Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Casa Bella North

It has been an eventful summer at Casa Bella North (Michigan summer residence), but now, as you can see below, winter is here - earlier than desirable!

One of the summer events was taking the momentous decision to put our Michigan house up for sale. This happened when we learned that a lovely condo was available before it was formally put on the market. After some quick thinking, we decided to go for it, largely because it has a terrific, large studio for Linda and will be somewhat less costly and burdensome to maintain while we are in Mexico. It also has a large sunroom with a 270 degree view of some woodlands.

It's not as dramatic as our current home, but it's very comfortable, and has plenty of room for our children, grandchildren and guests (hint, hint). Obviously, we're not quite ready to cut all our ties with the USA.

We spent a month preparing to sell the house - some repairs, repainting, etc. - and mostly trying to declutter it. Fortunately, the owner of the condo gave us permission to store our possessions, so we were able to avoid putting things into a storage facility.

It's been on the market for three months, and no offers yet, but our fingers our crossed. In the meantime, we are the proud owners of three homes!

This past Sunday we had a fundraiser for my project to build a computing center in a small village outside of San Miguel (see previous post, as well as others). Bagels and Margaritas were served (the Margaritas were designed to lubricate the checkbooks!). Several dozen friends and family members attended, and we raised several thousand dollars, which will go a long way towards completing the project. More to follow after our arrival in San Miguel.

Last weekend was also a "big" birthday for Linda, and we celebrated with family and friends. Tracey and her daughter Kaiya flew in from California. Her husband couldn't join us because of new job responsibilities.

Lisa, Tracey, Lilah, Hannah and Kaiya made Linda breakfast in bed for her birthday!

The three first cousins had a great time together, dancing and making art projects with Nannie.

The prior weekend we visited David, Jen and Jonah in New York. David just started a new job as a Marketing Manager at Design Within Reach, a high end furniture store with branches around the US. Jonah, now nearing 2 1/2, was very happy to see his Nannie and Poppa. And we were pretty happy too!

We are busy packing up for both the move and our winter migration to San Miguel.

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Teaching Computing in the Campo - Season 4

You may remember that I have been teaching computing in the campo (rural countryside villages) for a number of years, as a member of CPJ (Computadoras Pro Jovenes). It has been gratifying to have an impact on young people.

However, it has been frustrating for two reasons. First, I have only been able to teach four students at a time, and each session lasts six weeks. Second, in some of the schools where I teach, the computers (and I) share the room with the rest of the class. You can imagine how difficult it is to teach with 30 students in the room!

To solve the first problem, I changed my curriculum this year. I went from a six week course to a four week course. This increased my productivity by 50%! I decided to teach only the oldest kids (5th and 6th graders), as they were the easiest for me to work with and had the best attention spans. This change has worked quite well for me. I have been able to include virtually all the material from the six week course into four weeks. 

I then decided that I could leverage my time better by teaching others to teach. For this, I chose two kindergartens where I was working. I met with a number of the mothers and asked them if they wanted to learn computing in order to teach their kids. Dozens of mothers volunteered! I started teaching two or three at a time, and they quickly learned how to use the computers and how to work with the kindergarteners. The mothers are mostly young women who do nothing all day but clean and cook, as the village is remote from any place where there might be jobs for them.

Solving the problem of lack of space was more difficult. Fortunately, a friend from Michigan - Judy Jagdfeld - who spends part of the winter in San Miguel, has for years been raising money from her Michigan friends to support good causes in San Miguel. This year Judy (and her husband Jim, who took many of these photographs) adopted me (or more accurately, my village) as her "good cause." 

I also invited Michael Wolk, an architect friend from Detroit, who has visited us several times in San Miguel, to help design a building in which to teach computing. Michael enthusiastically signed on immediately!

With Judy and Michael, I met with a group of mothers - about 40 - from the San Francisco Primaria. I learned that the school serviced two villages, San Francisco and Las Cruces. I also learned that the moms were very interested in their kids' education (like mothers everywhere)

We made an offer to the mothers. We would supply the money for the materials if they would pay for the labor to build a small computing center. We had a rough estimate of $2500 for materials to build a 15' x 21' building! They told us they would do it!

Michael drew up plans for a simple building to blend in with the other school buildings. A week later I met with a committee of the mothers. They brought with them Fernando Gomez, an experienced builder who lives next door to the school, has a child enrolled there, and to boot, speaks excellent English. He helped us draw up a more accurate list of materials and promised to have the building built within a month! Incredible!
Me, Fernando and Mike (Judy missing!)

But true! A few days later, when I returned to the school, the foundation had already been dug and the walls started going up quickly.

They even had a ceremony where I mortared a brick (I assume they checked and redid my work!)

The walls went higher and higher....

Until they were completed. Roof joists were put in place, and a form was built to pour a concrete roof.

That is the status of the building as of today, April 2, 2014. We expect to complete the building, except for windows, doors, lights, and electricity before I leave San Miguel in May. When I return in the fall, the balance of the work will be completed.

So why am I writing this blog entry? In short, friends, for your support. Although we have roughly $2000 for the materials, and the parents are providing the labor, we are short about $2000 for the balance of the materials, tables and chairs (Costco's finest) and equipment for internet access (only available in this remote location by satellite). If we get enough money we might even put in a basketball hoop! I know that my readers (friends and family) will come through for us! Let me (or Judy or Michael) know if you would like to contribute.

Main Street - San Francisco, Mexico 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Detroit Turnaround...again?

The Detroit Free Press's headline today asked the question..."Is Detroit's Turnaround Turning a Corner?"

Not yet, in my opinion. A few coffee houses, restaurants and shops, and a shortage of habitable (subsidized) apartments does not make a turnaround. But perhaps it's the end of the beginning, rather than the beginning of the end, for Detroit. We can all hope that this turnaround spreads to other parts of the center city, so we can show Detroit to our grandchildren and great grandchildren with pride, rather than with tears.

A Detroit coffee house 

Looking out on Detroit's future? or not?

First snow of the season - November 24, 2012

Woke up early this morning (5 am) to drive Tracey, Scott (new husband of two weeks) and Kaiya (3 1/2 years old) to airport for their return to Southern California after a terrific 10 day visit.

Bittersweet to see them go, but they have jobs and school to return to.

When I looked out the window, there was the first snow of the season! It's always a pleasure to see this fairyland, and I took some snow and put it in Kaiya's outstretched hand. She giggled and let it drop to the floor, where it swiftly melted.

Fortunately, 4 wheel drive Toyota took the snow in stride and there were no mishaps on the way to the airport.

Adios, Tracey, Scott and Kaiya!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Update on the Perfect Margarita!

One of my earlier (and more popular, if I may use that word) blogs (2008) was about the margarita

I'm happy to report that the Wall Street Journal has finally realized the importance of the margarita and has devoted substantial space to it in an article this week!

Read both and draw your own conclusions.

My conclusions are that:

  • If you are drinking margaritas, there's no reason to using any tequila other than blanco (white). You won't taste the more expensive stuff in a mixed drink, and after one margarita, you'll be too blitzed to know the difference. Save the expensive stuff for drinking straight up, or on the rocks.
  • I agree that fresh lime juice is only the way to go. Sweeten to your taste with simple syrup or try the agave nector syrup recommended.
  • The wide glass  often used is not my favorite, but it's popular here. I usually use a simple lowball cocktail glass

  • In Mexico, we often use a Cointreau substitute called "Controy" - how original! But it's less than half the price of Cointreau and tastes similar in a mixed drink. Not sure how it would fare in a blind taste test. Any takers?

 Controy vs. Cointreau - are you man enough to tell the difference?

When you enter a restaurant in Mexico, the waiters normally ask "Algo tomar?", which translates as "Would you like something to drink?" 

My preferred answer this days is either "agua de nubes" 
 or "Coctel Monterrey".

Both are colloquial names for plain water. "Agua de Nubes" translates literally as "Cloudwater". "Coctel Monterrey" refers to the reputation of Mexican from Monterrey (Mexico's second largest city) for being cheapskates. Cheap, by the way, is colloquially translated as "Codo" or "Codo duro". These mean, respectively "elbow" and "hard elbow" and refer to the Monterreyan's reticence to bend their elbow to put their hands in their pockets and remove their wallets. While I haven't found this reputation to be deserved, it's interesting nonetheless.

Adios, mis amigos y lectores!