Sunday, March 28, 2010

Yard update...

My buddy, Paul, from South Dakota, e-mailed me that my last post went off in several different directions. To quote, " got a little opinionated about things other than your back yard, eh? We went from kids who keep their blinds down, to environmental issues, then the end of the world in Mayan terms, some sociological jabs on the younger generation, and to my liking some conservation observations, and even touched on cooling and heating issues....and finally, one more time about your desire or hint to live in Mexico..." Haha! What can I say? I've been known to digress a time or two.

So, I'll keep things short this time. Here's the result of my work this weekend. The garden center at Lowe's was absolutely packed with customers...people buying a ton of bricks, fertilizer, plants and whatnot. I wanted to keep it simple...nothing fancy or expensive, but just brighten up the patio area. By the way, I love the new outdoor rugs you can buy now. I got this one at Ross for a song. Really dresses up a drab slab of concrete, right?

I also put some flowers around my massive mailbox post.

There's a story behind this mailbox. I've already mentioned how the mailbox was put up the day after I moved in. I didn't think there would be a problem, but apparently there's a little "tiff" between the owners and the mailwoman. I didn't get any mail the first three weeks I lived here. I called a couple times and was just told that sometimes it takes awhile. When I tried to pay a credit card on-line one day, I was refused access to my account. I called the number they provided and was told that my bill had been returned and they put a hold on my account because of it. So I called the post office again and was finally able to talk to a supervisor who told me that all my mail was being held at the distribution office because of an "issue" with my new mailbox. She was very apologetic and told me that I could pick up my mail there despite the fact that the public was not allowed at the distribution center. So, I went to pick up my BIG stack of mail that had been piling up even though NO ONE told me it was being held. I've heard since then that the mailwoman can be a bit "moody," and the supervisor pretty much confirmed that. A couple days after that, I happened to be at the house when the mailwoman drove by. I went out to talk to her and she was EXTREMELY nervous to the point of almost shaking when she told me that she couldn't deliver the mail to my box after March 6th because my box didn't conform to U.S. Mail was set back from the street so that she had to either drive up on the sidewalk or park in the street, and get out of the truck to deliver the mail. Well, I'm looking around and see that most of the mailboxes on the street are exactly the same way. I was very nice to her and said I felt like I was caught in the middle and just wanted my mail. She was still really nervous and drove away still talking the whole time. So I told the landlord about the problem and she went to the local postmaster the next week and explained the problem. Long story short, he said the mailbox was fine and that the mailwoman would deliver the mail. Now I think about this every time I open the box to get my mail. Will the mailwoman go "postal" some day and put a bomb in my mailbox because she's pissed at my landlord?? I told my son that if he finds my body out in the street in front of the mailbox, he should have the mailwoman investigated.

But, whoa!! I've digressed once again! Back to the yard. I found these little solar lights at Wal-Mart for three bucks. They just put out a little bit of an accent light at night which looks really nice.

And poor little Gringo watched me all weekend. :-( I was going to comment tonight that I hadn't seen the girlfriend around for a couple weeks, but lo and behold, I saw her dog in the yard playing with Gringo tonight, so she must be back. No kids, though.

To be continued...

Friday, March 26, 2010

A yard in progress...

Here's my back yard right now. Not much to rave about, especially since I don't have grass yet. The little cement pad on the far left is waiting for my air conditioner. Fortunately, we haven't had any hot days in which I've needed an air conditioner. In fact, living in a house that has tile floors, I honestly feel cool all the time. When I was in Mexico, my son in Austin spent the night on the futon. He didn't know where my blankets were so he was freezing. He decided to go back to Austin early in the morning and when he walked outside, he said it was about 10 degrees warmer outside. So, I guess these tile floors will keep things cool...which will be a good thing this summer when the temps get to about 105 degrees.

The air conditioning thing brings up one of my pet peeves. I think I've mentioned before that I love the fresh air and open my blinds and windows whenever I can to enjoy a refreshing breeze. I have found that a LOT of people don't go along with this way of thinking down here in Texas. There are a few young girls renting the house next to us. They keep their windows and blinds closed all the time. When I'm thinking it's a little cool outside, I hear their air conditioning kick on. Whatever happened to the whole notion of "conserving energy???" I don't think kids today are concerned whatsoever about anything as long as they feel comfortable. That was totally the case in the apartment complex I lived in last Fall. Everyone kept their windows and blinds closed and ran their air conditioners in cool weather. And these are the kids who are going to be running this country some day. Hmmm...time to move to Mexico.

Remember that book I was reading on my last trip?

It's about the Mayan beliefs and what's going to happen in 2012. I have mixed opinions about the book, but it inferred that the world is not going to end in 2012, but that the world should come together at that time and work towards compatibility and living together to preserve the earth's resources. In other words, in the next two years, we're supposed to give up our material needs and work together to preserve the earth. Then the world will be in perfect harmony. Hahahaha! That's a good one, huh? I told that to my son, Jared, and he just looked at me and said, "I really like my I-Phone." So much for world harmony. I'm thinking there might be a few more people out there who might not want to give up their million dollar vacation homes in Aruba to go along with the Mayan beliefs.

So, going back to my first thought...I'll be planting some flowers tomorrow to brighten up my yard a little. I'd like to think it's my way of preserving the earth...well, at least my little corner of it...

It's not a Mayan event, but it's a start.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Meet Gringo...

He's the chihuahua that lives in the yard behind my house. Let me first give you a little background history.

When Jared and I moved into our house at the end of January, there was no activity at the house behind us. The landlady had told me that a guy lived there, but we never saw him. His car would come and go, but we never saw any life.

Then about three weeks after we moved in, we saw this little guy...

Sidebar: I will mention that I've traditionally been a big dog kind of gal. I grew up with a white boxer and have had several big dogs during my life. I have never liked Chihuahuas because of their nervous behavior and high-pitched yipping. But I thought this little guy was cute. He would bark just a little bit when we'd come outside, but stop a few seconds later when he saw we weren't a threat.

So, here's my theory: It's a single guy (about 40-ish) living alone in the house. About the same time the Chihuahua shows up, the guy's in the back yard mowing the lawn and sprucing up the yard. Then later that day, I see a woman and two kids around middle school age in the back yard throwing around a ball (but not the guy...he was inside). There's another Shih-Tzu type dog in the yard playing with Gringo. (By the way, I know his name is Gringo because I heard one of them call him that.) So, I'm thinking this is the guy's new girlfriend with her kids. But when the girlfriend's not there, the dog is outside ALL THE TIME. Now I'm thinking the girlfriend got the dog as a present for the boyfriend...but the boyfriend doesn't really want the damn dog because it's just a nuisance and that's why it's outside ALL THE TIME. I kind of gathered that when one day I saw it scratching at the door and Mr. Nice Guy opened the door, grabbed the poor thing by the scruff of its neck and yanked it inside.

One day I was planting some flowers in some planters outside and noticed one of the kids outside sitting on the step with the two dogs. He went back inside the house and a few minutes later, Mr. Nice Guy threw the kid outside and locked the door. I went inside to save the kid the embarrassment of me seeing what happened, but the kid spent the next 20 minutes trying to get him to let him back inside the house. Sounds like a real catch, huh? Every woman's dream.

Jared, Jeffrey, Erica and I were sitting on the back patio one day when Gringo was in the yard. A chain link fence separates our yards and there's a gate in the middle. The space between the gate and the fence is large enough for Gringo to get through, so he came on over to our yard to see what was going on. We all love dogs, so we were talking to him, but he wouldn't get close enough for us to pet him...he was very nervous, but his tail was wagging so you could tell he wanted to be friends.

The next day, I went outside and sat on the step that goes out to my patio. Gringo came over and I gave him some time to get used to me. And after a while, he tucked his head under my arm and put his front legs on my lap and just sat there for a long time. Every time I would pet his head, he would duck it low as if he thought I was going to hit him. Poor little guy. I'll be happy to be his surrogate mom since Mr. Nice Guy doesn't seem to give a rat's ass about him. So now Chihuahuas are starting to grow on me.

So, I come home after work tonight and this is what I see in the back yard. Mr. Nice Guy put a board on the fence so that Gringo can't get through. I know he's not my dog and I have no rights...but when he ran up to the fence SOOO happy to see me, it just broke my heart.

He has no place to sleep...just underneath the stairs.

Why do people have pets when they want nothing to do with them??

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Adios, Puerto Morelos...

One last post on PM. To the north of the town center, there are a few streets with some very nice homes. Keep in mind that PM is very small and you can walk the length of it in about a half hour. There are NO golf cart or scooter rentals so it's kind of nice to walk around the town without that added traffic and noise. There is a very small pocket of homes, tiendas and businesses between the town center and the nice home where a few locals live and work, but as soon as you get to the nicer homes, you see very few locals. When I was walking around taking pictures, the only locals I saw were maintenance people.

These homes were very well cared for with beautiful flowers and greenery everywhere. The streets were very quiet with almost no traffic other than tourists and/or owners walking to town or the beach.

I'm sure that a lot of these places are owned by foreigners and rented out to tourists.

The bougainvillea on some of these places was incredible.

Here's one right on the beach. After experiencing dermabrasion-type winds, I don't think I'd want to handle the sand issues right on the beach.

A lot of the homes I saw were for sale. While I was on my walk, I ran into a real estate salesman from Austin who I had met a couple days before. We talked for quite awhile about the real estate in PM. He said that the homes in this area generally started at about $250,000-$299,000 and went up from there to a couple million for places on the beach. I asked if there were any tiny little one bedroom places with just a small living area and he said he had one going for $199,000. Oh, well...that's beyond my price range, but I don't think I'd want to live in this area anyway. It's pretty, but I'd miss the hustle and bustle of living in a more colonial area and being closer to the locals.

Some weren't quite as fancy, but I liked the guard dog at this one.

A lot of them had really pretty entry gates...with more trailing flowers...

And some condo-type places...

One thing I did like about PM is that none of the condos are built very high...and they're aesthetically pleasing as opposed to the super modern structures that are going up everywhere else.

And this was a little apartment complex tucked way back in the far corner. I like the color.

I'll tell you one thing that I really missed on this trip. A made-from-scratch Margarita from this guy. All the Margaritas I had were from mixes (and, no...I didn't keep count), and didn't even come close to measuring up to Romi's.

Other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed the trip. Adios, Puerto Morelos...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Little Mexican Cooking School

One of the main reasons I decided on Puerto Morelos for my Spring break getaway was The Little Mexican Cooking School. I had read about it on-line and since I love to cook, I thought it would be fun. It was. I signed up for a one-day class and here's a little bit about it.

This is it from the outside...

And this was the table set for us when we went inside...but that's for after we're all finished with the cooking.

And this is the chef, Claudia Garcia Ramos de Celis. Normally the school has from 10 to 14 students, but our class only consisted of three. This was good for us because it became more of a hands-on experience rather than just watching and learning. (By the way, the two girls behind Claudia are her very skilled assistants. I will talk about them later.)

First of all, she told us all about the different chiles...

From the medium and mild...

To the ones you don't even want to consider...

Next, we started making tamales. Since I've been living near San Antonio for the past six years, tamales to me consist of a very brown coarse mealy texture and I have never liked them. These were very different.

This is Sue and Tom. Our tamales consisted of a corn mixture, oaxaca cheese and a strip of a jalapeno pepper.

We wrapped the mixture into corn husks, folded the husk in half and tied the bundle together with a very thin strip of a dried corn husk. You'll see the finished product at the end of this post.

All the tamales were then put into a big pot where they cooked for the next few hours.

Then we started on homemade tortillas. After mixing the ingredients, Claudia put a golf ball-sized piece of masa onto the tortilla press...

And, voila! Tortillas ready to be cooked on a hot dry skillet.

We also got to try this out, too...

We were also shown how to cook a tortilla so that an air pocket forms in the middle, making a pita-like tortilla. You have to press down on the tortilla as it's cooking and an air bubble rises in the middle. These ladies were doing it with their hands on the hot grill....OUCH!

Getting roasted tomatoes ready for Salsa Roja...

Claudia told us she's had the mortar and pestle on the right in her family for many years. (I saw one like the one on the left at the Cancun airport when I was leaving and would have bought it if it hadn't weighed about 100 pounds. Didn't feel like carrying that on the plane. I'll have to look for one here at home.)

She mashed the tomatoes, garlic, jalapenos and onion in the bowl. One thing she did mention was that Mexican dishes don't use that much garlic.

We got to mash, too...

Here's the first round of munchies we got to taste...

Delicious! (By the way, that's Patti Murphy in the background...another member of the cooking school.)

Having fun while you're cooking is an important ingredient!

We got to sample this while we were snacking. It's xtabentun...a Mayan liqueur made in the Yucatan. Very smooth.

Claudia also made this little snack which is a quick fix. It's raw jicama with a little bit of chile pepper sprinkled on top. It was good...kind of a different taste which was unfamiliar to me.

Also on the menu was Mole del Olla. Although classified under "soups," it is really a stew served as a main course. Claudia already had all the veggies cup up for this (which is a LOT), and tossed them...

...into this which already had the broth inside. She told us about using these big clay pots for soup, and gave instructions on how to cure them before using them for cooking.

Here's the Mole de Olla cooking away...

Which also contains rice...

And when it's combined with this lovely colored pepper mixture...

It comes out looking like this. We were finally able to sit down and sample everything we had made. This Mole de Olla was absolutely wonderful. Such a rich, warm would be great in the winter with all the veggies and would warm anybody up.

Here are the tamales we made. They were SOOOO different than any tamale I had ever had and I actually loved these. They had kind of a salty/sweet flavor and not nearly as heavy as the ones I'm familiary with.

Although we didn't help make the dessert, at least we got to eat it! A brownie made with chiles. What a wonderful little "bite" it had. You could definitely taste the chile, but it was very subtle...and the whipped cream was a great complement to it. Muy bueno!

Here are Daisy and Lucy...Claudia's assistants. These ladies movied gracefully around the kitchen, quietly doing all the chopping, blending and prep work so that Claudia could present the menu. They were definitely a great team and helped to make everything come together.

And here's Sue and me with Claudia at the end to prove I was actually there. I had a great time, learned a lot, and enjoyed talking with Claudia about all the great places there are to visit in Mexico. Thank you, ladies, for a wonderful time!

And here's their website if you want more information: The Little Mexican Cooking School