Mexico, I love the Sun, Sea, People, Food, BUT…


The vanity in my outdoor snail bathroom.

Life in Mexico is sweet, slow, and warm. When I say warm, I refer not only to the sunny climate, but to the people. Mexicans are among the happiest people in the world. They are gracious, and welcoming. A goodly portion of the expats here have developed a laid-back and open attitude as well. And the food! Oh what a luscious delight is a taco or tostada eaten at a roadside stand. The ingredients are made fresh that day. And each stand has a different taste, depending on the family recipe. Oh yum!

Then there is the other thing… or things. Things that you cannot find.

When one wants to make a new recipe. Try a new sewing technique. Or do a little DIY. Frustration sets in. There are things that you just cannot find. Or have to go on the hung asking others if they have seen such. Or if they know the Spanish word for this.

I have a lovely, snail shaped outdoor bathroom. I hardly used my longed- for snail bathroom last summer and I have no excuse. This year I have decided to use it regularly, and to ask my pool guests to use it rather than track water through the house. I have been swimming in the early morning and then showering out there. The early morning  sun is intense,  the early Spring air is crisp,The sky is BLUE. It is lovely. Doing this is what I dreamed my Mexican life would be like when we finally retired. We have been here 17 years. I had a makeshift outdoor bath in my first house, a full enclosed very nice pool bath at my beach house. But now I have the dreamed-of outdoor snail bath. I never really decorated it, and made it mine. Who knows why.

The snail bath freshly painted and not quite ready for use.

I spent Saturday and Sunday cleaning it up, adding sweet yellow pots of jade plants, re-hanging the shell mirror, replacing the inefficient rain shower head with a hand held shower, and then adding Talavera soap and lotion containers. Pouring liquid soap into one was easy-peasy. Done in a flash and not a drop spilled.

Getting the hand lotion into the other dispenser

evening shot of the snail with a beeaded curtain for romance and a sombra cloth curtain for privacy.

was a task that drove me crazy and was shelved ( well actually stuck in a corner of my indoor bathroom cupboard funnel and all for over a year).


I like pretty things. I like my guests to have pretty things at the ready when they need them. Like hand lotion in a lovely dispenser.



Last year I tried pumping from a bottle of lotion into the new dispenser. What a mess!

The lotion clogged up, mounded up, and rolled down the sides.

I tried a funnel. That just got more lotion piled up in the funnel and going nowhere. I mean molasses goes faster uphill in January.

I was thinking of nuking the hand lotion bottle, but since my last microwave experiment, My Beloved comes running when he hears the buttons chiming.

So I visited Google. There was a 10 -minute video on filling a lotion dispenser. Skipped that one. Then there was a video showing a cello cone that is like a disposable pastry bag. None on hand in my house, and I am positive there are none available in La Paz.

Next tutorial shows a special icing baster. Hmm, Solution Cake the cake decorating shop might have one if I would like to drive 30 minutes to town and spend another ten parking. Well actuall until after my eye surgery, if MY Beloved wants to drive 30 minutes to town and spend 10 minutes lookingfor parking. Not happening.

Who said “The third one is the charm?” They are right.

The third video said just glop some lotion base in a jar and nuke it. But don’t let it get over 120 F.

Okay, I now had a plan.

  1. Find cooking thermometer in the gadget drawer
  2. Fill larger Pyrex measuring cup with water
  3. Nuke the water for two minutes. Also yell “ It’s OK honey, I am only heating water!”
  4. Check temperature. Note: do not test the water with your finger, that’s what the thermometer is for.
  5. Stand the lotion containers in the hot water. For a little while.
  6. Pump the now-liquid lotion into the funnel (less mess) Voila! The dispensers are filled.

I used two almost empty lotion bottles and part of a new one.

Have a lot of old napkins or paper towels on hand, this gets messy.

Now, how to label the dispensers? I looked through my collection for two small shells, none did the trick. So, I rummage in my button box and found two nice buttons and some silver cord. I tied the cord around the necks of the dispensers, thread the silver through the buttons, and knotted it, and added some small labels with the words soap and lotion in Spanish and English.

Oh how pretty they look. Dontcha think?



Baja Bottles and Shells, Magical Things From the Beach in La Paz!

Antique bottles nestled in one of Mary's Shell Wreaths

Beach, just seeing or hearing the word takes me away to a place of salt, sand, sun and peace.
I grew up in New Jersey, and Fort Hancock on the end of the sand spit called Sandy Hook was where I spent many a summer day.
The only day I did not go to the beach in August 1970 was the day my darling daughter Melissa was born. That was August 17th.
When we were kids growing up in Atlantic Highlands New Jersey, we lived a few blocks from the Sandy Hook Bay beach. My mother did not drive. So she gave us each an inner tube to carry, lined my brother, Merrell’s wagon with an army blanket, plopped La Princessa Patti ( my younger sister) in the middle and surrounded her with our lunch, our towels, change of clothes and beach toys.

Off we trekked to spend the day at the beach. And we loved it. Every second of it. And of course we collected shells and lots of other flotsam that washed ashore. My mother, as mothers do, had to limit what we could carry home, so we were told to only collect perfect shells. Otherwise we would have carried home every fragment, shard and sliver of shell.

Just an artsy shot of some candle ring shell wreaths on my patio

Now I live on the beach in La Paz, Baja California Sur. I collect shells of every size and color. For years I was addicted to collecting what we call jingle shells, gorgeous fragile, oddly shaped shells that range in color from pearly white to yellow, golden yellow and vibrant orange.
I love the gorgeous spiral curves of the inside of shells that I will dub “snails” anything that had a creature inside that spun their gorgeous homes.
These gorgeous yellow and white striped shells came from El Mogote, the sandbar that forms the La Paz harbor. We were wading and started to see these gorgeous shells lying on the bottom. We fulled bag after bag with them, and had to float the bags as we walked back to our chairs.

Some days, I have to do a shell intervention with Mary. When she starts hodling her back, I know it is time to stop. She always says " Just one more...please."

My friend Mary and I spend hours in the winter collecting shells, and we are always surprised what we find. And certain days big shells attract us and that is all we will pick up, others it is small to tiny shells. And always oddly-shaped shells. Mary makes the gorgeous shell wreaths pictured in this blog.
I take credit for inspiring her.
We would collect the shells and take them home to pile around the house, or stored them in jars and otherwise drop them and forget about them. There was no mother to tell us to only pick the perfect ones, or to only take home five.

Then I decided to see how many household objects would look better adorned with shells. Out came the glue gun, and nothing was safe! I glued shells on mirrors, picture frames, I wrapped a yogurt container with fabric then glued shells on it. It was to hold a roll of toilet paper in my outside bathroom.

Soon Mary and I were having shell contests.
But she has created the most amazing objects, including seashore Santas, modeled after the Victorian Santas that are so popular. But hers were standing on a base of sand, garbed in pieces of Mexican cloth, and some palm bark. Slung over his shoulder was a bag of shells.

Mary’s work has evolved into gorgeous wreaths. I am proud to say my small wreaths pictured here are the prototypes of Mary’s ongoing work. She gave them to me for my birthday a few years ago.

These wreaths are wonderful candle rings. They become part of my seasonal dlsplays and centerpieces for dinner parties, and are always where I can see them.

Now when I need a gift, I call Mary.
Her wreaths grace the homes of friends and family all over the US. They are in Denver and Dallas. One large wreath made just for her, was the centerpiece at my sister’s wedding in Amagansett. And there is the all black one. Mary dyed all the shells and turned her fingers black, they stayed that way for weeks. From Minnesota, to Idaho, South Dakota, California and New Jersey, someone I know and love has one of these wreaths. And a few years ago, one of Mary’s shell wreaths went to Paris with Madam Francine Cousteau.
Francine was here to dedicate the Jacques Cousteau memorial at Centro Investigaciones Biologicas del Noroeste (CIBNOR).
And here is the wreath that is always on my dining room table it is really very big abut 12 inches in diameter. Take your time, look closely, and you can see hundreds of different shells, a sea star, and some broken shells with gorgeous shapes. If you would like to know more about Mary’s shells contact here here Mary’s Shells: bigfishes2@aoldotcom

Mary always makes sure there is an orange scallop, and often a piece of sea glass on every wreath.

Terrific Tuesday in La Paz

In my last post I complained that all of us ex-pats miss customer service. We want to be able to return items to stores and not be made to feel like we have stolen mother’s milk from a starving baby.

And we want to contract services and have the work done on the day we are told things will be done.

And if we enter a shop and need assistance, we do not want to wait for the clerk to finish jabbering on her cell phone before she helps us.

On Tuesday Mary and I went in to town to pick up my repaired eyeglasses from Optica Valdez, and my repaired necklace from the designer at Artesanos on the Malecon. From there we were going to meet up with Melanie, who was at the dentist, and have a coffee at Cafe Exquisito.

So it went like this:

On Saturday I took my collapsed, broken and irreparable eyeglass frames to the optical shop. Since I still have stitches in my eye from a corneal transplant, I did not want new lenses yet. So the shop assistant and I searched for some frames that would fit my existing micas (lenses). We found a pair of raspberry wire frames. I call them “vintage” in other words they seem a bit outré. She said they would be ready on Monday after 3:00 p.m. I said I would be in on Tuesday morning. I left my old frames and lenses and my business card. No deposit required.

On Tuesday morning when I went back, my glasses were ready. The bill? $300 PESOS, around $25.00!

My $25.00 retro frames

Last week MissMeliss was visiting. She surprised me with a gorgeous necklace I had admired in the Artesano (artisan shop). It is a big shop filled with handmade crafts using materials from Southern Baja. There are black pearls in silver setting. Racks and racks of jewelry made from shells, handmade purses and clothing, replica cave paintings, artisan vanilla and other goodies. All of the artists have their assigned days to be on duty in the store.

The necklace broke the minute I tried to wear it. I went in to the shop a few days later (no receipt) and asked for it to be repaired. One of the artists in attendance called Ivonne the designer. She thought I was a tourist that needed to make a flight and said she would rush over and repair it on the spot. I said I could wait. Later she emailed me and called me and we discussed the necklace. Then a few days later she sent me a text message saying my necklace was ready and she would drive it out to my house. Instead I offered to come in town on her duty day. So on Tuesday when I walked into the Artesano and said my name, I was greeted with a smile and a big hug. The necklace is repaired, and Ivonne added a second set of earrings as a thank you.

My repaired and gorgeous shell necklace

While waiting for us, Melanie had a nice, long, friendly conversation with the parking guard at her dentist’s office, who allowed her to leave her new car there for a few hours. ( Just like any city, parking is a big issue in La Paz, and people will take up all of the spaces in front of an office or shop even if they are not doing business there, and the building owners will have cars towed). He also suggested some places where she might find a battery for her old Ford Explorer. We did our errands, had a coffee, and went back for her car. The guard came over to say no one bothered her car, and he looked forward to seeing her again.

Mary went off to a birthday luncheon with her “Ya-Ya” group. And Melanie and I went to La Concha for a beachside lunch of a tropical chicken salad. The service was slow, but nothing untoward happened, and we lingered.

Next stop: the Quaker state store that was recommended by Juan the parking guard. Did you know that 1991 Ford Explorers have a very small sized battery?

One of the things we do when we are on the hunt for goods is to anticipate all of the questions that could come up. We measure the item we are replacing. Copy any and all numbers, letters and names. As ex-pats we are usually replacing US goods we brought down with us. We may be buying something with a US name on it, but it was either made for the foreign market or manufactured here. So we try to be good Girl Scouts and be prepared.
Good thing Melanie had measured her old battery. Nothing in the Quaker state store would fit.
So off to the Ford dealer. Would you believe it, no battery to fit the old Explorer. He did bring a few batteries out for Melanie to measure. Another customer waiting for parts suggested a place we might try, and the parts man at the Ford dealer called them for us. No go. Maybe COSTCO will have it. There are a lot of old Fords driving around La paz, they all use batteries.
This Tuesday would fall into the category of TERRIFIC!
There are other days when we can find nothing on our list, no one wamnts to help, and there’s no parking.