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  • moving to mexico -- tricks of the language

    Mexpatriate Steve: Languages can be tricky.

    Especially if you trying to learn a new one.

    I started learning Spanish two years before I moved to Mexico. I bought several computer programs and worked through them diligently. But very little stuck because I had almost no opportunity to use what I was learning.

    When I moved to Mexico, I kept plugging away on the computer, added Duolingo to the mix, and I became desperate enough to attend three in-person classes. My Spanish improved because I was actually able to exercise it each day talking with my neighbors.

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  • more than zero

    Mexpatriate Steve: My brother Darrel should be a gerontologist.

    When I was in Oregon earlier this month, he told me: "I don't understand why some people say they become forgetful in old age. It is just the opposite for me. I remember things that never happened." Amen to that.

    I was looking forward to the arrival of my CFE (electric) bills this month because I wanted to show you what a "zero-peso" bill looked like. As you can see in the photograph, the best I can offer you are bills for 5 and 7 pesos. Hardly zero. And therein lies a tale.

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  • dogging it in mexico

    Mexpatriate Steve: I love dogs. I always have.

    Dogs have been part of almost all of my life. My first was Uncle Jiggs. That is the two of us in the photograph. We were about the same age, and he was the boon companion of my youth.

    When I moved to Mexico, my roommate was the aged and saintly Professor Jiggs -- my 13-year old golden retriever. Mexico was far too confusing and hot for him. The only thing he liked were the fireworks. Golden retrievers like anything that sounds like guns bringing down pheasants.

    But, like most old men, he hated change. Even though he loved swimming in the Pacific in Oregon, he found the hot water in the bay here to be disturbing -- as if the world had somehow come unstuck.

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  • singing the cultural blues

    Mexpatriate Steve: Yesterday afternoon was the kick-off of the church's cultural awareness program in Melaque.

    The series was initiated several years ago to introduce foreigners to the cultural differences between their native cultural and that of Mexico.The topic yesterday was the distinction between hot climate cultures and cold climate cultures -- Mexico and the southern United States being the former, and Canada and the northern United States being the latter.

    I have long been agnostic about the procrustean amputations necessary to stuff complex cultures into those two tidy boxes. It reminds me of that old joke. There are two types of people -- people who divide everything into two categories, and those who don't.

    With all of its intellectual shortcomings, it gave the presenter a framework to talk about the deconstruction of Mexican names, Mexican extended family relations, and why some Mexicans consider some of our actions reflecting our culture as baffling, humorous, or offensive.

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  • señor postman send me a dream

    Mexpatriate Steve: When I was in Oregon, my sister-in-law and I had a conversation about dreams and nightmares.

    She said she frequently had nightmares. I thought that a bit odd since I had not had a nightmare since I was a child.

    What I found even odder is that when she talked about what turned a dream into a nightmare (being chased, falling though the air) for her were exactly the events that I found exhilarating in my dreams. That is, when I am in my dreams. Usually, I am the director or writer. Just as in life, I like to watch.

    I thought of that yesterday when I was at the post office finalizing the payment of my rent for my box.

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  • learning spanish with dingo-lingo

    Mexpatriate Steve: Today is my birthday.

    On days like this, it is customary to write one of those Kantian essays on moral imperatives that describe how the birthday boy can now see the far shore through a glass darkly. And that is exactly what I started to do when confronted with the keyboard this morning.

    Then, I came to my senses. I am no more interested in writing about that aspect of my life than you are in hearing it. So, off with the maudlin and back to a far more interesting topic.

    I have been using Duolingo, a Spanish app on my telephone, for almost a decade. It is part of my morning routine in my quest to learn the language of my neighbors. I have learned far more Spanish from Omar than I have from Duolingo, but I still press on.

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  • aging in mexico

    Mexpatriate Steve: This is why I pay 300 pesos a year to the Mexican post office.

    While I was at the post office in San Patricio yesterday paying my rental fee, my favorite postal clerk handed me the current contents of my box:

    • A birthday card (for an event that is less than a week away) from my long-time friend Colette Duncan
    • A Christmas card from my niece, Terrie Holt
    • A Christmas card from my San Miguel de Allende chums, Al and Stew
    • The October 2019 Oregon State Bar Bulletin

    It was an interesting mix. Lots of sentiment without the sentimentality. Well, the cards were. The Bulletin? No sentiment there.

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  • leviathan says you do not need that money

    Mexpatriate Steve: This is the week in Mexico when I feel as if I am a part of my community.

    It is the week when I pay my taxes and fees to The Powers That Be, in high hopes the money will be put to good purpose. And it is the week when I indulge in a toxic mixture of hubris with a dash of schadenfreude.

    Let's get to my misplaced chutzpah first.

    In January, I have four bills to pay for the full year. Property taxes. Water, sewer, and garbage. Car registration. Postal box rental.

    And here is what I paid -- with its US dollar equivalent ...

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  • in training

    Mexpatriate Steve: Last January we chatted about a chili-eating contest that had just been held in Barra de Navidad (into life a little spice must fall).

    The contest was based on Mexican dishes that included three of the world's spiciest-known chili peppers. The chilies were not your quotidian jalapeños, serranos, or habaneros. They were the super-stars of the chili universe:
    • Bhut Joiokia (ghost pepper)
    • Trinidad Moruga Scorpion
    • Carolina Reaper (the spiciest pepper in the world -- with a Scoville rating of 1.5 million; a jalapeño is rated at a mere 8500)
    I had intended to participate in the contest -- on one condition. That the peppers used would actually complement the dish and not be merely a misguided attempt at earning new notches on the macho meter. Chilies are to enhance dishes; not to numb the sences.

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  • stag party

    Mexpatriate Steve: There is an old Kyrgyz legend that if you see a stag on the first day of the new year, the year will smile on you.

    Well, I saw a stag yesterday morning, and that is close enough for me. I am going to claim the prize -- leaving out the inconvenient truth that I do not have a drop of Kyrgyz blood in me. But it is a cultural appropriation world in which we live.

    No one can know the future, but I do know that last year was about as good as a year could be. If you had told me fifteen years ago I would be living in Mexico and thoroughly enjoying life, I would have laughed.

    Well, not about the "enjoying life" part. I have always done that. But back then, I would have imagined retirement life in London or Paris. I made a far wiser choice.

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  • lunch up north

    Mexpatriate Steve: ... What interested me was the bill. I have often remarked at how inexpensive restaurants are in Mexico. Whenever I come north, one of the first things I do is compare the meal with what it would cost in pesos. I do the opposite at home in Mexico.

    Here is the comparison:
    Mom's bunkhouse $13.15 ($250 Mx)
    Darrel's egg benedict: $14.15 ($268 Mx)
    My chili burger: $12.75 ($242 Mx)

    If you live in Mexico, with the exception of large cities and resorts, I doubt you have ever paid 250 pesos for breakfast. Where I live, you can buy a full steak dinner for that.

    But I have just done something that annoys a lot of us who live in Mexico. Currency conversions are actually false comparisons. All it does is compare how many dollars one needs to spend to buy something in Mexico. But that is not a true comparison -- it actually overstates the value of goods in Mexico.

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  • the missionary

    Mexpatriate Steve: Welcome to the food section of Mexpatriate. ...

    Christy told me on my last visit that her slow cooker seemed to have decided on its own to become a very slow cooker. She suspected it had met its service date.

    Any of you who have read any of my cooking essays know that I am a recent convert to the Instant Pot cult. Sister Jennifer Rose brought me to the altar over a year ago. Like any recent convert, I am a zealot in sharing the good news of the multi-purpose Instant Pot.

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  • and to all a good night

    Mexpatriate Steve: The cranberry sauce is on its way to the refrigerator with the rest of the left-overs. Salad. Ham. Turkey. Baby asparagus. Hasselback potatoes.

    And all four of us have finished off our pumpkin pie or home-made lime sherbet with snickerdoodle and ginger cookies. The carols have been sung and the forbidden gifts have been opened.

    Our Christmas was a good one for two reasons.

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  • being kind -- when nice will not suffice

    Mexpatriate Steve: You know Joan Shinnick. Or you should.

    I have written about my friendship with her at least three times (the monkey on my back; putting my best foot forward; bang the drum slowly). She was my writing mentor. Without her, Mexpatriate never would have come into existence. So, you now know where to place the blame.

    I met her when I was stationed at Castle Air force Base. She was the wife of my first commander, and we struck up a friendship that survived more than forty years of correspondence.

    Joan was one of those personalities that come into our lives and forever change how we look at the world. She was an incredible writer. Witty. Precise. With a jeweler's eye for cant. I think I once called her a cross between Mame Dennis and Erma Bombeck. And it was true.

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  • what are you reading?

    Mexpatriate Steve: Since I asked the question, I will go first.

    Last July, I told you about the seventeen books that were resting on my reading table (i do requests). Since then, I have managed to knock off only four of them. And several others have joined the pile.

    I usually read books in the order I received them, but I allowed one to jump the queue. It is the book I am now reading -- the third installment of Charles Moore's authorized biography of Margaret Thatcher. Herself Alone. This volume covers the period from her landslide election in 1987 through her political decline, resignation, and her final years as a private citizen.

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  • life targets

    Mexpatriate Steve: For the first time in my life, I have treated a head cold seriously.

    My normal routine is to ignore the fact that my head feels as if it going to explode while I wander around in public spreading my germs. I call it Christmas giving.

    But not with this cold. I have donned my pajamas, downed my medication, and slipped under a Chinese red comforter in my sister-in-law's guest room to let nature do its best in fighting off the virus. And it has worked. After two days of rest cure, I was well enough to explore the exotic wilds of Prineville.

    Darrel and I stopped at Bi-Mart for a couple of items. A young boy (I would estimate to be 10) was standing in line in front of us. He could have been Ron Howard's understudy on The Andy Griffith Show. Red hair. Optimistic smile. The kind of kid who would not only help you across the street, but would accompany you home and help to place your grocreies in the pantry.

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  • what did you say?

    Mexpatriate Steve: My mother is a curious woman -- in almost every sense of that word.

    As a young girl growing up in Powers, she lived next door to an elderly woman (Mrs. Stallard) who was losing both her sight and her hearing. That dual loss fascinated Mom. She asked Mrs. Stallard which was worse -- being blind or being deaf?

    Now that she is also facing age-related loss of sight and hearing, Mom's re-telling of that tale has taken on a patina of poignancy. Frequently, the Tale of Mrs. Stallard is followed by The Moral Lesson of the Superiority of Front-loading Washing Machines and Why Top-loading Machines Should be Relegated to the Closest Land-fill. Did I mention "curious?"

    I thought of Mrs. Stallard yesterday as I flew north from Manzanillo. My sight is fine. Sure, I started using readers to decode the ingredients on food containers. Otherwise, my eyes are fine.

    And, as a rule, so is my hearing. Except on yesterday's flight.

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  • they're baaack --

    Mexpatriate Steve: ... I was chatting with an acquaintance two days ago about my tarantula post (i see you in the night). As often happens here when the topic of creatures is in play, we started straying off into horror tales.

    He told me about the scorpion he stepped on with bare feet. I told him about the scorpion I unwittingly carried around in my right shoe for hours (laughing on the wild side).

    I am not certain why I did it (I certainly know better), but in a fit of hubris, I announced: "At least, I have not seen any scorpions around the house for months." I may as well have called Scorpions R Us and ordered a supply.

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  • i love a parade

    Mexpatriate Steve: And that is good -- because Mexico is a champion at putting them on.

    People with purpose walking through our streets is quite common. The most notable, of course, are the religious processions celebrating the feast days of a long line of saints. We just finished celebrating the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe -- the patron saint of Mexico.

    But we also have plenty of secular celebrations. The parades celebrating Independence Day and Revolution Day include school kids dressed as Pancho Villa, Miguel Hidalgo, and Venustiano Carranza -- sometimes bleeding over into each other's day.

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  • the sun almost sets

    Mexpatriate Steve: This was not last night's sunset.

    I shot it on Tuesday. And it is not even a sunset.

    I was having dinner with friends at a restaurant in San Patricio a block off of the ocean. When I arrived, I could see enough of the sky to know that the evening was about to offer up one of better-than-average winter sunsets.

    Winter is not sunset season in these parts. To have a good sunset, you need clouds near the horizon. Winter clouds are rare compared to our summer skies when storms roll through. And, if the clouds are scattered and layered, some spectacular sunsets are on offer.

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  • i see you in the night

    Mexpatriate Steve: Mexico holds a lot of records for things natural. And I just discovered a new one. At least, new for me.

    Mexico has either the largest (or second largest) number of tarantula species. That seems a bit odd to me because I had never seen a tarantula in the wild during my years of visiting or living here.

    That is, until today. And I guess that is appropriate for Friday the thirteenth. Tarantulas tend to get lumped in with days like this. Black cats seem to be hooked at the hip with tarantulas.

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  • plumbing without chuck colson

    Mexpatriate Steve: Trouble comes in threes.

    So say the superstitious. But even the superstitious get it right now and then. Yesterday was one of those "thens."

    The three-troubles that rolled my way yesterday involved plumbing. The house's plumbing. Not mine. I just want to make that clear or you might be disappointed at the fork in the road we are about to take.

    I knew about one of the troubles. A faucet on the upper terrace has been leaking for some time. Because it was easy enough to slip a pail under its infrequent drips, I have simply put off dealing with what I thought was a simple gasket replacement.

    The other two problems were unexpected, far more serious, and showed up together on Sunday.

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  • all the world's a stage

    Mexpatriate Steve: Nature has staged a Christmas pantomime in my patio that is right out of the headlines.

    Or so some say.

    At least once a month, the newspaper contains a report of another study predicting the extinction of this or that group of animals.

    If there is any truth in the model, I know some creatures that are destined for evolutionary success. Cockroaches are a given. But I will nominate another. The Eurasian collared dove. ...

    Rather than dying out as strangers in a strange land, they replicated like Australian rabbits. That helps to explain why their conservation status is listed as "least concern."

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  • how saving mr. banks has helped saved mr. cotton

    Mexpatriate Steve: Writing, like most everything in life, can be double-edged.

    It can be edifying. Amusing. Hopeful. And, far too often, hurtful.

    I ran across two examples of the latter this week. One was meant to be intentionally biting. The other, I truly believe was meant to be inspiring, but its result has been just as hurtful to some people as the former.

    Several unrelated conversations over the last three days of the past week have disclosed that an old hurt in the community has been re-opened. Several Mexican friends and acquaintances have mentioned the incident with a certain sense of humiliation.

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  • buttermilk evenings

    Mexpatriate Steve: People are a nostalgic lot.

    Even those of us who hold to the English virtue of "sentiment without sentimentality" often steer our ships onto the rocks answering its siren call.

    The good folks at Facebook are fully aware of our vulnerability. That is one reason they create granfalloons celebrating some wholely-manufactured anniversary. "Two years friends with someone you really do not know."

    Sometimes Facebook hits a home-run with its pandering. Yesterday this photograph popped up on my home page as "Most Popular Photograph of 2009."

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  • another christmas story

    Mexpatriate Steve: Last night the local committee in charge of things holiday, lit up the Christmas tree on Barra de Navidad's malecon -- what passes for a public square in this little village.

    I did not attend. For a lot of reasons that may or may not be relevant to today's essay. But we do not need to delve into them just yet.

    What I did instead was to attend a birthday party for my neighbor's nephew. I was not initially invited. When my neighbor saw me heading toward the malecon, she called me over to have something to eat. Chicken, beef, and tostadas were in the process of being grilled.

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  • cool art

    Mexpatriate Steve: On a trip to Washington, DC in the 1990s, Susan and I spent an afternoon in the National Gallery of Art.

    The collection is not the world's best, and it contains very few "star" pieces. But it is broad and well-curated.

    We had been there for about two hours when we decided to rest on a bench in front of two Monets -- one of his studies of shifting light on the façade of the cathedral at Rouen, and his Houses of Parliament, Sunset. It gave us a good opportunity of how 19th century scientific theories of light directly influenced the impressionists. Monet's Rouen studies are one of the best examples of art and science coalescing.

    While we were talking, a young woman and her mother, from Queens I would have guessed by their accents, stopped in front of the Rouen. At a glance, the mother declared: "Oh. I don't like this. It's all washed out."

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  • you don't need an off ramp if you never get on the highway

    Mexpatriate Steve: I had decided to take my then-girlfriend Susan on a two-week trip to Italy. So, I did what every middle-class middle-aged American did back then. I walked to a travel agency, picked up a glossy, color catalog outlining the allures of Italy, and booked an appointment with an agent to purchase, as the brochure would have it, my "one in a life time trip." The brochure was oblivious to the fact that I had been to Italy several times.

    When my appointment rolled around in two days, I sat down with my assigned agent, who asked me more questions than a policemen at a sobriety roadblock. She then threaded together reservations for airline flights, train rides, and hotel stays that would allow Susan and me to spend time in Rome, Venice, Florence, and Milan. The whole process made me feel like a spectator.

    The year is the most important part of that tale. 1991.

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  • an aguinaldo in a pear tree

    Mexpatriate Steve: It is that time of year again.

    We may not live in Downton Abbey. But most of we northerners who live in Mexico have our own Carsons, Annas, and Thomases.

    But, in our case, it is the Doras, Antonios, and Omars who tend our gardens, drive our cars, cook our meals, and clean our homes. Now that the calendar rolled over to December. it is time to meet our legal obligations by paying the people who work for us their annual aguinaldo -- an amount that must be paid no later than 20 December.

    There are several myths surrounding these payments. And I know, no matter what I say, people who believe something else will go on thinking what they want to think. There is, of course, a very high probability that I am perpetuating a whole set of other myths myself.

    Even though I am a lawyer, I am not a labor lawyer, and I know nothing about Mexican law other than what I have researched, heard, and experienced.

    So, this is my lay take on the minefield of aguinaldos. ...

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  • a puzzling holiday

    Mexpatriate Steve: Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.

    We are in the process of cooking the center-piece of this favorite of holidays. Today's dinner will be slow-roasted prime rib with cabernet au jus, citrus balsamic Brussels sprouts, minted peas and onions, and mashed potatoes -- all topped off by apple pie.

    Our family gathering has been reduced to four as a result of our untimely winter storm. My niece Kaitlyn and her boyfriend Moon are stuck in Seattle. That leaves my mother, brother, sister-in-law and me to enjoy our time together.

    Even though dinner is the main event to share our day together, there have been plenty of other diversions. All of them that tend to the traditional. An NBA game (last night). Documentaries on television (the Paradise forest fire; the rivalry between Ferrari and Ford). And competitive jigsaw puzzles. The last is something we have done for holiday gatherings since I was in grade school -- where my brother and I early learned to hide one piece to have the honor of finishing the picture.

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