Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Let's Go Swimming - School of Acuatic Integration

Our swim school, Ko’ox Bàab – Escuela de Integraciòn Acuàtica earned its title on Sunday, June 22, 2008. Maestro Pablo had organized a recreational day of activities to integrate our students and their families at the expansive Kukulcan Sports Center. He taught the kids to swim, but he wanted them to experience an Olympic swimming pool.

We reserved the pool from noon until 3pm. The coordinators Pablo and Linda arrived early with three assistants, Daniela, Russell and Jarocho carrying all the floats, balls, foam noodles and prizes two vehicles could hold. On the grass beside the pool we set up stations for warmup exercises. Everyone received a hand painted “Ko’ox Bàab” ball as moms, dads, grandparents, aunties, uncles, little children AND our students lined up for a workout. Pablo played fun games, Chicle Bomba being the favorite, to loosen the folks up for the pool games. The group was divided into three teams, Chak Kay, Sak Kay, and Ya’ax Kay. Red fish, White fish and Green Fish, respectively, in Mayan.

Chak Kay began in the deep end making ‘chistoso’ (funny) dives or jumps into the pool and was judged for cleverness. Sak Kay started with crazy races on boards with balls for a long distance water-basketball game. Ya’ax Kay played a variation of volleyball we call ‘catchy-ball’ which everyone seemed to enjoy. Then we rotated the groups. Lots of smiles and many thanks were the biggest rewards for the day’s outing.

One of our students, Mario, has a two and a half year old brother, Saul. Saul always accompanies Mario and his Mom to class, but he said he did not want to learn to swim because he was afraid. A week ago Friday he decided he wanted to check out the pool. He sat on the step in the shallow end. On Sunday in the Olympic pool he decided it was his day to join the group. A great time was had by all.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Cats Left Hanging: Cat Commando Part Two

Not long ago I posted a blog about the commando of cats that inhabit the immediate surroundings. I did not have a photo of Buster's twin, Gemelo, who is presumably the father of at least one of Moka's kittens. I think Lorenzo was responsible for the rest. I will post a few cute photos now that they are two weeks old.

First, little Busmo. Gemelo, Buster's twin and Busmo's dad is next. Then a few kitty photos. The last one is little Sak miis who may get a better name.Busmo may become Bigote. Time will tell.

Hindsight is 20/20

Let's see if I can patch up the botching I did to my last few blogs. My intentions were good and my approach was clear. I swear there were outside influences in addition to my lack of understanding and maneuverability in my own blog settings and layout. I am still new at this.

I was trying to choose good example shots of the before and after of various sections of the house. When I started going through the archives on the computer I got lost. Let's just say it got complicated and I had concentration issues. I thought I could only upload five photos per blog, but my neighbor gave me some tips today that should help fix this mess.

I see that the "after" photos I took are not the exact angles of the original photos. To see the patio before you have to look at the first photo on June 22nd article and to see the current patio you have to scroll down another blog and five photos! Sorry about that. Then I left you hanging with two old photos of the kitchen, which will not match the kitchen photos I am about to upload. I am going to start with the current kitchen photos. I am adding the view from the dining room toward the interior green room (with screen door). Also visible is the main bathroom door. And I will give it another go.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

I found the shot of the patio before the makeover to a swim school. I chose a close up of my bedroom window and then accidentally entered the larger view of the renovated and obviously lived in room.....and then chose two shots of the old kitchen. Next post, the new kitchen.
Thanks to Pea and Jude for involuntarily sharing their photos here. They had the best before shots..........

Before and After

These are the photos I promised several days ago. The idea is to show the same angle before and after renovation. In some cases I managed to capture the essence, in others I fell short. It was an idea not a scientific experiment so use your imagination! Or come see it in living color!
I was working on posting the photos when there was an internet outage here, I added a gmail email address and then could not enter my own blog page, etc. I also went through the albums and tried to notate which shots would be good as samples, but my notes are very sketchy and I spent a lot of time searching for them twice. That is why there is a two day gap between an excited ¡The photos will follow immediately if not sooner! and the ¿well, here are some shots but they don't really show the big picture? The last shot lookind down at the yard, its mate will show up on the next post. I am only able to add five photos at a time here. Gracias por su paciencia.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Moving to Mérida

According to the Diario del Yucatán newspaper, the foreign population in Mérida is growing by leaps and bounds. Every day a new reconstruction site or two is noticeable on a walk around the neighborhood. There are always a few new faces that eventually become familiar. And the longer I am here the more tales I hear about various renovation projects people have experienced after purchasing a home in México. What follows is a brief (for me!) version of my story.

I was lucky. For starters, I did not buy a home that needed a total makeover. The house that found me was painted white inside and out, the patio area was full of branches and garbage. The house sat abandoned for a few years before I took occupancy but was renovated shortly before the previous owners moved away. This boiled down to a project requiring patchwork on the cement walls and ceilings, a few coats of paint, rewiring of the antiquated electrical system, one out of five bathrooms needed retiling, the patio walls reinforced with more height, a well dug and a filter system installed for the swimming pool. In Mérida renovation-speak, it was a small job. The project lasted five months.

My friend Pea accompanied me on the move from Hawaii, allowing me to bring four suitcases instead of two plus carryon baggage which included my cat Buster. Pea and I stayed in a hotel for several days before I could take possession of the house, during which time Buster was run off the property by the resident cats. He went missing and miraculously returned in two months time. When we moved into the house we had absolutely nothing except two hammocks, a few towels, two sheets and four suitcases of clothes, games and memorabilia. It was adventurous at first, camping out in the empty house. In a mind-boggling first excursion to the local super store, Chedraui, we picked up a table and chairs for two, a one burner hot plate, stereo, dishes and glasses, etc. and brought our purchases home on the back of a tricycle. We started with just enough supplies to be able to feed ourselves, provide a variety of beverages, and sleep comfortably. Little by little we improved the campsite during the few weeks Pea was here. We picked up a used refrigerator, cranked up the music and cleaned the filth during the middle of the night, when the temperature dropped below 100°F. We made time to learn our way around the city and played hard by day, and then worked really hard all night long for three weeks.

Once Pea returned to Hawaii, the renovation work began in earnest. Six days a week the albañiles, or cement workers, would be here working from 7am until 6pm. They’d lay out a canvas and make cement in each room they were working on. To patch ceilings, they’d put a load of wet cement on a spatula and SPLAT! – up onto the ceiling, smooth it over, “¡Y ya!” (Done!) They built a scaffold to reach the 25 foot ceiling beams in the two main living rooms and again in the outside covered parking area. It was amazing to see the changes take place daily. The electrician came to work evenings and Sundays because he had a day job. That left him a little behind the six guys that worked all day, causing a need for plenty of repainting and touching up. After the second month, when football season and Latin American Idol were both in full swing, I asked if we could drop either the evenings or the Sundays because I had absolutely no privacy and ended up with a new electrician. I could not breathe without a little privacy. As it was, I was continually moving my suitcases from one room to another to accommodate the workers. I repositioned the hammocks to sequester myself in whichever room was not dusty and/or reeking of paint fumes.

I got carried away choosing colors, there were so many to choose from. You can see that in the photos. I have enjoyed lying and sleeping in hammocks for decades, so when it came time to furnish the house I decided to hang color coordinated hammocks on the numerous hooks that were already in place, tables and chairs randomly located for projects and socializing, and when the first houseguest arrived, I bought a bed.

Of course I wanted the guys to start with the swimming pool. I imagined I could sun myself, read and write while they worked; but the albañiles did not work that way. I had to drool looking at the empty pool through months of 100°+ days, and by the time it was ready “winter” had set in. Swimming enticed folks from 40° latitude or north...not us tropical types. The patio and the pool are still taking shape, and there are a few unfinished projects that will have to wait until the rainy season ends.

And here I am, sitting in the green room with three fans blasting at me, looking beyond the coral hued dining room out into the mocha colored patio. More pictures are pasted onto a separate post. I hope you enjoy the photo tour of my colonial home in Mérida. It is my largest work of art to date.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


We’ve got kittens! What an experience! It was the only birthing I have ever witnessed. Moka let me know on Monday that she was not feeling too pleased with her condition. She was very talkative, not like her normal quiet and slightly squeaky self. She tenderly bit me on the leg as if to ask me what she should do. She stayed close to us all afternoon. As we were getting ready to head out to Mayan language class, Moka came up to me and cried, gave me a few love bites, and I followed her into the room we had prepared for the kittens. She went straight into her box and the contractions started almost immediately. She wanted to be petted, and looked at us with unknowing eyes as if she did not understand at all what was happening to her. Within an hour she stood up, yelped several times, came out of the box and literally dropped a kitten on the floor. She picked it up and put it into the soft basket in front of us and returned inside the box. I don’t think she knew what to do at first, perhaps it was more that she didn’t know what to do first…..clean one or have more! In a short time she had two more kittens. One looks a lot like Lorenzo of the Commando, one is tuxedo black and white, and one is cream colored like Moka. An hour or so later she had one last kitten, the little baby Buster! Of course, Buster is not the father, Gemelo his twin is most likely the culprit, but we were so pleased to see a miniature Buster and a miniature Moka. We might just call him Busmo. The others will likely receive Mayan names. Sak Miis is one name we like, meaning white cat. Time and a little of their personalities will tell.

Moka has been a wonderful Mom so far. She sometimes asks for help lining the little guys up for feeding. She stays close and is a very loving mother and likes to be acknowledged for her efforts. She allows us to handle the kittens, and she let Buster come in to see what all the excitement was about. I will be sure to take photos as these little buggers grow, they are so cute already! Enclosing a few photos of the newborns.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Commando of Cats - Part 1

Negra or Fea
Lorenzo under the car
Buster poolside
The new toys

Splish Splash I was Takin’ A Bath
It is time to recognize the other inhabitants of 518 Calle 75, the COMMANDO OF CATS. Many of the cats occupied this house when it was abandoned for a few years. I think in the cat world it makes them part owners.
Just after dawn yesterday, I heard a Splash! In the pool and I went running. Moka was soaking wet. There were four other cats around the rim of the pool just watching in awe. This is Moka’s second swimming experience. She is one rare cat who loves the water. Moka did not appear traumatized, but she looked so funny. She looked like the wet cat photo my friend Jerry and Naomi had on their wall for years. One look at the scene had me wondering, did she do it on a dare? (“Can of Whiskas says you won’t.” “Two cans say I will.” Splash.) Did she fall in chasing a bug or tussling with one of the macho cats? Or was she making a statement: I am the head of this commando. Maybe she was just overheated and decided to cool off her very pregnant body. It does get hot here, and all that fur and the babies inside….Who knows? She is a curious and crazy little kitty.
If Buster is the Comandante General of the Commando, Moka is the Generala. As a neutered male, Buster would ordinarily be lower in the natural order of “who’s in charge” in the cat world. But the cats know this is his house, and he is twice the size of the rest of the commando. What’s more, he saunters in, eats, hangs out for a while, and then asks me for more food. When I give in and break out another can or packet, he sniffs it and walks away. He sits back and watches the rest of the commando sneak in the house to scarf up some food. I think he asks for the food for them.
The little Siamese Moka, Buster’s newest little sister, is the smallest of the commando. But she commands a lot of respect as an unspayed, pregnant female. She selects which cats get to eat from Buster’s and her bowls. Her favorite is Gemelo, which means twin, as he looks much like Buster and we think he is the father of her kitties. As of this writing I do not have a photo of that wily little bastard that sprays in the house. I better explain why I have a pregnant cat right now. I found Moka curled up at my gate one day in November. She was six weeks old and must have been the runt of the litter. She was really sick with sinus and respiratory infections. The wonderful veterinarian I have, coincidentally named Dr. Pablo, came to the house and treated her. She took antibiotics. I was actually giving her injections every day in one attempted treatment. (me….needles…..injections….horrors!) Eventually we gave up on the antibiotics and I prepared for her some Vicks VapoRub steam treatments. She would go into her little carrying case, I would put a towel over most of it, leave the door open, and set down the vapors. That helped her more than anything else, although to this day she still has sinus problems and continues to have her spa treatments often. I believe Dr. Pablo said we did not fix her because of her health and the risks in anesthesia. Our new plan is to fix her and the kittens as soon as is possible and practical. She is so unique looking I can’t wait to see the kittens. I have never had kittens. I know I need more cats like I need less brain cells. But hey, it is an unfulfilled childhood dream of mine to have kittens. Some people wanted children, I wanted kittens. We are going to have kittens.
Cuate is a Mexicanismo meaning “friend” or “buddy”. He is a handsome but dirty gray and white cat. He does not like me very much and usually greets me, in my own house, mind you, with a hideous hiss. But I can’t blame him. When I first moved in and became aware of the cat situation, I decided to have them all fixed! The local Humane Society makes it easy. They bring you a trap, come for the trapped cat, perform the operation and give the cat vaccinations and a checkup in the hospital, then return the cat for $35 US. Cuate fell for the trap first. Off with his balls! If I were Cuate I would hiss at Lindi too. He is Buster’s friend. Buster invites him in to play. There is a cat party in here every night while we sleep. Pablo was up all night one night and was amazed at the activity that went on around him. All they did was look at him and give him those “What is your problem?” eyes.
Momcat, the newest Siamese to join the commando, may be Moka’s Mom or sister. She has recently had kittens, we can hear them mewing softly next door at the abandoned meat packing building. She is shy and sneaks past me heading toward the feed bowls in the house as if I cannot see her. I am only afraid that soon she will bring those kittens over here, and really, this is a large enough commando. What’s more, we are having our own kittens soon.
Gray is a quiet and rather non-descript cat. He seems to keep to himself, and he likes to hang around poolside where it is cool. They all do. It is cooler around the pool. They all also drink the pool water. This fort is very important to this commando; there is food, shade, and water. And of course me, the biggest sucker in the world when it comes to cats. If I were a cat I would definitely make camp here at Lindi’s house.
Negra, aka Fea (ugly) is a little black cat. She is very sweet. She likes to be petted. She boldly comes to the door and cries for food. After I feed her outside, she sneaks in for more inside. She is a nice looking little feline, but when she opens her mouth and shows her few bad teeth she has a whiny raspy “whahhhhhhhh” that makes her look, well, not cute. She is so nice though that I felt bad calling her ugly, so we went with basic black and try to call her Negra. She has a twin brother who stays out of sight most of the time, but he is an active part of the commando also. I do not have a photo of Negro.
Negro keeps his distance because he was the second cat who fell into the trap. It was a matter of bad timing. I captured him over the weekend hurricane Dean was headed directly for Mérida last August. I put him in an empty room, as was suggested by the Humane Society, for two days….they said they could come for him on Monday. It was horrible. He was completely freaked out and racing pacing in that cage. Crunchies scattered everywhere, his water dish overturned. If that was not a big enough mess, he had diarrhea. I am not going to expound on this, nor exhibit the photo, yes, I took a photo, it freaked me out as much as it did him. As I watched Dean develop and the red alerts went up I figured there was no way the Humane Society would have time for this extraneous project of mine. So I let him go, cleaned up the mess, and never trapped another cat. I still believe it would be best for all, but I cannot do it quite like that again.
Lorenzo. Lorenzo is Spanish for Lawrence, but it is a colloquialism for someone crazy. Our Lorenzo, photo of him hiding under the bed above, is the talkative one of the bunch. It sounds like he is complaining all the time, or nuts, just walking around “Mrah, mrah, rrrrrrrrrrrew”…something like that. Other than griping, his favorite activity is to court the female cats. And spray. (Trap candidate.)
How about that cat scratching post that Pablo made? They do not sell things like this in México. These cats love to play. I told Pablo about the cat scratcher furniture and showed him photos on the internet, and he ran with it. He loves Moka and Buster and the commando. He built it from mostly scraps. The cats are having fun with it. I am looking forward to watching the kittens romp on it.

Teacher of the Year

A list of students for five classes, a new writing tablet, and two automobile tires. It sounds like a writing exercise in a creative writing class. This is what Maestro Pablo was given to substitute teach physical education classes this past week in a private school. Having taught in schools that provide no equipment, often not even a soccer ball, this was just a small challenge for him. He had the kids make paper balls, and set up a makeshift basketball court, or maybe it was a soccer field. After their hour of throwing and kicking paper balls into the tires, races and contests, the students fell in love with Maestro Pablo. He came home beaming with pride. Not only did the maltreatment of the other teachers toward him not affect him, but he showed that initiative and imagination generate success and in this way he earned the students’ respect. By the end of the first day they hoped their regular teacher would not return. Alas, the Maestra did return, and Pablo is back on the massive list of instructors awaiting teaching assignments.
Meanwhile, Pablo is working wonders with the students in our swim school. He now has a 24 year old kid with serious physical deformities and watching Ivan’s first class brought tears to my eyes. What a patient, kind and conscientious soul is Pablo. He is fulfilled at the end of every day after working with these kids. The glowing smiles on the kids’ faces after overcoming a particular fear are priceless. The parents who watch their kids learn to swim radiate with pride. Maestro Pablo is making a lot of people happy.
It pleases me to see Pablo have the opportunity to use his excellent teaching skills. Breaking into the public school system here is a near impossibility. The teachers with tenancy never leave, no matter how old or outdated they become. They certify hundreds of teachers every year and there are only a few positions available. When the school year started, Pablo was driving 90 kilometers to the village of Oxcutzcab three days a week to teach preschool phys ed. The Department of Education did not process his paperwork and kept running him from office to office to try to get paid. Finally they paid him for his work from September through December just before Christmas. Four months work with no pay to show for it, and having to fight to receive it at all. He was instructed to return to class after the Christmas holidays. He taught in Oxcutzcab for the entire month of January. When payday arrived, he was told they did not renew his contract and he would not be paid for his time and he could simply stop going there to teach.
Pablo’s mission in life is to improve the educational system in México. The new teaching methods he learned are quite innovative, but the current government will not commit to making any changes in the old ways. He did not take his dismissal from the preschool lightly. He went to the newspaper. He wrote to all the necessary officials, including the governor. All he got was more run around and more frustrated. Just two weeks ago, four months after the fact, Pablo received a call from the Governor’s office and he was given a meeting with her. If her people actually follow up Pablo is going to receive payment for his work in the month of January by the middle of June. With any luck at all he will be offered a permanent teaching position in the fall.
My vote for teacher of the year obviously goes to Pablo Francisco Chavez Ceballos. He deserves a break today.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Buster says

If you would like to read about our neighbor Theresa’s view of life in Mérida, please link to “WHAT DO I DO ALL DAY?” below. She has been blogging for quite a while now, and has some great stories and photos on her site. Theresa has a great sense of humor. It is a fun site we recommend.
We would like to recommend you visit COCO HARRIS’s website. She is a published author, instructor, creative diarist….just to name a few hats she wears. Coco lives in the Golden Isles of Georgia . She is amazing. Don't just visit her site, participate in her journaling projects as well.
Our niece Jen has a fun blogspot, Black Cat. She writes from Virginia. Jen has interesting information about health and life issues. Check her out.
We have added links to Akumal Dive Shop and the house Gonzalo rents out on Half Moon Bay in Akumal. If anyone has an interest in a trip to the “Mayan Riviera” we can offer info and highly recommend diving in Akumal, snorkeling in the lagoons around the area, and visiting the ruins of Tulum and Coba in Quintana Roo.
Of course I had to add a link to a weather site. Just in case there is a storm brewing around here somewhere and you are curious or worried about us.
I hope you enjoy meeting some of our friends and family through this medium…the blog.
Aloha and hasta pronto,

Monday, June 2, 2008

Weathering Time

If you know me at all, you know I am obsessed with weather. When I lived in Hawaii, prior to everyone owning their own computers, I was the only person who had a weather radio. If a storm was heading toward Hawaii from anywhere I had the coordinates, I had my hurricane tracker and sharp pencils. I managed to lose myself watching the weather even in those times. Friends would call me to find out what was really happening since the television “meteorologists” only gave weather reports that tourists want to hear, and only for the island of Oahu, several hundred miles away from where we lived on the Big Island. Our weather was often different since the Hawaiian Islands have tendencies to create their own weather patterns.

Now this obsession is reaching dangerous levels. I am now in the Yucatán and there is lots more weather to watch! I moved my work space to another room so I could get up and “go to work” (writing), and as soon as I did the first tropical storms of the season were born. I have not figured out how to transfer files from one computer to another unless I actually send myself a document via email. If I send myself one document at a time I won’t be able to watch any storms. So my desk has TWO computers open on it. That allows me to go directly to the National Weather Service on one computer and to several other sites on the other. The result, another ‘pinche’ excuse for not writing. Today I am very upset with myself and my usage of time. This is a little exercise my multiple personalities and I go through from time to time, falling into the “I am lazy and worthless” category, all of us. If I can stop the self pity long enough to look at the big picture, I can see that I have done a lot and come a long way from one or two years back. But as usual, it is not enough to have satisfied me.

What have I learned of the weather in these past few days? It has been raining in Colombia nonstop since April. There are mudslides and all kinds of havoc there. The first tropical storm of the season, in the Eastern Pacific, was named Alma. Alma formed off the west coast of Costa Rica. I read that has not happened before. Alma headed northeast into Nicaragua (I am glad I did not buy the houseboat on the lake in western Nicaragua I was looking at!), Costa Rica, Honduras and El Salvador. It dissipated into a tropical depresión crossing land but left behind several flooded areas and lots of “damnificados”, or folks with damage. Once it crossed the Isthmus of Panama it reformed in the southern Caribbean and became tropical depression Arthur, increasing for a short time to tropical storm. It sat off the coast of Belize and Chetumal, Mexico for a day or so before heading west. It accumulated lots more rain. It is now just a low pressure system heading across the Yucatan Peninsula and toward the south-southwest dumping huge amounts of rain in its path.

Meanwhile, all the tropical moisture lingers in the area. Invest 91 is a new low located in approximately the same place Alma was born. The prediction models do not know whether it will continue its cyclonic formation, and it is being watched. What is interesting is that if it does form it may head north to the Gulf of Mexico. Oh oh, I think it is time for an updated satellite map. Time to go.