Writing Love Letters in the Sand


Little boys of barely 8 years old should be in school. They should be playing with friends, riding their bikes or scooters, going to scout meetings.
They should not be in a hospital bed far from home at the end of a valiant battle with cancer.
My darling grandson Thomas has been fighting the fight since August. And is surrounded by his parents, his brother and his other grandparents at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. They live in California.

Valentine’s Day, Tulips and ME

Valentine’s Day, or as we say it in La Paz; Dia de Amor.
When my kids were young (pre-teen through high school) I always purchased cupcakes for every season. I would put them under a cheese dome in the center of the table, and there they would sit until dinner time.

Of course there were other treats throughout the day, but the cupcakes, well they were the ultimate treat!
One year Bubbie, (Yiddish for Gramma), my sweet, late mother-in-law was staying the weekend. At dinner she was the first to choose a cupcake. She turned the plate, removed the dome, and looked for the cupcake with the most icing! She who eschewed treats and sugar and used to follow me around reading excerpts from Prevention Magazine about the evils of coffee, had to have the most of the sugary icing dyed red with red dye #1!

Well here I am in Mexico, and missing out on the usual exchange of Valentine’s in the mail, and treats at the office and a dinner out.

Since my birthday is also in February, on the 21st, my beloved and I usually visited Calistoga in the Napa Valley for a weekend of mud baths, massages and good food. This was after the kids had flown the coop.
We would do this or visit Carmel, or do both each on a separate weekend in February.
The gardens and garden shops in both Carmel and Calistoga would be bursting with Spring blooms. And hanging planters and wine barrels all dripping in color.

And the curb strip in front of my San Jose home would be blooming with 1,000 daffodils.
And just to make sure I had enough daffodils, I also planted bulbs in front of my neighbor’s house.
How I miss Spring flowers.

The other day I was in Chedraui, the main grocery store in La Paz and right before my eyes was a display of the loveliest potted tulips. I did not hesitate; I grabbed two pots of these luscious blooms. One pot for my office and one for the dining room table.
And here they are:

And when my beloved came home for lunch is said “Oh sweet darling thank you for the tulips!”
And he said “ So I don’t have to go to town and buy you one of those readymade flower arrangements they sell on the corners?” “I am disappointed.”

Don’t believe him for a minute, he was relieved.
And so to chase the” I am not in California anymore blues”, I decorate my house for every season.
And tomorrow I’ll show you what I did for Valentine’s Day.
Feliz Dia de Amor!

How I tricked My Beloved on Christmas Morning

By Susan Klindienst Fogel
December 5, 2010! December is barreling down the pike, no time to stop, only three Sundays until Santa arrives. Sewing, baking, wrapping, entertaining, decorating. !
Over the next few days I am going to show off my Christmas tree and my favorite ornaments .
Because I love Christmas!
I love it! I love the hustle, bustle, and making time for friends and family, and watching their delight as they open the beautifully wrapped box and lift out the lovingly handmade item I dreamed up again this year.

And I am starting with a story about how I tricked my beloved one Christmas!

I don’t go to the mall , I rarely shop in department stores. I haunt fabric stores, virtual and real, and search for downloadable online patterns designers. I try to find the perfect gift for one and all. Living in La Paz, means having to plan my Christmas sewing far in advance. I have to see who is coming down , one of my guests for the HoneyMoon Hut, or family or friends, and ask them to accept small packages of fabric and patterns that I have ordered online, and have shipped to them.

One year it was his ‘n her aprons.

Another year I made neck roll pillows and sleep masks for use anywhere but especially while on a plane.

And there was the year I made 17 purses for the women in my life, and 17 jars of green chile soup for the men.
And one year I made my beloved a gorgeous robe. I got up every morning at 4. Had my coffee, enjoyed the quiet, and sipped my brew by the light of the Christmas tree.
I would sew until 7. Have breakfast, get dressed, and then login to work in my home office at 9.
When it came time for fittings, I told him it was for Miss Meliss, and I needed to check length.
He said “This is gorgeous she will love it.”

Boxes of any kind, and especially gift boxes are hard to find in La Paz. But there are a few enterprising souls that set up stalls on the street and sell pre-wrapped boxes. The tops are wrapped and there is a lsice of tissue inside. But paper, tissue and ribbon are available in most stores.

Miss Meliss and her hubby arrived a few days before Chrismas and wanted to do some shopping in La Paz to soak up the flavor of Christmas in a small city in Mexico..
In one clothing store they had pre-wrapped suit boxes, which would be perfect for a certain robe.
I told my beloved to choose a box for that special present he had been helping me with. He chose a metallic, blue, foil box!
Was he ever surprised, when on Christmas morning the big, blue , foil wrapped box was on his pile! “Melissa “, he said, “ I think this is for you.” MissMeliss, was in on the secret. She said “ Nope, I am sure it is yours.”

My beloved was surprised, touched, had tears in his eyes and laughed that he had been “gotten”.“ “Susan, you got me.” Were his exact words.
He loves the robe, it is elegant and is the perfect length.
So tomorrow I’ll show you my beautiful Christmas tree.

Here’s a photo of the robe:

The robe that Tricked my beloved

Friday Fill IN

Happy Halloween to those that celebrate it!
Photo courtesy Spering PhotographySo…here we go!

1. While the cat’s away the geckos take over!

2. Having a break between big sewing projects fabuloso!

3. Children are grown, married and in a different country.
4. A dip in the pool, naked when I get home from work or shopping or what have you.

5. This may seem odd, but Tequila really does have medicinal qualities.

6. The work week is over and that seems like a fine idea to me!

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I’m looking forward to watching some US television with my beloved, having chocolate, tomorrow my plans include private drinks and tapas at Casa Coctel on the hill overlooking the Gulf of California with another couple, and listening to jazz and Sunday, I want to enjoy breakfast out with friends at La Marmolera!

Mexico is Safe, But What about the US?

Photo by Claude Vogel of MexSense
I am so tired of the screaming hysteria of the US prress and how they terrorize would be visitors to Mexico.
Here is a post written by Lola for Mexico Premiere

What If The Shoe Was On The Other Foot? Some Thoughts On Violent Crime And Tourism
Posted: 07 Oct 2010 05:12 PM PDT
By Lola
What if CNN headlines blared “Drug Violence Claims 4 Lives In Popular Vacation Destination” every time a gang-banger (any color, any race) shot up a rival gang’s sidewalk in Los Angeles? What if Fox News ran a constant ticker that read “Murder Chose Chicago 131 Times This Year” and held forms discussing why the city should be boycotted? (In fact, September in that city ended last week with 30 homicides. Nearly 20% of the victims were teens.) Should travel warnings be issued for the Windy City? Should we close up California because, according to the LAPD, even though overall gang crimes fell 12.2 percent, 31 more people were shot [this year] in suspected gang crimes, an increase of 4.9 percent?
I wouldn’t be lying if I said the US has more violence than other first-world countries—and that’s been a fact even before drug use in this country escalated to the point where every enterprising dealer south of the border wanted a piece of the action. We have more robberies, rapes and assaults here. We glorify violence in our movies and our TV shows. We breed serial killers. Meth labs are popping up like daisies in the suburbs (and we all know how sweet and mellow meth-heads can be). We are now even venturing into suicide promotion with the sudden spike of bullying in our schools.
So… honestly. Where are our travel warnings?
Are you mad yet? You should be. This is a great country. It’s a beautiful country. And if you stay away from the scary section of town, if you don’t deal drugs, if you aren’t a hooker and you steer clear of shady bars, chances are you’ll have a ball and be safe as houses in every city, coast to coast. It’s not a guarantee, though, because even in this great nation of ours, innocent lives have been claimed in crossfire. But the police scanners certainly won’t keep me from enjoying the fall weather along the Navy Pier in Chicago or spending a weekend of pure fun in Los Angeles.

So why should I cancel my visit to Puerto Vallarta? Or forget my plans to visit Mexico City for a week?
I shouldn’t. And neither should you.

Yes, be careful. Yes, take normal precautions. No, don’t go to the locus of the cartels for a drive or a drink.
I know I’m not the only one out there who thinks this way. I’m not a lone voice in the wilderness, but sometimes it sure feels that way. So, I’m doing what I can with the tools I have.
Here are just a couple of links from like-minded people. I know there are many more of you out there. Raise your voice. Let it be heard. Thousands upon thousands of people in Mexico depend on tourism for their livelihood. People who can’t feed their children become desperate. And we all know about desperate people. Please help reverse this desperation by looking beyond the headlines.Thanks for your time.
The Economist blog:Mexico Safer Than Canada?
Mexico Boutique Hotels Blog: Mexico Safer than the United States

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.

So What is it Like to Be an Ex-Pat in Mexico…Really?

By Susan Klindienst Fogel

So what is it like to be an ex-pat in Mexico…really? That is the question we are often asked by our guests.
We rent our little guesthouse to vacationers, and from the outside looking in, we live an exotic, dream life in paradise.

Think about it; we have a lovely modern home on the beach. My beloved walks to his job as the science editor at a federal research agency. Did I say that he walks to work along the BEACH? He comes home for lunch. And most days we have grilled grass-fed Sonoran beef, or fresh local seafood that has been delivered to our door.

I work from home, writing, and building an internet business about my passion: sewing. I have a perfectly appointed office with a view across the pool and out to the beach.

We have an international set of friends, and entertain and are entertained often.

And those things are all good.

Even after 10 years, I miss many things about my life in California. Things like PBS, fabric stores, bookstores, and just being able to buy things -especially clothing- and have them work. If not I want to be able to return them without a fight. And customers service…that is a big thing we all miss here.

On the other hand medical care is excellent and cheap when compared to the US. Our doctors take their time, they listen and they are accessible. Do you have the cell phone number of your doctors? I do.
When I walk into one of the two cafes I frequent, my drink is being made before I order. The parking lot attendant downtown meets me at the curb and takes my car to park. During holidays when there are thousands of people downtown, I am allowed in the lot when others are turned away.

Don’t get me started on trying to find all of the ingredients for a special recipe, even if they are ingredients that were in the store two weeks ago, and today they are not.

And then there is the Mexican banking system…it makes the US banks look warm and fuzzy. Have you ever been chased down the street by the bank manager after they made an error and he wanted to still tell us what we did wrong? My friend and I were!

But one bank, Bancomer, has figured out what foreigners need and want and have developed a Preferred Customer Unit with bi-lingual personal banking officers that have lived in the US or Canada. On the busiest day we can go to the Preferred Client line, and be taken ahead of all the others. The tellers are not as amiable and service oriented as the personal banking officers, but they do take us ahead of the pack.
So we count the blessings we have, mourn the things we don’t and in general live a good life, on the beach in the City of Peace.

And we have come to understand why Mexicans will commiserate with you about most things, then suggest you have some Tequila.

Sunday at the Beach in El Comitan, La Paz Baja California Sur

We could push it to La Paz!

Sunday at the Beach
By Susan Klindienst Fogel

Sunday at the beach.
What does that evoke for you? Sun, sand, brightly colored umbrellas? Kids yelling, waves breaking? Girls gathered ‘round the lifeguard stand?
Maybe a small plane would fly by trailing a message about Bob’s Lobster Pot, or a yacht would motor by causing some bigger waves to play in?
All of these were part of Sundays at the beach when I was a kid growing up on the New Jersey shore.
Now I live in La Paz, Baja California Sur…right on the beach. I mean my front yard is sand.
There are no lifeguards. There are families that come in their cars laden with coolers, tables, tarps and picnic tents. The kids fly kites, play soccer, and have all kinds of flotation devices. But that is later on Sunday afternoon.
In the mornings on Sunday and all day for the other six days of the week, our beach is mostly deserted. Even though my pool is beachfront I could saunter around on the terrace naked and no one would be there to see me.
Today, we returned home after breakfast with friends. I heard a noise that sounded like a light plane flying low, and looked out the sliding glass door to see a white seaplane skimming the water then landing.
Still dressed in our Sunday go to town clothes ( nothing like what we wore in New Jersey, but still more than we would wear just hanging around the pool…see naked above) Patricia and I went down to the water’s edge. Had we been wearing shorts we could have waded out to the floating plane.
It looked like they were having engine trouble and the tiny waves were enough to move the plane around.
Since we could not wade out (and we badly wanted to) we decided we had seen enough). As we walked back to the house we heard the engine splutter, then stutter, then come to life. The little white plane with yellow trim sped across the bay, making a frothy white wake, and took off.
And here are the pictures I snapped.

Gathering speed to take off, headed for La Paz
They're up and over the Bay of La Paz in El Comitan, heading for La Paz or the open sea!

Breakfast Crepes at El Trocadero with Miss Meliss in La Paz

Breakfast At El Trocadero in La Paz

By Susan Klindienst Fogel

Miss Meliss had been here for 10 wonderful days. Ten days of mother/daughter bonding.
Yesterday was her last full day of playing and eating and beach COMBING.
I just dropped her at the airport.
We had a wonderful time together, and by taking her places in town I re-discovered the beauty that is La Paz.
One of the newer restaurants in town, El Trocadero is a delightful, modern restaurant with a French flavor.
Some of my women friends took me there for my birthday a while back.
And I ticked it off as one on my list of places to bring Miss Meliss.

And that is a photo of the wonderful crepes with platanos ( bananas) and Nutella.

Video: How to Remove a Palm Tree with a Pick-up Truck, an Ax, a Friend and a Chain!

By Susan Fogel

El Comitan Real Estate

Early afternoon on a windy, sunny Saturday in La Paz…

 We were just sitting down to a gorgeous bowl of homemade chicken soup. “It looks like something from Martha Stewart Living.” I said to my beloved. “ The white chicken, the clear broth and the gorgeous green vegetables. I hope it tastes as good as it looks.” I was raising the spoon to my mouth when there was a knock at the door.

It was Juan, the  man that had cleaned the hula skirts from our nine venerable  palms. Hula skirts are the dead palms that hang down below the green swaying fronds. They drop off at inopportune times and hit people on the head. Our hula skirts were not  near the danger zone yet, and my lunch was calling. I said  “ No gracias, proximo vez,” Which means: “I want to eat my lunch, go away!” Well it really means: “No thanks,  next time please.”

Well the tenacious guy was not leaving if he thought he could make a few pesos and buy himself some beer.

 So he pointed to our recently decapitated double palm at the end of our row of nine stately palms. This double palm was 30 years old and close to 30 feet tall. But a disease struck many palms in our neighborhood, and this one fell ill and died. Just before hurricane season we had it cut. We feared that it would fall on the house during the storm. It made us sad to see it come down.

  The stumps were about five feet tall, and our dramatic landscape lights were still illuminating the sorry site. Our regular gardener and his two sons tried to dig out the palm, but it was too big and heavy for them. He told me  he would see if he could find someone with a backhoe willing to take on the task.

So the stump stood upright from its three foot deep hole, but no longer illuminated since the dramatic landscape light was now buried in the pile from the hole.

 So back to Saturday. “How can you do this by yourself?” I asked. And Juan replied that he would use the might of his Ford pick-up and a chain. He would be back shortly with the chain. Seeing a chance to get to my lunch while it was still fresh, I agreed to his price of $500 pesos ( about $40 US).

A few hours later Juan arrived with the chain and a friend, an ax and  their determination.

They chopped at the trees roots, dug around it, hitched up the truck and started to tug. Well gravel flew and wheels spun, and the tree pulled the truck smack into its wher e it bounced off the trunk and shattered a tail light. Juan smiled and said “No importa, senora.” ( it’s not important) “Honey”, said I, “Move our car please, I don’t like the way things are shaping up.”

And so he did, thankfully.

I could regale you with more details of this misbegotten afternoon activity, but I  a made a video instead. And yes , Juan is deliberately smashing the back end of his shiny red pick up into the tree trunk.

After he was all finished, Juan said he would be back on Monday to  shorten the stumps, clean out the root ball, and turn them into planter for me. And I did not even have to ask!  Dead palm trunks make wonderful planters, the root ball area is rich ansd fertile.

 The stump is turned upside down, the wide part is the planter. they are elgant, and an example of recycling at it’s best. More ont this tomorrow.

 So here is the video proof…don’t try this at home!