Tag Archives: gardening

Architectural error

Photo shot from a chair. I had just swept.

ARCHITECTS KNOW things you don’t, which is why you hire them. We did not hire one. Perhaps we should have.

Above you see one of the reasons. What should be one of the best aspects of the Hacienda is essentially useless, and we rarely go out there. It’s the upstairs terraza.

We initially intended to have a tile roof over most of it, but it was one of the last parts (expenses) of the construction process back in 2003, and I was weary of spending money.

The tile roof was scaled way back, just large enough to cover the hammock that was out there for years. I wanted my hammock, and I used the hammock for about eight years.

Then I didn’t. Finally I removed it because it was an obstruction to walk around every time we stepped out there.

Let’s count the architectural errors. You see the biggest in the photo at the top. If you sit in a chair, this is your view. The yellow wall. It you’re standing, or even in a hammock, the view is spectacular. If you’re sitting, it’s the yellow wall.

Here’s another: During the rainy season, which lasts about five months, a fourth of this terraza is a lake. The drainage is lousy. We’ve added extra drain holes, but the problem is the floor’s complete lack of incline.

And another: That floor tile is super slick. During the rainy season, well, you can guess. Swan dive!

And another: Plants out there almost always die. It’s freezing cold in the winter, and blazing sunlight in the spring. About the only things that survive are cacti.

Most of these problems could be eliminated by adding the entire tile roof I initially planned, but the primary problem would remain. If you sit, you’re looking at that yellow wall.

That too could be done another way, but then you’re looking at major work and expense.

Meanwhile, sitting on the downstairs veranda is just great, so this upstairs area remains low on the priority list.

It likely will stay the same forever.

Should have hired an architect.

View in the other direction. Both photos shot this morning.

(Note: The house design is mine, and it was written on sheets of graph paper. The workers took it from there.)

Post-bagel labor

MOST WORK around here gets done in the morning, and that would be after the bagels and cream cheese.

The labor this Good Friday morning included the yearly cleaning of the underground cistern.

Child bride descends to mop after I had descended to sweep.

Our concrete cistern holds 9,000 liters of water.

The reason you don’t want to drink tap water in Mexico is less because the water didn’t come from a clean source at the get-go. It may have. For instance, our municipal water comes from an underground spring. It is quite clear.

What happens is that almost everyone stores water in an underground cistern. From that cistern, water is delivered, one way or another, to a roof tank, and from there it’s dropped into the house faucets via gravity.

There are variations, but basically that’s how it works.

I have no statistics, but I’d bet a pocket of pesos that few homeowners ever clean their cisterns. I’ve peered into cisterns that you could use for a horror-movie scene.

But we are better than that.

Here’s how we clean ours. First, we turn off the incoming water. After that, it takes almost two weeks to empty as we use the water in the house. Finally, the cistern is empty, and we switch to a small backup tank for a day or two.

We leave the lid open overnight, and the cistern’s dry in the morning. I go down and sweep. She goes down and mops. We turn the water back on, and toss in half a liter of bleach.

Here comes fresh water into the clean tank! Yipee!

It takes three or four days to refill. The municipal water runs six days a week for six to eight hours daily.

* * * *

Other labor

Having finished that work, it was time to reassign cacti.

You’d think that after what happened with the monster nopal that I would have learned my lesson regarding prickly plants.

But I’m stupid that way.

I love deserts and the things that live in them. I used to plant cacti in my yard in Houston, and they never did squat.

The tall ones.

Next to the verandah, there’s this stand of pole cacti that I started years ago with one small one. The tallest now is six and a half feet high.

Another shorter — but not by much — stand nearby provided a cutting about 15 inches tall. It has been planted out by the property wall, and I anticipate a nice stand of pole cacti there in a few years —  if I live so long.

The little bugger.

Being a newbie, it needs a little support from string and a stick.

Following these two chores, I only had to water the potted plants on the verandah, dust the shelves and sweep the floor.

The only other labor for the day will be cooking pasta and broiling salmon. After that, it’s a café Americano negro on the downtown plaza, watching the beautiful tourist babes.

It will be a Good Friday. Even if I’m not a Christian.

Man versus beasts

Photo shot April 12, 2017. Almost high noon.

IT’S SPRINGTIME, and the two banes of my life are muscling up in the yard, threats sans mercy. Monster thorns.

On the left is what I imagine is the world’s biggest nopal tree. Perhaps I should notify Guinness. On the right is the bougainvillea that, of the four in the yard, I let fly out of control.*

It’s hardly the biggest in the world, however. Bigger ones abound in my town. They never, ever stop growing.

I inserted myself into the photo to provide perspective. I planted both the beasts when they were tiny tykes.

Click on the photo for a closer look. Yes, the grass is mostly brown due to our being in the dry season. All is dark and dusty. The sky is not dark. It’s blue and beautiful.

The house is off to the left. The pastry kitchen and Nissan carport are off to the right. The sex motel is behind that wall. It’s what appears to be a white stripe. Actually, it’s yellow.

* * * *

* The other three I keep firmly under my green thumb.

An utter calm

Fan palm towers behind the sour orange bush.

ROUNDABOUTS noon on a spring day is the perfect time to sit in the yard with an electronic book.

If the natives have nothing to celebrate, which happens often enough, you’ll find a smooth calm. The air will be cool. The sky will be blue. The breeze will be blowing stiff enough to wiggle the wind chimes hanging in the nearby veranda.

Bottle brush

At this hour the hummingbirds will be dining about the bottle-brush tree and so will butterflies. Sparrows will be chirping.

I’ll be sitting in a mesh chair next to the glass-top table, and I’ll be shaded from the sun, which grows a bit brutal in spring, by the big brown umbrella. It’s a good mix altogether.

Two things might disturb this scene. One is that I doze off, which is common, no matter how engaging the book. This does not affect the calm. It simply renders it moot for moments.

The other is that a freight train will blow by, but this lasts no longer than 60 seconds, and the calm returns. The butterflies and hummingbirds don’t seem to notice.

Even on a calm spring midday, I like the passing train especially since it’s brief. It sounds of vagabonds, a life that appealed back when I was very young.

This midday peace is broken when my child bride comes out of the house and says she’s ready to go to the restaurant.

She looks very pretty.

Reach for the sky

My soaring nopal.

I’VE LONG been a desert fan and the cacti that come with it. There is something spiritual about a desert. The same can be said about rainforests, the desert’s alter ego.

When I lived in Houston, one of my favorite road trips took me west. You didn’t have to go far before the environment turned dry, and nopal cacti appeared naturally along the highways. In spring they sprouted red flowers.

Mexicans are fond of eating nopal. I don’t share this love. Nopal is too much like okra, turning slimy when cooked.

So I just admire the appearance, and I don’t have to drive west to see nopal. I need only to step into the yard where I have about the tallest nopal I’ve ever seen.

I shot the above photo with a zoom lens. That’s just the noggin of my nopal. It soars 18 feet into the air.

I measured, more or less.

It was just two of those paddles when I planted it at least a decade ago, having no idea what I was getting into.

My second ex-wife is something called a Master Gardener. You get that title from the County Extension Service after taking an amount of training on such things.

While I am the yard chief here at the Hacienda, she was the garden honcho where we lived together in Houston.

I often encouraged her to plant bougainvillea. She never did. Perhaps it was out of pure spite. I hope not. But she did the right thing. I see that now.

Bougainvilleas are beautiful. They also sport thorns that would fill the most vicious rosebush with envy.

Our bougainvillea likely tops out at 20 feet, and even more from left to right. It is held in place by steel chains. The plant never stops growing, both upward and outward.

I water the nopal because I don’t want it to fall down. I never water the bougainvillea because I want it to calm down.

Springtime is just getting started.

My soaring bougainvillea.

 

 

A capital time

A bunch of bananas in the making.

WE RETURNED from a week in Mexico City last Sunday to discover that we had left home in winter and returned in springtime, weather-wise, at least.

We’ve passed thorough 14 winters at the Hacienda and only twice, perhaps thrice, have we enjoyed a winter without one overnight freeze. The 2016-17 season is the latest.

Alas, spring here is no circus, the worst of the seasons. The only positive aspect is that there are no overnight freezes.

Instead there is dust and drab, brown mountains. What passes for heat in these parts happens in springtime. The fact of the matter is that spring is pretty yucky.

Our capital visit was very profitable. After years of waiting, we picked up the deed to the condo. We hired a guy to lay a nice ceramic floor on the service patio. He also improved the drain system for the clothes washer.

We found a great new restaurant nearby. Fact is the entire area is going upscale rapidly. When I first set foot there 15 years ago, it was ugly and industrial, which is why the colonia* is called Nueva Industrial Vallejo.

My arrival, it seems, on most any scene delivers a certain panache. It happened here where we live on the hardscrabble outskirts of our mountaintop town, and it’s also happened in Nueva Industrial Vallejo.

We fled to San Miguel de Allende to escape Carnival. We went to Mexico City for practical matters. But now it’s time to get down to business. Springtime is for renovations.

Our favorite contractor comes today to provide prices for work here at the Hacienda and also at the Downtown Casita.

Due to the stupendous dollar-peso exchange rate over the last couple of years, we’ve done lots of improvements we likely would not have done otherwise.

And that’s where stuff stands at the moment.

Thanks for passing by.

* * * *

* Sort of like a big neighborhood.

Change of scenery

houston
Where I lived for 15 years. Houston.
street
Where I’ve lived for 17 years.

THE FIRST five years of my life, I resided in the countryside, a farm not far from Sylvester, Georgia.

The latest census puts Sylvester’s population at about 6,000 souls. Lord knows what it was in the late 1940s when I was toddling around there in the dirt.

My current mountaintop pueblo is home to about 80,000 folks, dwarfing the population of Sylvester, but 80,000 is a far cry from the 6 million you’ll find in Houston’s metropolitan area or even the 2 million in the city itself.

Before moving to my mountaintop, Houston was where I lived and worked. I don’t work anymore unless you count pulling weeds and watering veranda potted plants.

I play and relax.

The switch from Houston to this mountaintop pueblo was a drastic move. I’m a big-city boy. And my child bride is a big-city girl. Why are we here?

Lack of communication.

One morning, about two years after constructing and moving into the Hacienda, we were sitting on the veranda in our wicker rockers, talking. We discovered that we’d both have preferred settling in a big city.

How did we not know this? Answer: I assumed she wanted to live here because relatives live here, especially her favorite sister. She assumed I wanted to live here because I was here and had moved here intentionally.

But we never discussed it specifically. Dumb, huh?

Why not sell the Hacienda and move elsewhere? Actually, about that time, I did advertise it online, and got an offer for twice what we had paid to build this place.

But I chickened out because I love our home, and there is a large city nearby, the capital down the mountainside. But, aside from weekly Costco shopping jaunts, we rarely go there.

We’ve become small-city folks. But every time I see a photo of Houston, I sigh. And she likely does the same when we make our twice-a-year visits to Mexico City, which is where she lived when I found her.

But we can stand in the yard on dark nights and see stars from horizon to horizon. And I never heard roosters at dawn or burros anytime in Houston.

Just occasional gunfire.

* * * *

(Note: We’ll be home this afternoon from San Miguel de Allende where we fled on Sunday to avoid the worst of Carnival in our hardscrabble neighborhood.)

What the hey!?

new-image
Just this morning. Circle of hippie women and the green floral frog.

IT RAINED last night, which is against the rules.

Normally, February is clear, blue and cold at night, cool in the day. The last couple of days, however, have escaped the mold. It’s been overcast, cold and very windy.

This morning dawned overcast, but it’s mostly blue before 10 a.m., and the cursed wind has diminished.

Lots on the calendar. We will soon flee our hardscrabble barrio due to Carnival. We’ll go to San Miguel de Allende where, among other things, we’ll visit a friend of mine from high school. She and her husband are spending three months there.

They live in North Carolina.

She’ll be the first high school friend I’ve seen in over 40 years. She’s a retired professor of Chinese something-or-other. She’s very smart, which is why we were friends.

Shortly after returning, we’ll go to Mexico City for our twice-yearly airing of the condo. It’s highly likely that we will actually get our hands on the deed at last.

On returning from Mexico City, we’ll hire a crew to do stuff both here at the Hacienda and at our downtown Casita, mostly maintenance, but we’ll probably remove the grass, and plant stone and concrete in the yard’s semicircle.

yard
Photo from a few years back. We sold that blue Chevy in 2014.

I’ve been wanting to reduce the grass for years. Maybe it will start this year with that semicircle. Depends on the price. But the peso-dollar exchange rate makes me feel rich.

I’ll keep you posted next month because I know you’re on the edge of your seat about this.

In the meantime, I’ve got to walk the plaza now, take a shower, get dressed, drive to an outdoor market, buy veggies for stir-fry, and fix lunch. Pork chops, pasta and that stir-fry.

I’m a very handy hubby.

Beautiful day

new-image
Side dish of orchid* with morning croissants.

VALENTINE’S DAY is one of our anniversaries. It marks the day we began living together, and that was in my child bride’s condo in Mexico City in 2002.

We made it legal a bit more than two months later, a civil ceremony held in the interior patio of her sister’s coffee shop here on the mountaintop.

While February is normally one of the coldest months hereabouts, this year so far is an exception. We have not had one freeze. A bit of frost last month, but that was it.

We aren’t out of the woods, and we can’t see the light at the tunnel’s end, but I detect a candle glow down there.

Just this morning, I finished the culling of dead plants from the yard, stuff nailed by those January frosts. It all rests in a greenish pile in the Garden Patio, and I’ll hire Abel the Deadpan Neighbor to haul it away very soon.

My lovely wife seems finally to be recovering from a nasty cold caused by her being phoned at 1 a.m. last Thursday as the wake for our nephew began. Yes, 1 a.m. Who starts a wake at 1 a.m.? Mexicans do. Sometimes.

The wake was held on the street with bonfires outside the nephew’s humble home. It was cold and smoky.

She had not slept the previous night either due to spending it at the nephew’s hospital bedside in the state capital. She was mostly awake for 48 hours. Who wouldn’t get sick?

But today things appear to be returning to normal. It’s a beautiful anniversary day,  air is cool, sky is blue, and we’ll lunch on roasted chicken, beans and rice.

* * * *

* Orchid courtesy of the Cotton family who recently visited the mountaintop.