Saturday, April 25, 2015

Stepping Back in Time Near San Miguel de Allende

It has been hotter than usual in San Miguel de Allende, or so locals tell us. The thermometer hit 90 and hovered in the high 80s all week. Humidity remains low.

Last night a brief hailstorm and thunder energized pedestrians and cooled the air. This morning the intense sun again greeted us.

Hail, thunder, fierce sun, aching muscles do not prevent hub and I from experiencing more of San Miguel and its environs.

A trip to Canada de la Virgin Pyramids outside town found us huffing and puffing up a long mountain road alongside a group of university students. 

Canada de la Virgin refers to the Spanish name for the area. The original inhabitants worshipped the sun, moon, and Venus (the planet), and called the place Panuco.

We left town with our guide, drove to the visitors center and entrance to the ancient site, then boarded a bus, driving seven additional miles to the real entry point. A newly built, wide stone road zig-zagging up the mountain greeted us. I have no idea why the bus could not continue along the road and drop us off at the top. Some sort of dark Mexican humor... 

It was hot, mid-morning, and the pyramids nowhere in site. The kids bounded off the bus and proceeded up the hill.

We followed rather sluggishly. The kids seemed unaware of the arduousness of the uphill jaunt. Along the way a rest stop earned our gratitude, a covered patio with benches for the weary. The kids stopped a few minutes, hub and I (and our guide) a few minutes longer. We did not have to keep up with the younger generation, but did not want to appear too old and decrepit.

Hub and I resting in the shade before climbing the pyramid.

At the top of the mountain the pyramids rose before us. The site opened to the public five years ago and is a work in progress. Most of the pyramids remain unexcavated, marked today by large stones and posters indicating their size, shape, and function. 

I climbed the one excavated pyramid, proud of myself. I am not one for heights. The last one to reach the top of one section, the others started climbing down the other side. The steps were so narrow and steep you could not see them from the platform - unless leaning over the edge. A folding chair discretely sat in a corner. Obviously a lot of people were exhausted upon reaching the top and/or refused to climb down the other side and sat, waiting for their companions to complete their journey.

I sat down, not wanting to navigate the seemingly treacherous steps. But as the kids, hub, and the tour guide descended, I realized I would never live down the fact I could not walk down. So I did.

The descent ended in a large interior courtyard surrounded by the pyramid. Walking across the grassy complex, I trudged up the other side, the best place to view the countryside. High desert country, deep canyons, wild grasses, and a variety of cactus filled the landscape. I never knew cactus grew like trees, with woody trunks, tall, wide and very green.

I wonder how people found this place and why they settled in this (or any other) particular spot. The people settling these plateaus wandered for centuries, carrying the venerated remains of an ancient king, finally burying them in this spot. The remains date to approximately 1700 B.C. The pyramids were constructed between 400 and 1000 A.D.

Archeologists are not definite which ancient people built the pyramids, but believe it was the Toltecs, a civilization preceding the Aztecs, the ones the Spanish conquered.

Returning to the visitor's center, hub and I were tired, sweating and ready to rest our weary legs. The kids, on the other hand, appeared barely to break a sweat. 

We gratefully crumpled into the car and headed home. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Culinary Delights in San Miguel de Allende

Hub and I sit in front of the TV watching a Miami station (English language), munching home-made guacamole, a hub specialty, prepared with ingredients bought at market this afternoon - avocado, tomatoes, cilantro, lime juice, onions, peppers (not hot). Fresh-baked nachos and tortillas provide the perfect accompaniment. 

Several hours of walking and touring and we arrive home, collapsing, our bodies demanding rest. We revive enough to put away the day's purchases and make our culinary treats.

Vacationing can be hard work!

Locally-produced food is safe for consumption. Instructions in a notebook at our house indicate fruits and vegetables should be immersed in a BacDyn solution, ensuring any bacteria are killed. I fill the kitchen sink with water, pour in a cap full (a large container of the solution provided at the house), place the food in the sink and soak 15 minutes.

Our family was concerned about our safety and the level of modern conveniences in our lodging and elsewhere. We are repeatedly assured this is one of the safest towns in Mexico, and modern conveniences abound. Public restrooms are modern and spotless, stores and restaurants clean and well-kept. Our lodging is spacious, equipped with a large stove and oven, refrigerator with water dispenser, microwave, coffee maker, and toaster. The only kitchen appliance missing is a dishwasher. I suspect a lot of vacationers and part-time residents, including the owner of our place, do not cook a lot of multi-dish, multi-utensil meals. Restaurants are abundant and very reasonable. 

A 3-1/2 hour food tour proved a vacation highlight. Walking a two-mile stretch of the city, we stopped at seven places for a taste of San Miguel - ceviche (uncooked, marinated fish) at a Peruvian restaurant, a pork dish prepared Yucatan-style at a second place, chicken enmoladas (tortillas, mole sauce) at a third restaurant, then ice cream at an outdoor stand. Tortilla soup, tequila, and dessert followed.

Our Taste of San Miguel tour group in front of La Cantina El Gato Negro, otherwise known as a tequila bar. 
I am the short one.

We attended a Mexican regional cooking class, cutting vegetables, grinding ingredients together into a salsa and best of all - eating! Preparation is labor intensive, but the results worth the time and effort. But one cannot consider calories. The cream-based corn soup I am sure is a high-cal treat, and the baked apples contained a honey-based sauce and nuts. An occasional indulgence.

Fresh hand-ground salsa

Ruben, our cooking instructor.

James Beard said, "Food is our common ground, a universal experience." We are savoring local cuisine and foods, a step closer to understanding and appreciating a culture different from our own.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Past Glory and Present Community in San Miguel de Allende

Steep hills, restored brick and stone Spanish colonial buildings, stores, restaurants, art galleries, churches, cobblestone streets and narrow, raised stone sidewalks highlight the historic district of San Miguel de Allende. 

Hub and I live at the shore, the main geographic feature described in one word: flat. Great for walking and bike riding, not so much for developing the muscles and stamina necessary for navigating hilly territory on foot.

San Miguel was founded by two Spanish friars in 1542. They walked long distances, obviously in much better shape than hub and me, seeking sites for towns and churches. Water was in short supply; the local river proved unreliable as a year-round source. One day the friars' best friends - their dogs - discovered a hidden spring. 

The friars walked no farther.

The town grew wealthy on silver mined nearby. Spanish aristocrats and wealthy businessmen established large homes throughout the 17th through 19th centuries, and constructed lots and lots of churches.

Silver mining eventually declined and the town's fortunes spiraled downhill. By the turn of the 20th century San Miguel was best categorized as a small backwater mountain village.

A few Americans discovered the area in the 1930s, lured by a temperate climate, cheap cost of living, a friendly local population, and opportunity. Artists discovered the allure of beautiful surroundings and cheap digs. Following World War II the trickle increased to a steady flow continuing to the present. Today Americans, Canadians, Mexicans from all over the country, snowbirds, sunbirds, and tourists from around the globe mingle, generating a vibrant community. 

Our first day in town the short ten minute walk to the closest commercial avenue lasted an hour as we attempted to maneuver narrow streets heading off in all directions. We finally found a cafe to rest our feet and enjoy breakfast.

We began chatting with a woman sitting alongside our table, a Hawaii native and chiropractor living and working in San Miguel. Concerned my back would weaken during this three week trip, I now have a new friend to call, not only for chiropractic work, but for information on other medical specialists if necessary.

On the other side of our table sat a couple who first visited the area over twenty years ago. Recently retired and relocating to San Miguel, we discussed area must-dos before hub and I return to the States.

We walked to the Jardin, a well-manicured park and the center of town, located the tourist office, ATM machines, peeked inside stores and galleries, and shopped for food provisions, mentally figuring the dollar to peso rate and attempting to ask questions with a couple of Spanish phrases and understand answers from store owners fluent only in their native language.

A conversation with the ex-pat owner of a gallery specializing in posters revealed he was a writer. I picked up a copy of his book sitting on the counter and scanned the summary on the back cover. The story takes place in the town where hub's family spent summers for decades. The two chatted a long time about their common experiences.

A photographer and gallery owner, offering margaritas, popcorn and advice, moved into town four months ago...

We again took wrong turns, confused by a maze of streets, but discovered an outdoor cafe surrounded by brick walls, the entrance and sign obscured by vegetation. Our stomachs informed us it was dinner time. We gratefully wedged weary bodies into comfortable seats on a shaded patio and commenced gorging ourselves on scrumptious tacos stuffed with the freshest ingredients. Dinner with drinks cost $15. We were going to like this town!

A slow, meandering walk and we returned home an hour later. The next day we found out by turning right instead of left when leaving the restaurant we could be home in ten minutes.

Our feet hurt, our bodies exhausted from walking miles and probably a few ounces heavier from the delicious food and drink, but we were beginning to feel happily immersed in life in San Miguel de Allende.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Best of Boomers 400th Edition

400. A nice round number. This week marks 400 weeks of Best of Boomer emails, each week comprising a variety of interesting, insightful, informative, humorous, serious posts by a group of incredibly talented, hard working and devoted individuals.

Until I somehow weaseled my way into the group.

I am not sure why or how I became a member, but am honored and happy to be one of the club.

I am the baby. Not in age (unfortunately), but the most recent to become a part of this weekly boomerthon.

I became a writer/blogger via a circuitous route. Way back when, in the last century when entering the world of work (after the usual series of high school and college jobs), I joined the professional community teaching and mentoring adults, then became part of the strait-laced business world, specifically in the financial arena. Relocation and the need for a change found me at the computer initially pounding out investment and business articles, then moving on to the fun stuff.

Writing is a solitary endeavor usually occurring in a cloistered environment. Most writers work at home or wherever they may wander, saving on commuting costs, a work wardrobe, meals out and other expenses, but the trade-off can be minimal contact - and sometimes zero connections - social or professional, with other writers. Local contacts via workshops and writers groups expand our horizons, but it is a wonder of the 21st century to be able to reach out via the Internet to other writers and readers, creating a virtual national and even international community.

It is fun, motivating and humbling to be part of a group provoking and at the same time inspiring me to produce on a regular schedule. 

I look forward to many more wonderful weekly postings from my colleagues, and to celebrating our 500th, another round number to acknowledge.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Long Day's Journey to Our Final Destination

The pilot welcomed everyone on board, said a couple of pleasantries, then declared, "We will be taking off in just a few minutes for our destination..."

And stopped. Silence. For a few seconds. Then he piped up, "Queratero," butchering the word.

Passengers - many fluent in Spanish and aware of the wild mispronunciation - tittered and laughed. Did he not know where we were going? Did he not remember? Was it too difficult to learn the correct pronunciation of the place he was about to visit, if only for a short time?

I figured as long as he had navigational aids, we were good to go. It was 7:00 p.m., and hub and I had been traveling since 8:00 a.m. that morning.

Our trip began with breakfast at a local cafe. Eager to leave the house in good order and not waste time cooking and cleaning, our kitchen closed the evening before.

An hour's drive to the airport followed, luckily uneventful. Entering an eerily empty airline terminal and checking our bags, we were informed the charge would be $25 for each piece. Hub raised his eyebrows, scowled, and stated testily. "I didn't think we had to pay for luggage."

"Well, you do," the unsmiling customer service rep replied. 

We did not pay for checked luggage on US Airways. With their merger with American Airlines we now pay.  Score Won for Corporate America, Additional Costs for Consumers.

We packed two suitcases. I piped up, "I'll take this bag with me," and walked off with the carry-on-sized bag.

Security was a quick walk-through. Locating our gate, we immediately plunked ourselves down in cushy seats in a pub next door, ordered drinks (non-alcoholic, of course - it was still morning), and did what everyone does while waiting anywhere for anything nowadays - whisk out electronic devices and do...something. I checked emails, the news headlines, Facebook. The wonders of a Smartphone!

Our flight would be boarding soon. It was full, an announcer stated, and therefore cabin storage space limited. If anyone wanted to check their bag through to their destination there would be no charge.

I immediately walked up to the desk. The attendant checked my bag. No charge.

Score one for the consumer.

The first leg of our air journey, Philadelphia to Dallas/Fort Worth, lasted 3-1/2 hours. Following a long layover and a second two hour flight, we landed in Queretaro, Mexico, exited customs and officially entered Mexico. A van driver holding a sign with our names on it greeted us.

Our van co-passengers were ex-pats living in San Miguel de Allende, our final destination, an 1-1/2 drive from the airport. All Americans, all originally from the West (California and Arizona), all loved their adopted city, offering suggestions on places to visit, favorite cafes and restaurants, best places to shop. I wish I hadn't been so tired; I would have absorbed more of their valuable input.

Our long, exhausting trip finally ended upon arrival at our vacation rental at 1:00 a.m., exhausted and barely able to walk straight.

But our San Miguel de Allende adventure was about to begin.

Greetings from the backyard of our temporary home.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Best of Boomers Celebrate a Birthday…and Discuss Home, Travel, and Shopping

On The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide, Rita R. Robison, consumer journalist, writes about a supermarket survey that reports Wegmans, Publix, and Trader Joe’s came out on top again while Wal-Mart, consistently one of the lowest-rated grocers in the Consumer Reports’ surveys since 2005, earned low scores in every category except price.


 Laura Lee celebrated the big 6-0 this week!

Happy birthday Laura Lee!



Like a lot of retirees, Tom Sightings has been doing some traveling lately. And like a lot of Northeasterners he is sick and tired of the cold and so has arranged to take a trip to . . . well, find out where he is at his post A Week Excuse.

I have been traveling too, but details will have to wait another week. A shopping trip with a friend unleashed nostalgic memories about a long lost body feature, revealed in Waist Not, Want Not

Waist Not, Want Not

My girlfriend Joy needed sundresses for a trip overseas. Visiting Boston for a couple of days, we enjoyed a leisurely lunch and an afternoon shopping spree.

The historic district of Boston meanders along a 2½-mile brick-lined Freedom Trail highlighted by restored Colonial-era buildings and lots of restaurants, cafes, bars, and a plethora of shops. Crocs, Abercrombie & Fitch and other national brands mingle alongside boutiques and wagon kiosks selling everything from food and cheap souvenirs to expensive clothing and accessories.

Everything but snow! Thank goodness…our trip was in mid April after all.

The cold, gray, wet weather, conducive to remaining indoors, found us methodically browsing clothing racks in warm, well-lit venues. We got lost, rhetorically speaking, amidst the clothing racks.

Unfortunately it must not be fun designing attractive, stylish outfits for women of a certain age. It seems, however, to be a lot of fun designing for tall, slim, youthful bodies. Most clothes looked great on display, awesome on the young, and awful on us.

But determination reaps rewards.

Joy finally chose a couple of dresses to try on.

A few minutes later she exits the dressing room in what is known as the proverbial Little Black Dress.

Of course LBDs are not really little for a lot of us, but we won’t quibble over words.

The dress fit well, looked terrific, and was reasonably priced.

The cute, slender salesgirl, younger than our kids, smiled and said, “That looks great on you. You can wear a cute belt with it, something gold for a little bling…”

Joy piped in, “I don’t think so.”

I added, “No waist-defining bling for us, thank you. We haven’t seen our waists in decades. Finding our waist again would be like a treasure hunt…”

The salesgirl laughed.

I cannot remember when my waist and I were intimate. One day we were companions, inseparable, and then suddenly it disappeared. We have not communicated since.

I have thought about my waist over the years, but truthfully, do not have the motivation to find it. It is well hidden behind layers composed of dark chocolate, Starbucks Frappuccinos, white wine and Sangria, French fries and burgers, and other high-calorie, delicious foods.

Our relationship was a good one, but like so many relationships, was not meant to last.

But our memories are good ones.

Sometimes standing in a dressing room trying on an outfit, staring in the mirror, I miss my waist.

But I moved on to broader horizons. And stretch pants.

Waist not, want not. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Upscale Hotels and My Unfashionable Preferences

What is it about upscale hotels that make me wish for either the comforts of home or a spacious room in a chain hotel not known for amenities or snob appeal?

Hub and I use Hotwire when planning trips. The website is often our first go-to place for accommodations. Our current trip to New England involves three different hotels. Hotwire came through all three times.

A Marriott, our first temporary residence, featured contemporary, stream-lined decor. Restaurant prices were exorbitant, but we were visiting family and were well fed! Our room was almost spacious and the bathroom adequate, appointed with a long, wide counter accommodating toiletries.

Our next temporary residence is an old, remodeled, high-class, non-chain, swanky hotel in Newport, Rhode Island. We are spending a couple of days touring the summer mansions - actually cottages is the term used by the original builders and occupants - of the ostentatiously, obscenely wealthy entrepreneurs of the Gilded Age, circa turn of the 20th century. But back to our accommodations...

Hotwire customers do not learn the name of the lodging or exact location (within a prescribed area) until booking a place. Because it is midweek and off season, we landed a room for $75/night at the downtown grandiose Newport establishment.

Upon arrival we drove up to the elegant entrance and a valet immediately scurried to greet us, ready to park our car.

Parking is not free. The rate? $30/night. Hotwire mentioned an overnight parking fee, but not the amount.

No thank you.

Parking meters are everywhere around Newport, even in the shopping center. Luckily parking is free offseason November 1 through May 1. We did not have to drive around long before locating a parking spot a couple of blocks from the hotel.

Our corner room is cozy, small, tight, not quite but almost cramped. If attempting my yoga exercises I could barely stretch my legs out straight on the floor; they would reach into the bathroom, and I am short. Stretching hands over my head would result in bruised knuckles from hitting the bed, chair, luggage rack, radiator, and/or the wall.

Then there is the bathroom. The desk clerks must carefully eye guests before assigning rooms. I doubt a very overweight individual would be able to walk into the bathroom, close the door and turn around. Think airplane restrooms with a shower. However my biggest bathroom gripe is that there is no place around the mini-sink for toiletries - toothbrushes, a cup, soap, not to mention make-up.

The restaurant and bar area is decorated in dark wood-paneled walls and upholstery, dark carpets, dark wood furniture and minimal lighting, probably on purpose so people (especially oldsters with less-than-perfect eyesight even with glasses) cannot clearly see the steep menu prices.

OK, prices are high, expected from a luxury boutique hotel catering to people other than hub and me, and definitely not the bargain-hunting Hotwire crowd. But even upscale establishments need to fill rooms during the off season.

And speaking of rooms again...I am sure there are larger rooms in the hotel than our intimate abode, but Hotwire customers do not see them.

Personally, if paying for a room, I prefer space - especially in the bathroom - over small but cool in-crowd pretentiousness anytime.

But our current quarters are only temporary. Tomorrow we move on...

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Faulty and Forgotten Memories

Young people grow up today with social media implanted in their brain, part of their DNA. Those of us born BCA - Before the Computer Age - struggle to catch up, with varying levels of success. 

Facebook is one of a host of social media that ushered in a new wave of communications in the 21st century. I do not spend lots of time detailing my life on Facebook or any other social media. My blog posts make it onto my Facebook page along with an occasional cartoon posted by others.

One big advantage of the new communications over old-fashioned methods, like letter writing, is  trying to locate friends and acquaintances lost over the years. Of course some of them might prefer to remain lost, but that is another story...

We make new connections and reconnect with old ones, however tenuous the relationships may be.

Last week I received a Facebook message from an individual from my distant past. We crossed paths decades ago, specifically during elementary school and junior high. We are talking the 50s and 60s.

The correspondence jolted memory lobes. My life during my early teen years are a jumble of very, very diffused and blurry pictures. Names, dates, specific events are nothing more than a bunch of vague images. For reasons unknown I rarely think about those years. 

Greg's message rattled memory files buried deep within my brain. It took a while after reading the note to extract them and recollect.

Some of us have great memories, others not so much. My mother-in-law's memory for dates, names, and specific events is phenomenal. My memory, on the other hand, acts like a sieve. Names and dates enter and, although perhaps stored somewhere in the recesses of my head, may as well be gone. 

Forever. Or until jolted by an outside stimulus and shoved to the forefront of my cortex, or whatever that part of the brain is called.

I remember some of the people mentioned in the message, but not all. Did I ever know them?

He mentions a dance we attended. I have no memory of the event. Maybe one day, in a dream, the event will replay in my mind.

Or maybe not.  

Maybe I do not want to remember. I have read that over time we forget negative memories, or change them, making them more tolerable when eventually, if ever, remembered.

Our brains have an unlimited capacity for storing data. However I think at a certain point in our life, when data - a.k.a. memories - need to be stored, old, musty, unused files are tossed out, or at least thrown into a dusty bin, mixing with other unneeded files.They become difficult to retrieve, reorder and remember decades later.

Ask individuals who experienced a similar event to tell their story. Our family recently did this, and after four of us recounted our stories, one son commented, "Did we even grow up in the same house?"

Our mind plays tricks with our memories. They become a combination of the real and semi-real, the reconstructed, the forgotten, the misremembered.  

Anyway, thank you Greg for taking the time to contact me and force me to dig deep and remember.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Happy Birthday Apple

Happy 39th birthday Apple!

On April 1, 1976, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak started Apple Computer. (No April Fools joke!)

And the rest, as the saying goes, is history.

The lives of millions of people in the U.S. and around the world changed forever when these two minds collaborated, creating one of the most successful companies in history.

Today millions use some kind of electronic device either created by Apple or produced by another company influenced by Apple. The company took the computer out of the office and placed it, as well as other electronic devices, into the hands of consumers. The gadgets became integrated into our everyday life.

I use a smartphone, an iPad and a Mac computer. Never owned an iPod, the device that revolutionized how people receive their music.

Decades ago hub and I purchased an early Apple. I loved it. Apple introduced the icon-driven interface. The user-friendly technology allowed everyone (non-techies) easy access to electronic devices. But PCs dominated the business world for decades. Apple took a back seat.

Fast forward and the time came to choose a computer I wanted. I chose a Mac and have not looked back. Then we bought an iPad. When my cell phone broke and the grandkids made fun of my ancient phone, I purchased a Smartphone because it synced with my other Apple devices.

Apple Inc. became branding and marketing geniuses.

How many folks remember the Apple commercial aired during the 1984 Super Bowl? It has become an iconic piece of advertising.

Do you remember who played in that game? Of course I had no idea. I am not a football fan. The Miami Dolphins played the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers won 38-16. Apparently the Dolphins have not made a Super Bowl appearance since. But I digress…

The convention-shattering ad introduced the Apple Macintosh computer to the world. The ad was a take off of the George Orwell novel 1984. The Macintosh would free people from Big Brother, a veiled reference to IBM’s PC.

The one-minute commercial aired only once, during the third quarter of the game.

In case you missed it, do not remember the ad, or want to see it again, take a look:

Apple has had a rocky history, especially during a period in the 1990s when Jobs was not at the helm. But he returned and reinvigorated the company, introducing the iPod in 2001, then iTunes, the iPad, and the Smartphone in 2007.

Today Apple employs over 90,000 people. There are over 400 retail stores. 2014 revenue topped $180 billion. Apple ranks #15 on the Fortune Global 500 largest companies in the world (based on revenue) and ranks #5 in the U.S. 

Based on market capitalization on April 1, 2015, Apple is the #1 company in the world.  (Market cap is the total value of the company’s stock. Market cap = # shares X stock price).

Jobs died in 2011. Time will tell whether the company can continue innovating and dominating its field.