Saturday, June 27, 2009

Weather Check

The rainy season is approaching. We have had a few freak afternoon rains the past two weeks blasting us with just a taste of the upcoming tropical rains. The storms have rolled in quickly, turning a bright blue sky into blackish gray clouds in minutes, followed by tornado like winds and a heavy sideways downpour. The patio has already flooded a few times, but the true gauge that this is just a glimpse into the near future is there have been no lake effects in the street. The afternoon rains often flood 75th Steet in front of my house. There are little waves that wash into the driveway. A small row boat would be practical for negotiating Mérida´s numerous flooded streets.

Our first tropical wave is passing over the Yucatán Peninsula as I write this. It had the potential to intensify as it crossed the land and threatened to form into a tropical storm when it entered the Gulf of México west of us. Conditions have changed. Our forecast of 80% chance of rain yesterday fizzled into a few passing black clouds, distant thunder, some high humidity, and a slight drop in temperature. But we had no rain. Current conditions are such that we could see light fluffy clouds pass over all day, or they could become heavy cumulo-nimbus reaching far up into the sky and we could find ourselves in another major downpour. Or not.

Hurricane season has begun. The seas around the Caribbean and Gulf of México are quite warm, and there is a lot of unstable air aloft. I am a weather watcher and thought I would share with you my favorite weather sites. Many of them are formattable to provide the forecast in your area of México, if you are not in Mérida.

For the regional map from Weatehr Underground, go to:

For the specific Mérida forecast and details, go to:

Direct link to the National Hurricane Center from the National Weather Service

My favorite satellite pics, through the University of Hawaii meteorology site. I like to see the bigger pictures and these are great satellites.

And last this is Hurricane 2008! (it probably says 2009 by now) from Accuweather.

Ok, one last thing. The curent list of hurricane names for the season.

Atlantic names 2009


Pacific names 09

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

School's Out

The side of a traveling party truck....Lights and Sound Fokuz...the atmosphere of your fiesta.
Sounds like a fight ready to break out to me. It's all in the name.

In yesterday's paper I could have sworn it said today is the last day of school. But I have to mention that I often misunderstand what I read in Spanish. Today is June 24th. Ordinarily the kids are in school until the end of June. When the Mexican government shut down the entire country in April due to the influenza, the schools were closed for two weeks. It was decided at that time that the kids would attend school into mid-July to make up for lost time. That was not a popular decision, since July is vacation time for most Mexicans.

The father of two of our swim students confirmed that today is the last day of school...for most schools. Some private schools and smaller schools who passed the hygiene test will remain open. What happened?

The flu came back around. The Yucatán now boasts the second highest number of cases in the country, around 500. There is even another suspected death but no one is willing to go near enough the guy's house to investigate.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Home Improvement: Adding Air Conditioning

The upstairs guest room is officially air conditioned.

I hadn't thought about adding a/c to the house until one day I decided to spend the afternoon up in the guest room, writing. It was the hottest day of the year at 45°C (113°F). The windows and door were open and three fans blared. I tried writing in the hammock, at the table, in a chair, and the bottom line was a fiery fucking furnace in there! The fans simply whiffled my papers around the room while the fans blasted hot air in my face . It was a Thursday afternoon so my 'heat-relief', the swimming pool, was occupied by a class of splashing little boys.
All of a sudden the sky turned black and a mini-cyclone seemed to form in the patio. Winds whipped up the mats, swirled leaves into tornados, people ran to hide under the roof, and then the rains came. It poured and lightning flashed and thunder roared. It was May 28th and the first measurable amount of rain this year. It had been an extremely dry to date, so the rain was welcome relief. The rain didn't cool us off that day, instead the air was heavy and wet after the storm.
Today is June 21st, and we've had three weeks of rainy season pattern weather so far. The rains usually start in July. April through June are typically hot and dry. This year it was rather cool in the mornings and evenings until the rains came. Now it is hot and humid all day and all night. It still cools down enough in the hours before dawn to cover up with a sheet. But when that sun comes up, it gets hot. So much for the weather report.
The guest room is expecting an occupant. Via the coconut wireless a fellow writer looking for a place to retreat found out about the room upstairs, which I'd said I'd like to rent. (The kitties voted to adopt another human too: two more hands to feed and pet them!) Our new friend was all set to jet down here and then I wrote to her about the fiery furnace. She freaked. She lives in Minnesota, and really, folks, Mérida is HOT. Some of us prefer the heat to living in an icy freezer half the we don't complain MUCH. The Yucatán is a pleasant place to live so we learn to work with the extreme weather instead of against it.
In my attempt to work with all the conditions at hand, I bit the bullet and bought an air conditioning unit. The gal who cleans the house knew an installer, and he came out yesterday to give an estimate. "Easy job," he said, "900 pesos total." ($66US) Erick arrived on a motorcycle with a folding ladder stowed on the side and a tool box bungeed to the back. He assessed the situation and began to chisel a hole in the wall.

Within a few hours he was testing the electrical mainswitch and completing the instalation. He did a nice job, worked quickly and efficiently, and we were quite satisfied. The unit operates easily with a remote control switch, and the room cooled down rapidly. We got cold!
Before and after....on the outside looking in.

While I was up on the roof I decided to get a new angle on the patio. It occurred to me I have never taken any photos from outside the gate, so to speak, and you know I am crazy about pictures! So I took some to share.

A look at the upstairs enclosed patio from beyond the solar panels on the roof.

Ok, I should have cleaned up all the fallen cement first, but as you can see, we are working on it. If you notice the air conditioning unit is directly wired to the electric box. There's room to hang a hammock out here or laundry, but there is no shade and it rains!

Looking down at the swimming pool. Inviting, isn't it?

A partial shot of the patio. Scattered about are lots of flowering plants, like jasmine, miniature roses, hibiscus, oleander, succulents, desert rose (hah! Lisa! I remembered!), all sizes and colors. They thrive in the rainy season on their own, and Pablo likes to meditate while watering the plants, so the "garden" always looks really clean and nice.

The Guatemalan papaya (fingers crossed - sweet little papaya like the Hawaiian Strawberry kine'), the basil bush (smells fantastic), and the ground cover are the highlights here. The palms could be happier, there is an unidentified vine taking root...stay tuned for melons or cucumbers.....and we are anticipating a few annual flowers too!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Jim's Nightmare

The first hibiscus of the season.

This was going to be a post on how the garden is growing. I exhibited my utmost patience trying to upload some photos and the internet connection kept going out. Eventually my impatience won and I decided to try again later. Like tomorrow.

So I finished writing my book. At first I was thrilled. Two and a half mind boggling years of writing, organizing, reorganizing, reading through journals, emails, typing, writing, and editing and finally, it was complete. It was a larger than life undertaking. At one point it ran 185 single spaced pages with over 120,000 words. I edited again and again and rewrote until finally I burdened a few friends with the request of reading and commenting. Two of them couldn't read it yet, they were too close to Jim's nightmare. Three others did read it and have given me positive reinforcement with constructive comments.

However the final verdict was a big disappointment because the book has one serious problem: It is just TOO sad! I tried to add comic relief wherever I could throughout the story, but the truth is there WAS no comic relief during the ordeal. Frankly I'd completely lost my sense of humor and it took me a long time to get through the anger, frustration and hopelessness. I am still working on restoring my sense of humor.

I thought a book about one couple's battle with cancer would be insightful to so many of us who are close to someone with the disease. My goal was to share our experiences with the intention of offering coping tips and a bird's eye view into how cancer affects everyone in and around the patient's life.

Jim lost his battle but he put up an incredible fight. I thought that by writing Jim's story and my overcoming the grief of his subsequent death, I could give the book a happy ending. A hope redefined. I picked the pieces of myself up off the ground and glued them back together by writing and venturing out into the universe to give life another try. My goal was not just SURVIVE, but THRIVE.

My satisfaction of finishing my book was short lived. The fact is, my book is NOT done. No one has discouraged me with comments or suggestions. I agree with most of the comments I have received. I just wanted it to be done. It may take a while to regain any sense of objectivity toward this project, so reworking it sounds overwhelming to me at the moment. I have to let it sit and breathe. My great work of art turned out to be only a rough draft. Just a little reality bullet that hit me square between the eyes and has blinded me a bit.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

My Pet Iguana and the Pitaya

Just kidding! This is NOT my pet iguana. This one was handed to me when I entered the reptile exhibition at the Bali Bird and Reptile Park in Indonesia. I wasn't expecting it as I crossed through the portal, but I was open to the experience. I like to talk to animals, and I enjoyed the feel of the leathery skin. He was a very mellow iguana.

There were lots of iguanas at the Bali Bird & Reptile Park.

This is actually my "pet" iguana. This guy lives on the other side of the wall, but he enjoys sunning on top of it. I talk to him when I am in the pool, and he turns his third eye toward me and makes gestures, but I don't know what he is saying. He is difficult to photograph, although little by little he is allowing me to get closer.
The cactus you see is pitaya. In Hawaii it is called dragon fruit. The plant is growing on the other side of the wall but the fruit is spilling into my yard. Whether I get to enjoy the fruit or the iguana gets them first remains to be seen.

This is the blooming pitaya flower the NIGHT AFTER it bloomed. I missed it. I found out from my knowledgeable morning swimmers that the flower only blooms for one night. The fruit will follow. I haven't tasted the pitaya yet.
I am watching this little bud and hope to capture the flower in full bloom.

Below is a fruit stand on the road between Mérida and Celestún with typical Yucatecan fruit, mamey and pitaya.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Birthday Bash

Yesterday, June 9th, was Lorenza's, Sak Boox's, Mokito's and Busmo's ONE YEAR birthdays! They all started off the morning on a group hunt and brought home a record 5 lizards. After all that activity, Lorenza shows how everyone spent the afternoon....sprawled out in front of a fan, resting up for the evening's festivities.

Busmo zonked out.

Mokito patiently awaits Lin's return home from drinking wine and blabbering with friends in the evening. "We are waiting for our hamburger and tunafish, you know!"

Buster and Weasel join the celebration as the hosts look on.
Busmo says, "I like this birthday thing! We have special crunchies, tunafish, and Lin cooked us up some hamburger. I am stoked."

The last of the catnip was dessert, and everyone got into the action, eventually.
All pooped out.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Everything You Could Ever Want to Know About Coffee Link

John at Viva Veracruz wrote a very interesting series about coffee processing. If you want to learn more about processing coffee, I mean A LOT more, check out his series. The story about la Doña growing, processing, and roasting her organic coffee is heartwarming. I thoroughly enjoyed reading his posts, and recommend them. He did all the research I tried to avoid in my post. His information is spot on and he has some excellent photos. It took me back to my friend Rudy's coffee plantation in Chiapas....and Doña's house looks a lot like the coffee shack we lived in in Kona!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Good Cup of Coffee

My thoughtful and wonderful friend Maxine recently sent me 100% pure Kona coffee......Kunitake Farms, my favorite, maybe because the coffee Maxine and Larry Kunitake send has been tended to with love since the beans first sprouted on their trees. Coffee from the Big Island of Hawaii is always a welcomed gourmet treat, but this family's coffee is truly delicious.

I learned a lot about coffee in Kona when Max and I worked together roasting, packaging, and delivering coffee. We even had to do some of the field work, like hulling, grading, raking the coffee as it was drying, or put it through the coffee cherry washing machine-like process. (I don't know the technical terms, and if I stop and research them I will end up writing a 10 page story about some other topic. I sat down to write THIS and instead got sidetracked writing a long detailed story about the first times I visited my friend Rudy's coffee plantation in Chiapas. Sometimes this gift of gab is a curse.)

Left: Medium roast coffee from Chiapas. Right: dark roast Kona coffee.

Even if you don't know much about coffee, you would have to admit the one on the right is more appetizing. There are no off color beans. They are uniform in size. This is a batch of dark roasted Kona coffee, and should be darker than the Chiapan coffee on the left. What is inferior about the Chiapan coffee is the non-uniformity of the beans, the presence of off-colored beans which will be bitter, and lots of paper parchment that doesn't do harm but is not flavor enhancing either. Darker roasts heat up the coffee to a higher temperature and often lose their perfect shape during little explosions. I learned that when I roasted my little batch in the oven and thought I'd put popcorn in there.

The coffee grown in both Chiapas, México, and Kona,Hawaii is either Arabe (Arabic in English) or Márago(don't know English equivalent). These plants prefer deep dark volcanic soil, tropical yet mountainous conditions, and some giant shade trees to allow them some afternoon rest from the strong sunshine they enjoy in the morning. (Want a hammock and a beer with that?) Both Chiapas and Kona have excellent growing conditions and produce world class coffee. There are several premium coffee producers worldwide, Jamaica and Africa are two fine examples, but this blog is only about what I have at home today. It is a learning comparison, not a criticism. There is another type of coffee called Robusta that grows in lower elevations, nearer to the sea, and is harvested by machines. If I were to criticize any coffee, it would be this less flavorful improperly processed one. You know, the Folgers or worse, Nescafé, of the coffee world.

Starting from the field, coffee cherries have to be picked from the trees as they ripen. If a branch is stripped of all its beans, the green beans are added to the harvest. Unripened green beens are bitter. Only the ripest reddest cherries should be artfully plucked from the branches. This means you have to harvest the same tree over and over throughout picking season. There were coffee trees around the old coffee shack where we lived in Holualoa (Kona slopes). I decided one day to pick coffee. It took me five hours to fill one 5 gallon bucket. I was exhausted and scratched up. I got impatient picking the individual beans and took a lot of breaks. It's hard work, to put it mildly.

The coffee has to be washed to remove the outer layer, the cherry. Inside is the bean with its protective hull. Once washed of the somewhat slimy cherry, the beans are spread out to dry. In Kona the "coffee shacks" are so called because of their hoshidanas, Remove Formatting from selectionsliding rooftops that slide over the coffee to protect it from the afternoon rains. It took me days to remove the cherries from my bucket, and the acid from the outer layer and constant popping the cherries, so to speak, left my fingers red and numb.

Once dried, the dried skin covering the bean has to be removed by a hulling machine. When I picked my own coffee that ONE time, I removed the hulls myself. They are crispy and the process left my red, numbed fingertips ripped apart and raw. Part of that process is removing the parchment, or paper thin flakes that remain on the bean. The machine is much more efficient in removing the parchment than blowing on it through a colandar.

From there the beans are graded. The grading machine reminded me of the old game Mouse Trap. I'd drop the beans into a bin at the top and they'd shimmy down a belt with different size holes. Beans would drop into bins by size, thus grading the coffee. They have different classifications in different countries, but Kona coffee is graded as Superior, #1 bean, #2 bean, prime and peaberry. Superior and #1 are the most sought after. Prime is coffee that will be sold ground, it is not shapely and beautiful to look at. Peaberry is a special bean! Most coffee beans are semi-ovals, I guess you could say, and peaberries are the whole beans found at the end of each cluster on the tree. Some folks prefer peaberry to any other grade, and they pay dearly for the luxury.

Below are #1 Kona beans. Before getting to this stage they were sorted and bagged as unroasted "green" coffee and finally shipped, stored or roasted. Many fancy names are given to coffee roasts. No matter what you call it, you basically are asking for a light, medium or dark roast.

These beans are a Kona medium roast and a #1 coffee bean.

This is what is called a family roast. The coffee is all great, but it is not graded as carefully. There are peaberries, superior beans, #1s, and an occasional odd sized piece. Still it is quality coffee processed carefully, clean, fresh and delectable.

The Chiapan coffee below I would also call a family roast. It is a light roast. Often that leaves some of the parchment behind that blows off in further roasting. I usually toss the off-color beans and I find the taste is cup-worthy. I am happy to have access to quality coffee at a reasonable price, and there is no complaint here. It is just that the difference in processing is very noticeable and I thought this a good opportunity to share some info about that cuppa' jo' that we take for granted most of the time. 100 lbs. of picked coffee yields 16 pounds of roasted coffee. It is a labor intensive art. If I remember correctly, my weeks of toiling and growing new fingertips yielded me about a half a pound of kona java.

Kona coffee sells for an average of $25 a pound. Chiapan coffee goes for 90 pesos ($6.77 US at today's rate) for a kilo (2.2 lbs.) See? It's all good. A gift of gold on occasion from Kona and quality locally grown coffee at a reasonable price...they even deliver! All I want is a tasty and strong cup, make that two, to get the day going right.....

Copán Ruins, Honduras

As I prepare a post for the Mayan Ruins blog page, I look through my photos and take myself back there so I can point out what was most interesting. I like to visit ruins so I can understand Mayan history better, but it is too big for me to grasp. So I have to re-read the guidebooks, research more of the ruins' history online, and lastly drag out every book I have about the Mayans and re-read that information. Obsessive? I suppose. I am trying to improve the ruins site to be more than just a personal photo blog.

When researching Copán, I ran across a traveler blogging his way around the world. When he posted about Copán, he simply said, "It is not all it was cracked up to be." I disagreed. And that inspired me to try to write a comprehensive story about Copán. I uploaded the photos weeks ago, and finally, yesterday, I was ready to post. The bummer is, it posted itself according to the date I added the photos, and it is not the first post you find if you open the page.

Here are some of the Copán figurines we bought. We loved them! They cost 50 cents US each. They are cheap imitations, and if you look closely, you can see most of them have been broken and glued back together. What was funny was we bought a few the first day, and on our second day at the ruins we sought out the two young boys who sold us the first ones, and bought almost all they had. We bought 18 of these. Practically everything at Copán is about King 18 Rabbit...........I prefer Uaxaklajún Ubaah K'awil......he is represented by many of the stelae at the site....and I guess we felt we needed 18 of them.

Left to right, King 18 Rabbit, King 18 Rabbit, King Smoke Shell, King 18 Rabbit, unknown subject, and unknown subject.

Ok, I don't know if the third one is King Smoke Shell, I made that up. He just looks like he should be called King Smoke Shell.

The heiroglyphics on all sides of the stelae at Copán are intriguing. I can recognize numbers and certain characters and glyphs, but it seems so complicated. I know Chak when I see him, and of course now Uaxaklajún (18) Ubaah K'awil (Rabbit)..........but I have a long way to go.

These are views of the back sides of the little cheap replicas from my mayan god collection. Copán is a spectacular place, you just have to know what it is you are looking for when you get there. Foresight is more difficult than hindsight, but well worth the effort.