Success!

Success!

My Dallas trip was a success, but not like you would think.

The plan was to get up early Wednesday morning and go to the Social Security office and complete my application process. However, before I got out of bed, my phone rang. Would you believe it was the US Embassy in Mexico City?

Yep. I spent $1500 to get a phone call! Geez. That said, however, there was some additional good news: Because of having been married previously for more than 10 years, I am entitled to a larger monthly benefit than I would normally be — about $300 a month more. Down here, that is a lot of money! Can you do the happy dance?

Other business:

While I was in Dallas I had a couple of other things to do, such as pick up my AdvoCare products — I can’t live without my Spark! — and complete setting up a direct transfer from my US bank to my Mexico bank.

In addition, I was able to reconnect with my friends Mike and Emily Biddler, who are the parents of my good friend Jeane Brown. The timing couldn’t have been better. Not only did we have a lovely dinner, but the Biddlers drove me to pick up my Spark.

By Wednesday night I had successfully completed two of the three goals I had for the trip.

Unfortunately, I also visited the bank that afternoon. That part didn’t go as planned. Turns out that the banker in Boise didn’t complete the process on his end, which meant I couldn’t do what I needed to do to get the system working. The alternative was to start over. That wasn’t going to work, though, because I would have to come back in a week to send the first transfer. It MUST be done in a branch. That was the initial problem when I set it up in Boise (or so I thought) in the fall.

It took a second trip to the bank on Thursday to confirm all this, which left me with an entire day to myself in beautiful Dallas. Not that I did anything fun. I just went back to the hotel and rested.

My room at The Hotel Lorenzo

Speaking of the hotel, it was the Hotel Lorenzo. A very cool, modern and funky little hotel with a great happy hour bar/restaurant. I was able to get my meals there without breaking the bank.

The carpet in the room made me a little crazy. Basically, it was a black carpet with white text on it — quotes from Shakespeare! The text was fuzzy, so you couldn’t actually read it, but I did my damnedest! “To be or not to be, that is the question….” Finding the sentences that went together made me absolutely insane, but, hey — English major! I couldn’t rest until I found them!

In the lobby restaurant, each wall had photos of different artists — Dali, Picasso and Warhol, were some of them. In the main part of the lobby, there was a hallway with TVs that each showed one eye blinking. On the other side was a mirror. Weird, but interesting.

Best part? The bed was super comfy and I slept really well.

Other view

The last thing I did was to purchase some items in the CVS pharmacy that we can’t get here — Zicam spray, ear plugs for Lyn, and moleskin for my tender toes!

Overall, mission accomplished, I think. We’ll see when the first check arrives!

Dallas, here I come!

Dallas, here I come!

New year, new hassles.

It only took 2 years to collect on my circuit city pension, and now the wonderful social security administration is taking its sweet time approving my retirement benefits. Ah, the government.

Not like it’s a lot of money. Down here a little goes a long way. This small retirement benefit covers my rent each month and is more than I actually earn in a month.

It’s just the hassle factor of collecting it.  I applied in July, so we are talking 6 months ago, and still nada. But finally, yesterday, after an hour talking to people who have no desire to help, I was connected with a manager. She told me that I could walk into any SSA office in the US and get it done right away. The issue at the moment is that I live in Mexico. Really? So why didn’t anyone tell me this before? It’s not like I haven’t called numerous times.

Apparently, the US Embassy handles all that stuff here, and there is no way to contact them directly.  And so, here I go. To Dallas (the fastest direct flight) to both handle this “glitch” and, since I’ll be there, pick up a year supply of Advocare!

Two birds with one very expensive stone. Argh.

(FYI, the image I picked represents how I feel about all this!)

 

 

It’s 2020 and I’m such a slacker!

It’s 2020 and I’m such a slacker!

Geez Louise, it’s been about 6 months since I’ve written anything here. Of course, like everyone on the planet, the advent of the new year means a new resolution to do better. Well, let’s just see how that goes.

So, to catch you all up, Lyn and I are still living in Querétaro and teaching ESL. The last few months were quite interesting, with lots of things happening.

The Anglo

Lele

I completed one year at The Anglo in August. And, the good news is, my contract was renewed for another year. I’m so glad, as I just LOVE my job! I love all of the people who work there — and I do mean all of them, from the cleaning staff to the administration. It is a very closely knit family.

A visit home

The key benefit of having completed my contract is that I had a month-long paid vacation. I took that opportunity to go back to the US and visit my family in NY and friends in Idaho. Overall it was a great trip. I was able to meet the newest addition to the family — my grand nephew, Bryson. What a sweet little baby! I also had the chance to see my #1 nephew, Joey, play soccer. He’s a goalie. It was a fun day to sit and do something so normal with family!

Me and baby Bryson
Me and Bryson

I also had the chance to catch up with my beautiful nieces, both of whom are growing up so fast! Being a mom will certainly do that to you, so with Jenifer it was no real surprise. My precious Bells, though, is growing up too quickly. What a gorgeous young woman she is!

soccer game
Joey on the field

Of course, no trip home is complete without some shopping. I definitely had some quality time at Macy’s, where I bought myself lots of things to get me through the winter here in Querétaro. It does get cold here, and, even in the summer with the AC on in the classrooms, I needed some warmer things to wear.

hiking in the Boise foothills
Me, Ziva and Reese in the Boise foothills

While visiting family is great, the best part of the trip was the week in Boise. I was able to catch up with most people, celebrate my birthday with my best friends, and enjoy some quality outdoor time. We hiked in the foothills every day. It surprised me how well I did considering that I haven’t had a lot of exercise since living in Mexico. I was actually able to keep up with the others. I think it may have been because I’ve been living at an elevation of about 6,000 feet.

2019 Birthday dinner
Birthday dinner at Gino’s

Of course, I did a bit more shopping. Ultimately I had to buy another suitcase to get all the stuff home, which also included several month’s supply of AdvoCare products that I can’t get down here. It was so worth it though.

I also spent a little time with Lyn’s mom. I don’t even want to discuss that fiasco. Let’s just say it didn’t end well. I can’t begin to tell you how frustrating that experience was. Let’s just say the first meeting took place in the ER. Nuff said.

Back home

Coming home is always the final destination, and I was thankful to be back with Lyn and our four-legged family. I still had a few days of downtime before going back to work, which I needed to recover from all that traveling!

Once here, I had a birthday party (our first in the new house). It was great fun! I learned how to dance Cumbia, and we ate, drank and danced the night away!

As the year continued, we had our first Day of the Dead while living in El Centro Historico. That was very fun! There were public alters everywhere, and the colors and decorations were beautiful. Of course, we even had an altar at school. Last year we had a competition. This year they just set one up in the lobby.

Day of the dead Lele doll

One of our friends, Tiffany, came over and we walked all over town the night of the celebration. We tried to go to a cemetery, but it was closed by the time we got there. It was interesting to me that, in such a catholic country, there are so few cemeteries. You would think there would be more.

One of many public altars. Note that the skull face in front is made from different types and colors of seeds

 

There were some public buildings, too, that had altars set up in them. In those cases, there seemed to be a theme, for example, in one building, each neighborhood had an altar.

There was also an indigenous exhibition of Mayan dancers. The costumes were just amazing! It was a little difficult to see everything since the dancers were performing without a stage. We were still able to get a few photos. They used a lot of fire in the performance, too.

Indigenous dancer costume.

Back to school

Naturally, I returned to work. My class schedule was pretty light the last few months of 2019, which was ok with me. I always feel a little guilty when I get paid for not working, especially when all the other teachers have multiple jobs to earn enough. It wasn’t without it’s frustrations, but, alas, that comes with the territory.

2019 Xmas party in CDMX
Christmas 2019 in CDMX

The Anglo had a wonderful Christmas party in Mexico City. That was so much fun! They had a great band, gifts, dancing, glow-in-the-dark face painting, tequila, and more! It was a long way to go for a party, but it was worth it. They bussed us, too, which meant we could sleep on the bus.

Xmas 2019

And that, my friends, brings me almost up to date!

It’s a party!

Christmas vacation

Blue Hawaiian by the pool

This year, Lyn and I went to the beach. We planned the trip earlier in the year when a mutual friend suggested we meet somewhere for Christmas. She ultimately wasn’t able to make it, so I invited one of my colleagues from work to join us. I already booked two rooms. She jumped at the opportunity. She, her son and her mother ended up going with us. It was a lot of fun.

Rocio, Ruben, Lyn and Me on the shuttle

My goal for the trip was to relax, which I did in spades! We mostly sat by the pool, where I sipped my 2-for-1 Blue Hawaiians. The only activities we planned were to go to Tulum and snorkeling in Cozumel. It rained the day we went to Cozumel, but it didn’t matter much in the water. We did get a bit soaked getting back to the hotel shuttle, as we had to walk all the way down 5th Avenue. Nevertheless, it was a very good day. Well, except for the fire coral I ran into to. Man did that sting!

2020

That pretty much brings us up to today, January 2, 2020. We’re not much for new year’s celebrations, so we stayed home and kept the animals calm as all the fireworks went off. The explosions kept up until after 2 a.m., so we started the new year a bit sleep deprived. Oh well, there’s another 364 days to rest.

Classes don’t start again until the 11th or so, so we still have time to rest. We did buy some new things for the house — a couple of very nice rugs, which are nice to have now that it is so much colder in the morning. I am also quite thankful for the warm clothing that I bought on my US vacation. (Oh, I forgot to mention I went shopping in Playa too, but only bought a couple of things — shoes and a bag.)

We are still working on getting our pictures and decor on the walls, but it is coming along.

A few more pics

Saadia, Denise and me, Boise 2019
At home with Bob
Me and Ellen, NY 2019
Mi cuñada, Flor, and me in NY 2019
Bob and Stef at Joey’s soccer game
Me, Lyn and Ruben in Playa del Carmen, 2019
One of several “cocodrillos” at the resort in Playa
The flamingo area at Vidanta
Me and my Bells, NY 2019

 

 

I’m a teacher!

I’m a teacher!

I had no idea when I decided to teach EFL that I would love it the way I do. Turns out I’m pretty good at it too.

At the Anglo, every teacher is observed by someone from the QA department once per quarter. Because our school is so new, we haven’t had observations until just recently.

To say it is stressful does not convey the terror of this experience. These observations not only rate your teaching ability, lesson planning and overall use of English, but they go toward rating the entire school. Our goal as teachers is to score a minimum of 2.5 (of 4).

Never having been a teacher before, I was quite nervous. They don’t tell you when they are coming, although they did say they wouldn’t come on a Saturday or observe on the first day of a new course.

So what happened? The observer came on a Saturday on the first day of a new course.

Saturday courses are 6 hours long. They are painful. For the students and the teachers. The first day is also a bit challenging, as you don’t know who will be in the class and how they will gel as a group.

To make matters worse, the observer came to my class at 1:40 p.m. — within an hour of the end of the class, when everyone is at their tiredest and, in my case, half the class had left early.

Good Fortune

I was quite lucky, however, in that I had had several “mock” observations — by the academic supervisor and my mentor (a fellow teacher with lots of experience), so I knew what to expect.

It would have been nice if everything had gone smoothly, but, of course, I only had 2 of my 7 students left and they were struggling with the listening activity I had planned.

Naturally, the observer picked up on this and, in her notes to me, asked me to “reflect” on the way I teach listening micro skills, as well as on my strengths and weaknesses as a teacher.

Yikes. I didn’t even know what micro skills were until that day! I mean, I knew what they were but not what they were called, so I had to ask her. She was very kind in explaining it to me without making me feel like an idiot.

Good Writer

Fortunately, I am a good writer. They give you 3 working days to respond with your reflection. Of course, I started right away. My reflection ended up 5 pages long!

Extensive? Uh-huh. But worth it. You see, you are also rated on your actual reflection! So, in that area I received a 4 (of 4). And, of course, as a native English speaker, my Use of English was also a 4.

The conclusion was that I scored a 2.7 overall.  Yippee!!!!! This is very good for me!

Teacher Conference

NGL The Anglo
Our team at the Anglo Teachers Conference in Mexico City 5 Jul 2019.

Last week, a bunch of teachers from the Anglo went to Mexico City to attend an annual conference given by National Geographic Learning, who provides many of our textbooks and materials for kids and teens.

Because so many of us were going, The Anglo rented a van and a driver to take us there. On a good day, the drive is about 2.5 hours. We left at 6:00 a.m. in order to get to the conference by 10. We made it.

The conference was really good. It would take too long to fully describe it. Let’s just say the first half was about teaching 21st century skills and the second half was about using photography and story to engage students. Turns out that the photographer lives in Querétaro! We made sure to get his email address so we can invite him to the school. Luckily for me, everything was in English.

Afterward, we went to a local Mexican “fast food” restaurant called La Casa de Toño for lunch before heading back to Queretaro. It was very good and very inexpensive! I had flautas, flan and a Corona light for less than $100 MX ($5 US). God, I love Mexico!

The ride back was uneventful. Most everyone slept at least part of the way. We got back to school around 6 p.m. Long day.

 

Living in the City

Living in the City

Ok. So I’m a slacker. Let me just say that I am well aware of that. Yet it isn’t because I don’t want to write my blog… it’s more that I want to sleep more than I want to work on this thing. (My typical day starts at 5:30 a.m. Right now, I teach from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. and then again at 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. The first thing I do when I get home in the morning is take a nap.)

But here I am, giving it another go.

It has been an eventful couple of months. Izzy’s recovery took some time. Between her overall health issues, her shredded toe pads and her bad haircut, we spent a lot of time getting her back to “normal.” We knew we had reached it when she started running around the house and jumping up and down on the furniture.

We are still a little gun shy about the front door, although, at this point, she probably knows where she lives.

Spring in the City

We moved into our new place in April. Since then, we have gotten more furniture and have settled into the place. I now cook regularly (when I’m home at dinner time), and often walk to or from work. I could do it more, but it is dark that early and I feel more comfortable in an Uber.

At night, I Uber to work and my friend, Joe, drives me home. Even with three Ubers a day, it only costs me $5 a day, $3.50 if I walk one time. Sometimes I take my car, but not too often. It is just too hard to find parking when I get home!

With the change of seasons also come the bugs. I was quite shocked the first day I walked into school and gigantic flying ants started falling out of the light fixtures.

Giant flying ants
One of the flying ants at school.

I’m no wimp, but bugs falling from the sky makes me itchy. I was told that these flying ants only appear after the first rain and then disappear. Thank God.

While there were many at school, we only had a couple at our house. The bigger problem was the regular kind of ants — millions of them! I’ve never seen so many in one place. They were coming in from the roof and clumping on the walls in the dining room, running down and swarming on the floors. It was a nightmare!

Our ceilings are 20 feet high, so you can’t reach high enough to spray without getting Raid in your eyes. So, despite many efforts, we were powerless to do anything about the situation.

plaga de hormigas
A plague of ants. Literally.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had a friend from school help me call an exterminator, who came the next day. Unfortunately, the exterminator didn’t bring a ladder. I tried to explain to him that there had to be a nest on the roof, but he just kept telling me his work was “guaranteed.”

Good thing, because the next day, the damn ants were back, this time in our office on the wall next to our bedroom.

Naturally, I was on the phone in an instant, begging him to come again. Of course, he doesn’t have a ladder, and I insisted he send someone who could get on the roof and kill the nest. Fortunately, he found someone — two young guys, one of whom spoke English, arrived shortly after and headed up onto the roof to kill the critters.

Well, you want to know what happens after they exterminate? All the dead bugs fall from the ceiling all over the table, the desk, the floor — OMG YOU JUST WANT TO SCREAM!!!!!!!

Ah, alas, despite the horror of it all, the ants have not returned.

I suppose I should think myself lucky that it was just ants. They do have those enormous flying cockroaches, too, but so far, the only ones I’ve seen are already dead. Needless to say, I’ve got Lyn on bug-duty. It’s his job to remove them so I don’t have to. They make my skin crawl.

Long time acomin’

Long time acomin’

Friends, friends, friends. I am so sorry that I have not kept you up to date. Not only have I never finished telling you about my winter vacation — now some four months ago — but I haven’t told you the harrowing tales that have followed.

First, the months of March and April were absolutely slammed. As we prepared to move, we found ourselves having to spend far more money than we thought. What we believed to be a “done deal” in terms of our new home, was still under negotiation. We ended up paying more (albeit, not a lot more) in rent and ended up moving in to a house that had many unforeseen problems.

Gas.

The first issue involved the gas. Being in the city center, the house had originally had natural gas, which we were able to contract for and paid for the set up and installation. When they came to install the meter, however, they discovered that no natural gas was running through the pipes. And here I was thinking I had done such a great job getting everything arranged!

The upshot was that we had to buy a Liquid Propane tank and totally redo the existing gas lines to accommodate this hiccup. Of course, all of our new appliance scheduled to be delivered were ordered with natural gas hook-ups.

Changing that wasn’t so bad. Just an annoyance, really.

The next glitch came when we removed our air conditioner from our old house. The hole it left behind was enormous! Of course, this was on the Friday we were expecting to move out. The following day the landlords were coming to get the keys and do an inspection. Shit!

Thankfully, our realtor, Mauricio, was a great help. I texted him and he not only found someone to fix the hole, he came with the person and oversaw that it was done well and completely.

The move.

So, Saturday morning, we packed up the last of our stuff and headed over to the new house, which, at that time, still had no gas, among other things. Our landlord had promised the house would be “clean” when we moved in. Well, it was clean, if you are talking about the floors and freshly painted walls. But the old, nasty fixtures in the bathroom and the kitchen were anything but. They were old and nasty, to say the least.

Really nasty.

Lyn and I had prepared ourselves for this possibility, as our prior landlords were very hands-off as well. If something broke, we fixed it. Their entire role was to collect the rent. Yet, despite our foresight, we had hoped our new landlords would at least replace the kitchen and bathroom sinks. After all, we had requested it earlier in our negotiations and were told “don’t worry.”

Once we had the gas hooked up, we found out that the water heater did not work. So, off we went to Home Depot to buy a new one, one of those fancy instant ones, which we arranged with the plumber to install later that week. (More about that later.)

 

The original sinks in the nasty bathroom.

The dogs.

The first couple of days were very much like camping — you didn’t really want to use the facilities, but it was all there was. Even before the move, the dogs were getting agitated. They can always sense when things are about to change. For them, the change was much more dramatic — from a suburban setting with lots of green spaces to an urban brick jungle. Considering all that we were struggling to accomplish, we didn’t pay enough attention to getting them acclimated. A big mistake, which became very evident on our first day back to work.

Monday, both of us when to our prospective jobs. When I got back at 7:30 that evening, the plumber was at the house. He had come to complete some repairs (we didn’t know he was coming or that he had a key). That part was fine with me, until he told me that he accidentally let Izzy out. Even then I didn’t grasp the whole picture. Not only had he let Izzy out, but he was unable to get her back and she had been gone by that time for about 2 hours.

You can imagine my horror. I was dumbstruck. I immediately grabbed Sophie and started walking the streets calling for her and asking everyone I saw. Of course, the plumber felt terrible and accompanied me to look for her, which was helpful given my Spanish language skills.

The plumber and I searched for hours to no avail. When Lyn got home, he and I searched some more, but we couldn’t find her. It was horrible.

The next week was filled with tears and anxiety. We did everything possible to find Izzy. All of my students looked for her, posted her picture on their websites, encouraged their friends to do the same, and sent me pictures of every possible found dog they came across. I put up posters around town, as well as following up on every possible siting. Every day that I didn’t see her little body dead in the road gave me hope, although it was dwindling.

After a week, I really didn’t think we’d ever see her again.

Miracles do happen.

But then… a Miracle! Apparently, Izzy was so desperate — sick, hungry, injured — that she approached a woman in a parking lot who spotted her collar and tag and took her in, knowing that someone, somewhere must be looking for her.

It didn’t take long for the message and photo to reach  me. It was late at night, though, and we weren’t able to pick her up until the following day.

Izzy on the way back home.
Izzy when I picked her up from her rescuer.

Poor Izzy! When I picked her up, she was clearly very ill, listless and depressed. Lyn and I took her immediately to the vet, where they kept her for 5 or 6 hours to rehydrate her, take x-rays and blood, and start her on antibiotics. By the time we got her home that night, the poor thing was exhausted. Those who know her, know that she doesn’t like riding in the car. She hates it so much that she literally screams at the top of her lungs with her small-dog high-pitched whiny voice. On this day, however, there was not a peep out of her. She just curled up in the seat and went to sleep.

The following week was difficult, but she eventually began to rebound. That’s when other problems showed up. For example she had worn her toe pads down till they were bloody. She also had an enormous deep hole on her neck. And, when the lab work came back, her liver enzymes were through the roof! The vet suspected her liver might never improve. Thankfully, though, Izzy is one tough little girl and she has totally recovered. Until, that is, we realized she was limping still. Turns out, after yet another vet visit, that she has a broken toe. The poor child has been house bound for weeks except for visits to the vet. She has no interest in going anywhere near the front door, thank goodness, but it would be nice to get her outside so she can have a good sniff around.

More later…

 

Chunk 3: Tamasopo & San Luis Potosí

Chunk 3: Tamasopo & San Luis Potosí

The saga continues…

Our next stop was Tamasopo, which is known for its “cascadas” or waterfalls. As with those falls at the beginning of our trip, I expected these to be somewhat remote. I was wrong! In Tamasopo, the waterfalls are right on the road, easily accessible by car, and surrounded by conveniences such as restaurants, shops and bathrooms.

At first, I was hesitant to go in the water. It wasn’t that warm, being January and all, but I decided it was worth it. I actually changed into my bathing suit in the car so I could partake of the water. Since I hadn’t planned to swim, I didn’t bring a towel. Fortunately, they sold those in the shop, along with inexpensive water shoes — necessary for walking on the rocky river bottom.

The water was perfect! We had a great time, even using the rope swing and jumping off the rocks nearby. There were other people there, of course, but not too many. One of the benefits of off-season travel.

The hotel we stayed in in Tamasopo was very nice. While the room wasn’t anything special, the grounds were lovely, and all the rooms looked out over a sprawling green space with large pools. There was a river close by, so you could actually hear the sound of the water cascading over the rocks.

I did have a problem in the hotel due to mold. My allergies had a lot more fun than I did! I reported it to the hotel so they could fix it. I imagine it is typical for a room with stone walls situated in a damp area.

We didn’t stay long here, just a day. By 4 p.m. we were back on the road heading for San Luis Potosí.

The Mountain Pass

A lot of this trip involved driving on windy mountain roads in the dark. This section of the journey was no different. What surprised me was the amount of traffic. I suspect that it was due to there being only one road connecting these areas. Sort of like going into one of the U.S. national parks. You just have to be patient (not my strong suit).

When we got into SLP it was dark, once again making finding things a bit of a struggle. Fortunately for us, I had booked a hotel right in the historic downtown of the city. Score! Of all the places we stayed, this was the most modern and comfortable. Naturally, it was also the most expensive. But who cares! Having a big comfy bed with a great comforter walking distance from everything was worth every penny!

SLP isn’t a very big city, so we were able to hit the highlights in one day. The only issue was that some places were closed because of King’s Day — January 6. This day is when families exchange Christmas gifts. There is another tradition, too, involving putting a small figure of the Christ child in a cake. The person who is served the piece with the figure is responsible for bringing or making tamales on 2 February. I like this tradition, even if, in retrospect, it seem a little canibalistic.

The night we arrived, we walked around the block to the main plaza where they were having a holiday light show. All I can say is, WOW. Amazing. I am attaching a short video for you. Basically they developed this show so that it blanketed the main cathedral. I’ve never seen anything like it before. Hundreds of people were just standing in the square watching.

Among the highlights of SLP was visiting a prison that has been converted to an art school and museum. It was technically closed to the public, but since the school was still open, the security guard allowed us to go in and look around. If anyone stopped us, we were to tell them that we were looking at applying to the school. Ha! The security guard was very knowledgeable about the history of the place. It was clear he appreciated our interest in it as well.

Centro de los Artes, San Luis Potosí.

Floor plan Centro de los Artes.
The inside of the buildings are used for classrooms and galleries.
One of the sculpture gardens between the buildings.

We pretty much walked the length of the city and back along the main boulevard, stopping to investigate the street vendors and churches along the way.

Next stop — Dolores Hidalgo & Guanajuato.