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July 2011

Feature Article

The Heart of Lakeside: The Plazas

By Herbert W. Piekow, Photos by Victor Morando

The heart of every pueblo (village) in Mexico is the town plaza. The local name for the plaza can change from town to town. Some places the plaza is the jardin (garden), other towns call it a parque (park), Mexico City named it a zocalo, but in most areas, it's just the plaza or plazita (little plaza).

Regardless of what it is called, plazas almost always located near the town's parroquia (parish chuch) serves as a commercial center, the site of political, civic, and religious events, and is always a tradition-steeped social gathering place.

My photographer Victor Morado and I recently decided to start a pilgrimage to visit each of the the plazas in the villages at the north side of Lake Chapala. Just as each of the small Lakeside towns is distinctive, that special uniqueness is reflected in the plazas of these truly Mexican pueblos.

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From the Editors

July 2011: A Firecracker Issue

The first few days of July are filled with activities here at Lake Chapala where so many expats just wouldn't feel right if they didn't celebrate the July 1 Canada Day and the US July 4 Independence Day.

Many groups, organizations and restaurants plan special events for one or both events — some like the Lake Chapala Society even pull out all the plugs and sponsor the CAN-AM Day Celebration on July 2 to politically correctly cover all the bases and keep everyone homesick for their own patriotic traditions content.

Probably the best feature of all these celebrations — including the two planned for the first and the fourth at the American Legion Post #7 in Chapala is the summer picnic fare they offer. Yep, right here in the middle of Mexico you'll find folks enjoying holiday meals of barbecue, fried chicken, hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill, mac and cheese, potato salad, cole slaw, watermelon, three layer chocolate cake, and apple pie.

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Have Hammers Will Travel

By James Tipton

Richard Williams—founder of Have Hammers Will Travel — stood in front of SuperLake in San Antonio Tlayacapan a few years ago and watched as the compassionate Wendy Johnson helped two Mexican nuns who were trying to collect food and money for Mission San Pablo. At that time the orphanage had so few resources that they could only feed the 60 orphans one meal a day. The nuns ate only one meal every other day.

Richard was concerned and determined to help. (In the strange way that the universe works, Richard later discovered that Wendy, the woman helping the nuns, was his next door neighbor.)

Richard put his background in construction back to work in the fall of 2008 when he joined forces with members of Amigos of Mission San Pablo to visit the orphanage in Cedros, a little former hacienda village about halfway between Lake Chapala and the Guadalajara airport.

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Getting Here

Five Years in Paradise

By Diane Goldstein

Today, June first, is the fifth anniversary of the day that my partner Ellen and I left California with our three dogs and two cats, heading for our new life in Mexico. On June 8 we will celebrate our arrival in Lakeside. It's amazing to me that five years have flown by so quickly. I am now in my 60s (and getting social security, yaaaay!) and Ellen just hit the big number 50 (yup, she's a baby).

For those of you who are faithful long-time readers of Mexico Insights you may be familiar with some of our exploits…from our first visit here, through our move (with all…no…just some of the attendant horrors), the purchasing of our Mexican home and its renovation, our numerous adventures, and some of our observations along the way. But here we are and here we shall stay and I thought that this was as good a time as any to revisit our last five years for your edification and your giggles. Clearly this is home now.

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Mexican Kitchen

Restaurants…It Was Too Hot to Cook

By Vandy Starkweather

Every year I come to Ajijic in May and stay with my friend Judy King, and we have Mexican adventures for a month. I always miss my dogs when I am here, but I loved Judy's dogs and got through my dog withdrawals by playing with them. This year, through a terrible set of circumstances that were related in an earlier issue of this magazine, Judy's dogs were gone.

It had been a few months, and soon after I arrived, she told me that she was ready to have a dog again, but wasn't going to start looking until after I had gone back home. After all, new dogs are an adjustment, there might be some chaos; she was being considerate to a guest.

But I was of the opposite mind. Did someone say dog? Let's definitely go get a dog!! Now!! Can we do it now? "Are we there yet?" (She is a patient woman.) So our first adventure was going to be looking for the right dog.

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Homes & Lodging

Maids and Gardeners: Give Them Their Due

By Judy King

Hiring maids and gardeners is one of the affordable perks for expats living at Lakeside. Just like in countries north of the border, employers have responsibilities under the law as to how they are to hire, fire, pay and provide benefits for employees.

The first step in avoiding skirmishes with the labor board is to build solid foundations when you hire employees. You'll need an idea of what you want her to do, how long it'll take her to do it and what wage is fair to her and to you.

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Out & About

A Trip to El Triunfo

By Harriet Hart

When your spouse takes up bird photography, you end up in some extraordinary places. A few months ago, I found myself seated on the front porch of a dormitory at the El Triunfo Biosphere in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. Only 50 people a year visit this spot and now I understand why. Getting to the high camp takes stamina, determination, and a level of physical fitness I was blissfully unaware I possessed at 64 years of age.

Our adventure began in the Best Western Hotel in Tuxtla on a Tuesday evening. There we met our guide, Mark Pretti and the rest of the birders: Pattie and Jill from California, Joan from New Jersey and five Europeans: Ariel from Brussels, Jon and Marc from the Netherlands, and Pierre and Francine from Nice.

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Cost of Living

JOY! Watching the Meter Spin…Backwards

By Carol L. Bowman

We have a new hobby. No, actually it is more like a fixation. In fact if it keeps up, I am certain both my husband and I will need treatment for obsessive/compulsive disorder. From first light until dusk, at least twice per hour — every hour that we are home, we take turns prancing out to our CFE electric meter to watch it spin backwards. No more of those faint of heart moments when the meter wheel turned forward at a pace that meant an electric bill totaling muchos pesos.

Then, in step two of this joyful process, we check the readings in the measurement window on the silver-colored inverter of our recently installed solar electric system. The new equipment hangs on the wall inside the bodega (shed) which houses all the equipment required for our home's infrastructure.

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Soul of México

So You're Thinking About Retiring to Mexico?

By Donna Mansfield

If you are thinking about retiring to Mexico, you have likely looked carefully at the economics of Mexico and the housing market here. If you have visited friends at Lakeside or come on your own, you already know that the dangers of Mexican travel hyped in the American press are overstated.

You have checked the weather, read the blogs and know that the Lakeside community south of Guadalajara has an old and established infrastructure designed to meet the needs of English-speaking newcomers.

What you most likely have not done is examine your own ability to adapt to a different culture. And this must be done if you are to have any hope of truly enjoying your move. Even more than learning the language, learning the culture is critical to your success here. And to learn the culture, you have to be ready to consider that yours may not be superior in every respect.

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Health & Safety

The Local Doctor with Many Degrees

By Marvin West

Periodically we stumble across a Golden Oldie Article — one that was published back in the early years of this magazine. Some are just too good; I can't help but rerun one now and then for our newer readers.

This 2005 piece was penned by Marvin West, who retired after just 42 years with Scripps Howard newspapers, and then became senior partner in an international communications consulting company. It was one of Marvin's Westwords, the series of columns that he was assembling for publication in his fourth book, Mexico? What you doing in Mexico?"

My introduction to Dr. José Ricardo Heredia Granados was under awkward, unpleasant conditions. I couldn't stand upright.

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People, Places & Things

Mexico's Oldest English Mass — It's in Ajijic

By Judy King

This time of year between 50 and 70 English-speaking Catholics attend the 9 a.m. Sunday Mass celebrated by Ajijic's parish priest, Father Alfredo Areola Aguayo; during the winter high season that number swells to well over 200 celebrants. Even when the foreigners fill all of the ancient church's pews in February and March, don't make the mistake of thinking that these foreigners of the oldest and the largest English-speaking Catholic congregation in Mexico, are the driving force of the Ajijic Catholic community.

At a time in history when church attendance is dropping in towns and cities north of the border, Catholicism still thrives in Mexico. Recent statistics reveal that nearly 88% of all Mexicans are Catholic and 70% of those Catholics attend at least one Mass each week!

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Upcoming Issue

August: Mexico is Still the Land of Music, Arts and Crafts

Summer has only just begun but while I was planning this new August issue I found myself thinking of several fall activities that you may want to know about so you can make September and October travel plans. It's interesting watching this process of planning issues and articles play out over the years — some months we offer you a pure potpourri of dissimilar pieces and other times most of the articles seem to fall under into an organized theme.

This is one of those theme issues. What do you think of first when Mexico comes to mind? At the sound of the country's name, my head is filled with a swirl of color, music and arts and crafts and that's what we have for you in our August issue.

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