Busy March

Today is the first day of spring. All of my friends and family in Canada are gleefully willing away the retreating annual ice age, often with mixed results, melting snowbanks in some areas and spring blizzards in others.

Here at Casa Luna de Miel, we are enjoying another lovely, warm, sunny day.  Temperatures have been warming for weeks now.  I dragged out packets of seeds and will sprinkle them wishfully into the dirt.  Maybe some will grow.

But this year, spring brought the wonders of olde friendships, family and a group of people who share my writing passion. All within a couple of weeks.

Whew…by mid-March I flopped on the sofa.  I only had the energy to watch curling. Yea, I know, call me wild and crazy.

I have been on the organizing committee for the Lake Chapala Writers Conference for more than two years now and I just love it.  The 2018 conference on March 7, 8 and 9th was, of course, preceded by the previous years’ planning and all that, well, organizing. I had a great time with it but more importantly, I very much enjoyed working with outstanding colleagues/friends, who care more than anything, well, almost anything, that our conference is a success – that we provide a fulfilling, meaningful experience for all of our participants.

It was time-consuming but certainly worth every minute.

In all the last minute planning, meetings and concerns, a very dear olde (I use the term “olde” because using the word “old” doesn’t feel right) friend called.  We had somewhat lost our path of relationship bread crumbs in our 35+ year friendship over the past two years for a couple of reasons.  All I could do was wait.

I didn’t care when she was coming to visit, just that she was.  She arrived for a week, the week immediately preceding the writers conference. We had a great time meeting new friends, paddling around in the pool, sightseeing, shopping and just hanging out together.

 

With olde friends, it has never mattered how long we have not visited or spoken.  When we do get together time just melts away and all is right with the world.

The week after the conference my sister arrived.  She spent four days with us.  I organized a “Ladies Lunch”  so she could get a big swig of my circle of women friends in one binge.  (Yes, I did get a couple of comments from my funny, feminist friends on the terminology.)  With only four days, it seemed the best way for her to meet most of them.  We did much the same activities, saw the same places and imbibed the same way as I did with my friend.  We are all pals – my sister, my friend and me.  They live in the same Canadian city, in the same neighbourhood.

Mr. Wonderful understood how important both the visits were/are to me.  He just hung around in the background, giving me space to tend my friendship garden, quietly taking care of stuff, like poolboy/bartender duties and chauffeuring us around like the boss he is.

I have often said that I must have done something pretty spectacular in a previous life to have been blessed with this life and the people now in it.  I know, it sounds a little kooky, but I know it to be true.

Happy Spring!

Now, how is Jennifer Jones doing today?

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2018 Lake Chapala Writers Conference

I am on the organizing committee for the annual Lake Chapala Writers Conference.  I told you about it here.

It was a bit like childbirth; while I was in the middle of it, I just wanted it to be done without any catastrophes.  Now that it is over I look forward to the next and forgot all about the pain and the messes.

That’s me up at the lectern.

This is my second year on the committee and the 13th annual conference. I attended one the first year after we arrived as a participant.

In writing, there is always something new to learn. Always a new technique and the presenters gave us plenty of guidance and inspiration.  I delighted in being in a roomful of like-minded people.

Many attendees complimented us on the overall conference, especially the food.  The catering was done by the family who owns El Jardin restaurant.  The event salon is directly behind the restaurant and is managed by the son of the owner.  Pablo Sr. and his lovely wife, Lupita did all the food arrangements and Pablo Jr. attended to every need we had, no matter how small and seemingly irrevant. If you are in need of a venue for your event, please consider them.  They did a wonderful job for us and we have already booked for next year.

Pablo Sr. and Jr. on each end with Herbert, Victoria, Lupita (the restaurant manager) and me.

I was absolutely exhausted when it was over.  I guess that is what happens with a wonderful event – tired but happy.

And one of the group gave me this beautiful bunch of lilies, my favourite flower, or rather, one of my favourites in thanks.

 

Germs

Our life is far different, in so many ways than our life and environment in our previous home in Canada.

While temperatures, where we came from, are currently (early February) down in the mid-minus 20 degrees centigrade, it never freezes here on Lake Chapala.

And we like that very much.  The weather was/is the major draw for us to pick this place for our retirement.

There is no winter “kill” here.  No way for Mother Nature to kill off nasty bugs and icky things with minus 20 degrees or lower for weeks.  That’s why bugs like scorpions don’t live in Canada.  Having said that, though, animals, birds and the like here never have to contend with freezing to death, and I like that too.

A friend on Facebook posted a link to an article; disgusting reasons you should never wear shoes in your home, or something close.  The article quoted a study from Houston, Texas, where weather is milder, stating, “Wearing shoes in the house can track bacteria onto the carpet, as well as toxins and E. coli.”  They collected over 2500 samples from various public settings, I presume from the floors.  They went on to suggest removing one’s shoes before entering a home and washing the soles of said shoes regularly will diminish the chances of the nasty bacteria from getting in and…I presume getting into one’s internal system to make us sick.

This reminded me of an article I read, years ago, about germs on the bottom of ladies’ purses.  Here in Mexico, most restaurants provide ladies with purse stands.  The waiter will bring a sturdy stand to hang a purse from.  I like this feature very much for, not only not having to slide the bottom of my purse around on the floor, but to keep it clearly within my sight rather than hanging it on the back of my chair where unscrupulous humans can slip a hand in without being seen and swipe my wallet.  I only have seen these stands in Mexico.  They would be a handy and welcome addition to any resturant.

Anyway, the article from long ago listed all the germs detected on sample purse bottoms.  Double ick.  I don’t rest my purse on a kitchen counter or table top and never will I ever place my purse on the floor of a public washroom.

In Canada, it is customary to remove one’s shoes arriving at home or as a guest.  Shoes and boots are typically wet, snowy and/or muddy from the outside weather.  Removing shoes/boots is understandable and expected.  In summer, though, not so much.  Attending garden parties, bar-b-ques, etc. at friend’s houses on their decks or backyards is not particularly conducive to walking around in stocking/bare feet.

Here in Mexico, I walk around all year long in flip-flops or very light shoes. I get fabulous pedicures so my feet always look nice. I rarely wear socks. Our house has no carpeting and is washed throughout twice per week. Our three dogs run around, not only our yard but on the lakefront where all kinds of critters live and die.  They bring who knows what in on their feet, including scorpions.  Our doors and windows are open almost all the time.  Mr. Wonderful often scouts around the perimeter with a spray bottle of “Home Defense”, a household pesticide.  The alternative to not using it is not appealing to us, nor do we want any one of our guests stung.

Germs…when my kids were little, I thought about germs more than I do now.  They brought many germs home from daycare and school.  When one kid got a cold, they all got one…or head lice, ICK, or the flu.  But I didn’t believe, nor do I still, in slavishing my kids and my entire home with disinfectant spray or rubbing them all over with sanitizer.  That is the job of their natural defences and if they are dipped in disinfectant at regular intervals, their immune system will never learn how to fight off bacteria on its own.  My kids proudly say they are reluctant to take antibiotics because they are strong enough to fight nasty germs off.  They rarely get sick. They are happy and healthy and have grown into good, strong, kind men.

On that note, we are getting older.  Many of the folks we know here are older than us and sadly with age comes a weakening of one’s immune/defence systems.  We are careful when we have colds to keep our distance from friends.

I will respectfully remove my shoes/flip-flops when I visit my Facebook friend.  I hope she won’t mind my bare feet.

2018 Lake Chapala Writers Conference

A note to plug the local Writers Conference.  March 7, 8th and 9th, 2018 at El Jardin on the Ajijic Plaza.  Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico on beautiful Lake Chapala.

Here is the article I wrote for the local news magazine, El Ojo del Lago (the largest English magazine in Mexico).

Lake Chapala Writers Conference

By Carol D. Bradley

writers conference

 

Every writer seeks inspiration, whether penning personal stories for family, memoirs of an awe-inspiring life or the next best-selling novel. One place to soak up inspiration is in a roomful of like-minded people looking to talented presenters and fellow devotees of the written word at a writer’s conference.

The 13th Annual Lake Chapala Writers Conference will be held on March 7, 8 and 9th, 2018. Many writers at Lakeside Lake Chapala are keen to learn techniques and be inspired to write their own personal stories and memoirs, so the theme this year is just that: Writing Your Story. A bargain at $2,000 pesos (before February 28), the fee is the same as last year. (March 1st to conference start will be $2500 pesos) Your entry fee includes an Introduction cocktail reception and two full days of inspiring presentations and informed interaction. Snacks at the reception, lunch on Thursday and Friday, coffee/tea and refreshments at breaks is included.

Wednesday, March 7th at 5PM, join us for hors d’oeurves (cash bar) and a meet and greet with all presenters and a chance to mingle with fellow writers. 

A full day of presentations on Thursday, March 8th will start with check-in and coffee at 8AM and Jennifer Wilson presenting “Writing True Stories – Pitfalls, Pratfalls and other Important Details.” Beverly Slopen will present “Working with an Agent” followed by Roberta Rich and Beverly Slopen presenting “The Agent/Writer Relationship.” Afternoon sessions begin at 1:30PM with Roberta Rich – “Writing the Historical Novel: A Guided Hallucination in the Past.”  Jennifer Wilson will be the last speaker of the day with “Get into Character.”

Friday, March 9th will start with coffee and check-in at 8AM and Samantha Waltz kicking off the agenda with “Writing the Memoir of a Personal Story.” Roberta Rich will give us an encore with “Narrative Drive-The Ingredient Editors Look for.” For the afternoon session, Jennifer Wilson’s encore will be “Go There: Fierce Writing from Familiar Places.”  The last but certainly not least speaker will be Pat Chase with “Marketing Memories.”  To conclude another outstanding conference join us for a celebratory Wrap Party at 4PM (cash bar).

Included in your conference fee, attendees are offered an outstanding opportunity to pitch your unique project, one-on-one, to literary agent, Beverly Slopen. Beverly Slopen Literary Agency of Toronto, Ontario represents a diverse list of internationally published and acclaimed authors in fields ranging from literary and commercial fiction to history, narrative non-fiction, anthropology, biography, to carefully selected true crime and self-help.

Jennifer Wilson has been a rock writer (favorite interview: Tom Jones), reporter, English teacher, Big Band radio DJ, and newspaper editor. Her work has appeared in Esquire, National Geographic Traveler, Gourmet, NPR’s All Things Considered, Better Homes & Gardens, No Depression, Traditional Home and many others. Her memoir, Running Away to Home received Best Nonfiction Book of 2011 from the American Society of Journalists and Authors.

Roberta Rich is the author of award winning The Midwife of Venice, The Haram Midwife,  and A Trial in Venice. Rich will share her knowledge of writing historical fiction, honing voice, setting, characters and dialogue to help make your story come alive. For an additional $500 pesos you can sign up for a one-on-one critique with Roberta Rich.

Samantha Waltz has over 60 personal essays in anthologies and has received awards for her nonfiction writing from the Oregon Writers Colony, Willamette Writers, Writers’ Digest and Redbook. Ms. Waltz has extensive editorial experience and currently teaches workshops on writing and selling the personal story, helping hundreds of writers craft excellent stories.

Every writer needs a Writers Platform. Pat Chase will help us establish an on-line presence to help strengthen your writers profile, highlight your work, your marketing skills and sell books, stories or articles to local markets or a world-wide audience eager to get their hands/eyes on a great book – yours! Ms. Chase designs websites and social media for a variety of on-line businesses.

Registration forms, with additional details for schedule times and Ajijic venue are available at Diane Pearls on Colon in Ajijic or from any of the LCWC organizing committee at the Ajijic Writers Group meetings from 10AM-12noon on the first and third Fridays of each month in the garden at La Nueva Posada.

Potheads

Friends from Canada came to visit in September.  They are planning a move here in the spring.  We had a great time showing off our place in the sun.

They raved about their new kitchen appliance – an Instant Pot.  We had never heard of it.  They said they cook ribs in less than a half hour and the ribs are “awesome” and fall off the bone. Really? We were skeptical.  After years of cooking ribs slowly, patiently, basting in the slow cooker or oven for hours, we can do them just as deliciously in 30 minutes?

We gotta try it, said Mr Wonderful, admittedly after a few beers.  And he’s a research guy, so off to Google he went.  “We gotta try it,” he said again after a good look at all the “Pothead” ravings on the internet.

Son #1 and #2 planned on coming down for Christmas.  Every year they look/ask me for something insightful, most often at the last minute, for Christmas gifts.  We suggested an Instant Pot would be a great gift for both of us.

On Christmas morning a large, dishevelled package appeared under the tree, wrapped and tagged, “…From, the Elves”.

Our new Instant Pot sported a few battle scars as it had to be un-boxed to fit into the elves sack while in flight from the north pole.  The lid butted against the pot itself throughout the voyage.  The dings were cosmetic and gave it some character.  “…Chicks dig scars,” said son #2.

Our new toy fresh off the sleigh from the north.

We did the first water test to ensure pressure worthiness and then cooked hard-boiled eggs. They were done in five minutes and the shells all but fell off.  A treat after many times having to remove the shells bit by tiny, frustrating bit.  That was enough to dazzle the hell out of us and peek our enthusiasm.  So ribs it was.  And fall off the bone they did…in a half hour.

Ribs, all clipped, marinated and wrapped up in the Instant Pot

But we didn’t stop there…no…Instant Pot Beef and Broccoli, then Instant Pot chicken with Mexican rice and today, Tuscan chicken with mashed potatoes, done together, same pot, same time with a rack between the peeled, cubed potatoes and the chicken.

Clean up is easier/ fewer dishes, and without a dishwasher, that is a big deal for us…ok, just me, I dry and he washes.  “Let’s touch up these dishes,” is his favourite line in the evening…ok, his second fave.

This thing is magic!  I have joined Pothead Facebook pages and internet blogs to save recipes to my Pinterest “Pothead” board and can’t get enough.

So, about a month into having an Instant Pot, we have been quickly converted to being Potheads!

 

Christmas 2017

Here it comes ALREADY!

Real Christmas tree and Buena noches

 

We had a cold snap – down to about 10 degrees at night – for a few days.  #1 Son arrived Sunday and #2 on his way on Thursday.

 

“If you make me go out in public in this abomination, that’s IT, I’m leaving!”

 

 

Life is incredibly good.  We are healthy, happy, and living in this beautiful place and my sons love to come and visit.

I have shared my boys with their Father every Christmas for 30+ years.  It’s my turn this year.  This is the second Christmas they have been with us here in Mexico since we moved here permanantly from Canada.  This post is about our last Canadian Christmas with all three of our kids.

When they come we buy a real Christmas tree from they kiosk on the side of Costco.  This year we have ordered a tur-duck-en…a turkey, stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken.  We did that in our last family Christmas back home.  This year, it will come to us all de-boned and we will assemble it with Mr. Wonderful’s home-made stuffing between the layers. We also bought a whole turkey for extra, leftovers and as a back-up (ya know, just in case).  My youngest son has asked for whipped potatoes at Christmas since he was a little boy.  We have had whipped potatoes for Christmas dinner ever since.  I’ll write a post on how it all turned out.

Here at Casa Luna de Miel, our family will be busy over the next couple of weeks.  From our Family to you and yours, may all your Christmas wishes come true.

Merry Christmas.

 

 

 

What’s Cooking…Pasta Sauce

 

Mr. Wonderful cooks…and he cooooks…

One item packed into our cargo trailer to make the trek to Mexico with us was his stock pot.  He bought this giant pot decades ago.  It has a heavy bottom and about a 10-litre capacity.  It has been used for many soups and sauces over the years.

We broke it out of the pantry the other day where it had been languishing in the dark since it’s last proud moment and filled it with pasta sauce.  Mr. Wonderful doesn’t get excited about much to do with cooking, however, when something tweaks his imagination, he goes into chef mode with gusto.

This time he used some of the fresh ground beef from the butcher in the village, a kilo of the single ground.  We use the double ground for burger patties.

We have tried several different sources to find a mildly spiced Italian sausage that we like/love.  So far we found sausage from Tom’s, the butcher next to SuperLake in San Antonio, to be the closest to what we are looking for.

We buy large cans of S&W plain tomato sauce at Costco and use two along with several cans of organic diced tomatoes.

Lots of opening

 

I stripped the casings from the sausages and, yes, I know we can buy the sausage meat uncased, however, there was nothing fresh (only frozen) and uncasing is easy.  I slit the casing down the side of the sausage and strip it off.  Separately, he browns the ground beef, sausage, a diced onion and lots of minced garlic.

Brown the beef and sausage

Pour it all into the pot together, add lots of dried oregano, garlic powder, dried parsley, dried basil (from the garden), S&P and a bit of sugar to cut the tomato bitterishness.  We soaked a few different varieties of dried chillies to soften them, pureed them in the blender to add a savouriness and a touch of heat.

That all simmers for several hours on our gas stove.  He places a cast iron griddle that covers two elements under the pot, lowers the heat from the smallest front element, and pushes the pot to the back of the griddle.  This works to lower the heat to a gentle simmer.

We recycle cottage cheese containers that hold about a litre and freeze.  We use one 500-gram bag of fusilli or rotini and one container of sauce.  Rico pasta!

8 containers for the freezer

I use this sauce for lasagna, too.  I warm it up, add more oregano, basil and garlic, layer it with lasagna noodles, mozzarella and ricotta cheese and a generous layer of mozzarella on top and bake.

Preparing wonderful food and all the clean up is always delightful with two of us.  Together, we love to cook and cooook.

 

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