a visa or deny his also because of his association with me?
I’m not saying any of this was logical, but it consumed me for several days.
Finally, the message I had been looking for appeared on the computer screen:
Favor de presentarse en la oficina.
There was no indication we could pick up the visas. Just ‘come to the office.’
Well, the visas were ready. The clerk was as pleasant as she could be, never once reminding me she had spent an unpleasant two hours correcting my mistakes. All was forgiven.
We signed the documents and she disappeared around the corner with them. Moments later, she returned to the desk with laminated cards which replaced the flimsy green booklets from before. Quite snazzy!
She wished us a Merry Christmas in her very best English and handed us the visas.
Just as mine left her hand she noticed something. I saw it, too – at the very same moment. My signature on the visa did not match the signature on my passport. I had left out my middle name.
She looked at the signature. She looked at me. She opened her mouth, closed it, smiled, and wished me another Merry Christmas.

Above are a couple of photos of the outside of the state government building in Torreon.  The bottom is the inside of the Torreon bus station.
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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Garden Clearing Time

These photos are included here only for the purpose of recording the size of the tomato plants we finally pulled out of the garden today.  They were still producing tomatoes - delicious little red gems!
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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Winter Shelter for the Orchids

Every year we build a shelter for the orchids and other weather-sensitive plants in the bodega.  Using shade cloth and black plastic, we can keep the plants just warm enough to avoid freezing.  In the past, we have added a string of Christmas lights for extra warmth, but we decided to try it without them this year. 
Wish us luck!
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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Feliz Cumpleanos!

Last Saturday, we attended Erasmo's birthday party.  Sixty years young, he had quite a party!  Balloons, confetti-filled egg shells, a great dinner, birthday cake, and lots of strange women who wanted to dance with him. 

More than 100 people drifted in and out while we were there.  Family, friends, speeches, songs, toasts . . . and lots of presents - mostly tequila.  What more could a man ask for?
Erasmo is a local politician and a good friend.
He always has a smile and a kind word.
We enjoy his company!
Happy Birthday, Erasmo!

A Time of Prayer

Several weeks ago, my good friend Estela was the victim of an attempted car-jacking in Monterrey. The road was blocked and a young man approached her with a gun and demanded she get out of the car. Stalling for time, she made much of getting her things together. Some may call what happened next "luck" and some may call it "God's intervention." Whatever . . . the young man was distracted, Estela saw a way around the blocking vehicle, she floored the accelerator and escaped - shaken, but safe.

Since then she has become much more active within her group of friends and colleagues advocating for peace. And she has prayed as never before.

The Virgin of Guadalupe has always been present in the entryway of her Parras home, but now there is an alter with fresh flowers and prayer cards.

This is a beautiful thing, but the fear that prompted this action cannot become the "new reality" for Mexico.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Day 11-25-10

The day was bright and beautiful!  Dinner was simple:
Roasted Chicken with Gravy
Cornbread Dressing
Cranberry/Orange Relish
Sauteed Green Beans

The sunset was especially beautiful!
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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thoughts at Time of Thanksgiving!

Hacienda de Perote is all dressed up in its fall attire. The pecan trees have turned that special brown/ green/ yellow that only pecan trees can manage. The days are bright, warm, and sunny; the nights are cool but not cold. Perfect weather for a fireplace!

And it is perfect weather for thinking of November Treasures. Some treasures are rather ephemeral. Today the orchid is dropping its golden petals, and the cactus bloomed only a few hours. Some treasures are more long-lasting like the summer tomato vines which are still producing succulent little tomatoes that make excellent salad. Some treasures are quite unexpected as are the ten new grape vines that have produced grape bunches . With luck, we will have fresh grapes from the vineyard before we leave for the Christmas holiday.

Today, it is very easy to remember just how blessed I am!

Many of you have expressed fears about our safety here in Mexico. We appreciate your concern and do not want you to think your words of caution fall on deaf ears. We have decided, after careful consideration, that we are safe in our present location for the time being. Over the past four years we have made this our home, and as you all know, a home isn’t easily or lightly abandoned.

As we prepare to give thanks for all our many blessings, I encourage each of you to think about what is going on in Mexico, why it's happening and what you might be able to do about it.

Mexico is experiencing great difficulty in dealing with the drug cartels as well as a general atmosphere of lawlessness which has permeated the country as the line between the cartels and corrupt law enforcement blurs. This is indisputable and undeniable, but this is not a one-sided problem nor can it be solved by Mexico alone.

The United States and its citizens have played a major role in strengthening the power of the drug cartels in Mexico.

The Mexican government is constantly endangered by the high quality weapons that flow freely from the United States into the hands of the cartels.

The US government does not control the strength or quality of the mind-altering substances our citizens consume. They have elected instead to outlaw those substances thereby failing to provide even as much control over these potentially dangerous chemicals as they provide for peanut butter.

We continue fighting a costly, illogical and ineffective “war” against drugs when they could be sold legally providing much needed tax revenue.

We must make difficult decisions and take action individually and nationally.

Stricter enforcement of present laws, tougher laws yet to come, and longer prison sentences are NOT the answer! So long as we have laws which prohibit the legal sale of drugs, we will be plagued with the same problems.

Prohibition was a terrible time in our country’s history and yet it pales in the shadow of the present Drug War. If you are not concerned about the present level of violence in Mexico, please understand that it stretches closer to American cities every day.

What can you do?

Encourage Washington’s immediate attention to the legalization of recreational drugs in the United States. I firmly believe that the resolution of this issue alone would go a long way in establishing peace both in Mexico and on the international border. This action would clear the way for quality control and taxation.

We must do our part to stop the flow of weapons into Mexico and we MUST completely overhaul our failed immigration policy.

If you are blessed with a venue in which you can speak your mind – speak up!

If you are a praying person – pray!

Always thankful, I am celebrating with you in spirit, with love,


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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Fossil Samples

Stanley and I went to the dinosaur site.  Although we didn't find any more bones on the surface, we did find more fossils than you can imagine.  This is just a small sample.
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Raul's Bones

Meet Raul. He's the guy on the left with the great smile!
Having worked here at the hacienda almost as long as we've been here, he knows us fairly well.
He knows we're always interested in just about everything so he brought these bones one morning for a little show and tell.
Maybe we could tell him something about them?

With just a little observation it was clear they were very special.

We took pictures which we sent to a paleontologist who had been involved in excavating a dinosaur not too far from Parras several years ago. He wrote back saying he thought the bones were vertebrae from a young hadrosaur.

Plans were made the very next day to return to the site.

Raul was able to confidently point out the location of his find within about ten meters.
The hill is covered with lechuguilla, a nasty desert plant, which
would have to be cleared before any level of excavation could be done.

We did not find any more bones on the surface, but we did find lots of fossils.

Since then we have been in contact with the paleontologist from
El Museo del Desierto in Saltillo.
He now has all the pictures and site information we have.

This is going to be a fun experience to follow no matter what happens.

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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Back to Reality

Back in San Antonio, we were quickly caught up in the family doings.

First of all, Sarah and David, Zac and Grayson have moved into their new home.
It is lovely.
Watch for pictures in an upcoming blog entry.
Away from town with a big backyard! Perfect for boys - be they teenagers or toddlers.
I spent one morning helping Sarah with some unpacking.
Now she has space for everything and more space for things yet to come.

Mom and I spent an afternoon with Kelly and Mel and Little Sterling.
What a sweetheart!
He puked on me, pooped on me, and then closed his eyes and went to sleep!

I was able to see lots of my San Antonio family. Frosty and Jill came to Mom's one night for dinner; Trey, Sarah, David, and the boys came the next night. It's always fun to cook for an appreciative audience!

We always enjoy being in San Antonio with family, but Mexico was calling our names.
We were anxious to get back home!

Back at the hacienda, the birds were nibbling on late, 2nd harvest grapes. The bird net would have to go up fast!
The vegetable garden had become a weed patch. It would have to be cleaned thoroughly before all those weeds went to seed.
The cactus garden had been overtaken by tumble weed. That just wouldn't do at all!
The olives trees still wanted pruning!

So much to do and I had a blog to write!

It was good to be home!

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Ken and Ivy

After two days and one night on the train and another night in New Orleans, it was so very, very, very good to be back in Houston with Ken and Ivy.

What a beautiful couple they are!


We toured all over downtown Houston, saw enough to make us want a return visit, ate great food, and were thoroughly entertained!

We hope to see you again real soon!

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Day with James and Amanda

Our flight was long but uneventful. We pulled and rolled and carried our bags through Dulles airport, onto the bus, into the metro station, and down the street to College Park Quality Inn, our home in the DC area. It was time to retrieve the dreaded large bag I had stored with them before leaving for Europe.

James and Amanda met us in College Park and helped us rattle and drag the suitcases to the Metro Station, through Union Station and into the Acela Waiting Room. What an introduction to us this must have been for Amanda. She was a great sport about the whole thing and a big help.

After all that, the least we could do was buy them lunch. Off we went to Stanley's favorite Washington DC watering hole and feeding station - Capitol City Brewing Company!

When we asked what they might like to do with the afternoon in Washington DC, they said they would like to go to the National Cathedral.
Graciously, they added that if we would rather not see another church, they could easily make another choice.
Well, what's a person to do when the kids suggest a nice, cultural experience? You certainly can't say, "Sorry! The churches, mosques, synagogues, and pagan temples started blurring on me several days ago."
No, of course you don't say that!
You say, "National Cathedral? Sounds good!"

The cathedral is a very, very special place and if you haven't ever visited, I suggest you move it to the extreme top of your list of places to see in Washington DC.

The architectural detail is amazing!

And the windows are in a class all their own!

Actually, it was a great choice. After all the European exposure, it was good to be reminded of the beauty we have here in our own country.

We left James and Amanda still roaming the cathedral grounds and we headed back to Union Station.
For once, we had a decent departure time, but it was time to head out!

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Good-bye! Szia! Do videnija!Na svidenje! Zbogom!

In less than a month I had been in five countries (England, Hungary, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Slovenia); I had been exposed to so many languages I lost count; I had consumed vast quantities of great food and wine; I had climbed more stairs than I knew existed in the world; and I had enjoyed the time of my life!

We had come to the last day of this glorious trip! As I looked over the courtyard of our Budapest apartment with its exuberant potted plants, wouldn't you know the sun would come out just enough to light up my picture.
After three days of dreary, it was high time for some light!

The taxi would arrive at 5:00AM the next morning.

Soon I would be back in the US and then home to Mexico.

Oh, the memories! Sweet, sweet memories!

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