Category Archives: rancho life in Mexico

Birthday Party


8  DECEMBER, 2017

We woke to very cold wind in the morning, and it turned out to be the theme of the day. Most of it wasn’t fun, but there were some bright spots.

I gave Chon a present when we woke up. He had told me that on one birthday, when he was a boy, someone had given him some Oreo cookies, and he had really liked them. I bought him a little pack of Oreos. He was  surprised.

When we came out of our room to our portal where it’s pleasantly warm, the phone rang. A sister, Chabela called to wish Chon a happy birthday, “But first”, she said, she wanted to rant at him and complain that he hadn’t opened the door to Juana, their visiting sister who came the other day to our little town. We had been dead to the world the afternoon that she came, after a brutal rehearsal in the morning. We hadn’t known about her visit – not that she was coming, and not that she came to visit her sister-in-law, who had suffered a fall and broken a vertebra, (that we also were not informed of). Then María called to say happy birthday, and that – just like that – she had done her duty. Chon is very sensitive to these things (attacks? and opinions), and he felt hurt and angry. We got to work.

We hadn’t carried even one of our many speakers and other equipment to the stage. No a surprise. We’re both procrastinators. The plan had been to begin to move the biggest equipment on Wednesday. It proved difficult to stick to the plan.

We began in the cold, windy morning. We took things one or two (or four) at a time, resting in between. Other times we had peónes to help. Not this time, and it was to prove disastrous, to me, anyway. About noon or later, all the equipment was up there except for my keyboards and various cables.

A niece, Nena, daughter of Elena, Chon’s sister, had said she would come at 1:30. But she didn’t come, and I worriedly began to prepare some things for the food for the guests. Later we’d find that she had had to make a trip to San Francisco, to sign papers for the family’s health insurance.

So – here was our menu, as planned:

Tacos de aire, a charming name for a way to serve folded, crispy tacos (you can buy them prepared, in large sacks). All you have to do to serve them is top them with liquified beans flavored with some garlic (important!), shredded lettuce and/or cabbage, salsa (the eater’s choice of red or green), and a lovely cream (thinner than sour cream). Tacos de áire, “air tacos” – no meat – gotta love the name!

Hot chocolate. We bought a big container of Nestle, which is to be prepared with milk. We sampled some made with only water, which was “OK” to us. I thought people would probably like it just like that (chocolate is a luxury here).

Cake ( to be brought by a friend, Sarita).

For the tacos de aire I wrote earlier “all you have to do is” to make the tacos de áire, but that involves preparing the beans (think a couple of gallons of “bean dip”), making the salsa (a couple of quarts of each), shredding the lettuce and cabbage, and having the cream on hand. (Sarita told us about a very good cream that she likes, brand “Aguas Calientes”).

So I was in the kitchen, making quarts of salsa and cooking beans. Chon was on the stage, setting up. But when I went out to see how he was doing, he was resting, and thinking that nobody would come to the party, because it was so horribly windy and cold. He didn’t do much to make all the electrical connections. He seemed shocked and upset about the weather. (And the earlier calls from his sisters).

I stuck to preparing the salsa, and was feeling worried because Nena hadn’t showed up. I really, really hoped she’d show up because I didn’t feel like I had time to fry, season and liquify gallons of beans. She did show up, about 5 p.m. (the invitations were for 6:30), and I was so very relieved

The stage still wasn’t set up, and I kept working, starting the water for chocolate heating, helping in the kitchen, carrying gallons of dish-washing water from the faucet outside, and generally keeping up.

Nena told me the chocolate would be better if we added sticks of cinnamon and some bags of specially prepared finely ground corn for “atóle”, a hot Mexican drink based on corn and flavored with a dazzling array of flavors to select from. That turned out to be a good decision. It made the chocolate thicker and tastier. You may feel sceptical, but it turned out really well. I liked it, and I’m a bit picky about chocolate. It had enough chocolate flavor, and it was thicker than “regular” hot chocolate. Very tasty!

Nena continued in the kitchen, making the thick, “smearable” beans from the beans I had cooked earlier, and the red salsa (she said the green salsa I had made was good – yay! – the first time I made a large quantity of salsa – I just used a much larger quantity of jalapeños than I would have made for myself – about 3 times as much, haha).

The stage still wasn’t set up. We carried my two keyboards over there, and set them up on the stand, but the cords still weren’t connected.

A few people trailed in – a friend Paty brought several relatives, and they sat waiting in the cold. They waited and more people came, and waited. Chon spent quite a bit of time teasing the flock of kids that had come in through the open doors. It seemed that he wasn’t at all concerned about getting the music equipment working. No sound check. No nothing.

I’m not sure what time we began to play, but I think it was around 9. It took a long time to begin after we LOOKED like we were ready to start. The amplifiers and the head still were not communicating. Un-technical music comments follow: when the sounds began to come, I could hear my keyboards, and I could hear the guitar, coming from different speakers. There was little volume from the drums, a dangerous thing – you can get completely lost if you can’t hear in particular the bass drum. But Chon couldn’t hear the drums at all on his side of the stage,  and he turned the volume way up. On my side of the stage I could hear sound from the drum machine that I had never heard before – offbeats with treble-ish high sounds. Extremely confusing and excruciating. Chon’s exquisitely-tuned ears weren’t hearing the same things my exquisitely-tuned ears were hearing. In several instances we weren’t playing the same chords, or even in the same key. It was horrible.

It did get better, but we only played about a tenth of our set list. It simply was too cold. My fingers felt stiff and clumsy. About half of the invited guests had gone, and a few die-hards were asking for special songs that they loved, so we were reluctant to stop.

At one point I did get off the stage quickly because one small boy was throwing rocks at the dove nest in our big pine tree. I was unpleasant, and so was he and his two friends (all uninvited).

The cake Sarita brought was very, very good. A favorite cake in Mexico is “trés leches”, made with a basic white cake, soaked with “three milks”, all canned, I think. It’s served at nearly all celebrations – something you have to get used to, and for me, still not a favorite. The cake Sarita brought was also the “trés leches” style, I but it wasn’t overly wet – a very moist white cake (I think it may have had some whole wheat flour in the mix) completely covered with roughly grated coconut – delicious! and with cajeta, a caramelized milk syrup, between the layers. It was wonderful.

Nena’s family stayed around afterwards in the cold, to chat about plans for the next harvest (her husband drives a tractor for us).

It was a day that was unsatisfactory in some ways, and pleasurable in small ways.

Here’s what we used for the party – recipe for a party of forty:

two big bags of tacos (there were lots left over)

two kilos of beans, cooked, mashed, fried, with garlic cloves

two salsas:

green: a kilo of tomatillos, about 20 fat jalapenos, 5 fat cloves of garlic, onions, salt

recipe: “salsa for 100”

red: a kilo of red tomatoes, jalapeños, onion, cilantro

two heads of lettuce shredded, mixed with one heavy head of cabbage shredded

two pints of crema Aguas Calientes

one big cake

one container of Nestle’s chocolate powder, 20 liters of water – mix into milk two bags of maizena, a type of corn starch, used for champurrado and atole.

Racing The Weather


It’s planting time in Central Mexico. For regular farmers like us, (“regular”, hah! Joke) it’s time to plant corn. If a farmer came out financially ahead on the wheat crop, there are funds available to invest in corn-planting expenses, and early June is the time. This year we began on the 6th. When we got out to the fields we were noticeably alone. There were no other tractors or planting teams with pickups loaded with fertilizer and seed. We’re in charge of seven fields, and they’re not all located adjacent to each other; we have a good view of the neighbors’ fields. Nada. There was no movement – only us. And we heard the talk (and jeers) about town. “Too early!”

Our team was headed by Chon The Guitar Player (boss), Me (driver), a tractor operator, and two loaders. Loaders load (duh) the pickup with the seed and fertilizer sacks, and then move that heavy stuff to the canisters on the planter behind the tractor. Each sack of granulated fertilizer weighs about 100 pounds. The seed sacks weigh less. It’s a heavy job but there are long resting times between the carrying and loading, and to me that balances it out – long hours, but a reasonably pleasant day.

That was the first day. It took us a week and a day (and then another two weeks) to finish the planting, and I won’t write a boring blow-by-blow chronicle for something that should have taken 5 days. Damp fields, hot weather, nightly rains, not-dry-enough leftover wheat stalks that got stuck in the planter wheels, lack of fertilizer (the supplier ran out!), but workers who wanted to Get Things Done by working at odd hours; all these contributed to a final acceptable outcome.

And then, like farmers do, we had to hope that the rain would arrive to keep the corn sprouts alive.  They were already poking up out of the ground in some areas. The most costly thing that could happen is for all the millions of sprouts to die of thirst. And if it happens to us, it will happen for most of  the farmers in our area.

If you were paying attention, the “Too early!” comment turned out to be true for nearly everyone. And by the end of the month (including on my birthday) many of us were re-planting. For three long weeks we waited for the rain we expected at the beginning of June, and with the exception of small sprinkles of rain in certain micro areas, they didn’t come.

A comment about my birthday – it was pleasant! We had casually planned a short-distance trip to somewhere new, thinking we’d just drive somewhere. Instead, since it was Tuesday, we decided – why not? – we decided to go to our go-to Tuesday place, where two-for-one is the magical word. For big plates of breaded fish filets served with rolls, salad, rice, and tostadas with chíle oil, and just about any kind of salsa you could ask for.

A dash to the ag supply place with money freshly withdrawn from the bank account preceded a stop at our tractor driver’s house. Yes, he said, he’d come to reseed a field.

And that’s what we did, until rain began to splatter the field, thunder sounded, lightning flashed, and – we finished the section of the field that had sprouted but not lived!

It was a day like many others, but somehow – just right.

Music Sunday!

OK, yes, it’s loud. We use our big speakers, and I’ve heard that it can be noticed in a town less than a mile away.

Right now we’re hearing The Eagles. People are on their way to mass. They just can’t miss it.

Time for breakfast of tamales at 5 pesos apiece. With beans, and café de la olla – check it out! Delicious!

Church Musicians At Rancho Fiesta

Patronal festivals are an important part of rancho life. They are major events, lasting several days, and they serve to gather family and friends together. People from nearby towns come, and people from faraway places as well. There are plenty of ways to spend money. Colorful booths with vendors offer food, products, artisanal candy, and regional items.

Today we went to play for a mass in a not-too-far-away place where we’d never gone before. It’s a rancho called Sitio de Maravillas and maybe someday I’ll find out why it’s named that.The name means place of wonders/marvels. It looked like a typical rancho, and there were no wonders in sight. It did look typical, if there is such a thing, but the guitar player said, “These people look like they’re from Michoacan, and most of them have the same faces as my family.” As it turns out, the rancho is an ejido. From wikipedia: In Mexican system of government, an ejido (Spanish pronunciation: [eˈxiðo], from Latin exitum) is an area of communal land used for agriculture, on which community members individually farm designated parcels and collectively maintain communal holdings. And the area is only two or three miles from where many of the guitar player’s cousins live. There are some good photos of Sitio at this site:

It was a rather typical-for-us first time visit. We arrived more than an hour early and began our set up. It was difficult to find a power outlet, and there was no one to let us know where we should sing and play from. 

The colorful umbrellas are masking the equally colorful vendor booths. And that spindly-looking tower is for – fireworks!

Anyway we were a bit nervous, and the church began filling up about a half-hour before the mass was to begin, which was not exactly a calming influence.

Although you can’t see the silent watchers, they’re there – right behind the photographer.

We were surrounded by people, some praying, but mostly silently watching us set up.  We felt more nervous. But when the priest entered, we knew we could relax, because we knew him, and he’s a helpful guy (not a person who corrects you or gives mean looks or cuts you off in mid-sung-syllable). And we went on getting prepared, guessing at which kind of music they might want for whatever saint was being celebrated. There were several Maria statues in the front area of the church, which is not necessarily a clue. But we did the Ave Maria for communion (the guitarist made a good call on that one, because as it turned out, the patron saint was Maria). In the last 6 years I’ve sung Ave Maria more times that I had previously accumulated in my lifetime of church singing.

There was a pretty ceiling treatment there. The only difficult thing in creating it would be using a long, long handle for the paint brush.

Pretty ceiling treatment, done with paint.

Afterwards, the same silent watchers converted in front of our eyes into friends! and wanted to know WHERE we were from, and WHY they hadn’t heard of us before, and, and, and…And WHAT is our phone number so they can call us for upcoming events. They were welcoming, and invited us to eat móle, a famous Mexican dish often served at big gatherings.  

As we were leaving we had to hurry to get the car moved because there were about 40 Aztec/Indian dancers in wonderful costumes setting up for a show right in front of the church, which I don’t recall seeing before. Not right there in front of a church.

Fireworks image from YouTube.

When we got home we took a nap, and now I’m sitting here with a little headache, yawning, and it’s only 8 p.m. I’ll bet they’re getting ready for the fireworks in Sitio De Maravillas.

Time Is (Not!) On Our Side

Yes, we’ve been practicing, but – life happens. Our next gig is coming up fast, and we’re trying to stay ahead of it. On December 8, we’re playing for The Guitar Player’s birthday party and concert. Here, at our house. Yes, we’ve had the very best of intentions, and we’ve made schedules.

Work list:


Clean up the garden, which is rapidly returning to its natural state. (store the big squashes, haul the dead and dying vines to the lot behind the house, dig the weeds – they show no signs of dying, protect the chile plants from children running through the garden.



Clean up the yard, which is lined with hand-made-by-us bales of the large sacks our farming salts and fertilizers come in, and sad looking cardboard boxes, and sacks and sacks of plastic bottles and containers. That requires hauling the heavy trash to a recycling center in our big truck.



Get the invitation posters printed.


Make sure the food people are prepared – yes, we serve a meal to our guests! At least this time we don’t have to go grocery shopping the day before the party.

Practice, many more hours. We have a list of well over a hundred songs that are at the ready, but this time we’re featuring brand-new-to-the-public original songs. We’ve planned a set list of 60 songs, about half of them originals.

We’re also preparing our annual Christmas/Posadas Parties set list, of about 30 songs that we alternate from night to night.

And one of the band members just doesn’t feel good. He’s got a sort of flu-ish thing that’s lasted a few days. What to do? Except for practicing and memorizing lyrics, the rest of the band can’t practice alone, by herself.

What Beautiful Chayotes!


On the left are two chilacayotas. We can discuss those later. On the right – a “different” type of chayote. Larger, and a darker green color than the ones I’ve seen in markets.

It took me several distinct steps to get to the point of saying that, over a period of a few years.

Step 1: What’s this in my soup? Bleh. What’s a chayote?

Step 2: Chayotes are OK, I guess.

Step 3: What else can you do with chayote besides put it in soup? What’s “agua fresca?” OK, I’m just kidding about not knowing what agua fresca is. I liked that right away. Who wouldn’t? Fresh fruits blended into gorgeously colorful drinks are wonderful in the summer alongside a meal, or just by themselves. Some of them may sound a bit unusual – agua de pepino, for example, is a cucumber drink. I was skeptical, but it was just  as delicious as lemon, or strawberry.

Chayote (chai-OH-teh) – it’s a pear-shaped squash with (usually) thin, pale green skin. It can be eaten raw or cooked. It has little flavor of its own, and picks up the good flavors in soups. Some people make agua fresca with it, and some people put it in salads.

Today I prepared albondigas (Mexican meatball soup) for Thanksgiving, not having had much opportunity to purchase a turkey, and not having an oven to roast it in. I do have a 6-quart slow cooker, but….

A friend, hoping for a favor from us (thank goodness it didn’t involve money), gave us these chayotes the other day. I put one in the albondigas, and blended one with some guayabas for a fruity, vegetable-ish drink.

Ready for Thanksgiving!


Quiet Sunday, Except For The Practicing

img_4963It’s cold this morning – 40 degrees! That’s 4.44 Celsius. We’re a little concerned about the two baby ground doves that have been sitting on the tile floor of the patio for two whole days. But we can’t see them, so we’re hoping for the best.

We haven’t been feeling our best, either, but today we’re going to practice anyway (that’s what musicians DO!)

if you haven’t made your Thanksgiving plans yet, well, make them. I’m thinking albondigas, Mexican meatball soup. Have a good day, all y’all!

REAL Day Of The Dead

I love the photos I already posted, but this is what it was really like:


These women stayed nearly all day. Ask me how I know.


People – visiting their families, dead and alive.


Flowers for Don Antonio, a humble and warm man. RIP.


It’s a large cemetery, and there’s no map. You’ve just got to know, or know somebody who knows.

I felt comfortable here.