Home improvement

WE JUST ended a month of nonstop renovations here at the Hacienda. It all started with the driveway.

View from street before work started.
Stones removed and piled on sides.
Stones removed and piled on sides.
Rebar this way and that.
Samuel, the sole workman, cuts space for the art circle.
Work all done. Note circle on the incline and paint on sides.
Close-up of that circle. It’s a Big Cat, ceramic.

The incline from the street, when we bought the double lot 13 years ago, was already in place.

Mostly, it was big stones buried in dirt which allowed weeds to flourish wildly in the spaces between.

The area at the top between the work zone and the Alamo Wall was dirt and grass when we bought the property, and it was mud during the five months of the rainy season.

Seven or eight years ago, we had that section covered with stone and cement — empedrado in Spanish — a treatment that’s quite common in these parts.

But that incline from the street remained an eyesore which I was hesitant to improve because it would block the cars from coming and going during the work.

And it surely did.

While this renovation was happening, we parked the Honda in a parking lot downtown. Every morning, I took a minibus there and picked the car up. Did the same in the evening to leave it. The Nissan was simply left trapped at the Hacienda.

That situation continued for nine days.

* * * *



We also replaced the john in the downstairs bathroom.

The original, which my wife describes as “folkloric,” and which we purchased in the talavera capital of Dolores Hidalgo, was a bit smaller than standard in size.

It was a conversation piece but not the best place to sit, so it was out with the old, and in with the new.


Now here’s a regal place to squat. The old throne was given to a  nephew who’s son recently busted their toilet.

Gifting the “folkloric” johnny means we won’t be using it as a yard planter, the initial idea. Just as well because I was told by a high-born woman that it would have been very cheesy.

This is the first time in my life I’ve changed a toilet, especially just for the heck of it. This new baby is Mexican-made, and cost the peso equivalent of about 120 bucks.

It was installed for about 10 dollars. I could change my ride every couple of years just for the ever-living thrill of it. Different colors. Oval versus round, whatever.

The initial plan was to replace only the john in the downstairs bathroom, mostly my wife’s environment. But I began to seethe with envy, so I bought an identical one, and had it installed in “my” bathroom upstairs.

Here’s the old throne upstairs:


The new toilet is exactly like the new one downstairs, so no need to duplicate a photo. Your time is valuable.

* * * *


Now let’s turn our attention to the rear of the Hacienda.

High weeds everywhere. Butt ugly.
New Image
Weeds gone. Work under way.
Progress made. Looking the other direction. Yes, it’s long.
Feathered overseer of the project.
Feathered overseer of the project. Chickens run wild.
Work completed. Far better than the sea of weeds.

What you see here are the first-ever photos published of the backside of the Hacienda, which fronts — if that’s the proper term — on what I used to call Mud Street.

So these photos are collector’s items. That’s the tail of the sex motel in the distance of the second and last photos.

The work done out there was a civic gift. It is not on our property, but it was an eyesore. It was a dirt strip between our property wall and the street.

* * * *


There are two arched entryways to the downstairs veranda. One serves a dual role. During the five-month rainy season,  it doubles as a conduit for rainwater which creates lakes inside the covered veranda, a colossal nuisance.

After 12 years of cursing this phenomena, we decided to do something about it, a redesign that directs the water outside instead of inside the veranda.

Next Spring we’ll also have metal gutters installed along the tile roof of the veranda, long overdue.

First, the problem area is dug up.
Then it’s rebuilt with a slight down-and-out incline.

As mentioned at the get-go, this work took a month, exactly. It was done entirely by one guy, a very talented workman who lives in the neighborhood. Unlike all work we’ve had done in the past, we paid him by the day, as he requested.

This can be a mistake because it can lead to slow work, dragging it out to earn more. We prefer a set price. Then work can be done at whatever speed the workers prefer.

I watched his toil closely. He did not foot-drag, but he was very detailed, which took longer than necessary. However, the results were spectacular.

And he did some painting to boot.

He arrived on the dot at 9 every morning on his bicycle. He took an hour off for lunch at 2 p.m., and he went home at 5, working steadily in between. We’ll hire him again.

The entire project cost about $420 for labor and $555 for materials, excluding the two toilets, which were about $120 each. Those are dollar equivalents at today’s exchange rate.

Month’s grand total: $1,215 or about what a U.S. plumber would charge for a one-hour house call.

* * * *

(For your architectural pleasure, here is a photo collection of the Hacienda over the years. Come visit, but phone first.)

73 thoughts on “Home improvement

  1. I like all the changes! They look great! Especially that driveway!

    Hope you had a great Thanksgiving, Felipe! (If you celebrated it.)


    1. Mike: Thanks. We like the changes too. And nope, no Thanksgiving down here. My first few years in Mexico I — and then later we — went up to dine in Atlanta, then San Antonio, on Thanksgiving. But that habit’s long gone now.


  2. Great improvements. I hope the new throne is one of the newer models that is an inch or two higher. Us old folks like them.


  3. I need a new throne here. The existing one simply doesn’t do the job. I’m looking for one that has a warning label to not flush when seated.


    1. Steve: Don’t flush when seated?! Well, that conjures up all manner of scenarios, none of which are agreeable. In any event, I urge you to hightail it to the nearest supplier and get a sweet ride — or two.


      1. I failed to compliment you on the other work. Beautiful. We have the house tore up with tile work and paint. Even the RV foe flooring to remove stinky carpet. We can’t wait to get out of here and wander around your village come Feb/March.


          1. Unless you’re from someplace where it really gets cold like New England, Canada, or the upper Midwest. In which case, a jacket or heavy sweater will be sufficient.


  4. The folkloric toilet looks like a princess-sized throne … and things happen for a reason. Thank GOD you gifted it rather than use it as a planter in your patio. That high-born woman was spot on … it would have looked cheesy like too much cheese on a double cheeseburger. Your Hacienda updates look great.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Angeline: So, you’re a high-born woman too? Who knew? Well, the folkloric throne is gone, but now the green one from upstairs sits out back. Have to find someone to give that one to also. Decisions, decisions.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Everything looks fabulous! How does the workman get one side of the sidewalk stones flat enough for paving? I see lots of stones from the old driveway. Is that what he used? I’ve made a couple of walkways using broken Saltillo tiles, but I just don’t have access to this kind of stone. This work should last for a long, long time.


    1. Paul: Yes, they are the stones from the driveway. He hauled them out back in a pickup truck. He made the flat surfaces, when they were not already there, by whacking the stones with a steel mallet. It’s a common procedure here. As for its lasting a long time, yes, it sure will.

      And I do like the absence of weeds even though we very rarely step out the back way, almost never. Maybe we’ll do it more often now.


  6. You forgot one salient thing. The cost of the permits to do all that work NOB would have been more than you spent on all the work.

    And they keep on taking more and more.


    1. Tancho: That to which you refer is a masked tax. Taxes are something collectivists love because — most of the time, not all — it’s how they take money from the successful and gift it to the unsuccessful.

      Don’t get me started.


    1. Ms. Shoes: Bidets have never much interested me, not surprisingly. They could serve as a drinking fountain, however. My wife may feel otherwise, but since she’s never lived with one, she does not miss it.

      One item I’ve long regretted not installing during the initial house construction was a urinal. It would have been nifty. I simply did not think of it. Even more tragic is not thinking of dual sinks in the main bathroom downstairs. Lord knows there’s enough space on the counter, and then some. It would have been so sweet. As it stands now, the two of us are eternally elbowing each other at night brushing our toofies. Oh, why did I not think of two sinks?!


      1. In my bathroom I have dual sinks and a large shower with dual showerheads. My ex and I used to be able to shower together with different water temperatures. That was lovely.


        1. Kim: I envy your dual sinks. If only I’d had my thinking cap on straighter, but I was so caught up in the million details of building a home with neither blueprints nor the involvement of an architect, it simply never occurred to me. Two showerheads, eh? I’ve only seen that once in my life and, if memory serves, it also was in the home of a gay guy. Odd, huh?


  7. Toilets are getting higher so that they comply with laws for the disabled. But what do you do when you have a small boy that needs to whiz? The wall-hung urinals are too high, and now so is the stool. Holding the kid up to do his business results in a real mess.

    When we first visited my wife’s uncle and aunt in Guadalajara, they put us in a room that had a toilet that was about ten inches high. It was the kind of stool they use in kindergartens. She never told me that her family had dwarves, but they did. Using that thing was a real experience. It was about as bad as the Asian squat toilets.

    Happy pooping on your new loo.


    1. Señor Gill: As for higher toilets being a challenge for tykes, I have a simple solution for here where we live. Don’t let tykes through the front gate. That’s been my philosophy for years now. Tykes are nothing but trouble anyway.

      Yes, our new johns are higher than the previous ones, but not by much. It is noticeable, however.

      Thanks for the good wishes on the new loos. Happy pooping ahead!


    1. Carole: Well, don’t that beat all? It does about everything short of fixing breakfast and lunch, not to mention its basic function.

      However, do note that just one of those babies costs more than my entire renovation project. Remember that I’m just a humble Mexican.


  8. Having been around concrete projects at various times in my work life, and seen a lot of it laid down, I admire the workmanship of Samuel who did the driveway. Curious though how he did the swirl finish, was that with a broom/brush/scratch tool? And how did he work it out so the brush/scratch marks are so consistent?


    1. Eric: Sorry to tell you I did not pay much attention when he did that particular aspect. I only recall seeing him do that one day very briefly as I was walking by. I do remember that it was a small thing that fit into his hand. It was not a broom. As for the consistency, he just did it carefully, I imagine.


  9. About bidets. Many years ago — okay, 30 years ago — my husband and I visited Rome and stayed in a pensione close to St Peter’s. There was a bidet in the room, but we did not know what it was (the “real” bathroom was at the end of the hall), so we filled the bidet with ice and chilled our wine in it. I like your improvements. We need to come back to visit your area without the hordes of tourists. Michoacán is so beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bonnie: That’s a funny story. The only time in my life when I clearly remember seeing a bidet was in Paris in the 1970s. I was there with my second wife, and I do not recall if we knew what it was or not. I know we did not use it to chill wine. I’ve seen bidets — always in hotels — a time or two since, but I don’t recall where, likely here in Mexico. They seem kind of silly to me, unnecessary. I bet the French invented them.

      Yes, hereabouts it’s totally different when the tourist hordes are elsewhere. More peaceful by far. And it is beautiful. I’ve seen this state compared to Hawaii. Never having been to Hawaii, I cannot speak to that.


    1. Alex: I did indeed. Pretty sweet deal, eh? And you’ll enjoy this: It was Monday through Friday and (drum roll) half a day on Saturday!

      What I paid him was what he asked for.


    2. Alex: After giving your reaction more time to cook in my aging brain, I must say this:

      1. When you shop, say, at Walmart, and you get to the cashier, and she rings you up, and tells you the total you owe, do you offer her more? No? Didn’t think so.

      2. Obviously, you do not live in Mexico. Your ethnocentrism is shocking! I am appalled, truly. I hate to tell you this, but the way you people do things within the confines of your country (I’m assuming the U.S..) is not how things are done everywhere in the world. Your economic system is not everyone’s economic system. Your priorities are not everyone’s. Your expectations are not shared by every human being. People in other countries are often different than Americans, sometimes drastically different. Our big globe is a diverse and multicultural space, a wonderful thing.

      While my workman would have been sorely underpaid in your country with its high prices, high taxes, stunning regulations, he was quite adequately paid in Mexico, and he left here on the final day with a smile on his face, a fistful of cash, giving me a handshake and telling me that whenever I needed more work done, he was my man.

      So, I urge you to broaden your perspectives. Get out more.


    3. Alex: Coincidentally, my sister-in-law who owns a coffee shop downtown, was on the verge of a total makeover of her business’s public john. I recommended my man for the job. He finished at my house on Monday and started working for her yesterday.

      She, like me, asked him what he wanted to be paid. He told her 300 pesos per day, as he did me, so that’s what she’s paying him … what he asked for.

      I passed along your observation that she should be ashamed of herself, or rather, shame on her. She chortled, and said something unkind about Gringos.


      1. My concuño is a very well off businessman in Guadalajara. He pays his workers poorly. My wife, like yours, born and raised here, also says he is screwing his workers and should be ashamed of himself. So I guess that cancels out your cuñada’s take on the subject that it is a gringo thing. I showed my wife your post and what your cuñada had to say. She also chortled and said “esa mentalidad es la que atrasa nuestro pais”.


            1. Alex: Due to the extremely positive recommendations I’d received about him, I almost certainly would have. My wife, on the other hand, would have gnashed her teeth and said it was too high. She is, not to put too fine a point on it, tight-fisted. But I prevail in those situations. The greater issue is that I do not like to pay by the day. I vastly prefer getting a price for the entire job, and then the worker(s) can proceed at any pace.

              When we built the Hacienda lo those years ago, we hired a jefe who gave us a set price to construct the bottom floor because we were not going to build a second floor initially. He and his crew worked at a good pace. Then we decided to add the second floor, and they then switched to a daily rate with my consent (I was stupid in those days). The work pace noticeably declined. The foot-dragging was obvious. At that point, I became a staunch fan of a set rate.


                1. Alex: There was no bid. At the beginning, he said he charged 350 pesos per day, that he worked 9-5 with one hour off for lunch and 9-1 on Saturdays. The materials were totally separate and I, of course, paid for the materials.


                1. Alex: I did give him a bonus, not massive, but he appreciated it. But paying a bonus is not the point you initially made, not by a long shot. You clearly assumed at the get-go that I just offered what you deemed a measly salary, taking advantage of the poor, downtrodden fellow, did you not? Of course you did. In our subsequent exchanges on this matter I revealed repeatedly that I paid him what he requested, a whole different ball of wax. I did not take advantage of him at all. To have paid more, as previously noted, would have been silly.


  10. Felipe, Must have hit a nerve. You assume far too much. I have more knowledge of this country than you’d ever have even if you lived to 130. I have 3 children, all born and raised here. All have university degrees from top private schools (Tec de Monterrey and ITESO)I have owned and operated a successful business here for 5 decades (which afforded me to pay their hefty tuitions among other economic benefits.) I know what wages are, I know what benefits are legally required. I have had employees retire from the company with a pension higher than what you paid this fellow. So you can save your rants for the ignorant.

    So if you ever want to know how things really work here (instead of your ethnocentric assumptions) just let me know.


    1. Alex: So you live here. Interesting. Could have fooled me, obviously. Well, in spite of your three Mexican Juniors whom you’ve sent to high-end universities, I submit (perhaps due to your obviously upper-class lifestyle) that you are disconnected from the realities of most Mexicans and, specifically, what albañiles customarily are paid, at least in my neck of the woods. And I imagine you double (triple?) what the cashier at your local Walmart asks for.

      To belabor my point, I paid him what he asked for, and he left happy. Me happy, him happy. You unhappy, alas.


    2. And you say you’ve had employees retire from your company with higher pensions than what I paid my man. I believe you, but were those employees albañiles? No? I didn’t think so. You’ve pulled a red herring from your fishing bag. Tsk, tsk.

      Supply and demand determine salary in a well-oiled capitalist system, which I heartily support. Albañiles are a dime a dozen in Mexico. It is the fall-back occupation of the male gender. My man knew what he was worth, and he asked for that. Probably a bit more, due to my Gringo face. I agreed, and I paid him. That’s how capitalism works.

      To have paid him more, especially far more, would have tipped the Capitalist Balance, perhaps bringing Western Civilization to a halt.

      Paying more than what is required or requested is charity. That’s what churches are for, and other nonprofit organizations too, and God bless ’em for it.

      I’m not a charity.


  11. Again, Felipe, you assume far too much. I employ albañiles year round as I am (actually was) in the residential construction business. That I have now turned over to my son who studied civil engineering. I pay the “maestros” de obra $600 a day. Maestro albañiles are paid $500. Albañil de media cuchara recieves 400 and chalanes, 350. They all receive all benefits mandated under both IMSS and the Ley Federal de Trabajo, The official work week is 44 hours (the half day Sat as you mentioned is considered a full day when it comes to wages).

    Of course I also register my jobs with the corresponding authorities such as Obras Publicas and IMSS.

    My “juniors” (and I hope you meant that affectionately and not disparagingly) are well grounded and appreciative of the plight of the less fortunate in this country.


    1. Alex: My man asked for 300 pesos a day, so that’s what I paid, of course. To have paid more would have made me a church or other charitable organization.

      He worked 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with one hour off for lunch. He worked 9 a.m. till 1 p.m. on Saturdays, a 39-hour week. Even though Saturday was a short day, I paid him the 300 pesos because I’m a generous guy.

      He received no benefits because it was a relatively brief “contract” job. It was not permanent employment, which was the situation with your workers, it appears.

      Different situations. Again, all parties were happy with the deal.

      By the way, I do not “rant.” I write polemics on occasion.


  12. I am not sure but it may be from inactivity. I only used it as an anti-spam address when registering for online trial stuff. I just posted another active address. So looking forward to hearing from you.


  13. Well, when I first saw your house, I thought it was pretty fabulous (with an over-the-top kitchen), but I guess it’s even more fabulous now.


    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where we’d be thrilled to pay someone twice what you paid. But it ain’t gonna happen.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kim: Yes, we grow more fabulous each year. Thanks for noticing. Yes, you’d never get this type of work up there, especially in Boston, for twice what I paid. Likely not three or four times more either.

      You poor Americans.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. One cannot post anything on the internet without getting jumped on by some judgemental jerk. I bet when Jesus walked on water there was one of these guys there yelling “His toes are wet, his toes are wet.”


    1. Señor Gill: Now be nice! Just because we believe someone is mistaken does not mean we call names. The collectivists normally have that routine down pat. It is what they do, and I prefer leaving them to it. We live on a higher plain. We are more noble.

      Maybe Jesus’s toes were damp. Got no idea.


      1. Strangely, it has always appeared to me that reactionaries such as yourself and some of your sycophants such as this Gill fellow reside in some type of alternate universe. You know the kind. Where up is down and black is white.


        1. Alex: Now, now. I’ll tell you what I told Señor Gill. We talk nice here. It is the original “safe space.” By the way, I prefer the label conservative and/or libertarian instead of reactionary, a term that smells a bit bad. Señor Gill merits a pass for his temporary lapse due to his long history here of excellent behavior and spot-on observations. Yours is less long, less meritorious. Keep that in mind, please.


  15. It’s interesting to see that there are contractors and business owners that make so much money that they are willing to pay more than the going rate for workers. Perhaps that is why there is a problem occasionally finding workers who actually want to work for an affordable wage. When we were building the house we had over 40 workers at one time on the property, some of whom only wanted to work enough days in order to get enough money to buy sufficient staples for their family. Their attitude was that they didn’t need to work more than enough days or hours simply to feed the family. And any more, God will provide.

    Perhaps because there are more job opportunities in GDL, they demand a higher pay rate, because of the cost of living, but luckily here in Michoacan, we can live for less and have workers who are happy receiving what they ask. And being employed.

    Just my 2 pesos.


    1. I have my reasons for paying above prevailing wage. They are not born of some type of altruism. Completely selfish on my part. The result has benefited me greatly.

      This conversation brings to mind something that one of the greatest capitalists of all time, Henry Ford, employed. The $5 dollar work day when the prevailing wage was not even half of that amount. The other leading industrialists of the day collectively shit their pants. Heaped all kinds of scorn on poor Henry, whose idea actually not only benefited himself and his workers but society as a whole. Kind of a trickle up economic policy.


  16. Sorry, viejo, I must have overlooked the bonus part in your otherwise meticulously detailed polemic. Nope, on further review it seems to be oddly missing.


    1. Alex: I did not mention paying a small bonus because it was never part of the conversation. The focus was on how miserly yours truly is for not paying more than you deem appropriate.


      1. I wasn’t talking about our little chat. It is nowhere to be found in your illustrious blog post where even minute detail is included.


  17. oh my goodness-your house is awesome. it could pass for a museum!!!!

    all that work for so little money, amazing!!!! we need to have our home painted indoor and out and have some new carpets and wood floors put in before we move back into it next summer. it will cost a fortune in comparsion.

    as for the toilet, i do like the new ones better, but if you’ll recall, i disagreed with the classy lady about the old ones being used for planters. however, i’m sure it will be put to better use by the nephew.

    we’re going to have a japanese toilet installed in our home, one with a bidet-one more expense but we have have gotten spoiled here.

    meeting our kids in hawaii next week. lots of trips planned in the next 6 months then back to lake stevens, washington on june 30th.

    have loved living in nagoya but after 5 years, we’ll be ready to go home. we originally came for 2 but kept asking for extensions. it has been a wonderful experience.


    teresa en nagoya

    hope to make it to mexico for the first 3 months of 2018. perhaps we’ll finally meet.


    1. teresa: yep, the palace is pretty fancy, if i do say so myself. a reader once commented that the living room looks like a moroccan hotel lobby.

      so you’ll be abandoning japan soon and returning to western civilization. that will be quite interesting for you. culture shock in reverse. welcome home. bienvenidos.


  18. well, my karma’s been pretty good lately, so as you said, you never know. or i guess i should say my health. it’s been over a year since i’ve fallen, cracked some ribs, had cancer, slipped disc or gastritis. oh, i did fall twice on my bike last month but no damage done, except to my ego. dang, i hope i’m not jinxing myself. i need to stay healthy to enjoy the rest of our time here.

    thanks for the welcome home.

    besides being close to family and old friends, the most important thing will be getting a dog and cat-can’t wait to have pets again.

    wow-what a hunk you were at 19-and you still look great at 71 or is that 72?


    1. teresa: jeez, what a string of pratfalls and problems you’ve passed through. let’s hope it’s all behind you. i’m sure of it.

      yeah, i was a good-looking dude, and still hold my own pretty good at 71, not 72. let’s not rush it.


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