Sunday, August 31, 2014

Christmas in August?



Nope, this is not a picture from 2013. I shot this at Costco last week, August 28, 2014. It is a good four months until Christmas! Okay so maybe the retailers want to encourage us to purchase our Christmas decorations now so that in November we will have more money to spend on gifts. There were two aisles of Christmas stuff. And some of that stuff isn't even a part of the way that Mexico traditionally celebrates Christmas. It isn't suppose to be Santa bearing gifts! In Mexico the three wise men bring the children gifts.

Other than my irritation with the Christmas stuff, the trip to Costco was good. I love the independence that I have with Lola. If the housekeeper tells me on Tuesday that she is low on some cleaning product, I can plan a trip the next day and have her a new "five-gallon bottle" when she comes again on Thursday. I also like being able to drive to Mega when I want grapefruits, a melon, a bag of sugar.....you know the heavy stuff. Then it is a pleasure to shop in the mercados for the daily vegetables that I need.

Back to the Christmas thing. I'm sure that Costco in the US is already stocking their aisles with Christmas stuff as well. But it is too damn early in my opinion. We have other celebrations before Christmas: The San Miguel Festival at the end of September, Day of the Dead at the end of October and for me, a trip to Texas to see family and celebrate Thanksgiving. Christmas in August? No thanks. I'll wait until December.



Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Pozole Rojo



Yesterday as I walked back from Don Pedro it was about time for comida. I was hungry and was trying to decide if I would stop at a tiny new restaurant I'd heard about or go home and make a sandwich. I was leaning heavily toward going home but there was a sign in the doorway of Victoria's Comida Mexicana that read Pozole Rojo. I haven't had Pozole in a long time. That sign changed my mind. I stopped.

There are four tables and the restaurant looks so bright and clean. They brought me a menu. I looked at it for informational purposes but I already knew I wanted Pozole. They had both rojo and verde. I chose the rojo. They had bowls for chico or grande. Even though I was hungry the chico looked grande enough for me. They asked if I wanted the lettuce, radish and onion in it. Yes, yes I did indeed.

I met Maria who was in the tiny kitchen that is separated from the tables by a counter. She and her sister Victoria own the restaurant. Maria speaks English and she is a charming woman. I didn't get the exact address of the restaurant but it is on the same side of Ancha de San Antonio/Salida a Celaya as Don Pedro and is across the street from Los Faroles Restaurant. They are open from 10 AM to 7 PM everyday but Sunday. The rest of the menu looked delicious and the prices were reasonable but I don't know whether I'll ever try the other items. I think I may be stuck on their Pozole.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Help Wanted



Shot from my front door last night. It was shot at 1/5 sec, f1.8, 1600 ISO. I'm using a 45 mm f1.8 lens on the Olympus OMD E M-1 so it is the equivalent of a 90mm f1.8 lens. The lens weighs maybe 5 oz. I really, really like this lens. It is sharp and has good contrast. A similar lens on a full frame camera would weigh in at a  pound or more and probably cost 3X as much.
 
This image would have been better, and certainly would make a better print, shot at a smaller aperture and lower ISO and that would require a tripod. I have a small travel tripod but still it would be a nuisance to carry to dinner or a cocktail party. I want to go out to photograph at night with the camera on a tripod and no other agenda but a photo shoot.  I'm hesitant about doing that by myself. If I'm going to do some serious night photography, I need to hire an assistant who can be on the watch for what is happening around me while I'm setting up the shot.
 
Anyone looking for an occasional night time job?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Nothing Is Certain But Death and Taxes


Unless you are a US citizen living in a foreign country you have probably never heard of a fairly new tax law called FATCA. The original goal of this law was to target those bad old millionaires who were hiding income and assets in off-shore accounts. Maybe even those dangerous drug cartels who move money around. Alright! Go get 'um.

But wait just a minute, this law is also affecting US citizens who live in other countries off of fixed retirement income. It is also affecting citizens of other countries who are working in the US and want to send money back to their families. And it is forcing foreign  banks who do business in the US to keep records and report back to the IRS or else face substantial penalties on the bank's US assets.

If you want to know more about the law I've given you a couple of links in the two paragraphs above and there is much more you can find by Googling in case you are really interested. There are financial, ethical and privacy issues about FACTA that I do not like but what I want to talk about is how it is affecting me today as well as a lot of my friends here in SMA.

My savings and investments are in the US. I don't make any money in Mexico. I use an accountant and file the required reports each year and of course I pay my US taxes. I had an arrangement set up where I can write a check on my US Bank and either deposit it to my Mexican account or cash it for pesos. That is how I was paying my living expenses. It has been working great.

Now the monkey wrench, FATCA, gets thrown into the system. The Mexican Bank has to comply with the reporting requirements for US citizens with foreign accounts or stop servicing US citizens. There are quite a few US ex-pats in Mexico and the banks don't want to give up that clientele. While there are many rumors about which bank is doing what, basically most of the banks have stopped accepting US checks for cash or deposit. And they have set up ways for wire transfers to a banking facility in the US and somehow those funds get transferred to our accounts in Mexico. I assume this provides a way for the Mexican banks to gather the data to comply and avoid stiff penalties in the US. Also, it is a way for the US to track our dollars as well.

My Mexican bank said they would not accept any US checks after August 15 so I wanted to test the wire transfer method before then. They told me that the wire transfer would take 24 hours. I arranged for my US bank to do a transfer last Thursday. Thursday after banking hours I sent the Mexican bank the transaction number. Friday they told me that in addition to the transaction number they needed the dollar amount as well. I sent it to them.

Monday I got an email from the bank that the transfer of funds would occur on Monday evening. Tuesday I went to the bank to see if the funds were, indeed, there. Yes, the funds were there but the transfer had not been made on Monday afternoon because the lady in Mexico City was not available Monday afternoon. Therefore the funds would not available until they had "slept" in the bank overnight. Don't ask me why my money has to sleep in the bank. Don't ask me why there is "one lady" in Mexico City who has to do these transfers. I'm just reporting what I was told.

So my wire transaction will be available on Wednesday, four full business days after the transfer. The system works but I think that a 24 hour turn around isn't going to be a reasonable expectation. I think it is more likely that it will be a 48 to 72 hour turn around. That is okay with me as long as I know what to expect.

This law has put a burden on foreign banks, not just in Mexico but worldwide. I don't think we have the final rules and regulations that will be propagated by the IRS nor do I think the foreign banks have it all figured out either. They are looking at ways to make the reporting easier and less costly for themselves as well as more convenient for their clients. In fact my bank has told me about another option for moving my living expense dollars from the US to Mexico. It might work better but I think I'll let a few other beta-testers use it first. And who knows the bank may even come up with an easier plan or the IRS may change some of their regulations. I'm going to let the dust settle.

As Benjamin Franklin wrote in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy in 1789, "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes."

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Out on the Town


It has been a busy week. I bought an extension ladder and started the change to LED track lighting, may have figured out how to get money into my Mexican account and helped Mujeres en Cambio by shooting portraits of the University Students. None of those things are minor events. If I had time I could write a blog essay about each of them.

I have also been out to dinner three nights. Last night dinner was at Mi Casa at the Instituto. Mi Casa is a fairly small, intimate restaurant. You needed reservations and the place was packed because Doc Severinsen, Gil Gutierrez and Gabriel Hernandez were performing.

I always think of Doc as a Big Star on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and yet here I was sitting about 15 feet from him in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. But next month he could be playing with an orchestra in a concert hall in Chicago. Why would he play in this little restaurant for very little money. The cover change was only $120 pesos/person. That is like $10/person. Why?  He lives part time in San Miguel. It is obvious that he has bonded with the other musicians in the group and they are world class musicians from Mexico and Cuba. But most of all, I think he just loves music and he needs to perform.

There were people sitting in front of me so I had to shoot the video through the side door. The sound isn't as good as I would like. I still haven't learned how to edit video so you might want to skip over to about the 45 second mark.

I am so lucky to live here. Wonderful friends, beautiful town, amazing cultural opportunities.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Accentuate the Positive


Ned, me and a couple of friends, 50th Wedding Anniversary Party in San Miguel de Allende.
 
June was the second anniversary of Ned's death. I thought a lot about him but also took a look at myself. How was I doing? And what I realized shocked me. At first I found my shoulders hunched up to my ears and I was tense so much of the time. By the end of the first year I felt more relaxed and I was off on a trip to Europe. I thought I was doing okay. But now that I look back at this year, the second since his death, I am really surprised. I think there has been an even bigger change in the second year than in the first. For want of a better word, I feel that I'm blossoming. Don't laugh at an old woman! No, really I feel such a sense of well-being and independence. I am making decisions and plans for the future and I am having so much fun.

Do other widows find an even bigger change in their lives in the second year of widowhood. I started doing some research about being a widow and found I probably should have done the research right after Ned's death. It looks like there are some good self-help books around. One that especially appealed to me was Saturday Night Widows, The Adventures of Six Friends Remaking Their Lives by Becky Aikman. Aikman found five other widows and they met once a month and did things that were outside of their normal activities. And yes, they talked about their grief but in the normal course of doing other things.

Aikman was thrown out of a grief group because she didn't fit the expected pattern.  It seems that the idea was that the widow should wallow in her traumatic feelings in order to get past them. It’s only very recently that researchers started studying actual grieving people. In Aikman's interview she says, "Most of the prior work was based on theories about what it was supposed to be like. And those who study actual people find that most  people are naturally very resilient and it’s good to focus on positive things and look forward and it’s actually harmful to dwell extensively on painful memories."
Here is the interview with Aikman.

The hospice that helped me take care of Ned asked if I wanted to join their grief group. I said no because I wanted to leave Houston and come home. The sooner the better. But in following my own path of saying Yes to opportunities and trying to do things that I thought would be difficult without Ned, I have focused on positive things even though I didn't read the book. Reminds me of the Sam Cooke lyrics.

You've got to accentuate the positive
eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
But don't mess with mister inbetween
 
If you are a widow, I'd love to hear from you. What was the first year like? Was the second year different? I will be surprised if my experience was unique.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Meet Lola


Meet Lola. She is my new wheels. Actually, Lola is more like middle-age wheels instead of new. I've bought a Semi-Neuvo car. Semi-Neuvo, or almost new, is what the dealerships call used cars. Lola wasn't from a dealer. She is direct from her original buyer in 2006. She was checked out by two mechanics and both of them said she was in very good shape for her age.

Lola is a Nissan Platina. Autoevolution writes: The Platina, which is not sold in Europe, shares its platform with the Renault Clio and Modus as well as with the Nissan Micra and Note. Though not particularly visually attractive, it has all the features that have made Clio one of Europe's best selling cars since its launch in 1990: reliability, affordability and agility.

It is without a doubt not an attractive car and Lola's color is gray/silver. She already has the required San Miguel scuffs on her bumpers. She isn't going to attract any attention on the street but the part I like is reliability, affordability and agility.

Buying this car has been an interesting experience and I've been "enjoying" the experience for a week. Taking her for a test drive, Sitting with her at the Mechanic's shop. Getting my physical and blood type. Getting a Mexican Driver's license, Getting the title transferred, new license plates and emissions testing done. I took the Kindle along for two days to sit in government offices and wait my turn but I ended up watching the system work. It does work....slowly. Some things I do not understand. For example, I could turn in a copy of my passport and permanent resident card but I had to have the original of my physical. It is easiest to just do it and stop trying to figure out why.

I have great friends who have taken me along to Queretaro and Celaya when they were headed to Costco or Home Depot but I'm a Texan and I've been feeling the need to get my own horse. I can't begin to tell you how exciting it was on Thursday when I got in MY car and drove myself to Celaya. Maybe that sounds silly but it was another important marker in life without Ned.

If you are wondering how Lola got her name it is an acronym for Little Old Lady's Auto. Lola and I are not planning any big excursions but it is possible that you will pass me on the highway to Celaya. Oh....if I'm pulled off the highway with the hood up, don't pass me! Stop and help.