On the brink of the Galapagos, Again

San Jacinto arroyo
San Jacinto arroyo

The guests are gone and we’re back to our regularly scheduled week here in Pescadero. Until Friday. Friday upheaval awaits. Mimi is off to Dad and SG’s house. Olive and Elvis will join a pack where the human leader is named Pickle. Burt and I will board an overnight flight to Ecuador. The neighborhood kids will have to run amok without us.

I cut Burt’s hair today. A few too short shaves with the electric clipper and now he always asks for a scissor cut. Annoying. I like the shaver but I gave him a good clip despite wishing I had the magic buzzer. Afterwards Burt held Olive and I hand trimmed her face and secret spots. Olive is growing her hair out and sincerely hopes it is never cut again. Like a mother of a kid with long hair I tell her she has to do a better job managing it but she likes it matted and riddled with stickers. How she gets on with a woowoo full of spines I do not understand. This spot cleanup was a kind of winter detente. When we get back from Ecuador she’s going in to see the professional trimmer at Doctor David’s house of anxiety.

In other news we had a special guest teacher in yoga these last three days and today I can barely muster the energy to get out of bed. It started out easily enough on Monday that I hardly noticed we were doing more and deeper work. Yesterday I thought well that was a nice pushy workout. Today I thought why am I here? It was like boiling a lobster slowly. By the time I realized what was happening I was already dead. In short: excellent yoga week.

My dad is still here hanging with his girlfriend SG. I generally will refrain from reporting on this fun love affair. It’s there’s to blog about. But here’s a brief story of caution. Two weeks ago SG swallowed a fish bone. It felt like it was caught in her throat so the day after the meal she visited an ENT (ear, nose, and throat doctor). The ENT did not see a bone but noticed a small cut. He thought the bone might have cut her esophagus on the way down. He advised her to take it easy. About 4 days later SG noticed a swelling. Right away she got in to another doctor and this new doctor sent her to the hospital in San Jose del Cabo. The hospital is an hour away. Long story short here: the next day SG had surgery to remove an abscess from her esophagus. She was in the hospital for 5 days. The surgery was 2 1/2 hours long and left an 8″ scar. My grandma was right. Swallowing a fish bone can kill you. The surgeon thinks the bone punctured her esophagus and left behind some bacteria. The puncture closed up and an abscess of ucky stuff developed. I’ve had some cats with these types of infections. SG was wearing a drain just like my brawling kitties. Mimi used to regularly give and get nasty infections. She was quite a pugilistic feline when she was younger.

Today SG got a clean bill of health. We are all relieved to hear the good news. The love birds can get back to their regular activities. Yay, SG.

 

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Overexposed

 

The gang's all here.
The gang’s all here.

When there’s blood in the first ten minutes you know you’re on an adventure. Vince is a kid that is kind and solitary. He’s got a ton of energy and he’s curious. He can also be a handful. Like many young boys and most men he doesn’t listen well and he takes action without thought of the consequences. Yesterday he joined our cast of thousands for a trip to the beach. In teh first 4 minutes he was causing a minor disruption. We were still withing sight of his house so I could say, “Vince, decide now if you want to go home or stay with us.” That settled him down nicely. No fear. Just a decision and it was his decision. He knew what I needed. In a car with 7 kids and no seatbelts there is no room for distraction.

Burt had decided it was time for a beach trip because it was Christmas break and we had an extra car. Also, the water is over heated and the weather is stunning. No joke on the water. Locals are starting to worry. The water is almost 10 degrees warmer than usual for this time of year. Hurricanes love warm water.

When we arrived at the beach I announced two rules. No littering and no going in the water until the adults arrived. We all walked together at a stately pace.  Last year only a few of the kids could swim. This year they all claimed to have the ability. I thought to myself, “This won’t be so bad. Twelve kids and four adults. We can manage.” Mayhem was on that sweet thoughts heels. Within seconds of entering the tepid water with inconsequential waves there was blood. Blood, when it’s gushing down a young person’s face is quite a visceral shock. I feared an accidental elbow to the nose or a tooth for the tooth fairy but it was just a routine bloody nose. I hadn’t thought about bloody noses since I was a kid. They seemed like a regular occurrence on the playground. I never had one. It kind of looked fun. I think I wanted to have one and enjoy the attention.

Vince the Bloody, was an expert. He held his head back and we walked back to my towel. He asked for a tissues to clean his face. He calmly cleaned up and then just lay there quietly. He told me it was a fairly common experience for him and I need not worry. I sat there for a moment and he sent me off to supervise the 11 swimmers. The epitome of manly maturity.

Meanwhile the kids were like atoms in Brownian motion. They expanded to fill the space. The just kept buzzing and bouncing further and further apart. The huge beach was flat and nearly empty and the waves were so small there was no fear effect to contain them. Usually they are afraid of the water and they cling to us.  Yesterday they were swimming and diving and running around liek teh proverbial maniacs. I must have counted to 12 six-hundred times. Every time I counted twelve kids I started over and counted again. Even Burt yelled at me once to try and get them closer together. Tom and Vikki were also standing guard and I could see Vikki counting, too. It’s hard to relax and count kids.

Vince was quickly back in action. Sand activities got some of the mob out of the water. My  still impressive cartwheel skills were in high demand. Soon we were doing yoga and back bends. These kids have zero cartwheeling experience. There is no grass here. None of them have lawns. I tried to explain the mechanics. I nearly became a bloody mess myself as feet flew towards my face. After six or so personal demonstrations I told them I had to stop. I am getting smarter. I’m only a little sore today.

Trips to the beach require snacks. We grouped up and sat in the sand eating tamales, fruit, and chips. The kids surprised me when they almost universally judged the tamales to be too spicy. For a group that takes chili on their watermelon they were kind of wimpy about some peppers in there pork.  As they say, more tamales for me.

Our journaling prompt for today was to draw a picture of ourselves when we felt invisible as a child. I did that but it’s not very inspiring. I felt invisible much of the time. Yesterday I was so visible and in such high demand that I teased the kids I was going to change my name so they couldn’t yell it.

Blood
Blood
Catching a wave Paola style.
Catching a wave Paola style.
7 year old man.
7 year old man.
Daniela and doll drawing
Daniela and doll drawing
Beto wows them all.
Beto wows them all.
Sand works
Sand works
La Yerasca
La Yerasca
Daniela y Vikki
Daniela y Vikki
Anahomi
Anahomi
My car. Okay, dad's car with my group.
My car. Okay, dad’s car with my group.
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Archery

The next generation of Katniss
The next generation of Katniss.

Burt left out his archery equipment and the kids saw it when they came up for class. We made calendars and talked about dreams for 2018. What do you know? Somebody wanted to learn archery. So we notched some arrows and aimed at the straw bales a few yards away. This was one goal we could work towards. It was a little scary. Those bows were wobbling. Keeping the group behind the line took constant nagging. I don’t think they saw it as a lethal weapon. One moment I saw the tip of the arrow swing my way and even though the kid couldn’t pull the string I was alarmed. What a way to go.

We all survived. In celebration we ate watermelon sprinkled with chili, lime, and salt. Yummy.

Watermelon or sandia.
Watermelon smile or sandia sonrisa.
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Exhaustion Week

 

Tilt
Tilt

The first week in Mexico is a tug of war between getting settled and reestablishing social connections. Our yard was weeded by our neighbors Vikki and German before our arrival. Having that chore done in anticipation of landing is a tremendous improvement over past years of wallowing around in thigh high stickers and thorns. But once we get here there’s a lot more to do. The water system and electricity need to be reconnected. Our hot water heater is a glassed in box with a few score feet of black tubing. That system needs to be rebuilt and the pump reinstalled. Our water tank must be refilled. The electricity comes from our solar panels on the trailer. Thant gets reconnected. Then there’s some bugs. Usually our bathroom and rumpus room have some insect squatters. This year there were some termites in the bed frame. Add rebuilding the bed to the list of chores. The usual roaches and spiders and six months of dust were cleared out with a broom. The trailer itself also requires a seasonal purge after the summer of constant motion and the 1,000 mile drive down the dusty peninsula. The rugs, bedding, and towels from trailer and bodega all go to the laundry. Then the furniture needs to be moved out of storage and into the yard. It’s kind of an ordeal but not to terrible an ordeal.

Meanwhile it’s Christmas week. People from all our social circles want to see us and I’m just not a party girl. Despite appearances Burt is not much of a party guy either. Many years we arrive in Baja after Christmas and are able to avoid the manic crush of seasonal events.  This year we’ve landed at Christmas and our week of adapting is overlaid with a flood of invitations for holiday parties and the return of routine activities like Bridge, tennis, Spanish class, yoga, and the kid’s group. Add in the Audubon Christmas bird count, too.  Oh, and my mom’s brother and his family are in town. Seven rarely seen family members are in Cabo for nearly a week. They are penciled in for lunch tomorrow. Phew. I just want to sit down and have a cup of tea and read a book. Instead I’m pondering how to construct sentences in the subjunctive (past, present, and future) and thinking up a lesson plan for the kids and wondering what to bring to that pot luck. I can hardly find time to walk and practice the fiddle.

Today is the morning of day 6 since our arrival. The home front was officially under control yesterday afternoon. The rumpus room was restored to order just as the kids arrived. One kid, La Frixia, arrived 2 hours early but that’s another story. I set Frixia to coloring in the Jaguar reserve coloring book while I packaged up 12 sets of Christmas presents. Class was a smoothly chaotic session of the words of questions, Christmas vocabulary, and notes to Santa. We only had seven students. The tweeners didn’t show up. Not a surprise. They are always welcome but every year as soon as they hit 12 or 13 the kids start doing other things. And it’s Christmas vacation. Santa was asked for a doll, games, clothes, a trip to Sinaloa, and a trip to Europe. Vikki, the mom, wants Europe. I wish I could take her.

Things will settle down soon.

Surreal landscape is real.
Surreal landscape is real.
Christmas Bird Count
Christmas Bird Count
English Class
English Class
Christmas Goodies
Christmas Goodies. I had to sort and package.
Troop of girls
Troop of girls
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In Mexico

Burt and I and the mascotas arrived at our place in Mexico a couple of nights ago. Hurricane Irma left the place the greenest we’ve seen it. There was no noticeable damage to our property. A friend’s place rolled away in a flooded arroyo. A massive personal disaster. That got me thinking of how the end of the world as we know it is always thought of as a cataclysm happening to all of us at once. Reality is someone, somewhere is experiencing the end of the world as they know it every day. It’s happening all the time. Many of my older friends are struggling with health problems. Every season we return to find someone, or more likely, several someone elses have died since we were last here. Living our life this way, between worlds, is kind of like a strobe effect. What time normally buffers into a gradual accretion of events like sedimentation behind a dam turns into a cataclysmic tsunami of news. Restaurants closed, beaches built upon, friends gone forever.

Despite the seasonal inventory of who’s here, who might return, and who’ll never return we’re happy to be home. The gang of girls is scheduled for their first class on Tuesday. They are shining stars in our wandering lifestyle. Back to work and play. Our English teacher is no longer available so I am going to plow on ahead. Lesson plans anyone?

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To our Mexican home tomorrow.

Mariposa
Mariposa

As I sit here at the El Centro Walmart parking lot as I have for the last three years I am filled with gratitude and relief to find us ready to cross into Mexico for another winter. The year has been hectic and the last week was filled with non-stop activity. A flat tire, broken furnace, Mimi transfer, and pre-Mexico provisioning has consumed our minds and bodies. Burt and I exited the Northern Jaguar Project reserve to find it 26F in Portal. That means it’s time to head south without delay.

All the details of crossing are the same every year but the means of accomplishing our tasks vary. Vehicle insurance – check, health insurance – check (Thanks, Obama), clothes for Vikki – check, visas – check, special foods (chocolate, parmesan cheese)- check. This year we purchased our insurance and visas early due to the NJP reserve excursion. We’ve also learned to do this without joining the Baja traveler’s group that demands a pretty surcharge for the supposed convenience of them getting us our visa. We do self-service at the border. Saves us a trip to San Diego or chasing mail. It’s very easy. If you’re thinking of coming down by car let me know and I’ll tell you how to do it.

I have a nice pile of clothes from my neighbors that were donated by a variety of friends. Thanks, Pat, Jack, Jack’s wife, Eskild, Susan, and Peg. Today I supplemented these hand-me-downs with a spree at the dollar store and Target. Last spring we had a benefit concert and the proceeds of that go to my girls. With the money I bought hair ties, nail polish, socks, tees, tights, markers, and note pads for 14. The Target cashier got a little misty when she heard why I was buying such a volume of children’s clothes in a wide variety of sizes. I am so grateful to my dad and our fans for generously helping us make these gifts.

After all our preparatory work was done we found ourselves with time to spare in a not so attractive town. We did a short bird walk in a city park. The new eBird phone app uses GPS to map and time each bird sighting. I wanted to play with it before we got to Mexico. That worked so add another check to the list of to-dos. On the technology front I also managed to add WhatsApp? to my iPhone. This is a texting app favored by all our Latin American friends from Mexico to Ecuador. I finally got on board and started texting our buddies in their preferred manner. Another check on the to-do list.

The bird walk was quick so then we headed over to the bowling alley. Normally when were siting about in a towny area we’d go to the movies but nothing showing appealed to us and the bowling alley was shiny and new. Burt and I last bowled in Helena, Montana in 2007 when my parents came to visit. It was a cool and rainy day. Bowling seemed like a good idea. It was fun for a few minutes but mom couldn’t really remember how to hold the ball. She was in the midst of her Alzheimer’s. Mom was still active but the activity had to be something she was hardwired for. Bowling wasn’t high on the list of her hobbies. Golfing was okay. So we bailed after one set of ten frames.

Today Burt and I showed signs of untapped bowling talent. Our first ten frames were a disaster. The score was 90 to 38. The next set saw such dramatic improvements you’d think we had been trying to lure in some marks the first round. That was 238 to 141. We quit mid-way through the third round because my wrist was too tired. I started dropping the ball instead of rolling it. Burt thought we could go pro by next week if we applied ourselves. I figure I’d have a psychological breakdown and should get out now.

Now we are snuggled in the gNash and ready to drive. Mimi is already back into her old routines of begging food and walking on me all night long.

Hasta pronto!

Special request delivery for Abril. I'm sharing my bed with this.
Special request delivery for Abril. I’m sharing my bed with this.
Check out that form.
Check out that form.
Happy she's home.
Happy she’s home.
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Puerto Viejo visit

The view east from the Pacific to the Sierra de la Laguna.
The view east from the Pacific Ocean to the Sierra de la Laguna.

Here are a couple of pictures from our hike to Puerto Viejo or Old Port. When this area produced commercial amounts of sugar cane the shipments left via rowboat at this port. Large shipping vessels anchored off shore. There are bits of old infrastructure to admire such as the stone quay and dry set rock fences and roads and even the remnants of a turtle cannery but I am always blinded by the dramatic landscape. Here the last vestiges of the mountains crash into the sea. Sea lions blubber about on the rocks below while verdin, black throated sparrow, and a cactus wren sing courtship songs. Sometimes the wind carries the sea lion’s grunts and groan all the way up to our perch. The cardon cactii stand watch like lighthouses on cliff edges.  The palo verde, nipped by the harsh salt wind, grows close to the ground with octopus like tentacles.

Traditionally visitors approached this area from the north but a recent hotel development has caused confusion (putting it mildly) and animosity about access. Guards and scary looking dogs patrol the area now and a massive amount of vital mangrove habitat was destroyed, threatening the endangered Belding’s Yellowthroat. Best to steer clear even if the road is open. We decided to see what the walk was like from the south and found it to be easy and rather more pleasant because we could avoid all views of the unsightly hotel and its environmental destruction. Yes, our heads are firmly in the sand. From where we parked and walked there was very little evidence of the massive development all around. The area remains a very wild pocket, one of the last, between Todos Santos and Cabo San Lucas. Scat all around and game trails onto sheer cliff faces indicated coyotes and/or bobcats make regular excursions into the deep canyons.  I hope the area stays protected.

Recently I took my rings in to a guy to be resized. Abel works in an 8′ by 8′ space behind a rack of shoes in Todos Santos. I showed him my rings and asked if he could resize them. He wondered why since they appeared to fit fine and I explained that when I exercise my fingers swell and recently they were swelling so much the rings hurt my hands. I was worried he wouldn’t be able to resize them because one is white gold and the other is palladium but it was easy. Right then and there he put them on a thingy and beat them with a hammer. Beat, check, beat, check. Twenty minutes later they were cleaned polished and just a little but bigger. Thank you, Abel.

Burt and Elvis admire the view.
Burt and Elvis admire the view.

The cliffs above Puerto Viejo. The headlands are bwtween las Palmas, San Pedrito, and Cerritos beaches.

Abel the jeweler of Todos Santos.
Abel the jeweler of Todos Santos.
Abel resized my rings.
Abel resized my rings.
Anahomy and her landscape of the rocky end of the Baja Peninsula.
Anahomy and her landscape of the rocky end of the Baja Peninsula.
A change in local politics has us locked out of our classroom. Somebody didn't get the memo.
A change in local politics has us locked out of our classroom. Somebody didn’t get the memo.
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To the Mountains

Ramona explains how she makes the pottery.
Ramona explains how she makes the pottery. She uses a small stone to make a smooth finish.

Yesterday was warm and sunny and the whole fam-dam-ily took a road trip up to the remote ranchos in the mountains to look for pottery. Dad and friend in one car and Burt, Jen, and Robin in another. I bounced back and forth. I’m not sure dad enjoyed himself. He seemed a little subdued. It might have been an upset stomach or just the really rough roads through very remote desert.

Our first stop was to see Ramona. At 70 Ramona doesn’t produce much these days but her pieces are more whimsical than other local artists. There are pigs, cows, turtles, chickens and other local species transformed into jars and bowls and serving vessels. She explained to us that she was hoping for a new oven because her current one was too big for her to fill these days. She wanted to be able to fire smaller loads. Ramona uses pitaya cactus wood as her main fuel. It doesn’t take much time to form a simple cup but the finishing takes a lot of rubbing with a smooth stone over many days. She does a little bit every day until the piece is smooth and dried just right for firing. If she does too much work one day the piece will dry too quickly and crack. Ramona learned how to do this from her great-grandmother.

Next we went to the locally famous guy’s house but he wasn’t home. Marcos makes bigger and more finely crafted casseroles and bowls. You can drop a substantial amount of pesos at his house. I figured it was our lucky day to not be tempted. Our last visit was to our friends at the end of the road. We don’t even know their names but they call us friend and we’ve been many times. The main man in the photo below has never smiled for us. Until now. The ladies were all unpacking a bunch of cups and bowls for us to look over and I wondered why the man of the house wasn’t showing us his wares. This guy embodies strong, silent type. I knew he wove lariats and riatas and horse accoutrements.  Last year I bought a key chain from him. The hand of the car I call it. So this year I gathered my gumption and asked him, “And where is your work?” I got a flicker of a smile for remembering. He quickly tried to conceal it and he headed off to get his stuff for me. This year I bought a bull’s head made of pig teeth. He makes this stuff to sell down in Cabo San Lucas.

The women asked how our walk (recall the death march to Titi Mountain?) went earlier in the spring. I told them how far we made it and that we were looking for birds. I always say we are scientists studying birds because it’s easier to understand. This brought a piece or unsolicited news. The older woman and the youngest kids had seen a new bird in the area. A blue bird with a crest. I showed a picture of the very common California Scrub Jay and they said, “Noooo, not that one. That one doesn’t have a crest.” I searched for jays on my phone app and found a mainland bird, the Stellar’s Jay, dark blue with a prominent crest.  I showed them this picture and they said, “Yes, that one has been here for a couple of years. It’s new here.” Hmmmmm. We could be real scientists after all on the brink of a new discovery.  I have no doubt they know what they see. These people are living straight off the land. They pay attention. Burt and I hope to head back up in a few weeks and see for ourselves.

This is a tied piece of work made to look like a bull's head. The 'horns' are teeth from a hog. I don't remember his name. He never smiles. Except once.
This is a tied piece of work made to look like a bull’s head. The ‘horns’ are teeth from a hog. I don’t remember his name. He never smiles but he let me take this photo.
Gallinas.
Gallinas.
We found a rosy boa on the road.
We found a rosy boa on the road.
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Putting on the Bunny

Easter crowd
Easter crowd. Jesus is behind the sheet but pretend we don’t know.

With a little trepidation and much curiosity Burt and I joined Bridge friends to attend the Todos Santos Catholic Easter Service. Our buddies told us it was a very moving community event full of dancing, singing, and fireworks so we decided to give it a go. I’d heard of sunrise services but here we have sunset. Jesus is resurrected early in Mexico. All the better for the fireworks. It’s been a very long time since I attended Easter mass. I remember it all very solemn and sad. Jesus died…he suffered…Mary wept…Cut to Mexico.

The community gathered in the plaza outside the church. The church is too small for everyone and, well, you know, fireworks.  We waited under the palm trees as the sun sank into the Pacific and the sky darkened. First up was the mini-bon fire right behind our seats. A large candle was lit and the folks nearest to the candle lit their individual candles and shared the flame person to person through the crowd of over 1000 people. I teared up. Nothing beats good ritual. Next a group of young people were confirmed into their faith right next to us. The padre was a man I met in yoga. The yoga friendly priest was in charge of the whole event. He made the sign of the cross on the teenager’s foreheads. Then their parents and god parents traced over the cross with their own fingers. I don’t remember this from when I was confirmed. My confirmation name was Vanessa. The flame was carried to the front of the plaza. The procession followed. I recalled my star turn as an altar girl when I took a wrong turn carrying the crucifix and headed down a side aisle on Easter Sunday. Embarrassing. Our kid last night got it right. That wrong turn might have signaled my destiny as one who could not do what is expected.

The service proceeded in Spanish. The first reading was Genesis. Here again I was surprised. Is this faulty memory? I always remembered it as the last supper, Judas, Mary Magdalene. Heavy stuff. The origin story in Spanish was a delight to hear. God liked what he saw and he rested…From there on the readings were all about the natural world and how it sustains us. This was some seriously subversive stuff compared to my memory. The resurrection as metaphor for humanity and our survival on this planet. This yoga doing priest had my attention. For a little while. The I started burning myself with dripping wax. Right when I despaired for my clothes and skin the priest told us we could snuff our candles. There were so many readings. I grew alarmed. When was the homily, when was the communion? Oremos (let us pray) indicated it was time to stand. We sat and stood, sat and stood. This I remembered. After about seven different reading with songs and prayers interspersed the action picked up. Attendants started handing out balloons from large garbage bags and the crowd grew restive. Some people had noodles and others globos. We twittered and waved. The father admonished us to settle down. Hold your balloons still, it’s not time to party. Yet. Another song. We hummed along. The group playing music reminded me of my mother’s stint in a 7 guitar Jesus band in the seventies. Aleluya! That’s how you spell it in Spanish. Another reading. Balloons held quietly.

I have to confess (it’s that time) I missed the big reveal. I was looking at my balloon when the crowd cheered. I looked up and the sheet shrouded Jesus was in full view and lit up and the sign next to him burned bright with a fiery Aleluya! Wave your balloons and sing, sing, sing. Fireworks blasted. People cheered. We danced in our spots. This went on for fifteen minutes. The mass was not over but remembering the early exit from childhood Burt and I headed home.

What a fiesta.

The flame
The flame
The flame was passed candle to candle.
The flame was passed candle to candle.
Fireworks
Fireworks
More balloons. Now we see the balloon inspiration for that Gypsy Carpernter event a couple weeks ago.
More balloons. Now we see the balloon inspiration for that Gypsy Carpenter event a couple weeks ago. The brightly lit thing that resembles a flame in the center of this photo is the Jesus statue.
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TAXES

A little rant here. Sorry. I know I have it good. This is the second time this year I’ve had to make contact with our government from abroad. For the lowly placed people it’s against the law to communicate with a foreign power so the feds have special restrictions on calls coming in from out of country. My US cell phone can’t complete the call. My Mexican phone can’t complete the call. I’ve tried all the internet work arounds. Last month we used a friend’s US landline (don’t know how that works) to finish Burt’s application for Social Security benefits. This month I’ve been trying to file our tax extension and for the first time ever I am blocked out of the system.  I have done this 5 years in a row with minimum effort. This year I’ve filled out forms with all our vitals and bank account info and four times. The application is accepted and then a day later I get an email saying it’s been rejected. I re-filled the form and no success. Now they tell me I need to call. My friends are gone until next week. We’re shaving it close. I have to accept that I might be a scofflaw and file our taxes late without an extension. At least I have proof of my efforts that I tried four times.

In other news, Til will be back in Mexico next Sunday. The dawning of a new chapter in all our lives. Dad is on the loose. Can you believe he wasn’t going to tell me? Easter is also the same day Burt’s daughter and her boyfriend arrive for a two week vacay. The rumpus room has been booked for them for months. Good thing dad has a friend he can stay with.

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