31 December 2010

My Word for MMXI

I have come to the point in my life where I need to decide whether to fall back into the bottomless depths of oblivion or to forge ahead into the raging storm of the future. At the end of this coming year I plan to retire from my present career at sixty-four and I need to decide if I am just going to pull the plug and wait for the "beeping" to stop or if I am going to sally forth and rage against the fading of the light by doing something new and different. New Year's Eve is the time when we traditionally take stock of our lives and and if we listen to our conscience and are honest with ourselves we attempt to make some adjustments. In the last few years I have limited my self to just a few resolutions and I am happy to report that I have been moderately successful in keeping them. This year, however, I have decided to reduce my resolutions even further to just one word that I can keep in front of me as a symbol for what I want to accomplish in 2011.

After careful consideration the English word that I have chosen is "ideate" (pronounced AHY-dee-aet) which is a verb that means "to form an idea of", "to think of", "to imagine" or "to conceive of". It is synonymous with "to dream", "to envision", "to fancy", to "fantasize", "to picture", "to visualize", "to conjure up", or "to see in your mind's eye". When used in the intransitive form (without an object) and in the imperative mood (command) it means:


The thing that I really like about this word "ideate" is that it means the same thing in Spanish when you use the Spanish verb "idear" (ee-day-AHR) as a command although in the imperative it is written "idéate" (pronounced ee-DAY-ah-teh). When thinking about a symbol that would serve as a reminder of this word in both languages I chose the traditional incandescent light bulb because 130 year old invention has had such longevity as a symbol for fresh thinking. Then I had second thoughts about it because the incandescent bulb is no longer politically correct and the "green movement" that is so popular these days might take issue. I thought about using a spiral shaped CFL (Compact Fluorescent Lamp) as a symbol instead until I learned that the CFL isn't as environmentally friendly as it is purported to be. For one thing it contains mercury which eventually builds up in landfills with the potential to contaminate the air and water of millions of people. In fact, the only place where CFL's are presently manufactured is in China where they are made using very cheap labor and the pollution from the mercury is already making the poor workers sick. No...I think I will stick to the incandescent bulb as a symbol for an idea until something better comes down the pike. In the meantime I'll just "ideate" about it.

Happy New Year!

28 December 2010

Butter Fingers

The new year is coming upon us like "dry leaves before the hurricane fly" or like an Olympic speed skater gingerly crisscrossing his long legs through the last curve and tucking gracefully into a glide at the finish. As he crosses the finish line he straightens up, raises his arms over his head in victory, and shouts "Happy New Year" while everyone cheers and the old year fades into memory. Before the old year vanishes completely it always seems apropos to spend some time in reflection to see what one may have learned, if anything, ignoring the advice of Sachel Page, the famous baseball pitcher, who said, "Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you."

What have I learned over the past year? Not much to write about I'm afraid. I learned that sometimes you're hot and sometimes you're not. I learned that much of what people admire as "success" is none other than the luck of the draw. I learned that gratitude is the least deeply held of human emotions. I learned that democracy is more or less on
e big cat fight. I learned that greed is not enough to maintain a stable economy. I learned that conspicuous consumption is a path to disaster. What I have especially learned by living in Mexico, however, is to live for the moment, neither fretting about the past nor worrying too much about the future. I accept life as an adventurous journey that eventually ends in a death which I will embrace wholeheartedly when the time comes. I look at death as yet another adventure that will be more interesting and more rewarding than this present state of being that we call "life" and I trust that there is a just and merciful God on Heaven to whom I commend my spirit.

When I was a kid life was much simpler. There didn't seem to be as many rules as there are today...rules that are often confusing and conflicting and that no one has the time to study, much less understand. In Chicago where I was born and raised we played sixteen inch softball as they still do there and also in St. Louis. It is a great game because all you need is a bat and a ball and you can play it on small lots and it is "slow pitch" so everybody can play together, boys and girls, young and old. When we would choose up sides for a game we would call out the rules. If there weren't enough players we would call "right field is out" so we wouldn't need a right fielder
(Sorry lefties. Deal with it.) If we were still short a player we would call out "pitchers hands are out" meaning that the runner had to reach first base before the ball got back to the pitcher. Then we made the rules for home runs, automatic doubles, etc. Most of the time the rules were pretty much the same and only needed some minor tweaking. The person who owned the bat and the ball had the final say. We were all umpires collectively and there was no cheating lest the player who owned the ball or the bat would retrieve his or her equipment and go home, thus ending the game. We even had a game called "piggy move up" when there really weren't enough players to field two full teams. Ahhh, life was good.

I remember that we had a term that we used when someone dropped the ball. We would all shout "butterfingers" to the chagrin of the person who dropped it and everybody would smile and laugh. Everyone dropped the ball at some time or other so it was all in good fun. I haven't heard the term "butterfingers" in a long, long time and I wonder why. I
have a book of poetry titled "Be the Best of Whatever You Are" that was written in 1926 by a wonderful man named Douglas Malloch. The book was passed down to me through relatives and the original belonged to the granddaughter of my great aunt Harriet Turalski. The young girl died of cancer at age twelve but everyone who knew her said that she had a wonderful disposition and they all loved her. Her name was Dolores French and this was her favorite book. It just so happened that one of the poems is called "Butter Fingers".

Butter Fingers
by Douglas Malloch

When we played at one old cat,
Or chose up sides, and things like that,
There were days we dropped the ball,
Couldn't make an out at all.
Don't know why, we couldn't tell,
But oh how all the kids would yell,
"Butter fingers."

Other days we captured flies,
Tagged out runners twice our size,
Caught the pitcher's outs and drops,
Made those great one-handed stops,
Didn't seem to miss a thing,
Never heard a critic sing,
"Butter fingers."

But, I might as well confess,
We didn't know and couldn't guess,
Never really understood,
Why our game was bad or good--
Why we played our best today,
Yet tomorrow heard them say,
"Butter fingers."

That's the reason, in the game
Men call life, I'm slow to blame
Those who fumble this or that,
Be it life or one old cat.
Just remember, when they fall,
Days that you yourself were all
"Butter fingers."

(Bob's note: "One Old Cat" was one of the forerunners to modern baseball)

If you have followed me this far I want to wish you health and happiness in the new year and even though there maybe times when you are all "butter fingers" just remember to take it in stride and keep peace in your heart.

19 December 2010

Navidad 2010

Every year I write a bit about the Christmas activities here in Central Mexico and especially about the Posadas and Pastorellas. This is not only to inform those who may be newcomers to Mexico or others who may be interested but also to refresh my own memory. Each year I learn more and more about the traditions of the Mexican Christmas and I have the opportunity to add a little more information to my blog and to make corrections.

There are three main themes including the Posada, the Piñata, and the Pastorela that climax on December 24th which is called “Nochebuena” or the “Good Night”. First I will address the “Posada” which means “lodging”. It relates the story of Saint Joseph leading a donkey bearing the very pregnant Virgin Mary from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem where Joseph frantically searched for a place where Mary could give birth to the Baby Jesus. Beginning on December 16th and continuing up to and including December 24th the posadas are held each night in turn by different people of the same neighborhood or family. This is a nine day period called a “novena” and some say that it commemorates the nine months that Mary was pregnant and others say that it commemorates the journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem, which supposedly took nine days. In the time of Jesus many societies followed the custom of gathering together for nine days following a burial and in the new testament book “The Acts of the Apostles” (Acts 1:14), we find the apostles, along with some of the close disciples and Mary the mother of Jesus gathered in the upper room and praying for nine consecutive days which culminated in the Pentecost or decent of the Holy Spirit upon them. In any case, nine seems to be a significant number in ancient histories.

How the posadas got started in Mexico is an interesting story. In the year 1587 a priest named Fray Diego de Soria, who was the rector of a monastery called San Augustín de Alcoman (just to the northeast Mexico City), asked permission to celebrate a mass called the “Misa de Aguinaldos” (Mass of Gifts) each day from December 16th to December 24th. In this mass there would be passages related to the story of the nativity and in order to draw the people to the mass the priests would include entertainment in the form of fireworks and songs and little gifts in the form of sweets. Now it just so happens that the people were already accustomed to celebrating during this period of winter solstice which they called “Panquetzaliztli” in their native tongue. It was a time when they celebrated their native war god whom they called “Huitzilopochtli”. The feast of Huitzilpochtli lasted twenty days from the 6th of December until the 26th and it also had an element of pilgrimage in that people would travel long distances to come join the celebration. They would also receive gifts of sweetened seedcakes of amaranth or in Spanish “amaranto” and these sweets are still around today and are called “dulce de alegria” or “candy of joy”. Also note that even to the present day, the little bags of sweets given to children at Navidad are called “aguinaldo” and the same word is used for the end of the year bonus pay that is traditionally given to workers just before Navidad.

The earliest posadas were held in the open courtyards of the monasteries and began with a recitation of the rosary accompanied by songs and stories based upon the biblical account of the birth of Christ. Later on, the posadas were carried over by the people to their own houses and neighborhoods and evolved into what they are today. The posada entails two groups, one representing the innkeepers and the other representing the “peregrinos” or “pilgrims” meaning Joseph and Mary. All of the people in the pilgrim group carry candles and usually four of them carry a litter instead, upon which rest statues of Joseph and Mary and a donkey. Sometimes this is actually substituted by people dressed as Joseph and Mary and Mary is seated on a real donkey! There is generally someone walking in front of the group with a paper lantern lit by a candle. As is the custom they go to three houses and at each they knock on the door and sing their request for lodging. At the first two houses the group who answers the door listens to their request and sings a refusal. At the third house they sing their request to enter and the participants in the house give their acceptance in song and all of the people including the people from the other two houses are let in. Then they recite a rosary and sing a litany to the Virgin Mary and after this the fun begins. One of the things that they do which really surprised me is that everyone lights “sparklers” which in the United States people traditionally light on the 4th of July. The ones that they use in Mexico for the posadas, however, are much smaller. They are called either “Luces de Belén” (Lights of Bethlehem) or “Luces de Bengala” (Lights of India). Even the small children get into the act and I am always worried that one of them will get burned but thank God I haven’t ever seen that happen and I hope I never will.

Now it is time to talk about the Piñata. The origin of the piñata can be traced back to China and it was part of the Chinese Spring Festival or what people in the west call “Chinese New Year”. The custom came to Italy by means of Marco Polo or perhaps some other adventurous soul and in Italy it took on a religious aspect and was called a “pignatta. It was used during the Lenten period and when the custom of breaking piñatas during Lent eventually arrived in Spain the Spanish introduced a feast every first Sunday of Lent called "The Dance of the Piñata." Breaking the piñata at the beginning of Lent symbolized the desire to end the evil in one's life, to convert the heart to return to God and receive an eternal reward. In the early sixteenth century, the piñata tradition was unknown in the New World but in Mexico, the Mayan Indians had a tradition of trying to break a clay pot that was filled with sweets and balanced on a pole. This practice was part of the traditional December “Panquetzaliztli” celebrations in honor of their war god “Huitzilopochtli”. The Spanish missionary priests were always looking for ways to convert the native traditions to Christian traditions and so they gave a religious sense to the game of breaking the pot and so they converted the “pot” into the form of the Spanish/Italian “piñata” and moved it from Lent to Advent. It quickly became a popular compliment to the festivities of the Posadas.

The traditional piñata of Navidad is made from a clay pot called an “olla piñatera” or “cantero” that is covered with bright colored paper and represents the Devil who tempts us with the bright colors. The classic piñata of Navidad is round with seven peaks or spikes, representing the seven cardinal sins: Sloth, Lust, Greed, Envy, Gluttony, Wrath, and Pride. Hitting the piñata while blindfolded represents faith that allows us to believe without seeing. The stick with which to beat the piñata represents the force of the grace of God with which we combat evil. With God's help, we destroy the evil, and then we receive the fruits of God’s reward which are the sweets that are contained in the piñata. The shouts of the people who guide the blindfolded person with the stick represent the faithful of the church who collectively help us combat the Devil and who also share in God’s reward when the Devil is overcome.
The breaking of the piñata is always the highlight of any celebration. There are some very traditional songs that are sung in the process of breaking the piñata and during Navidad there are some extra phrases that are sung back and forth by the participants prior to the actual attempts to break the piñata:

Ándale Roberto, no te dilates con la canasta de los cacahuates.
(Hurry up Robert, don’t dilly dally with the basket of peanuts.)

Ándale Gina, sal del rincón con la canasta de colación.
(Hurry up Gina, come out of the corner with the basket of sweets.)

Note: The word "colación" (koh-lah-SEEOHN) can mean several things. It can mean a convocation of religious monks or it can refer to an ancient legal term pertaining to the rights of inheritance. It can mean an "aperitif" (appetizer) or it can also mean "sweetmeats" given to servants on Christmas Eve. In Mexico it usually means "refrigerios" (rey-free-HAIR-eeohs) or "treats" that are generally little pieces of hard sugar candy. They come in a variety of shapes and colors and sizes. When sugar syrup is heated it passes through various stages or taste and texture and can be made into different types of candies depending upon the highest temperature that is reached. The temperature range is from about 235 degrees Fahrenheit up to about 350 degrees. In the old days people didn't have thermometers so they judged the candy by heating the syrup and then dropping a spoonful into cold water and judging by the form it took as to whether or not it had reached the right temperature. Then they added flavors like "hinojo" (fennel), "hierbabuena" (peppermint), and "anis" (anise). They also colored the candy by adding vegetable dyes and they might put nuts like peanuts or almonds at the center. There are about three hundred different examples of Mexican hard candies in the historical records. Many of them were invented and produced by nuns in the convent kitchens. Kids don't care for them much anymore and end up throwing them at each other but the old folks always like to have some around at Christmas just for old time sake.

No quiero oro ni quiero plata, yo lo que quiero romper la piñata.
(I don’t want gold nor do I want silver, I just want to break the piñata.)

En esta posada salimos de apuro porque Luis nos dio solo ponte duro.
(We are leaving this posada early because Luis only gave us ponte duro.)

Note: “ponte duro” are hardened little balls of corn flour mixed with unrefined sugar…a poor substitute for candy.

Ándale José, mueve los pies con los copitas de vino jerez.
(Hurry up Joseph, move your feet, and bring us cups of sherry wine.)

Esta piñata es de muchas mañas, solo contiene naranjas y cañas.

(This piñata is a trick; it only contains oranges and sugar cane.)

Quiero mi canasta de papel de china, si no me la das me voy a la esquina.
(I want my tissue paper basket; if you don’t give it to me I will go out to the street corner.)

Note: the basket referred to is the “aguinaldo” or gift basket of goodies which is given to everyone who attends the posada to make sure that no one is left out. The baskets are commonly made from or lined with either tissue paper, crepe paper, or white butcher paper.

Quiero mi canasta de papel crepe, si no me la das me voy con José.
(I want my crepe paper basket; if you don’t give it to me I am going over to José’s house.)

Quiero mi canasta de papel estraza, si me no la das me voy a mi casa.
(I want my butcher paper basket; if you don’t give it to me I am going home.)

En esta posada nos hemos chasqueado porque Teresita nada nos ha dado.
(We are very upset with this posada because little Teresa didn’t give us anything.)

Echen confites y canelones a los muchachos que son muy tragones.
(Throw hard candies at the boys who grab for too much.)

Note: “Confites and Canelones” are two types of hard candy.

Todos los muchachos rezaron con devoción, de chochos y confites les dan ya su ración.
(All of the boys prayed with devotion so let’s give them their share of lupin beans and hard candies.)

Note: “Chochos” or “Lupin Beans” are like salted nuts and in Spain they are called “altramuz”.

Castaña asada, piña cubierta; ¡Echen a palos a los de la puerta!
(Roasted chestnuts and candied pineapple; hit with a stick the people who are blocking our way!)

Ándale Juan, sal de la hornilla, con la botella de la manzanilla.

(Hurry up Juan from the corner by the oven with the bottle of manzanilla wine.)

De los cerritos y los cerrotes, saltan y brincan los tejocotes.
(From the little hills and big hills the tejocotes jump and skip.)

Note: “Tejocotes” are a yellow fruit about the size of a plum that grow wild and are used for fruit punch especially at Navidad.

Ándale niña, sal otra vez, con la botella de vino jerez.
(Hurry up little girl, bring the bottle of sherry wine once again.)

Esta posada le toca a Carmela, si no da nada le saca una muela.

(This posada is Carmen’s turn, if she doesn’t give anything she forfeits a tooth.)

Ándale Mari no peles los dientes, yo lo que quiero son ponches calientes.
(Hurry up Mary, don’t give a silly grin, what I want is hot fruit punch.)

Todaditos muy contentos a rezar la posadita, no es tanta devoción si no por la canasta.
(Everyone is content to participate in the posada, not so much for devotion as for the basket of goodies.)

Ahora si muchachos ya se puede ir, para que mañana los dejen venir.
(Okay boys, you can go home now because tomorrow you can come again.)

After the above calls back and forth the children line up stating with the smallest on to the biggest and the first person is given the stick (usually a sawed off broom stick or mop handle). Many times the first person is actually a baby who is held in the arms of his mother and this is the baby’s first ritual introduction to the piñata. The first person who is old enough to act on their own is blind folded and then spun in a circle while the people sing:

Ya se va el curo Ponciano con su bastón en su mano a ver si vuelta u vuelta se quita lo panzón.

(There goes the priest Ponciano with his stick in his hand to see if by turning and turning around he can lose his belly.)

Then the blindfolded person is left under the piñata to try and find it and hit it with the stick. Some people pull on the rope that supports the piñata to make it jump about and harder to hit. Other people shout directions and encouragement while some of the people sing the following ditty to set a time limit:

Dale, dale, dale,
No pierdas el tino
Porque si lo pierdes
Pierdes el camino.
Dale, dale, dale
Dale y no le dio
Quítenle la venda
¡Porque sigo yo!
¡Se Acabó!
¡Sigo yo!

(Hit it, hit it, hit it!
Don't lose your aim

Because if you lose your aim

You will lose the path.

Hit it, hit it, hit it!

He [or she] hit it, and it didn't give

Take away his blindfold

Because it's now my turn!

It’s over!

I'm next!)

Note: There are several versions and the last part of one version goes like this:

Ya le diste uno,
Ya le diste dos,
Ya le diste tres,
Y tu tiempo se acabo!

(You already gave it one hit,
You already gave it two hits,

You already gave it three hits

And your time is up!)

The people take turns until the piñata is broken and the treats come showering down and everyone scrambles to retrieve what the can. Often as not the piñata is finally broken by some twelve or thirteen year old girl who by now is a veteran of many attempts and knows exactly what strategies are needed to outsmart the jumping target. It is always interesting how exited the people get at the sight of the piñata. You can actually see grown people, especially young women, trembling with excitement as if wishing that they could take a turn. The piñata, however, is mostly reserved for children. After the scramble for goodies is over everyone receives a little bag of treats (aguinaldo) to make sure that no one is left out.

Now we come to the Pastorela or “Shepherd’s Play”. A pastorela is a simple morality play that usually involves shepherds who in some way or another are being tempted or tormented by the Devil. They began in twelfth century Europe and appeared in Mexico in the middle of the sixteenth century. They were used initially for the purpose of the evangelization of the native people but they eventually became part of the tradition of Navidad especially among school children. Many pastorelas are performed in schools or in community cultural centers. Almost every town of any size in Mexico has a “Casa de la Cultura” and putting on a pastorela performance is one of their traditions at Navidad. Pastorelas are homey, involve many children, and are at the same time quite predictable and very often amusing. The cast of characters has parts for everyone including simple shepherds, various Devils, Angels, Archangels, oriental Kings, and the Holy Family. Navidad just wouldn’t be the same without a pastorela. It is part of the fabric of Mexican culture.

One final note: The translations from Spanish to English above are my own. I have done the best that I can to convey the meaning but the translations are by no means literal. Some of the Spanish words are archaic and are not normally used in common speech and many of the phrases are linked to cultural practices which are no longer in use. When I asked some of my Mexican friends to help me with the translations they gave only a vague meaning for some of the words. I had to do bit of research to ferret out the details and even then when translated literally and out of cultural context the words didn’t make much sense in English without much additional explanation. What I provided above is what I consider to be a good compromise. Please cut me some slack if you don't agree and let me hear from you.

¡ Feliz Navidad !

01 December 2010

¡Feliz Janucá!

Hanukkah begins at sundown today. For all of my friends out there who are Jewish I wish you a Happy and Blessed Hanukkah season and to all of my friends who aren't Jewish here are some things that you should know about Hanukka:

Hanukkah occurs on 25th day of Kislev, the Jewish month which is based upon the lunar calendar and begins on a different date every year. The Feast of Hanukkah (or Chanukkah), sometimes called the "Feast of Lights", lasts for eight days. This year it starts on December 1st, and ends at sundown on December 9th. It celebrates the victory of a group of Jews called the Maccabees over a much a larger force of Greeks led by King Antiochus over 2000 years ago. The word Hanukkah means dedication. The holiday marks how a small amount of oil lasted eight days during the re-dedication of the temple in Jerusalem after it was desecrated by the Greeks. The Jewish people celebrate the holiday by lighting candles in a Hanukkah "menorah" for each of eight nights and eating traditional foods fried in oil. These traditional Hanukkah foods include latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiot (jelly donuts). Kids often play a game involving a dreidel (a spinning top) and chocolate gelt (money). The menorah used for Hanukkah is called a "Chanukiah" and is supposed to represent the menorah that stood in the ancient Jewish temple in Jerusalem more than 2000 years ago. The Chanukiah has nine branches, for eight candles and a helper candle used to light the other candles. There is another menorah with seven branches that has been a symbol of Judaism since ancient times and the emblem of the modern state of Israel.

In Mexico Hanukkah is written "Janucá,". The Mexican Jewish Hanukkah customs are very similar to those of Jews elsewhere except that the food may be a little different. Instead of latkes and sufganiot which are common among the Ashkenazic Jews of Russia and Eastern Europe, the Sephardic Jews of Mexico tend to favor things like "buñuelos" which are fried fritters drenched in sugar syrup and also balls of corn dough with marmalade inside. Like their Jewish counterparts around the world they play the game of "dreidel" which they call "toma todo" and they call the dreidel top a "pirinola". To make their holiday really special and authentically Mexican the add a Mexican "piñata" in the shape of the dreidel top to the festivities.

There have been Jews in Mexico dating back to as early as 1521, when Hernan Cortes conquered the Aztecs, accompanied by several Jews who had temporarily "Christianized" in order to avoid the Spanish Inquisition. Many other Jews also eventually fled Spain and settled in Mexico in order to escape the Inquisition. Some of these Spanish or "Sephardic" Jews were forced to convert to Catholicism and were called "Converso" Jews, while other maintained their Jewish religious practices in secret to avoid being persecuted and they are known as "Crypto" Jews.

Few Jews migrated to Mexico after the conquest was complete and Spanish Inquisition became firmly entrenched and rigidly enforced in what was then called New Spain. Then, in the late 1800s, a number of German Jews settled in Mexico as a result of invitations from Maximilian I of Mexico, followed by a huge wave of Ashkenazic Jews fleeing pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe. A second large wave of immigration occurred as the Ottoman Empire collapsed, leading many Sephardic Jews from Turkey, Morocco, and parts of France to flee. Finally, a wave of immigrants fled the increasing Nazi persecutions in Europe during World War II.

Today, there are about 50,000 Jews living freely in Mexico and openly practicing their ancient religion. I hope they all enjoy their Hanukka festival. Happy Hanukka to everyone!!!

שמח חנוכה

14 November 2010

Care with women and punctuation.

I received this item from my friend Javi Nava and I thought it might be a good warning as well as a lesson in about misplacing the comma in Spanish that I can share with my fellow students.

In Spanish, the personal pronoun is often omitted because it is carried by the verb ending and the gender is derived from the context. However, a problem can arise with the placement of a simple coma that will drastically change the meaning of the sentence.

Note the difference in the meaning of the following two sentences that are written identically except for the placement of the coma:

Si el hombre supiera realmente el valor que tiene la mujer, andaría en cuatro patas pidiéndole perdón.
If the man really knew the value of the woman, he would crawl on hands and knees asking her forgiveness.

(Translation note: "en cuatro patas"...literally "on four paws")

Now remove the coma from behind the word "mujer" and place it behind the word "tiene".

Si el hombre supiera realmente el valor que tiene, la mujer andaría en cuatro patas pidiéndole perdón.
If the man really knew his value, the woman would crawl on hands and knees asking her forgiveness.

Be careful. It's a jungle out there!

12 November 2010

How to make ORT

Dr. Jan Gurley has been going to Haiti since the earthquake and is there now combating the disease, cholera, and the resulting severe dehydration that accompanies it. She and her friends have produced a short video that shows how to make Oral Rehydration Therapy (ORT) using salt, sugar, and bottle caps for measuring (4 caps sugar, 1 cap salt, and 500 ml clean water). Doctor Gurley hopes the video will go viral. Aid workers have smart phones that can show videos and many Haitians have video-enabled cell phones. Read more at Doctor Gurley's blog. Click here.

Via the BB Submitterator

09 November 2010

I just knew it!

I have found another proof of the existence of a just and merciful God. It is called the Twinkie diet. Just as I was about to lose all hope the truth has been revealed by a guy named Professor Mark Haub, who teaches nutrition at Kansas State University. He has let it be known that you can lose weight by eating nothing but Twinkies. Dr. Haub's working theory is that moderation, not the specific foods you eat, is the key to weight loss. After eight weeks of eating 1800 calories worth of Twinkies per day, he dropped almost 30 pounds. According to my calculations that is 11.25 twinkies per day. Ahhh, life is good!

23 October 2010

Tomato hangover...

Last year I planted three cherry tomato plants and we ended up eating cherry tomatoes all fall and winter and spring until we had cherry tomatoes coming out of our ears. My wife Gina finally ripped them out because they were getting quite scraggly looking and she was tired of them. I think that cherry tomatoes might be one of the most prolific plants on Earth. I have read that after a nuclear war the only animal life that might survive would be the cockroaches, scorpions, mice, rats, horseflies, yellow jackets, and mosquitoes. On the plant side I think it would probably be crabgrass, thistles, dandelions, and cherry tomatoes. All you need to do is plant cherry tomatoes once and they will come up year after year from the seeds of fallen tomatoes.

One day I was cleaning out the vegetable bin of our refrigerator and I came across a dried up cherry tomato. I figured "What the heck!" and I took out the seeds and sprouted them and planted them in some 1-1/2 and 2 liter plastic Coke bottles. I then hung them on the garden wall from whatever was handy. I even planted one upside down to see what would happen. You guessed it! It wasn't long before we had cherry tomatoes again. The plant that I planted upside down with the roots above and the green part hanging down doesn't seem to mind at all as you can see in the photos below. About the only problem is the fact that I need to water them every day or they begin to wilt. That's why the 2 liter bottles work better than the 1-1/2. I also give them a shot of Miracle Grow once in awhile. I poked some holes with a hot wire about three inches from the bottom of the bottles for drainage but perhaps that isn't necessary. I wrapped a bit of paper towel around the tomato stem in the neck of the upside down bottle to keep the dirt in until the roots took over.

As you can see in the pictures I wrapped some aluminum foil around the bottles to keep the light away from the roots and perhaps keep them cool but I don't know if that is necessary. It is just the "mad scientist" in me that made me do that. I might even try growing other things in the sky...like pumpkins maybe. You better keep your eyes on the horizon!

Click on images to enlarge.

18 October 2010

Anticipatory celebration elation...

There is a Mexican Spanish phrase that I like to use and today it seems more appropriate than ever because it is both literal as well as figurative. The phrase is "Ya está la calabaza". The literal translation is "The pumpkin is already in place" and the the figurative meaning is "Everything is all set", or "It's ready to go", or as George W. Bush might say, "Mission Accomplished".

Over the weekend I bought several jack-o-lanterns made from "barro" (clay or terracotta) and gave them to my wife, Gina, as a surprise. Judging from the amount of hugs and kisses that I received in return it was a good move. You can see "calabazas" in the photo below. One thing that I noted is the difference that exists between Mexican Halloween Pumpkins and Gringo Halloween Pumpkins. In Mexico all of the jack-o-lanterns and ghosts and goblins and monsters, etc., are very happy. This is in contrast to the menacing grimace that you see on many of the Halloween creatures in the U.S.

When I first came to Mexico there was no sign of Halloween but little by little thanks to Walmart and the Chinese, the spirit of Halloween crept over the land. Many older people are still afraid that Halloween will supplant "El Día de Los Muertos" (The Day of the Dead) but I don't think that will happen. The Mexican people are very clever and they have found a way to adapt Halloween to their own culture and by doing so I think they have enhanced their traditional activities and made a nice holiday even longer and better, especially for kids. The kids just love Halloween. I know because I did when I was a kid, so why not?

So, are we really all set for Halloween? Not quite, but we will be by the time our bell rings and the children shout...

¡Queremos Halloween!

13 October 2010

Oh, Lordy!

About one billion people in the world watched the Chilean miners being rescued today and we all rejoiced in the triumph of the human spirit. Thank God that this story had a happy ending. It is a reminder, however, that we never know what will happen when a loved one walks out the door and and there is always a chance that we will never see them alive again on this Earth. For this reason my wife Gina and I bless each other when we part each morning to go to our respective jobs or whenever we separate. We make the sign of the cross over each other and she usually says:

Yo te bendigo en el Nombre del Padre, del Hijo, y del Espíritu Santo.
Que vayas y regreses con bien.
Que San Pedro te cubra con su manto.
Que te proteja de toda clase de peligros.
Angel de tu guarda, dulce compañía, no lo desampares ni de noche ni de día.

I bless you in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
That you go and come back safely.
That San Pedro that will cover you with his cloak.
To protect you from all harm.
Guardian Angel of yours, sweet companion, do not forsake him night or day.

Then I pray over her but usually I just "wing it" and use my imagination because I imagine that God gets tired of hearing the same old thing all the time. After that we kiss and then we part but we never part if we are angry with each other. It is very comforting to know that if something happens, the last memory that we will have of one another is a benediction, a prayer, and a sweet kiss.

Speaking of using my imagination...about eight years ago I was visiting my elderly parents at their home in Arlington Heights, Illinois when both of them were still alive and well. They were in the habit of eating their main meal about two o'clock in the afternoon and Ma always set a nice table in the dining room. On this particular occasion my mother asked me to say grace and we all bowed our heads and...then my mind went blank! After about a half a minute my father said, "Well?" and I started clearing my throat to buy some time. Just then the refrain from the old song about the preacher and the bear wafted through my head so I ran with it. With great reverence and humility I prayed:

Oh, Lord, you delivered Daniel from the lion's den,
You delivered Jonah from the belly of the whale, and then,
The Hebrew children from the fiery blast so the good book does declare,
Oh Lord, for goodness sake, please nourish us with this, thy bounty.
A truly wonderful fare.
In Jesus name we pray. Amen!

My mother said, "My, but that prayer was quite different. It was very poetic though. Where did you learn it?".

I said, "I don't know Ma, I think it was an inspired prayer. Perhaps I was filled with the Holy Spirit and He inspired me".

My father mumbled, "Oh yeah? I think that maybe you are full of something else".

My mother said, "What was that George?".

Dad said, "Nothing Mel. I was just asking Bob if he wanted something else" and she said, "Oh yes, help yourself Bob, there is plenty of everything".

Out of the corner of my eye I could see my Dad staring at me so I focused on my mother. "Hey Ma!", I said, "So what do you think about the Cubs? Are they going to win the pennant?".

I really miss my parents and I look forward to seeing them again. I think that my Dad will have forgotten this particular incident and I am sure that the Lord has a sense of humor.

I HOPE !!!

10 October 2010

Survival of the fattest...

I once read that the average American can miss only nine meals before resorting to acts of desperation. I don't know who came up with that statistic but it is reasonable to assume that after a disaster people might get pretty antsy after eating the last can of cranberry sauce or jar of anchovies from their pantry. It also probably depends upon whether you are skinny or fat. Like a buffalo or a camel I could probably live off my "hump" and my "rump" for quite awhile. However, I have decided that in the light of so many recent disasters around the world it might be prudent to gather up a few things and store them in a footlocker "por si las moscas" as they say here in Mexico which means "just in case". I also feel that it must be something that you can store away and pretty much forget about without worrying too much about the "fecha de caducidad" or "expiration date".

I came up with three canned good items that will last almost indefinitely in storage but for at least three years without worry that they might go bad or lose their flavor. The first is sweetened condensed milk. Here in Mexico the popular brand is "La Lechera" but in the U.S. and Canada there are a number of popular brands. It was developed by Gail Borden in 1854 and one of the first uses was for portable rations for the Union Army during the Civil War. A typical 14 oz (300 ml) can contains 1,300 calories ), 1 oz (30 g) each of protein and fat, and more than 7 oz (200 g) of carbohydrate.

The second item is good old Spam which was developed in 1937 by Hormel Foods and became the basis for some of the canned "C" rations and "K" rations in World War II. Spam is typically sold in cans with a net weight of 340 grams (12 ounces). A 100 gram (3.5 ounce) serving of original Spam provides 310 Calories, 13 grams of protein, 3 grams of carbohydrates, 27 grams of total fat, including 10 grams of saturated fat. The processing techniques utilized by Hormel Foods makes the canned product safe for use indefinitely if the product seal remains intact, unbroken and securely attached to a can that has been well maintained. Okay, so health food it ain't but it will keep you going. Just ask an old soldier. My father was a tank commander in the Normandy Invasion and he told me that his favorite "K" ration was Spam with chunks of carrots and apples.

The third item is canned sardines. A 4 oz. can of sardines packed in oil has about 210 calories consisting of 23 grams of protein, 11 grams of fat, and 1 gram of saturated fat. Canned tuna packed in oil is another good item and can have a shelf life of up to ten years. The same for canned chicken. Personally, I think that three years is a good shelf life for all of these items and then you should "borrar y cuenta nueva" or "erase and start over".

Certainly there are more foods that could lend themselves to prudence aforethought but I picked these because you don't need to cook them or refrigerate them. If you include foods that you need to cook you better include an axe so that you can bust up your furniture for fuel. A lot of your planning depends upon whether you want a three day emergency supply or a contingency plan that will cover several weeks. I wouldn't go overboard but like they say here "Mejor prevenir que lamentar" or "It's better to prepare than be sorry". FEMA has a guide that may be helpful to those who are interested, especially families with small children. You can access it and save it in .pdf format by clicking here.

Buen Provecho (Bon Appétit)

05 October 2010

Oh happy days!

Yesterday I posted the Tommy Douglas "Mouseland" speech from 1944 and today I am posting his "Cream Separator" speech. I love this guy and I know why many Canadians loved this guy. He tells a good story and he tells it in such an affable way that even if you don't agree with him you still end up smiling. The days of Tommy Douglas are gone and they probably won't becoming back again but I just wish that the politicians of today would let us have a little fun like Tommy did. Here is "The Cream Separator" by Tommy C. Douglas:

So, you know I used to visit farm homes in the early days. Of course everybody was always busy. Feeding pigs, chickens, pitching hay and oat sheaves. Even the youngsters were busy at important jobs. Now, you know, they couldn’t trust a city boy with anything important, something skilled, like milking a cow! I was given the one job anyone could do...turning the handle on the cream separator. They’d pour the milk in, I’d turn the handle, and out would come cream from the cream spout and skim milk from the other. One day it penetrated my thick Scottish skull (that can take time) that this was how our economy worked!

We’ve got the producers: the farmers, the fishermen, the loggers, the auto-workers, they produce and pour in the “milk” and then there are the service workers, the office workers, the nurses, and the clerks. They turn the handle. But then I thought, wait a minute, there’s someone missing here in this economy. What about the guy who owns the cream separator? Where is he? Why, of course! He’s the little fellow sitting on his stool, very contented, big smile on his face, his mouth wide open drinking all the cream from the cream spout! And everyone else, well, they take turns on the skim milk spout. Now nobody likes skim milk! It tastes awful, right?

So they were angry. But were they angry at the little fellow, no. They’d blame each other for the missing cream; “If only those greedy union members/farmers/nurses didn’t ask for such high wages, we’d have more cream!” But of course, they were wrong. There was nothing wrong with the producers or the service workers. The problem was the darn machine! It was designed to give the awful “blue” milk to the workers and the cream to the corporate elite. But sometimes it produced even more cream than the happy little fellow could digest. The darned machine would produce a surplus! So the fat little fellow would get indigestion from being such a pig. Then he’d shout, “Stop! We have a recession. You’re all laid off.” But, then after a while, he’d burp, pat his ample stomach, the cream had been digested and he’d say, “Okay, boys. Happy days are here again. Start the machine!”

Now what we have been trying to tell Canadians for a long time is that the time has come. The time has come, my friends, for the people to get their hands on, to get control of the regulator of that machine...to get the machine to produce homogenized milk with cream in it so that there is a little cream for everybody in this land!”

04 October 2010

We're going to Mouseland

It just so happened that the day after I wrote a blog post about controlling mice I saw an item on Cory Doctorow's blog about the famous "Mouseland" speech of the beloved Canadian politician Tommy Douglas who is considered the "Father of Canadian Health Care". He is so admired in Canada that in a poll taken by the Canadian Broadcasting System in 2004 he was named "The Greatest Canadian of All Time". The Mouseland story was told by Tommy Douglas in 1944 but it is so apropos of the coming November elections in the United States that I want to share it with you. Tommy used this story many times to show in a humorous way how voters fail to recognize that neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives are truly interested in what matters to ordinary citizens, yet people continue to vote for them.

Mouseland – A Political fable told by Tommy Douglas

Mouseland was a place where all the little mice lived and played, were born and died. And they lived much the same as you and I do.

They even had a Parliament. And every four years they had an election. They used to walk to the polls and cast their ballots. Some of them even got a ride to the polls. And got a ride for the next four years afterward too. Just like you and me. And every time on election day all the little mice used to go to the ballot box and they used to elect a government. A government made up of big, fat, black cats.

Now if you think it strange that mice should elect a government made up of cats, you just look at the history of Canada for last 90 years and maybe you'll see that they weren't any stupider than we are.

Now I'm not saying anything against the cats. They were nice fellows. They conducted their government with dignity. They passed good laws--that is, laws that were good for cats. But the laws that were good for cats weren't very good for mice. One of the laws said that mouse holes had to be big enough so a cat could get his paw in. Another law said that mice could only travel at certain speeds...so that a cat could get his breakfast without too much effort.

All the laws were good laws...for cats. But, oh, they were hard on the mice. And life was getting harder and harder. And when the mice couldn't put up with it any more, they decided something had to be done about it. So they went en mass to the polls. They voted the black cats out. They put in the white cats.

Now the white cats had put up a terrific campaign. They said: "All that Mouseland needs is more vision." They said: "The trouble with Mouseland is those round mouse holes we got. If you put us in we'll establish square mouse holes." And they did. And the square mouse holes were twice as big as the round mouse holes, and now the cat could get both his paws in. And life was tougher than ever.

And when they couldn't take that anymore, they voted the white cats out and put the black ones in again. Then they went back to the white cats. Then to the black cats. They even tried half black cats and half white cats. And they called that coalition. They even got one government made up of cats with spots on them: they were cats that tried to make a noise like a mouse but ate like a cat.

You see, my friends, the trouble wasn't with the color of the cat. The trouble was that they were cats. And because they were cats, they naturally looked after cats instead of mice.

Presently there came along one little mouse who had an idea. My friends, watch out for the little fellow with an idea. And he said to the other mice, "Look fellows, why do we keep on electing a government made up of cats? Why don't we elect a government made up of mice?" "Oh," they said, "he's a Bolshevik. Lock him up!" So they put him in jail.

But I want to remind you: that you can lock up a mouse or a man but you can't lock up an idea.

"I've no patience with people who want to sit back and talk about a blueprint for society and do nothing about it." (Tommy Douglas)

03 October 2010

Here Mickey, Mickey, Mickey...

Somewhere along our evolutionary journey the fates of humans and mice became intertwined just like it came to pass with dogs and cats. The common house mouse (Mus musculus) needs humans to survive even though humans could do very nicely without the destructive little buggers, notwithstanding their"cuteness". I have a particular interest in mice because my wife Gina is deathly afraid of them and has been since she was a little child. In fact, when she even thinks there is a mouse around she shrieks and jumps up onto a chair and then it costs me a lot of effort to coax her back down. In fact, when there actually are signs of a mouse in the house there is truly hell to pay.

October is the month when one must really be on the lookout for mice. In the summertime, "when the living is easy", the mice generally prefer to be outdoors. However, when the nights start getting colder in October they start looking for winter quarters. Because their metabolism rate is high and their fur is short they need the warmth of a shelter and and the provisions of a well stocked larder in order to bear their young. They have learned over the millennia that where there are humans there is warmth and food. They also sense that a close proximity to humans is dangerous but their need to procreate mitigates their fear. Mice in the wild only live for about a year so if they are to survive as a species they must continually reproduce.

Mice need only a very small opening in order to squeeze into your house but most of the time they just come in through an open door when you aren't looking. All it takes is for an outside door to be left open and unattended even for a few seconds at dusk or early dawn on a cool day and you have a mouse in the house. Once they get in they can be hard to deal with. They like to chew little holes in a pantry or closet wall where you can't get at them and their nests will be protected. When this happens the best way to deal with it is to seal them in. I learned this from my "suegros" (in-laws). The first time we had a mouse and discovered a hole in the pantry wall Gina called her parents who, of necessity and through close association with Gina, became excellent "mousers". They arrived shortly after her cry for help with all their gear and they went right at it. First they rammed some newspaper in the hole with a broomstick to distract the mouse. On top of they they rammed in some broken bits of "barro" (clay pottery). After that they mixed together some "cemento" (Portland cement) and some "yeso" (plaster of Paris) in a 50:50 ratio and stirred in some water. With this mixture they finished filling the hole. The mixture of the two materials with water is a quick setting filler and it is still hard enough to keep the mice from easily gnawing their way back out.

Yes you can trap them too if you want and there are all kinds of traps and yada, yada, yada. In my experience though, traps are retroactive and it is always better to be proactive. A mouse can't run into your house if there are no mice around the outside your house. That is why it is important to keep the lawn short and remove any dead leaves or twigs or trash of any kind that might provide a shelter within fifty feet of your home. I have had much success using a "cebo" (SAY-boh). The word "cebo" means bait and for mice and rats it means a poison bait. These baits are only mildly harmful to humans but they cause rodents to bleed to death internally. Nevertheless one must be very careful to safeguard children and pets. I only place the baits where they can't be seen or accessed by life forms other than the intended target such as under the water pump cover or in a corner behind some big and heavy "macetas" (mah-SAY-tahs) or "flower pots". Another method that I like you can see in the pictures below.

I found that I can buy four inch diameter black plastic sewer pipe fittings in the form of a "Y" with one leg of the "Y" reduced to two inches. I can also buy black plastic caps that "snap" into the four inch openings of the "Y" leaving me with a closed chamber that has a two inch diameter entrance. Into this chamber I place my "cebo" and then bury the chamber part way into the ground or place it along an exterior wall near a door opening. The "Y" costs 30 pesos and the end caps 12 pesos each. The "cebo" comes in a jar in cubes that are about 3/4 inch by 1 inch. It cost about 125 pesos for a year's supply. It is hard and dry and odor free. The mice love it because it contains barley, one of their favorite foods. I add a fresh piece about every two weeks and about every three months I clean out the chamber and start over. No fuss, no muss, and no "Mus musculus".

Now, some people might feel that poisoning these poor creatures is inhumane. I don' because it's either me or them. That reminds me of a little mouse story that I heard years ago:

One day a Dominican nun saw little Johnny cupping something in his hands during recess at school. She said, "What do you have there Johnny?" and Johnny said, "I have a little mouse Sister". The nun said, "Well Johnny, what are you going to do with that little mouse?". Johnny said, "I haven't decided yet. Maybe I will whack him with a stick or maybe I will throw him in that mud puddle over there". The nun's eyes opened very wide and and her face got red and she said "JOHNNY!, Whatever you do to that poor little mouse I am going to do the same thing to you. Now what do you have to say?". Johnny furrowed his brow and thought for a second and then he smiled. He held his cupped hands up close to his lips and he purred:

"Little mouse, little mouse, this is your lucky day, because today I'm gonna kiss your butt".

30 September 2010

Heaven only knows...

Yesterday I went to IMSS (Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social) for my monthly checkup. I really enjoy going to IMSS because they take good care of me and I enjoy chatting with all the people with whom I come in contact. It is a true slice of life in Mexico. Something gave me a little jolt though as I was about to leave. They made my next appointment for Tuesday, November 2nd, El Día de los Muertos. It is a good thing that I am not superstitious! Even so, last night I dreamed that I had died and gone to Heaven. I must have died very early in the morning because I was one of the first ones to arrive at the Pearly Gates, even before St. Peter got there. We could see him coming down the drive from the "Big House" in his Chrysler PT Cruiser. Hey, that is the same kind of car that I drive except that his is a lot newer and of course his is snow white.

When St. Peter stopped his car and got out I noticed that in one hand he had a ring of keys and in the other a cup of Starbuck's coffee. I did not know that Starbuck's is now available in Heaven. I had heard that there is a Starbuck's in San Miguel de Allende and that there are Starbuck's all over Hell but that is quite another matter altogether. Just as soon as St. Peter swung open the gates the crowd surged forward. St. Peter urged everyone to stay calm and said that the sooner they fell neatly into line the sooner they would be admitted to Heaven, provided of course, that all their papers were in order. I could see one lady jumping up and down waving her hand in the air like a schoolgirl and St. Peter said, "Yes, lady from Modesto, California. Don't worry, your little doggies are here. They are waiting for you in the arrivals area". All in all, St. Peter was pretty good about everything and most people had no problem getting in. He did shake his head and frown at some of them though and that had me worried. When it was finally my turn I was relieved when he shook my hand and said, "Hi Mexico Bob, I read your blog. Welcome to Heaven".

In my dream Heaven is a really cool place. After I received a big hug from Jesus I had to go check in with God the Father and that had me very scared but Jesus had already put in a good word for me and God the Father was pretty genial. I really like Him (AHEM!), I mean I really love Him. Then I had a chance to see my Mom & Dad and all my relatives and ancestors all the way back to Adam & Eve, who by the way, are a very nice couple. There is just so much to see and do in Heaven. I came to this one auditorium that was like a big screening room and I saw Abe Lincoln, George Washington, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Roosevelt, Everett Dirksen, Tip O'Neil and just about every well known deceased politician you can think of except for the ones that went astray. The front wall was covered with big screen televisions and all were tuned to different news programs. There was ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC, Bloomberg, etcetera. I asked Thomas Jefferson why FOX News Channel wasn't represented and he told me that FOX News is a creation of the Devil and that it had no place in Heaven. Anyway, I was happy to see that all of the old timers were rooting for Barack Obama and the Democrats. That's a good sign. If Heaven is for you who can be against you?

Well, needless to say, this morning when I woke up I was back in my own bed here on Earth but Heaven was so real that I am sure that I had a glimpse of it. When my time comes I won't mind going there one bit. After all...I already know the routine.

28 September 2010

Raindrops falling from my eyes...

Chapter 5, verse 45 of book of Matthew in the Bible contains the Sermon on the Mount during which Jesus mentions that the Father in Heaven makes the sun rise on both good and evil and he makes it rain on both the just and the unjust alike. I suppose that is okay by me for after all, who am I to argue with God? The thing that concerns me is that He also makes it rain on the rich and the poor alike and in that case I am sure that the rich have an easier time of it. However, looking at it from God's point of view (I only wish) it seems like the most logical thing to do is to stay out of the weather business altogether except for reminding us of His covenant with Noah by showing us an occasional rainbow. This past week we are also reminded of how devastating too much rain can be as we watched the situation unfold in the states of Veracruz, Tabasco, and Oaxaca.

Here in Irapuato in the Bajío Region of the central highlands we have been blessed with a fairly normal summer rainy season. It isn't always like that. When I arrived in Irapuato about ten years ago it was at the tail end of a serious drought and the land was bone dry. On the flip side, the last serious flood occurred back on August 23rd, 1973 and it was devastating. People here still talk about it, especially on the anniversary every year. As bad as that flood was though, it pales in comparison with what has happened to other places in Mexico, not to mention China, Pakistan, and even Europe. For that matter, the people of New Orleans deserve a shout out as well, particularly the people of Plaquemine Parish and those of the 9th Ward.

In any given place on any given day there are no doubt some people praying for rain and others praying for sunshine. On one block a woman may be praying fervently for sunshine on her daughter's wedding and one block over a man might be praying for rain to keep his prize winning tomatoes from wilting in the heat. When I was a kid and the weatherman forecast snow we prayed for lots of it so the school would close and we could all go sledding while my poor old Dad the mail carrier was praying for mercy. As far as the weather is concerned I think that God just lets that part of His creation run itself.

I heard a story here about a couple who had two sons. One son was a farmer and the other was a rancher. The father went to see his son the farmer and he asked him how things were going. His son told him that things were great and that it looked like he was going to have a huge crop of wheat unless it rained. If it rained withing the next fifteen days the wheat would be ruined. Then he went to visit the son who was a rancher and asked him how things were going. His son told him that they weren't going very well at all. He said that it had been too dry and that the water holes were drying up and if it didn't rain within the next fifteen days he would probably loose all his cattle. The man went home feeling very sad and when he got home he hung his hat upon the usual peg and his wife said to him "So, how are the boys?" and he looked at her and what do you think he said? Well I really don't know what he said but if he loved his wife he probably just said "Fine dear, just fine..."

26 September 2010

I made a bear!

In México when someone makes a stupid or an embarrassing mistake they often say:

Hice un oso.
I made a bear.

If it was a really embarrassing mistake they might say:

Trágame tierra.
Swallow me earth. (Cover me with dirt as in "bury me")

Well, the other day "hice un oso" but I am not quite ready for the dirt. It happened when was leaving the shop in my wonderful 2004 slate gray Chrysler PT Cruiser. The shop where I work is located on a gravel street in an industrial park and we share the street with some companies that use huge trucks. One of these establishments is a cement plant so you can just imagine. Anyway, during the summer rains the street gets all beat to heck and sometimes there are pot holes that I swear could swallow a Volkswagen. In order to navigate successfully we have to memorize the location of the pot holes like the old Mississippi River paddle wheel captains had to memorize the river bed to avoid running aground. Whenever it rains heavily the pot holes (baches in Spanish) fill up with water so you can't tell which are the deep ones and which are the shallow ones unless you can remember which is which. Well, my memory must be failing me because I drove through a deep one thinking it was shallow and my oil pan bottomed out on a rock at the bottom. I felt a big thud but kept on going hoping and praying that it was just a bump to the underframe.

When I got home I had to stop and get out of the car to open the carport gate and after I moved the car into the carport I noticed some drops of oil on the pavement where the car had been temporarily standing. "Oh-oh", I thought, "That ain't good". It turned out that I was right. I called my friend Enrique, whom we call Quique (pronounced KEE-kay) for short, and he sent a tilt-bed truck to fetch my poor car. In a half hour we had it up on the rack and it was pretty clear by then that I had rendered the oil pan irreparable. Would you believe that it is made out of cast aluminum and that a replacement is very expensive? I am sure that you would. Well, this will teach me to be more careful but it was an expensive lesson. Like they say in St. Louis, "It may have made Bud wiser" but it made Bob several thousand pesos poorer.

The Ying and the Yang of it is that whenever something bad happens there is also something good in there somewhere and vice-versa. This case was no exception. I may have lost an oil pan but I gained some good vocabulary. I will start with the word for "oil pan" and keep going:

cárter inferior del cigüeñal (KAHR-tehr een-fehr-ee-YOHR dehl see-gwehn-YAHL)
oil pan

cárter superior del cigüeñal
(KAHR-tehr soo-pehr-ee-YOHR dehl see-gwehn-YAHL)

cigüeñal (see-gwehn-YAHL)

cojinetes del cigüeñal (koh-hee-NEH-tes dehl see-gwehn-YAHL)
crankshaft main bearings

muñón del cigüeñal (moon-YOHN dehl see-gwehn-YAHL)
crankshaft bearing journal

polea de cigüeñal (poh-LEY-ah del see-gwehn-YAHL)
crankshaft pulley

volante del cigüeñal (voh-LAHN-teh del see-gwehn-YAHL)
(alternate) volante de embrague (voh-LAHN-teh del ehm-BRAH-gey)

árbol de levas (AHR-bohl deh LAY-vahs)

válvula de admisión (VAHL-voo-la deh ahd-mee-SEOHN)
intake valve

válvula de escape (VAHL-voo-la deh ess-CAH-peh)
exhaust valve

levanta válvulas (ley-VAHN-tah VAHL-voo-las)
valve lifter

resorte de válvulas (rey-SOHR-teh de VAHL-voo-las)
valve spring

cilindro (see-LIHN-droh)

piston (pees-TOHN)

faldón del pistón (fahl-DOHN del pees-TOHN)
piston skirt

bulón (boo-LOHN)
(alternate) perno de pistón (PEHR-noh del pees-TOHN)
wrist pin (piston pin)

anillos de compresión (ah-NEE-yohs de kohm-preh-SEEOHN)
(alternate) aros de compresión (AH-rohs de kohm-preh-SEEOHN)
compression rings (piston rings)

biela (bee-EH-lah)
connecting rod

muñón de biela ( moon-YOHN de bee-EH-lah)
connecting rod journal

cojinetes de las bielas (koh-hee-NEH-tes de las bee-EH-lah)
connecting rod bearings

bomba de aceite (BOHM-bah deh ah-SAY-tay)
oil pump

cadena de distribución (kah-dey-nah deh dees-tree-boo-SEEOHN)
(alternate) correa de distribución (kohr-REY-ah deh dees-tree-boo-SEEOHN)
timing chain (or belt)

culata de cilindro (koo-LAH-tah deh see-LIHN-droh)
cylinder head

empaque de culata (em-PAH-keh deh koo-LAH-tah )
head gasket

cámara de combustión (KAH-mah-rah deh kohm-boo-STEEOHN)
combustion chamber

colector de admisión (koh-lek-TOR deh ahd-mee-SEEOHN)
intake manifold

colector de escape (koh-lek-TOR deh ess-KAH-peh)
exhaust manifold

mofle (MOH-flay)

varilla de medición de aceite (vah-REE-yah deh meh-dee-SEEOHN de ah-SAY-tay)
oil dipstick

bobina de encendido (boh-BEE-nah de ehn-sehn-DEE-doh)
ignition coil

bujía (boo-HEE-ah)
spark plug

distribuidor (dees-treeb-bwee-DOHR)

tapa de distribuidor (TAH-pah deh dees-treeb-bwee-DOHR)
distributor cap

bomba de combustible (BOHM-bas deh kom-boos-TEEB-leh)
fuel pump

inyector de combustible (een-YEHK-tor deh kom-boos-TEEB-leh)
fuel injector

carburador (cahr-boo-rah-DOHR)

motor de arranque (moh-TOHR de ahr-REYN-kay)
starting motor

I am thinking that perhaps some of you may have fallen into a deep trance before you got this far. I'll bet that I know who you are. When I count to three and snap my fingers you will awaken feeling very refreshed. One, two, three...SNAP! Hey! Bliss in San Carlos...don't forget to add these words to your flash cards. There will be an exam next week.

23 September 2010

From the land of Robin Hood...periodically!

In my job, and especially over the course of the last few years, I find myself dealing increasingly with matters related to chemicals. I don't actually handle chemicals myself but I work in the Transportation Industry in a position that requires me to stay up-to-date on rules and regulations for things like safe confined space entry, material safety data related to product residues, and the proper marking of containers that carry products considered to be potentially hazardous. On the shelf above my desk you will find a well thumbed Emergency Response Guide and a copy of Hawley's Condensed Chemical Dictionary.

Recently I thought it might be both interesting and helpful if I learned the Periodic Table of Elements by heart to the point that I could draw a good portion of it from memory on a sheet of paper. I saw no need to include the f-block Lanthanoids (rare earth elements) or Actinoids (radioactive elements) and certainly not the so-called "synthetic" elements from atomic number 104 on up. Mainly I would like to concentrate on the elements that are relative to what I may encounter in my job at some point. I just happened to be browsing the Internet for a nice copy of the Periodic Table when I came across a website of the University of Nottingham in England that is dedicated to the Periodic Table and uses little video vignettes to tell stories about each element. Once you hear a story it helps to locate the element in its proper place on the chart. It is an amazing undertaking. They have produced a very interesting video for each of the elements. You can find the site by clicking on this link: The Periodic Table of Videos

They have another interesting site related to chemistry at: Test Tube

There is also a neat site related to Mathematical Symbols called: Sixty Symbols

I am delighted by another site of theirs that is dedicated to words and I suggest that you visit it and start with the French wine term "terroir". You can find it at: Words of the World

Who knew that Nottingham is more than Sherwood Forest and the old stomping grounds for Robin Hood and his Merry Men? It just so happens that Nottingham is the seventh-largest urban area in the United Kingdom and the home of a university that ranks in the top 1% of universities worldwide. If I were a young man or woman in high school who is thinking about going to a great university I would definitely consider the University of Nottingham. However, for me, the second best thing is to take advantage of what they have to offer on line. It is not only educational. It is FUN!

20 September 2010

Come and get it!

The other day my friend Javi Nava sent me some photos of a country chicken roast that was done by stacking chickens over vegetables and then roasting them under metal cans. The photos below will explain the process better than I can. It sure looks like a good idea. All you need are some metal pans with a rod attached to the center and some five gallon (19 liter) cans that will fit over them. For a fire you can use any old wood or even tree or brush trimmings. I was thinking about trying this myself but I ran into a slight problem. Since I only have a small back yard I am afraid that the aroma of roasting chickens would draw all of my neighbors and there wouldn't be enough chicken to go around. I could always add more chickens but then the additional smoke and flames might draw the "bomberos" (firemen) and I still wouldn't have enough chicken to feed everyone. Civilization is not an ideal place for this method of cooking. Nooooo, to really make this work what you need is a place out in the middle of nowhere like perhaps the hills around Pátzcuaro. The only other thing I can say is:

A mi me gusta pollo rostizado. Las fotos se me hacen agua la boca.
I really like roast chicken. The pictures make my mouth water!

Note to my fellow Spanish students: Why do I say "Las fotos" and not "Los fotos"? Because the word "fotos" is short for "fotografías" and fotografías is feminine.

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About Me

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.