Tuesday, December 27, 2016

White Sands Cuatro Cienegas (Los Arenales de Cuatro Cienegas)


What a great day.  We are having breakfast at the hotel restaurant.  The food is such a great price and it gives us a chance to do our internet mail, Facebook and blog.  

We headed out to the visitor´s center where we were met by our guide Hector.  He is finishing high school and will be studying at the university in Saltillo.  He has chose to study environmental chemistry.  He has studied the area most of his life and has taking courses to prepare him to be a guide on weekends and holidays.   He´s a smart kid and is looking forward to working in his field. 

We headed out 13 kms to the gate that leads to the dunes.   All 30 guides have a key to open the gate.   This is highly protected and you couldn´t find a piece of paper on the ground if you wanted to.   The desert area is surrounded by a couple of mines that take the gypsum and turn it into plaster for sheet rock and floating plaster that is exported to the U.S. as well.

This dune was created over a period of 17,000 years and started with a tree.  The winds blew the sand up around the tree until, after many years, the tree died but left the beginnings of a dune.  It is now solid as a rock.   You can climb the dune but there are signs warning you to remove your shoes in an effort to maintain it.   

There are over 300 different plant species in the area.   Below are just a few.   We didn´t see any animals but there are black bears in the hills, mountain lions, coyotes, kangaroo rats, blue tailed lizards, three different types of turtles, and egrets.   

We spent about an hour at the dunes before heading back to drop Hector off.  He said we could hire him to take a look at night when the stars are out.   The school has star nights where the students can do some gazing.   Imagine the light of the moon against the white sands.  Wow!

We spent the afternoon walking around town planning our day today.   We will visit local museums and the two wineries.   Tomorrow we will head back home .  We thought about heading to San Antonio but it´s a long drive.  As you may have heard, we will have another gas price increase here in Mexico, 14%.   Looks like we will be using the rv just around our house, at least for the next year until we see how prices settle.   

I have a feeling that once the private stations take over, price wars will begin and fuel prices will level off.   Wish we could continue on but the dollar is expensive and our house in San Antonio needs a new roof and central air conditioner for 2017.   

Monday, December 26, 2016

Poza Azul - Cuatro Cienegas


The town still remains pretty quiet.  Today is Monday morning and people are back to their routine.  We're sitting in the hotel restaurant taking advantage of their delicious and economically priced breakfasts.   Hey we're on vacation.  

Yesterday we took the trip to the pozas.   The visitor's center was open.  Behind it are three pozas:  the Poza Azul, a man-made poza used for demonstrations and El Borbollon (the bubbler) where the water comes out of the spring at  a super fast pace considering this is dry desert.

The entrance fee is 30 pesos per person and you can walk the kilometer to the Poza Azul.  There is a covered palapa and an elevated walkway for observation.  The poza goes down to a depth of 100 meters and you can see fish and plant life that are endemic to the area.   The visitor's center has some basic information in English and Spanish so I took pictures to investigate further in my free time.

Boo hoo.  It came out blurry.  This is fascinating information about the formation of life on Earth.

We made arrangements to be taken to the sand dunes this morning.  The cost is 30 pesos each and is a 20 minute drive from the visitor's center.  You can take your own car and the guide rides with you.  They have two very nice and modern vans for larger groups.   They make it clear that we are to tip the tour guide as that is how he makes his money.  Can't wait.  

The hotel owner has been more than accommodating.   He visits with us when we are here in the restaurant and turns out that he is one of the great-great grandchildren of Venustiano Carranza instrumental in the Mexican Revolution and Mexican politics.   They also own a winery called FerriƱo which we will visit this afternoon.   There is another, Vitali.  Maybe we can do both. 

Rocmoc made a comment about Mexican Area 51.   This area is used by the military and airplane manufacturers as a test ground and many things have been done here over the years.   I´ll be checking that out. 

A bit chilly this morning.  A cold front is moving through.  Brrrr.   Slept like babes with the electric blanket.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

No Place At The Inn . . . Almost!


As we were getting ready to leave Saturday morning, I walked to the front of the house to open the gate.  When I turned around and headed back to the rv I noticed the SUV leaning to one side.  I looked around only to find one of the tires completely flat.   Hmm.   I took out the small compressor we have and started to work.  Once it was full and I checked the pressure I turned off the engine in an attempt to hear where the leak was coming from.   Loud hissing and I thought the worst.    I put my finger over the valve and it was leaking from there.   The valve pin was stuck.  I pricked it with my finger nail and it worked.   Off we went.

We passed through Monterrey which is made up of 9 different municipalities.   No issues until we got to Santa Catarina.   Whizzing down the major avenue which is eight lanes, I was motioned by a transito to stop, right there in the far left fast lane.   Long story short he and his partner said we were not supposed to be driving in that lane with the rv.   Well then, give me a ticket.   I was ready to argue with him but he was right.  I knew he picked me out of the line up.   He said that all my papers were in order and decided to let us go.  Leaving Santa Catarina and entering Garcia right before the highway to Saltillo we were stopped again.  This guy was too funny.   He accused me of drinking and asked me to blow my breath into his newbee partner’s face.   I did and the older of the two asked him, “Well?”.   The kid didn’t know what to say and rolled his head around like a ball.   Then he asked if we had insurance.   I told him of course we do.  He handed me back my license and off we went to Cuartro Cienegas.

Into Saltillo and through Monclova we took the libramiento taking us around Monclova and onto the desert to Cuatro Cienegas.   We arrived around 2:30 as planned and passed through the town. 

Very quiet and orderly town if I may say.   We got to the visitor’s center for the preserve and it was locked up and closed although the sign said 5 p.m.  We were hoping to spend the night there.   There is the Pozo de Los Mezquites nearby so we headed there. 

Very high security and you are warned that the area has cameras (which you can see) and patrolled by local/state police and the military.   Okay, sounded good to us.   We took the 1.8 km road rough but solid, and arrived to the guard station.   You can see the white sands on both sides although the dunes are another 13 kms further up the highway.  They were friendly but refused us posada.   They told us there is no camping allowed at any of the five preserves in the area.  

We headed back to town and parked in the square while one of us checked around.   Two patrol cars pull up and start a conversation with me.  Nope, no place in town, can’t boondock not even a gas station.  We were in luck though and found a hotel with a huge parking lot.   After much unfriendliness in this town it was surprising they let us stay.   The owner is very nice and offered us electric and wifi for 250 pesos a night.   Not what we wanted to do but we took it.    They even gave us a restaurant menu and said they would deliver.   Set up and found a flat tire on the trailer.  We’ll deal with that after Christmas.

Today (Sunday) we’re heading out to the dunes to go hiking and see if we can’t find a place to boondock.  Strange town though, very well-maintained, clean but empty.  The few minutes I sat in the plaza the police stopped everyone including kids on ATVs.  No loud music anywhere around last night as we went for a walk.  Something strange is going on here.  

Saturday, December 10, 2016

I Want A Motorhome For Christmas


Actual unit for sale.

That's right, I want a motorhome for Christmas.  About ten years ago the founder of the Bounder motorhome started a new company, CT Coachworks.  The idea was to create a full-time motorhome that was truly residential.  It had everything including full-size residential appliances and even a dishwasher and trash compacter.  That was when it wasn't popular to have a residential fridge in your rv.   Those days have passed and many Class A owners go for a full-size residential fridge.  The company started off on the wrong foot by naming their motorhome the Flounder.   It started to nose dive right away until the name was changed to Siena.   It lasted a couple of years and they made two sizes; 35ft and 39ft.  I found one this last week and can't get it out of my head.  I had even joined the owners group website which is now defunct.   In the end, not many were made but the company survives making custom limousines.  They continue to honor recalls, repairs, and warranty type items.

Back to reality, the Christmas tree is up and shining brightly.   Firewood is stacked in the corner of the porch waiting to build a fire in the fireplace.  The last couple of nights the temperatures hovered close to freezing and it is still around 7C, dripping and foggy.   This next week goes back to 29C during the day.  Believe it or not, the trees at our house still have most of their leaves.   Across the street the trees are bare.

This week will be my last week of work for the year.   I'll spend the next week getting the rv ready and doing some maintenance work here around the house, mostly cleaning windows, cobwebs around the outside of the house under the eaves.   

The pool is getting a makeover but it will be done a bit at a time.  It's winter so we have time to get the leaks repaired, grout the tile and cover the deck area with tile or some other product.   Still undecided.   

We ordered a dump truck of rocky material (lajilla) and it spread in front of our house and also filled a few potholes.  We'll need another load or two so that might be my project also.   

Sunday, November 27, 2016

I Had Forgotten It Was Thanksgiving


For many years we would celebrate Thanksgiving.  A big dinner here in Monterrey or we would meet friends in South Padre Island for a weekend and fix a big spread and hang out on the windy and cold beach.   As the years passed and so did many of our family and friends the get togethers seemed to be less and less.  Then the rv came along and were usually gone for the four days and at one time our first two rvs (Trailmanors) had ovens.   We would stuff a chicken and have all the fixings wherever we were.   This year I got up, went to the gym and off to a meeting when I heard on the radio that it was a holiday in the U.S.  I had thought about it the previous weekend and then Thursday was like any other day.

Later that day when I had a chance to read FaceBook I could see all of the greetings and wishes that people had posted.   I didn't see much of dinners though.   Family in Cincinnati posted a picture on FB of the great-nieces and nephews most of which are in college or finishing high school.  One of my great nephews, Cameron, was named 3rd Division Ohio Scholastic Soccer Coaches Association.

That's Cameron on the far right.

Another great-nephew, Bryson, is First Team All Southwest Ohio 

I did some work on the rv this weekend.  I don't want to wait until the last week to get things going only to find out that something isn't working.   Well, I found one.  The antenna wasn't working.  I had fixed the cable when I was in San Miguel de Allende over the summer.  It didn't last and I climbed up on the roof to fix it again.  Now, the darn amplifier won't work.  The LED flickered off and on and then quit.   I hate those things and I've never had one that worked worth a S@$#.   I just want to watch the news when we do have a signal.  It's always something.  

The roof looks great since we trimmed back the trees this year.  I want to wash the rv this week and wanted to see what needed to be caulked if anything.  Super clean and I did find some opportunity spots.  I found a couple of screws that hold the awning in place and they are hidden underneath.  Never seen a drop of caulk.   Some other minor parts that could use a dab here or there.  The LEDs I purchased work so well I may go back this week and pick up a couple of more.  

Friends Sharon and Bill who are fulltimers in their Lazy Days Class C, have purchased a home in Nayarit.  They've just started to do some updates.   They are birders and always have some great pictures to post.  Check out their blog The Odd Essay  Looks like they'll be spending winters here in Mexico.   We met them years back in Veracruz when we used to stay on the coast.  

Monday, November 21, 2016

Clearing Out The Cobwebs


Alive and well. 

Wow, I can't believe it has been two weeks since my last blog post.  Kind of sounds like a confessional at church.

I'm finally off the road as far as work goes.   Home now and doing routine maintenance on the house and the rv.  We have our trip planned for December to Cuatro Cienegas but there is always some change of plans.

Barb posted that Hacienda Contreras is open and that Chema's is also welcoming rvers but the restaurant is closed.  We're in happy hour right now so we are talking about all the good times we have had over the last 15 years of rving.  One of those is traveling to Jalisco and Valle de Juarez along with our trip to Canada that we took and the great time we had in Oregon with my brother Steve and SIL Michelle.  

This is a three-day weekend celebrating the Mexican Revolution.  I have done quite a bit of research over the last two years regarding revolutions and their successes and failures.  Out of over 200 revolutions in the last three hundred years, only three have truly been a success of which the Mexican revolution was not one of them.  Hence the current conditions in Mexican economics and culture.

It is also the now famous Buen Fin, the discount weekend to help combat the flight of Mexican pesos to Black Friday.  Our news anchor of more than 40 years described it as the following;  "people are buying stuff the don't need, with money they don't have, to impress people they don't even know".   We chose to stay home and do things around the house.  I will say that we bought a small 19" LED television for the rv that only uses 18 watts.  We like to watch movies and our Golden Girl dvds on a bit bigger screen than a laptop and from our bedroom.  The laptop stays on the bed and isn't convenient for our viewing pleasure.  It was cheap and has all the gizmos as well as a four year warranty from the manufacturer not that anything will happen.

What prompted me writing the blog today?  Well, Contessa and Colin are now in Mazatlan, Ruth and Kevin are in Romania, and Norma and Croft are heading down the west coast.  That's reason enough to clear the cobwebs and get things rolling around here.   

As for the rv, I bought some great LEDs for the overhead lights.  I am working with a guy now to have two AGM batteries installed under the sofa next to the converter so that I can move the inverter and install a transfer switch to make the outlets live.   Cleaned up the rv and will be doing a wash and sealing check to make sure we're good for the winter.  

Our Day of the Dead altar at school.  Click to enlarge, very interesting how they did the floor tiles.  They were made from wood shavings that were colored in vats with fabric dye.  Truly a piece of art.

Went with the family to the cemetery to visit the dead.  Mariachis, food, family.  

My last course in the U.S. for the fall season (El Campo, TX)
My last course in Mexico for the season.  Working with teachers in Tampico.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Finally, A Weekend RV Adventure


 Dia de los Muertos in our town square.

After quite a dry spell of not rving we are about to make a weekend trip.  We have been so busy with work travel the rv just kind of sits there.  Although a couple of weeks ago we did a driveway campout complete with movies and internet.  That was fun in itself.

The filming of our course in Morelia came and went although we have had fun with the project and the trips.  I still have two more trips pending this month.  One in Tampico on the 12th and then a trip to Houston for a day course in the rural town of El Campo.  I was there last year and they requested me again.

Our Mexican TESOL celebrated 43 years with our convention here in Monterrey the last week from Thursday to Sunday.  I gave two conferences on new materials.  2500 teachers attended the convention and we had big crowds.  The VP of our group asked me if I would be interested in working in the Middle East; Qatar, Dubai, Saudi Arabia.  What do you think?  Let's see if it comes to light.

The weather is cooling down now and this is my kind of season.  Warm days and chilly nights.  By chilly I mean the temps drop to 18C and the daytime hovers around 28C with an occasional rainy day.

I've been watching too much YouTube and have become hooked on all the full time rvers, van campers and stealthers.   What a great life.   I'm hoping ours will come sooner than later.   As I said in the last blog, we are going to Cuatro Cienegas for Christmas.   It is located in the desert sands of Coahuila and has beautiful springs and pools that can be used for swimming or there are balnearios nearby.  It is not a popular place in the winter as Semana Santa is the big time for campers there.  Hopefully we will find the place nice and quiet spending time outdoors and also visiting the pueblo magico that is only 10 kms away.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Trip To The Rio Grande Valley


It is a trip to the valley but unfortunately it is not an rv trip.  Tomorrow I'm teaching a course in Roma, Tx.  If you remember my last trip there, I was harassed by police coming and going from McAllen.  

This trip I have made sure that all lights are working, car is clean, no books in the back and I had the GPS on and running to keep me on track with mph versus kph.  I have no books because now we have gone to e-books.  One part of the job I always hated and was a real time consuming activity.  I would have to go to the storage, pick up materials and then go to the school.  Afterwards, I'd have to return any unused materials.   It was located in Edinburg which is on the northeastern side of McAllen and during traffic in the late afternoon took forever.  Technology does make things easier but we have already discovered the downside.   Students aren't logging in and using the platform to prepare and study for this dragon of a test.  I mentioned to a coworker that they probably never read the printed material but we'll never know.  

I spent an hour and fifteen minutes at the bridge.   Bummer.  Then a stop at the Dollar Tree for some reading glasses.   I made a bee line for Costco for vitamins and then the dreaded trip to Rio Grande City where my hotel is.   I have never seen so many officers from every possible department.  When I arrived to the hotel, I mentioned to the girl at the front desk that I made it without getting stopped.  She said it has become an economic tragedy in the sense that businesses have closed and tourists drive north to San Antonio to cut over to Hwy 83 bypassing all of the western corridor of the RGV.

They haven't made a final decision yet on the biopsy.  I'll find out at the end of the month.  I did go to the chiropractor.  It seemed to ease the pain a bit but it could be the placebo effect.

I return home tomorrow evening and we both take off for Morelia for the taping of our video conference.  A nice dinner out Friday night is well-deserved.  

Sunday, October 9, 2016

I´ve Had A Few Tests


I haven't said anything to anyone and have kept it to ourselves.   I started having chest pains about a month ago.  Of course I made an appointment with the cardiologist and he took me in right away.  He did his usual battery of tests.  The treadmill was great, he asked me if I wanted to run the last two minutes at full speed and incline.  No issue with that.   He did blood workup, x-rays, EKG, etc. and told me to come back in a week.  He said I looked great and there was no need for any urgency.   

I went back the next week before my trip to Pennsylvania.   He said he found nothing and that I was one of his best examples of a healthy heart.   Remember that I have three siblings who have had bypass surgery.   

He scheduled an appointment with a specialist in male breast cancer.   I had a mammogram and ultrasound.  She really knows her stuff.   She found a lump under my left boob or chest.  She said it was a very small fat nodule and was not attached to any tissue or muscle and was not the cause of the chest pain.   She also did tests on my lymphatic system and they came up very clean.   Her results show nothing yet the pain persists.   I delivered the CD with the images and the test results to my cardiologist.  Now I am waiting to see what is next.

I continue my 1.5 hour workouts running 40 minutes and 50 minutes of weights.  No issues or pain occurs.   I just can't describe the sensation I get.  It's almost like an uncomfortable burning in the tissue.   It has no rhyme or reason and just comes and goes on occasion.

It doesn't look as if death is imminent or at least not yet!  That's a good thing. 

Other than that we are on our weekend tours for the next two months.  We each have a trip every other weekend.  I'm working on getting the roof replaced in San Antonio this month and the prices are all over the board.   Not sure how this will turn out.  It's a big chunk of money and I will need to be there to supervise.   Roofers have a bad reputation right now in San Antonio.  So many homes were damaged by hail.  Insurance is in cahoots with the roofers and my neighbor had his done for $11,000.  About 3.5 times too much.  One neighbor had three roofers who came and left without finishing the job.  Imagine?  We're starting repairs here in Mexico also.  Always something that needs replacing.

Home ownership is the pits.  My final conclusion.  

I mentioned to Contessa that we would head to the East coast this winter but I made a mistake.  We decided on Cuatro Cienegas in Coahuila.  A place we always talk about but never go.  It's a days drive and is supposed to be a wonderful place in the winter.

Enough rambling.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Trip To Kansas City


(Barbara Lane posted about Winstead's a famous drive up restaurant that has survived decades.  Barbara, I just want you to know I saw your comment after posting the blog and want to tell you I had breakfast there!  Great as always!)

Visits home come with baggage.  Lots of memories both good and bad.  This trip will probably be the last one for quite some time.  It was fun and there is nothing like seeing family.  That said, Kansas City has nothing to offer me anymore.  I guess 40 years and the passing of time takes its toll.   My little brother still lives there and a sister leaves about two hours away.  Out of ten kids most are spread around the U.S. and getting them together is a real chore and one that no one seems to want to tackle anymore.  

My brother and his wife from Hawaii came into town for a few weeks.  They'll be visiting friends, family and also taking a side trip to Winnipeg.   My cousin Marian lives in Winnipeg and will be moving to Massachusetts just before winter sets in.   We went out for dinner along with a long-time family friend.   I was able to visit with my brother and his wife several times.  They stayed at the hotel next door.  

My oldest nephew and his wife are die hard Royals fans.   She's a head nurse and he is a teacher at the University of Missouri.  There son is 14 and a freshman in high school.  He's into robotics and loves his video game.  In the picture below you can see from l to r my godson from Germany, my little brother, nephew, his mother and yours truly!  They like Mexican food and wanted to take me to an authentic Mexican restaurant.  Well, it was Mexican, but it was more like TexMex.  Very good food no doubt.  I loved the enchiladas.  

Seeing family was fun and I'm glad I had the opportunity to make a stop off after my course from Pennsylvania.  Part of the trip was paid for and made it easier to stay for more than a couple of days.  I had a nice hotel on the Country Club Plaza although it has become very expensive.   This is an excerpt from the history of the Plaza:

The Country Club Plaza (often referred to as The Plaza) is a privately owned American shopping center in the Country Club District of Kansas CityMissouri.
The center consists of 18 separate buildings representing 804,000 square feet of retail space and 468,000 square feet of office space.[1] The standalone buildings are built in a distinctive Seville Spain theme and are on different blocks mostly west of Main Street and mostly north of Brush Creek and blends into the Country Club neighborhood around it and the whole area is often simply called the "The Plaza."
It was the first shopping center in the world designed to accommodate shoppers arriving by automobile.
We live a few blocks from here and I spent many a summer hanging out, walking around, rebel rousing and having a coke and a smoke.  It has changed quite a bit but for the better.  It is much more of an upper-class shopping area than it was back in the day.  The surrounding apartment towers are now tony condos for the up and coming in the city.  Breakfast and lunch out and evenings at cocktail bars are all the in thing there now. 

One thing that isn't mentioned in the above about is that the Kansas City and the Plaza are known as the city of fountains.  Here are just a few.  Funny that they are mostly nudes for a place built in the 20s and in the Midwest to boot.  

I guess it would be a great place to spend a few days but it just seems like the city is empty.  No one on the streets and people certainly don't do much walking.  My little brother and I went downtown to the city market which like everything else has turned into a posh place to eat and buy produce.   The Steamboat Arabia is also housed down by the river.  The steamboat sank in the Missouri river in the mid 1800s and was found 30 years ago buried in a cornfield as the river had shifted its course over the years.  Arabia was a cargo ship and was loaded with goods.  They were amazingly preserved and a museum was open which as I said houses the remains of the ship as well as store fronts that stock all of the products, clothing, jarred foods, hardware and more.   It's truly like walking back in time.

Well, my time came to an end on Tuesday as I had rental car with a weekend price.  I think I mentioned the fact that the four-day weekend was at $9 a day but had I kept the car until then next day the total would have come to $350.  I found an economy hotel a mile from the airport with shuttle service.  I dropped off the car in the late afternoon, they picked me up and took me to the hotel.  The next morning bright and early at 4 a.m. they took me back to catch my flight.  I hope it's true that TSA may be replaced by something else.  What a waste of energy and time.  The took my bag for inspection but piddled around for 15 minutes before inspecting it.  I made it to the plane (less than 30 meters away) before they closed the door.  They announced a 3 minute warning before closing the door and the TSA said, "well, that happens".  They didn't give a rat's behind.

I just had to post this pic of a Kansas City policeman on patrol at the airport.  God forbid there was an emergency, he'd never make it.  Too bad you can't see his front side.

Friday, September 16, 2016

U.S. Immigration - Your Not Going To Believe What I Say


Yesterday was a travel day.  I went from Monterrey, Houston, Chicago and into Harrisburg.  Then a rental car to Reading (pronounced Redding).  

In Houston it was a mad dash to get through immigration and on my flight to Chicago.  All my flight were tight and there was little room for tolerance.   First off, there was a struggle between gate agents and maintenance over who was responsible for moving the sky way to the plane's door. 

Finally got and the dash to immigration was on.  As we headed down the terminal which is a long and winding road, a 747 unloaded 300 people from China.  Running, running, I got there and to my surprise the system in Houston has been streamlined.  You go to a kiosk, scan your passport, enter your flight number and airline.  It prints out a slip with your picture on it and off you go.  There was no waiting and the immigration agents were very very friendly.   I wonder if the Obama administration has had something to do with it.

Anyway, it's 5:30 EDT and I'm getting ready to go to the high school.  I always drive by at night so I won't get mislead by the GPS or directions.   It's 10 minutes from here.  That's what you get when you make your own reservations.  Usually I end up 45 minutes away when the office makes the reservations.  The system, Concur, is a great online reservation system for everything I do.  I'm glad the company implemented it.

Tonight, off to Kansas City.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Off To Pennsylania - Then, A Family Visit


I'm off for West Lawn, PA tomorrow morning.  The flight leaves very early in the morning and I would have to get up at 3 a.m. to get to the airport to meet the U.S. airline requirements.  I have accumulated a lot of points.  I didn't want to leave the car at the airport so I am staying at a Holiday Inn at the airport.  No cost and I have the points.  It worked out well and there was a great manager's happy hour too.  

The shuttle leaves every thirty minutes so I can sleep in and not have to have Juan take me to the airport.  Tomorrow is a long travel day with stops in Houston, Chicago and then to Harrisburg.

Today was an Independence Day celebration.  Times have changed.  Friday is a national holiday so they decided to have the event today.  Why?  It it were tomorrow no one would show up as they are off on Friday.   Sad but parents take their kids out of school to go on a three-day weekend.

I'm excited to be visiting my family in Kansas City.   There is a shindig on Sunday the 24th with more family but I can't stay that long.  Too much to do and I need to get back home.  I'll come back home very early Wednesday morning.  I'll get to see a brother from Hawaii, my godson from Germany, my little bro, some nieces and nephews and an adopted sister  (she's really my sister-in-laws sister but we always have thought of her as a sister). 

Not sure who else I'll see but I am looking forward to four days of visits.  I got a great deal on a car at $9 a day.  Considering there is a huge event in K.C. this weekend and rates were going as high as $350 for a week.  I held out thinking worse case I could use Uber.   This worked out well.  Also, I found a promo after making a reservation at Extended Stay on the Plaza.  I called them two days later and they honored it.  $99 off the four nights.  Pretty good!

If you don't know what the Country Club Plaza is, check it out.  Also, check for Kansas City, the City of Fountains.  I'll be posting pictures along the way.

Friday, September 9, 2016

My Job Isn't Always Glamorous


We almost took the rv out for the weekend.   However, something came up and made it impossible.  Besides that, it's a bitch to get the rv back to the house on a Sunday afternoon because of traffic from the highway.

I was in Mexico City again this week for two days.  I know I travel a lot, visit great places and sometimes have the opportunity to enjoy it.   The next two months will bring me quite a bit of stress but not in a negative way.

One thing I do and I don't talk much about it, is create commercial presentations for new texts.  When I do this, my work is scrutinized by publishing editors.  They're tigers and are eager to tear you to pieces.  They have to.  It's their job.   I have been working on this project for the last eight months from bringing U.S. materials to Mexico and now adapting some of those materials to form new materials for the Mexican market.  I don't do the writing but I am always asked for feedback and once the material is ready I work on creating the commercial presentation.  It's not easy because it has to attract academics but at the same time sell materials.

I've submitted my work today in the form of what we call a rough draft although it is in presentation form.  Not complete, lacking original artwork from the publisher, I am awaiting their response to see if we are on the right track.  The email is sitting in my inbox as we speak but I never read these mails by myself.  Being very sensitive, I take my work seriously as I am an educator and not a salesperson.  The end user is my personal and professional goal.

Tonight we will read that mail and I will work from there.  It always works out but the criticism can be hard to swallow.   This time around I made it clear that we do three drafts with immediate feedback.  We'll see what happens.

Thursday I fly to Pennsylvania to teach a course and then four days visiting my family in Kansas City.  After, I have two weeks to finish the project and prepare for a company kick off where I will present the new material.  If all goes well, it will be presented at the national convention which this year takes place in Monterrey.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Private and Public Schools


I work in a private school and I wanted people to know what goes on in the Mexican system.  My school is a Catholic school and has a town trust that owns and operates the school.  I am not on the teaching staff but an external consultant and my work is not just in English but working towards creating a bilingual environment.  If you were to walk into the school it looks like another Catholic school except we no longer have religous teaching staff except for religion teachers.

There are a total of 36.9 million students in Mexican schools from Pre-K through university including both public and private  (2016-2017).  953,760 teachers support these schools with 240.000 working private educational institutions.  Out of the 263,000 schools there are 46,000 are private.  

The number of private schools continues to rise and has doubled since 1990.  Why the increase in private institutions versus public?  Number one reason is that the Mexican economy and the Mexican middle class has grown by leaps and bounds.   Another big reason is the quality of education and the teachers union.  As I am sure you've been reading, we are going through an education reform issued by the federal government and created by individuals who were chosen based on their research and investigation in the Mexican system.  The reform has pitted government, unions and teachers against each other for one very simple reason.  Teachers are now being evaluated based on performance, professional development, and overall knowledge.  There is also an additional test for English teachers.

Starting on Monday, August 22nd, many schools in four states didn't open for classes.  Students are being denied public education because of the teachers and the union.  Oaxaca, Guerrero, Michoacan and Chiapas.  Those just happen to be the country's four poorest states.   Very sad.   In many cases, the maximum educational level achieved is 6.5 years or just exiting primary.  Why is that?  At 14, a student in Oaxaca has missed so much school due to striking teachers that they no longer see the value of education and go to work.  Last year alone, students in Oaxaca missed 100 days of classes.  How will they ever make them up?  They can't and they won't.

I have worked with both the private and public sector training English teachers.   I have to say that the attitude of many public teachers is, "I really don't care, just pay me".   In the private sector, depending on the economic and educational level of the school you will find all kinds of teachers.  Keep in mind that English has been in the curriculum since 1929 but is still not considered an official subject.  Because of that, English is never taken seriously even in some private schools.   Private schools can cost $150 (u.s.) a month to $5000 (u.s.) a month.   Trust me, there are many that fall into the $1000 (u.s.) per month level.   High tech, all English schools with one hour of Spanish and some teach a third language in secondary or high school.  A large percentage of private schools offer classes from Pre-K though secondary or high school.

With that said, there are many very good public primary and secondary schools.  What makes one better than the other?  The answer lies in the culture created by the school principal.  It takes a lot to run a public school.  A new public school receives; the property, the buildings, new furniture, and a set of teachers.  After that, the school is on its own.  It (the PTA) is required to raise funds to maintain the school building, provide air conditioners, technology tools, paint, gardening tools, etc.  

There is always fight about public schools not being free in Mexico.  The school cannot force a parent to participate in the above.  We call them quotas and the parents are required to pay an amount for each student at the beginning of the year.  There are also fund raising events throughout the year.  Don't think that a good public school is always in an upper-middle class neighborhood.  Again, it depends on your principal.  Some of the best maintained schools are in some of the poorest areas.   New schools being built in this decade are also some of the highest quality that exist today.  

Many people have a plan.  They send their kids to a private school in Pre-K, primary and secondary and then return them to a public high school so that they can save money for university studies.   Public universities run approx. 3000 pesos per month and our state university in Monterrey has 130,000 students and over 50% receive some type of scholarship and many of those pay nothing.  All private schools, by federal law, are required to provide X number of scholarships to the public.   

Our most expensive university, which happens to be in Monterrey, costs 65,000 pesos per semester.  I finished my studies in English there in 1994.  It wasn't that expensive then.  They also have a scholarship program but once a person finishes their degree, they have signed a contract to work it off at the university in administrative or teaching positions.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Hmm . . . I Guess I'm Back! (For Awhile)


It has been a long summer and I haven't blogged much since we headed back to Monterrey.  It's been all work, travel and too many hotel beds to count.  We made good money and Friday was my last day for a few weeks before we start our weekend road tours.   

I met a lot of teachers, worked in two schools a day.  Private schools run the gamut from small family owned and operated schools to campuses that make some U.S. schools seem relatively small and insignificant.   I had time to read while I was riding high in the sky and I chose to read pedagogy and methodology materials since I hadn't done so since April.  You can never stop with professional development and that included materials about presenting and use of technology.

Here are a few pics that describe the last month.

Airports . . .

Hotels . . . 

An occasional splurge meal . . .

And the winner of all schools on this tour was in Guadalajara.  The owners purchased what was left of a farm in a now semi-industrial area.   The maintained as much of the farm as possible including lots of green areas.   The picture isn't the best but in the back are the classroom buildings.  I don't see many schools like this in the U.S. or Mexico where all of the staff are well-paid educational professionals.   The farm also came with what are now two older dogs, a German Shepard and a Gran Pionero (can't remember in English right now) that are allowed to roam the school.  I hit it off with one that followed me both days and sat next to me while we worked.  I guess he loved my presentations and activities.   Anyway, it was a refreshing experience to know that excellence in education still exists.

The worst were the days like this last Thursday when I had worked four days straight and took a late flight home arriving at the house at 11 p.m. only to get up and 5:30 and head back to the airport.  However, that's part of what I do.

September I will be heading to Pennsylvania and Tennessee working with the SAT/ACT and then head to Kansas City where I will visit with my family for a few days.  

Saturday, August 6, 2016

You Need To Replace It! Oh Yeah!


Whenever there is a problem at home or with the cars the answer is always the same.  "Replace the part".  Well, not necessarily true.  Here is a good example and I have more.  A lot has to do with the country or area you live in.   

Recently we had a decrease in water pressure in the house.  The outside water hoses worked fine.  We called a plumber thinking the worst, such as a leak, and he responded, " We need to open the walls and change out the shower faucets.  They are stopped up with sediment".   When you open a wall in a concrete house it is a mess and very expensive to repair not to mention the fact that you will have little luck finding matching tiles.

My mind works in mysterious ways.  We use vinegar to clean just about everything.  It's natural and it's cheap.  It works wonders on glass and chrome faucets.   So, I disconnected the water inlets to the house and attempted to pour vinegar into the lines.  We waited 24 hours and turned things on.  Sediment poured out of the faucets along with rust and it seemed to help.   The showers didn't change.   While I was in San Miguel de Allende, Juan got the idea to put vinegar directly into the shower head outlet.   

I've never seen so much water pressure in all my life.  We now have wonderful showers that once were a trickle to the point I was ready to shower outside with the garden hose and that's not an exaggeration. 

The same goes with car parts.   The starter doesn't work, we change out the magnets inside.   A motor loses power, we have the motor rewound if that is the correct word.  There are shops in Mexico called bobinadoras, that redo the copper wire on the motors.   Everything can be fixed instead of replaced.

I remember when I worked in the pioneer years of computers.   We didn't replace boards and parts.  We repaired them down to the diode.  That can still be done today in Mexico.  I've mentioned that before with the small inverters.  We have blown a few only to have them repaired for a few bucks.  I'm not an electrician or a mechanic, so I went on line to YouTube and found a video that explained that inverters have a regular auto fuse inside.   Now, if it happens, I open it up, pull the fuse and replace it.

It's been a difficult return home.   We both have two weeks of intense teacher training and travel.   We have reviewed, written presentations and trainings for over 25 different textbooks that we will use in the coming weeks.   Pooped is the word but then again, that's what we do twice a year to make money.  Did I mention that we will be making a promotional video for the university and we will be well-paid for the one-hour show?

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Camping In Sierra de Organos, Zacatecas


As you can see from the pictures, this is truly a beautiful place for a long stay.  The temperatures range from 25C during the day to 8C at night during the summer months.  

There is a visitor's center and a person who is on guard day and night.  The fee is 40 pesos per person so it's 80 per couple per night no exceptions.  For a two-week period, it is 1120 pesos or at the current exchange rate, or roughly 62 dollars.  Great camping.  What do you get for that?  Pit toilets, picnic tables and BBQ.  The areas are open and there is enough room, depending on the area you choose, to get a large motorhome into a comfortable place.  

Excellent roads. Very few rough spots.  A large Class A can make it to most of the camping sites.  We stopped several times and walked ahead and then, depending on the conditions, contined with the rv.   Today before leaving we found several large parking areas with camping facilities further up into the hills with even better views.   We only saw two cars.  I think most are locals who come for the day.   I think we had a bear around our site last night based on the grunts that a bear makes.

A beautiful fungus.  Another area to study and investigate.

There are plenty of hiking trails and they are paved with laja or flat rock.  The rules state clearly that you have to stay on the paths.  I will tell you right now, there isn't a map per se of the trails.  They are clearly marked with the distance.  This is still a national park in the rough and there is still much to do.  

Total amount of trash collected in a seven kilometer hike.  Most located in the same spot mostly by kids based on the wrappers.  Not bad for Mexico or a national park. 

The amount of litter is almost not existent.   Here is a picture of what we collected on a 5 km (one way).  It is minimal and they have limited resources.  I asked the person in charge if they invited schools from the area.  There are small towns with secondary and high schools.   He said that only university students come once in a great while to do research.  I had meant to say that teachers should be bringing their students to do community service; cleaning, hiking and picking up litter, cleaning out drainage ditches, etc.   It has caused me to write an editorial piece for the newspaper in Sombrerete, Zac. that I hope to submit this month.

Typical camping area.  There are four that are this size and all off the main road.  No issues.

I ran across several types of lichen while I was in San Miguel de Allende.  I did a little research and ran across an article about a guy who had been home schooled and wanted to get a degree.  He ran away from home, got his degree and did his post-graduate studies with a emphasis on lichen.  After the original discovery in the 1800s this guy found that lichen are made up of two algaes and one fungus.  The different combinations create the colors, shapes and sizes.  Some brown or rust colors are confused with iron ores in rocks.

It is truly the beginning of what we consider in the U.S. a national park and it has all the makings.  It's just a matter of getting involved.   

On our way home, too much work to do now that Juan has been accepted as a consultant and we will be traveling in different directions starting next week until the 20th of the month.