Category Archives: rancho life in Mexico

We Drove To La Presa Nueva de Jalpa

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We drove El Esqueleto to the reservoir at the end of summer. I had thought it would be a miserable drive, but it wasn’t. Anyone who has walked up that road knows about the uneven, rocky road. It’s built of rocks, and there are speed bumps (speed bumps on a rock road, you say? Indeed.) But it was fun!

The reservoir is about 120 years old, and the old presa is much older. Chon’s ancestors moved to this area to get work building it. It’s important now because it’s owned by the water industry, and all of us farmers use it for irrigation. When the water level gets up to about 26 meters, they sometimes can begin to release it to use to water crops.

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So we got there, and walked out on the dam. There are millions of water lilies there, choking it up. There must be a way to harvest them.

Here are some photos of the area. It was a gorgeous day.

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There’s a college there, too. If this is it, it’s quite beautiful.

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Just Another Day – Rancho Life

Just as we finished the afternoon fertilizer work it started to rain, which couldn’t have been better timing to dissolve the fertilizer granules so the plants can use it.

This is the sort of thing that makes people say jokingly, with a little bit of caution in their eyes, that we have a pact with the devil. How else could we have started off so well 5 seasons ago, and continue to do well when we’re only musicians?

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Manotas, Beto’s male dog, seems to think he belongs here. He’s out sitting next to our pickup (which we left in the street because I don’t want to get wet in the rain moving it) and Chon says “We have to give him something. He’s cold”.

And I say “Do you want a dog or something?”

“No.”

“He’s just fine. If he really gets cold he’ll go to his real home.”

I’m trying not to love the two black and white litter mates.

El Correo – The Post Office

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I believe this photo shows a modification of a delivery truck using colors and logo of the Mexican postal service. Found on Google Images. Great colors, aren’t they?

We’ve used private mail box services in California to get our mail held or forwarded to us in Mexico. The services were efficient, but to us seemed expensive in the long run. The charges can add up quickly.

We needed to maintain an address in the US, and in December, 2014, we decided to switch to the United States Postal Service. Yes, the good ole’ USPS, in California, close to where we stay for our two-week-plus Christmas holiday gig.

Our annual PO box rental fee was due in January of this year. We figured it would be simple to make the payment online. But it wasn’t. It may be my fault, but I can’t find out. We received an email message that the rent was due. Included was the amount due, and an address for mailing. We made the payment in a timely manner. But then we received a second email, couched in sterner terms, that our payment had not been received, and if we didn’t make the payment within ten days, the box would be closed, and any mail in it would be returned to senders. We couldn’t make the payment online through the handy USPS service, because we repeatedly got the message that the name on the account had to match exactly the name of the person who had signed the contract. Hmmm. Now, where could that pesky contract be? And how many ways are there to spell the name Anderson?

What to do? We called the post office on many different days, at different hours. No answer. Finally we called a relative, who went to the post office. Yes, he discovered, he could make the payment for us, but they could not give him the contract information. Now, I’m a mature person, and I do understand about rules and regulations, but it was quite frustrating. At last we got the mailbox rent paid for another year by sending money to our long-suffering and long-standing-in-line relative. Whew! Covered for another year.

Now when I relate the next part of the story you’ll think, if you’re not already thinking it, that we’re thoughtless and irresponsible people. We’re not, but we do occasionally forget things, and we do get busy. This year, when we returned to Mexico after the longish stay in California, we jumped right into wheat farming. It took the best part of nearly every day, and well, we just didn’t drive the 15 or so miles to visit our post office in San Francisco del Rincon. We didn’t expect any mail, anyway, although we knew our rent had been due in January. Truly, we just didn’t think about it much. A few times we even drove past the post office, but we didn’t feel like we had time to stop. We had to go to the bank to get the money for the farming investment, or there was some other obligation. But it did begin to weigh on us a bit. We hadn’t paid our box rent.

Then, a birthday present was on the way. We seriously discussed the problem. Nearly six months had passed. What would the Mexican postal service do? We already knew what the US postal service would have done.

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image from ebay.com

Maybe you thought I was going to say something accusatory about the Mexican postal service?

Finally, with a bit of dread, we went to the post office. As we entered, a woman we didn’t remember greeted us warmly, saying that we hadn’t received anything. It had been a long time since she’d seen us! How were we? Where had we been?

When we told her we wanted to pay for our post office box she said – get this! “It’s already been six months. Why not wait until next January to pay for your box?  We’ll hold anything that comes for you, and you can pick it up here at the desk”.

We glanced at each other and grinned.

Only in Mexico.

 

Doña Julia’s Birthday Party

We were invited to a family party in El Toro. Our friend Ana, the person who schedules and manages things at the small church is a friend of ours, and asked us to come and celebrate her mother-in-law’s seventy-first birthday.

Here’s Doña Julia in front of her house. I’ve described the construction of the vast majority of homes in Mexico, and hers is the same – brick and mortar. Hers has a useful design, with several bedrooms and two bathrooms, side by side. Gotta love that!

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We were honored to be invited, as every other person there was part of her family. I’m not sure how many sons and daughters she has, but there were at least four sons and four daughters at the party, with their husbands, wives and children, including Ana’s daughters. Here are two of them, both beauties.

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We had a guitar with us, and we sang las mañanitas, and a few other songs, including Eres Tu, originally performed by Mocedades from Spain, and Solamente Una Vez, by the great Mexican songwriter Agustin Lara.

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The food was wonderful – Toñio, Ana’s husband and Doña Julia’s son, prepared tacos. There was a variety of meats including carne asada and chorizo, served up with grilled onions and smallish yellow chiles stuffed with cheese (excellent, and a new dish for me).

Naturally there was a cake, accompanied by a gorgeous gelatina with fresh fruit, which is every bit as important as a birthday cake in our part of Mexico.

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This guy had his very own table!

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Rain was threatening when we left for home, but Ana’s teenaged daughters were wangling a ride to nearby Tecuan for a “big, big dance” complete with two popular bandas. And Doña Julia sent me home with a snippet of a climbing version of corona de Cristo, a spiny plant with red flowers. I hope it wants to live at our house.

So Much To Relate! Harvesting and Planting!

Here’s the condensed version.

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We harvested our wheat. There was concomitant drama: parts of some of the fields weren’t mature and the grain elevator owner asked us to wait four days, causing several days of stress and worry:   Would it rain? Would the wind knock it all down? Skimming over the days of stress and wonder, it all turned out fine. We didn’t have a magnificent harvest, but it turned out to be quite respectable after four long days of hot and dusty harvesting.

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We had had to delay our planting dates because of other, more pressing personal and human problems, but that’s a story for another day.

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As immediately after the wheat harvest as we could, we began our corn planting, hiring a nephew to drive the tractor, using our brand-new planter-seeder. IMG_3328

Torn between planting an established and famous strain of hybrid corn seed, and a brand new type, we ended up using mostly Cimarron, an expensive seed we bought from a new dealer, the daughter of a local friend. Until we ran out. That caused us to scramble to order more, with delays and not-exactly-the-truth finessing by the dealer. We ended up ordering a new hybrid from a trusted dealer who even delivered the seed and loaded it into our pickup so that we could rush out to the last two fields to finish the planting before the rains came.

IMG_3365Planting usually results in long, long days, even though the work isn’t too taxing. The guys that are hired for loading have lots of waiting before they move into action, loading the canisters of the seeder with seed and fertilizer. Often one worker helps the other load bags weighing up to 100 pounds onto his shoulder, whereupon he walks to the tractor carrying it, and dumps the contents of the bag into its canister.IMG_3364

There are minimum half-hour waiting times. There were some unexpected problems (aren’t there always?). Some parts – nuts and bolts things – got lost, and we found out to our chagrin how much the tractor company charges for replacements. Since they weren’t available anyway, at least not locally, we made substitutes.

And the cycle starts over – instead of hoping that it won’t rain and ruin the crop or the planting, now we’re hopefully watching the skies for clouds to coax the baby corn plants out of the ground.

Music – More Gigs For Our Big Little Band!

Recently we’ve been hired to play more Catholic masses, and more parties. If you’re curious, here we are paid about the same in pesos as we were in dollars in the US. A dollar is worth around 17 pesos right now. We don’t do it for the money.  We do play out of devotion to what we were born for – music.

We played for a fiesta last Sunday – a big birthday party held in a nearby ex-fertilizer vendor’s warehouse. We received mixed reviews. A man who worked for 25 years in Nevada and Montana loved it. Two tables of women sat and listened to every single song, hardly talking.  An older man asked for “Mexican music! Don’t you play Mexican music?” When Chon announced “This next song is pura Mexicana! I wrote it myself, and I’m Mexican.” The guy and his wife got up and left after the song.

The menu was puro Mexicano – carnitas and sopa.  (Dessert came later). When a pig is butchered and cooked in an enormous copper kettle it’s called carnitas. Sopa here (sounds a bit like soup, doesn’t it?) is what you might call Mexican rice. The recipes vary, but it is almost always red rice. Some recipes have more ingredients, like diced carrots and peas. It’s always good.

We played different styles of music. We played cumbias (check out cumbia rhythm: it’s one of the most infectiousand non-boring rhythms I’ve heard, ever). We played baladas, slow songs. We played rock ‘n roll. We played rock. We played original songs (very popular). We played songs in Spanish and English. We played until after 11 p.m., and we had been hired until 9 p.m. It’s typical that Chon plays better and better, and sings better and better the later it gets. (Look up the word “duende”). He’s an astonishingly good singer, guitarist and composer.

WOMEN helped us load up our equipment! Women! They stayed on and on, chatting, until nearly everyone had left. They loaded our heavy equipment into our big truck, and then loaded us with food to take home. Most of these parties are well armed with to-go plates and containers and aluminum foil. We had food for a week! There was at least two pounds of carnitas which I prudently packaged and froze.

Although the fiesta was less than 5 miles away we arrived home very late indeed. We had to call it a success.

And here’s a truth about local Mexican audiences: in general, they’re surprised by us as a band. The first thing they notice, other than we’re only two people, is that we don’t play banda. They love banda. They expect banda, that ubiquitous mix of Spanish lyrics, simple, repetitious  melodies, and what I would call a tuba band. Instead, they get something more like a rock band. We have big equipment, enough to produce sound for large crowds. We have a large truck to carry equipment – you should see the stares when we show up.

If you are a musician, or have some knowledge of what you see on a stage, you may wonder how we do it. Among the pieces of electronic equipment we carry are two drum machines, programmed by us. We would love to have a live drummer, but it’s just not likely to happen. I’m a classically trained singer and keyboard player, the person you might see singing on a stage with a chorus and orchestra, or in an orchestra pit accompanying a musical comedy, and I use two synthesizers. On one synthesizer I play bass with the left hand, and lead parts like introductions, and accompaniment parts like strings and piano sounds as well.

Chon is a very, very, very good guitarist, with many years of experience playing in a bar and touring band from Chicago. He has extensive training and on-hands experience in sound engineering. He also has impressive skills as a composer. He has written literally hundreds and hundreds of songs for church services and live performances of all styles.  I love it sometimes when we’re recording or practicing and I tell him that I think what I’m playing on the keyboards sounds boring, and he thinks for a couple of seconds (literally) and then says “Try this.” And sings me a riff or a melody or a rhythm. He has stunning ideas!

JUST SOME RECENT PHOTOS

This was taken from a view-point about San Miguel De Allende when the jacarandas were blooming.
These two houses are right next to each other in a town called Manuel Doblado.

 

Blues are featured at the front entrance of the famous old templo in Jalpa De Canovas.

 

Blue is often used for door color in Mexico. Chon wanted to have the picture he had bought for his sister in this photo.

 

These friends are merchants in Paracho, Michoacan, in a place that sells different types of artensanias. That tall vase is probably from nearby Cocucho.

 

More jacarancas in San Miguel De Allende.

 

I like this photo of Chon’s mother (she’s 90) blessing a new pump we recently used for the first time to move water into tanks above the second floor. (It works great!)

 

This plant has been living in this pot in this patio for many, many years. I’d like to find a young one like it to live in the same pot, but – I haven’t seen one like it anywhere. I’m trying to propagate one from a leafless “trunk”. Know what it is, anyone?

 

 

ANNUAL CHECKUP

I love the pointillistic effect of a Blackberry in poor light!

We have been here in Mexico off and on for over a year, and I thought a general examination might be in order.
PERSONAL
I am happy here. There is really nothing I miss about California life., with the exception of a few wonderful people, and hot water. The bathing water that the family here calls “calientita” is really not even warmer than my skin.
My job as a high school choral teacher was stressful. Each year when I began the year I wished I was not aware of how much hard work was ahead of me. My work here is enjoyable. I like caring for our house. I never considered myself a good housekeeper, but the daily sweeping and mopping of floors is not unpleasant. The frequency means that there really isn’t a lot of dirt. It’s quick and everything smells good afterwards. I’m trying to enjoy dusting as well.
I still don’t cook here – Chon’s sister does that. Since I like to cook, that has been a minus, but still, there is a definite ease of life when you only have to heat up food when it’s dinner time. After we return from Los Angeles we are going to refresh the kitchen with new tile floors and paint, and we intend to do our own cooking when that is finished; we are sending the small stove (with NO oven) to Chon’s sister’s house, and starting with our own electric oven that has been languishing in the patio (it’s 220 v, and, well, nobody has 220 here) or a new gas stove /oven. But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here. In a check-up do you get to include future plans?
I don’t have many friends, but I think that might change when I am more fluent in Spanish. And about that – it is slowly becoming more easy to have conversations, although I have occasional brain farts when I can’t remember very common words. Maybe that will never change – happens in English, too!
FINANCES/PRICES
Since inquiring minds want to know, food and household items are LOTS lower in price than in the US. Medicines are rather expensive, but the doctor care I have experienced is efficient,excdellent, and inexpensive. For most people here, it seems expensive, but compared to the California health care I am familiar with, it’s very low-cost. A doctor’s visit is less than $40. A brief, efficient, and very state-of-the-art hospital visit for Chon’s sister to remove gall-stones was completed in about three hours, and cost about $1,500. Really.
Food/groceries are good, and inexpensive.
Mattresses cost about a third of what they cost in the US.
FARMING AND GARDENING

We harvested our fields last month, and made about a 50% return on our investment in seed, tractor work, and labor, and we are opening a savings account to keep the money we made for next year’s farming expenses (it costs a lot to plant and fertilize).
Our garden was a success, but will be much better next year. We were casual in our seeding, and the result was overcrowding. We got a great harvest of zucchini (and lots and lots memorable meals with zucchini flowers). The poblano chile plants, now freed from the shade of the sprawling tomato plants, have now set on tiny chiles. if we don’t get a killing frost, who knows! Chiles in January?
WEATHER
Here in central Mexico the weather is temperate. That doesn’t mean that it is warm all the time. Lately it has been quite chilly, with temperatures dipping well into the 30’s some nights. When we brought clothing here, I was told to bring sweaters. Now in December, I’m glad that I did.
HOME IMPROVEMENTS
We created some space – a new bedroom and bathroom for Chon’s mother (the old bath is outdoors and down a step, making it difficult for her to navigate). 
We have a new studio for practice and recording. And a stage on top of our garage, for performances. (Years ago we began a tradition of performing for the town. Come see us on New Year’s Eve!)

Does he look like a guitar god?

 AUTOMOBILES/REGISTRATION

We finally got the registration papers for our large truck. We use it mostly for band equipment. It took months to get this task done.  There are a bewildering number of laws and rules about importing  cars to Mexico. The truck qualified, but it evidently had some customization that was difficult to explain, or get cleared, or – something. Now, though, it is legal, and has Mexican license plates. 
TRAVEL AND DRIVING
We have driven many, many miles without trouble. When you cross state lines, however, you may well be stopped by federales, local police, or soldiers. We had an unpleasant experience in Nayarit when federales inspected our PT Cruiser and announced that they had found a marijuana seed in the back. They were insulting and a little scary while they kept us there for about half an hour. They pretended to be insulted when Chon offered to pay them for their trouble, but one of them took some large bills from the travel money we had with us.
Another time when we were stopped by some troops the young soldiers were very happy to accept a mordida although they took it hurriedly so that their superior officer did not see them; probably they didn’t want to share!
Driving here is – different. In general, the rules and laws are the same as the ones we all know and love. But the signs are different, and I don’t mean because they are in Spanish. They are placed differently; not regularized in placement, or color, or lettering. Sometimes you must make a turn before a sign, and sometimes quite a way after the sign. It can be a challenge to find signs for street names. Glorietas (or round-abouts) are a little scary at first, but then they begin to make sense. Just keep to the center of the circle if you are going all the way around, and to the outside lane if you are going to turn right. Many large cities have removed glorietas and replaced them with signal lights.
 UNWRITTEN RULES AND ETIQUETTE
I can’t give myself a high mark in this, but it is improving. Here’s an example: if I were at my home in California and a visitor was seated on my couch, I would go sit next to them to show I was happy they were there, and that I wanted to visit and be sociable. Here, in Mexico though, if someone is visiting and I go to sit with them, in a few minutes they get up and go. A territorial thing? (Sometimes useful!)
I think this was quite random, but that’s what I can think of right now for my checkup, and I’m just going to quit.