The Gypsy Carpenters are heading north in about a week. Our time in Mexico is swiftly wrapping up. I am not ready to return to the US. Last year my Trumpitis sent me to the hospital. I’m hoping I’m immune but only exposure will tell. Meanwhile we are making the most of our time here. We’ve taken the kids out on several outdoor expeditions during the last two weeks.
Twelve of us visited arroyo San Jacinto and walked a mile to the waterfall. Before we arrived Burt and I wondered if the kids would appreciate a creek walk to a small waterfall. Did they know what to do? They sure schooled us in how to have fun. They stripped off their shoes and ran in the creek and hopped on boulders and wallowed in the shallow water. Burt had to show them how to get into the waterfall but once he coaxed them in there was no stopping them. All ten of them went nuts. It reminded me we knew how to play when we were young and barefoot, too. What a gift for us to remember what it was like to run light and quick over rock and sand.
I recently have been exploring a tract of brushy land just below our pueblo’s rudimentary sewage treatment facility. Birds love flies and this overgrown thicket that receives the treated wastewater is full of them every morning after yoga. I haven’t yet remembered my binoculars so these expeditions are naked eye sightings. Even in my expired prescription lenses I routinely spot more than 15 species of birds in just a few minutes.
Today I wandered deeper into the thicket than usual. Burt’s out of town for the morning so my time was my own. I followed some trails and tried to figure out if there was any standing water. Last week there was a massive leak of raw sewage and I was also looking to see how far that toxic muck had reached. As I drew deeper into the thorny shrubbery I thought, ‘if I hurt myself I hope somebody knows to contact ebird and find out where I am.’ My eBird app tracks where I walk (if I ask it) and allows scientist to see more clearly where observers are finding birds.
The blue line in this photo is my ebird track from this morning. Today is Friday the 13th. The red star is where I turned around and found a man with a machete and pit bull following me. I’m not sure who was most frightened, the man or the dog. No, it was me. I had no idea they were there. Jason was in the Baja and eBird was not going to help. But then I saw the man had a strong family resemblance to a friend and decided I wasn’t going to be dismembered and left in the dried up sewage discharge lagoon after all. Jason wears a mask and this guy was clearly German’s brother. I bid him a good morning and got out of his way. He was there harvesting sticks of some sort. He probably made the trail I was following.
With Semana Santa still going strong the kids are out of school and bored just like when we were young. Semana Santa is a two week long school holiday that spans the week before and the week after Easter. Burt and I decided to take advantage of our roaming hooligans freedom and show then the area. We crammed 11 of the kids into the Exploder and took them to a secret pocket beach. Cramming 11 kids in a car without seat belts is also reminiscent of when we were young. It’s troubling. I lost a lot of sleep the night before this adventure thinking about the five minutes of highway driving, the 100′ cliffs we would walk along, and the rough Pacific ocean they would play in. I put that all out of my mind and we headed out.
Our outing was to an exposed cliff side hike up and over the rocky coast and down into a small sandy cove with milder than normal currents. Bobby Mc from down the beach drove down in her quad and met us with boogie boards and life jackets. This hidden spot is not widely known and requires either the mile long walk we chose or a two mile sand walk. Beach walking is hard. If you have a quad you can take it. Sometimes there’s a sea cave at this cove and sometimes there isn’t. It just depends on where Mother Nature has put the sand.
As usual, the kids were well behaved. Before we left I gave them some ground rules. No running on top, no pushing, follow Burt, etc. They complied. I was in the rear when the bulk of them reached to first view point. I could feel the collective shock and awe from 50 yards back. The kids were stunned by the cliff top views. I’m pretty sure none of them had been at such an exposed spot over the ocean.
Down in the sand I found the entrance to the cave. Frixicia crawled in and after about a body length of worming her way under she could stand up. She sent out the bat call and it was a melee. Five kids piled into the nearly buried cave. They took turns crawling in and out. The claustrophobes and I stayed outside. Burt watched the other kids playing at the water’s edge. Eventually my curiosity beat down my anxiety and I crawled in alone. I was fine until the kids tried to join me and blocked the entrance. I ordered them away and made as hasty an exit as I could on my belly. I’m still finding sand in my crevices.
Tomorrow is our annual singing event at the Festival del Chile y La Fresa. The kids are not singing beautifully but they are enthusiastic.
The great feeder is a very efficient user of food stuffs. Mittelstadt family history is full of soup geniuses and Burt inherited the skills. While most of his soups contain run of the mill ingredients and resemble familiar recipes some are daring experiments in texture and flavor. Just this morning I was handed a bowl of steaming liquid and I caught a distinct whiff of potato salad. Immediately I knew I was expected to eat soup made from a leftover roadside stall chicken, macaroni salad, taco toppings and a side of our friend Lorna’s homemade potato salad. The broth was reconstituted from that gelatinous bouillon stuff Costco sells. Everything but the bouillon had been stored for two days in a styrofoam take away box in the fridge. My bleary eyes took in the pickled red onions floating in the mayonnaise scented broth. It did not look promising. I am pleased to report it was good. Not just better than it sounds but good, as in worthy of an intentional attempt to reproduce the recipe.
Here are your instructions:
1. Look for carnitas. Oops, the carnita stand is closed so find a chicken stand and buy a whole dried out barbecued chicken. Collect all the sides offered: cabbage, pickled onions, corn tortillas, salsas.
2. Play bridge for two hours while chicken rests in the box in the microwave (to keep it ‘safe’). Sides go in the fridge.
3. After Bridge (win if you can), share chicken tacos and potato salad with friends. Drink wine, if you like. Play more Bridge while all food stuffs sit on counter for another half hour.
4. Finish the card game and gather up leftovers. Take the offered left over potato salad. Take a lot, because you both really like potato salad. Drive half an hour home and finally refrigerate the dried out chicken and her sides.
5. Wait two days. Wife assumes you ate the leftovers when she was somewhere else. Wife never looks in fridge unsupervised. Wake up early because cat screamed in your ear. Think: Cripes! I have to make breakfast again! Why me?! Because you created a monster in your totally co-dependent non-cooking wife.
6. Open the fridge and see leftovers. The Mittelstadt soup genius gene awakens. The Soup genius says: That looks like a perfect soup and it’s kind of cold. I think I’ll throw it all in a pot of broth instead of making chicken tacos with a side of potato salad.
7. Throw it all in a pot. Simmer. Beat back the cat. Grate cheese. Cheese is the mighty soup savior. Nearly any mediocre soup can be saved if you throw in enough cheese. Beat back the cat eating the grated cheese. The 19 year old cat is very persistent. She’s as codependent as the wife.
8. Wife wakes and demands her brekky. Hand her a warm bowl of mayonnaise and potatoes and floating bits of chicken and red onions and stale corn tortillas. She likes it. At least she’s easy to please.
Moral of this story: Make more soup with those leftovers. Even lasagna thrown into broth is really yummy. In 13 years of soup with Burt there’s only been a couple bad ones and that was simply because I don’t like beef and some fish.
I baked two loaves of jalapeño cheese bread this week. One lasted long enough to make it to Ladies Bridge yesterday. That’s two weeks in a row where I made food instead of purchasing something. It’s a record for me. Despite this admirable streak of DIY cookery I maintain a healthy disdain for all things domestic. Burt’s role as chief feeder is no threatened.
Despite the domestic exhaustion I managed a spontaneous outing with five of the kids. We took a hike to the arroyo called Agua Para Los Cochis. The water for the pigs arroyo is up and over a ridge just south of Pescadero. Several notable things happened on the hike. The kids were quite alarmed we were driving on rough roads and hiking without Burt. They seemed to be under the impression that this was a man’s job. That gave me a giggle. Burt was resting from his first match in the three day Aprils Fools Tennis Tournament. I played good wife and spectated. The match was enjoyable but not much exercise so I scheduled the walk with the kids. Let’s have a huzzah for an inadvertent blow to gender roles.
Elvis and Olive accompanied us on the walk, too. Now for you or me dogs on a hike is normal. In Mexico most dogs never leave the yard. Many spend their lives chained to a tree and act as biological security alarms. The kids were stunned into silence when the dogs came with us. They know our dogs but were quite alarmed to find them in the car. Despite months of exposure they remain unconvinced that Elvis doesn’t plan to eat them. Of course, I never even considered this a cultural exchange moment until it was underway. By the end of our two hour hike the kids were keeping their eyes on the pooches and calling to them. They all wanted to whistle like me. I have a good sharp dog calling whistle. I tried to teach them how to do it but it was a failure. On the car ride back the kids were willing to share their seat with Elvis. Elvis, though silent, clearly adores the children. Olive hates them.
Then there was the hiking itself which was exactly like hiking with seven year-olds anywhere. Feet hurt, teeth came loose, someone fell, there was water and mud to complain about…There was: how far is it? Have we reached the top? and I ran out of waters. And then there were the rocks. I mean to tell you I never knew rocks could be so interesting. Before the hike started I handed out ball caps to protect the kids from the sun. The ball caps became rock bags as soon as we arrived. Half an hour in I was being begged to take the rocks. What luck that I did not have a bag or a pocket to spare. I suggested placing the rocks in a pile for later. The kids slavishly carried 10 pounds of rocks around until their arms gave out. Then they would drop the pile and start over again. Every arm load ended with them begging me to help carry the rocks. I held firm. There are rocks near the car, I said. There are rocks in the road, I said. There are rocks at home, I said.
When we were on our last march uphill and headed to the car, Janexi yelled from far behind, “I can’t do it. It’s too hard.” She was carrying 8 rocks. I yelled, “Drop the rocks, kid.” She dropped the rocks and caught up. Happily no tears were shed. I held her hand the last stretch. After 4 miles and two hours of walking we landed safely back at the car. The kids demanded the promised rocks at the car. I found out I was a liar. The rocks sucked where we parked the car. I did what I could to dig up a few to salve the betrayed rock hounds but I felt like a bad girl for promising rocks where there were none.
We’re planning another walk this week. I will not have a bag. If I had had a bag I would have had 60 pounds of rocks to carry and then the commotion of sorting out who’s rock was who’s.
Burt proceeded to win all his tennis matches. Today, after his last match, we headed north into the countryside. The desert is full of birds in the uninhabited areas. Migration is in full force. Large flocks of sparrows would get up and fly away whenever we stopped. Burt and I reached a new wetland called Boca Carrizal. There we found some snowy plovers, a willet, and a great blue heron. On the way we saw thirty more species of birds. It was a good day.
People are down on Facebook these days. I get it. They used our data and let people manipulate us. It’s bad. It’s also pretty easy to control things and limit who sees what. I have everything public but I also restrict who and what posts in my feed. No meme generators. No extreme partisan groups. I block or delete racists, sexists, hateful people. I use Facebook to find my people. It works pretty well. Last week I met a group of young birders just learning the feathers of our winged friends in Cabo San Lucas. College kids studying eco-tourism or ornithology were just a few clicks away and Facebook hooked us up. This week we went out twice together. I hope for many more trips.
Our first gathering was an urban park in downtown Cabo. I found the announcement of the trip on my Facebook feed. It was just an easy 40 minute drive from our house. Burt and I arrived and we met the students and tehir professor. We split up and practiced a scientific census of birds in a restricted area during a limited time. Everyone seemed pleased that a pair of gringos showed up to help. Afterwards we went out for beers and ceviche. Over beer we made plans for a more intensive trip. We pay for gas and food and the profe would take us out.
This Sunday, the professor, Emer Garcia, took us to one of his favorite Baja California Sur bird spots. Over the course of a few miles and a few hours we found forty species of birds, three of them lifers for us and several more were new for Baja. It was a big day. But more importantly we made like-minded friends that care about this place. Emer’s student Joaquin was great fun and will be a wonderful guide for anyone interested in the area. Juan, a local land owner was also easy to pass the time with and curious to learn about what we were doing. I’m optimistic we can help bring more people here and protect our environment. Stay tuned.
Food is at the foundation of our needs triangle. Water, shelter, are impossible to live without, too. Other stuff like love, kindness, or fulfillment, that’s all up higher. We can survive a lot if we have sustenance. I guess that’s how food wound up in all of my photos this week. Food follows us all the way up to self-actualization. Here’s a version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for your consideration.
Our group of kids are mostly making it to the bottom three. They have some serious belonging and safety issues in their day to day lives. If the only place you belong is the same place that beats you, where does that leave you? I think there’s more convolutions in life than this triangle allows but it’s good for the basic idea. Burt and I are trying to build them up towards esteem but we do a lot of feeding and providing safety, too.
A few weeks a go my friend Donna had the Bridge ladies over to her house to make bread. We all had our own mini-loaf pan and a bag of dough. Everyone was free to add ingredients to her bread to make the bread her own. I went for pure rosemary. I like rosemary bread. Other people used lemon peel or sage or garlic. There were many things to chose from. The bread was a kind of symbol for this needs hierarchy. We all had to have wheat, water, oil, and yeast. We had to have the right amount, too. Too much yeast and your bread will be full of hot air and lack structure. Water not warm enough? Your yeast wont rise and you’ll have a loaf too tough to eat. Donna guided us through the process from beginning to end. There were some corny angel readings that some of us rolled our eyes about but it helped pass the time and got me thinking about who are our real angels.
I posted the bread pictures on Facebook and Mayra saw them and decided she wanted to make bread, too. I sent her the recipe and we made plans to get together and bake. Today Mayra and Priscilla and I made the bread. Each person’s bread was as different as we are but all were perfect. First we changed the recipe to half whole wheat and half white flour. Then we decided to make rolls because they are easier to share and store. We stood at the table and made three batches of dough. To mine I added cheddar cheese and jalapeños. Mayra added parmesan and Priscilla went with nothing. We formed our rolls and loaded the trays. I sprinkled the tops with Trader Joe’s everything but the bagel spice. While the rolls rose we chatted, played with our phones, and sat quietly. The language barrier was a little high today. We could have used an angel card reading.
After the 20 minute rest we backed the rolls for twenty minutes. They came out overstounding. Really. This recipe is so simple and quick and you can do whatever you want. My jalapeño cheese bread was as close to the defunct Sweetgrass Bakery’s bread as anything I have ever tasted. Mayra’s was a lovely parmesan roll and Priscilla’s were perfectly dignified and ready for as much butter as you had on hand. Like a well developed person this dough can handle whatever you have in mind. It’s flexible but well formed. Uncomplicated but interesting. I wish life was this easy.
Here’s the recipe for plain rolls. Use your imagination to make it your own:
TOTAL TIME: 1:20
YIELD: 2 MINI LOAVES
• Cooking spray, for mini loaf pans
• 3 c. all-purpose flour, divided
• 1/4 c. sugar
• 1 .25-package active dry yeast
• 1 c. warm water
• 3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 tsp. kosher salt
• Preheat oven to 375º and spray mini loaf pans with cooking spray. In a resealable plastic bag, place 1 cup flour, sugar, and yeast and add warm water.
• Seal bag and squish together with your hands to mix. Let rest 10 minutes at room temperature. (Yeast should activate.) Add 1 cup flour, oil, and salt to the bag, then seal and squish together.
• Add remaining cup of flour and mix until combined. Remove from bag and knead 5 minutes until smooth. Halve dough and place in two loaf pans. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise 30 minutes.
• Brush top of bread with olive oil or melted butter and bake until golden, about 30 minutes.
You can make one loaf instead of mini-loaves or you can hand form rolls. I omit the bag and use a bowl. I use half whole wheat and half white flour.
Yesterday Burt and I saw a new dentist and a new dermatologist. We needed regular checkups. Even though we are insured in the US it is cheaper and easier to schedule these things here in Mexico. On the downside teeth cleaning is not as rigorous or vigorous. If you read teeth cleaning research you might conclude it’s all overblown anyway. There are some scientists that say teeth cleaning (at least the frequency) is unproven as a preventative to gum disease. After poking around and spending about 15 minutes polishing my teeth the new dentist announce two of my crowns needed to be replaced. No x-rays, no inquiry about the history of these two crowns. I politely asked if I could wait until next season. We’re running low on time and cash and I wanted time to ask my dentist in the US if he thought it was time to replace them, too. At first the dentist was willing to wait. These crowns are 25 years old and have been a literal and figurative sore spot for most of those years. I work very diligently to keep the area free of food. My dentist (and several I’ve seen along the way) always took a wait and see approach. Many of the dentists and hygienists have commented that it’s the finest crown they’ve ever seen. Great crown in a bad situation. We got a quarter of a century with the wait and see attitude. I wanted time to consult and see if there were changes that dictated removal. I tried to make it clear that I didn’t doubt the dentist. We were speaking easily in English and Spanish. Sadly the dentist took umbrage. She became more rigid and tried to scare me when I reiterated that I would come back next season for her to take another look. I smiled, shrugged, and left.
Now I have to see another dentist. I’m going to make an appointment in the US with the clinic that installed this masterpiece of dentition. Maybe it is time. Maybe the dentist saw some scary changes. Too bad she felt the need to try and coerce me with fear rather than explain and listen. This could have happened anywhere.
Burt and I both loved the dermatologist. She took a lit magnifying glass to every dark spot on my skin. It was a long process. She declared them all fine for now. Then she suggested a minor tune up of my face. For $5 a piece she removed three funny skin changes on my face (clogged glands). Afterwards she declared Burt has perfect skin despite his utter failure to apply sunscreen. This could only happen in Mexico. We’ll be seeing her next year.
In between the dentist and the dermatologist we visited Baja California Sur’s second most prolific bird spot: The La Paz sewage treatment lagoons. Burt and I have a running joke about all the shit holes he takes me to visit. Usually they are fun places but ugly. I finally beat him at his own game. I took him to an actual shit hole. We saw many amazing birds including four new species. If we’d had time to sit we’d have seen even more. There were scads little birds flitting in the green bushes that we couldn’t quite get an eyeball on. We’ll be back here, too.
It’s been an action packed week. Tuesday we took on a new student. She’s a smart one. SaraGay wants to learn to play Pinochle so she can play with my dad. We had a lunch and dinner date on the same day so we could start training her on the rules of the game. Two-handed Pinochle is a two phased game and is more complicated than the four-handed version. Like all games there are some rules that seem silly but you have to learn them. The Pinochle deck is also weird. It has 48 cards numbering 9 through the ace, 2 sets of each suit. The cards rank in an unusual order as well. The 10 out ranks all cards but the aces. It’s a lot to remember. Baby steps.
Last Wednesday we took five kids to see the movie Patrimonio in Todos Santos. I thought it was a big success but the next day none of the kids that went to the movies showed up for our regular English class and the day following not a single kid showed up for art class. I started to wonder if all the kids were in trouble for going to a controversial movie with us. Or maybe they were in trouble for being out so late. I really was full of anxiety. Maybe we had overstepped. Maybe we were colonizing? Emperialist gringos brain washing young children on the dangers of unfettered development and government corruption. I was so worried I asked my neighbor Abril if she had heard anything. She hadn’t. She and Rafa advised me that it was probably a cultural issue. The kids are afraid to tell me they can’t come because they don’t want to disappoint me so they just don’t come and I wind up disappointed that they didn’t tell me they couldn’t come.
Then Tuesday they all showed up for class and then the following afternoon Vikki texted me and asked if I could take them to see the movie again. This time it was scheduled for 8:00 PM on a school night. I was delighted that the movie was so well received that a new group and one second timer wanted to go. We were out until nearly 10:00. Burt and I were ready for bed but the kids were just getting revved up. Operation pro-environment is underway.
This morning I woke up and thought, “those kids have to go to school, but I don’t”, and I skipped yoga. What a relief to sleep in. I took the Olvis on a three miler around the edges town while Burt played tennis.
Sunday morning walk with our neighborhood acrophobic was nearly cut short. Burt and I had forgotten our friend was afraid of high, cliffy spaces and nearly ruined his day. Burt and he turned around for a safe beach walk and I went up the hill with Olive. The TuVus came to say hello to us. Olive reeks of fetid mud so maybe they wanted to make sure we weren’t dead.I’m still a few checklists away from 15 with photos so I grabbed these shots for the eBird competition.
I think the birds are starting to talk to me. Yesterday a roadrunner met me in the exact same spot he met me last week. Yesterady, as I walked along the edge of a dry playa I pish pish pished to see who was in scrub. Pishing causes some birds to move about and lets you see where they are. A roadrunner leapt up and landed on a solitary cardon cactus and sang to me. There was a roardrunner on this very same cactus a week ago. I’d never heard a roadrunner speak before yesterday. Immediately I knew why the roadrunner is in the cuckoo family. We made a date for next Saturday.