Friday, May 29, 2015

dinner for eight at eight

I am in the land where the Mexican middle class shows its stuff.

Puerto Vallarta is not as deserted as Barra de Navidad.  After all, it is a sizable city.  But the stores at the Liverpool mall have more clerks than customers.  Even the often-mobbed Sirloin Stockade buffet was nearly empty.

Even though my primary mission was to bring friends to the airport, we spent most of the day driving from store to store to audition furniture for my library (or media room) and the upstairs living and dining rooms.  I bought nothing.  But I am starting to develop some ideas.

I thought I had found everything I needed on the Costco Mexico site last month.  While I was in Oregon, my mother, brother, and sister-in-law looked at the pieces online and signed off on my proposal.

That is, until we saw a demonstrator chair of the set at the Bend Costco.  Not only did it look cheap, it was already showing wear simply being on display.

So, I trekked north tabula rasa -- ready to look at all options. 

I may have an answer for the dining room.  That is it at the top of this essay.  We stumbled on it in Liverpool.  I would have rejected it when I had the Costco furniture in mind.  But it meets a lot of the criteria for which I have been looking.

It complements the lines of the house.  Nice flat planes.  Grayish-brown, similar to the house's color scheme.  Its Italianate style and the accompanying leather chairs will fit right in.

The table is for eight -- with a pull-out section for four more settings.  My cooking will have a great stage.

The clerk informed me that Liverpool has a free interior decorator who can assist me with all of my purchases.  "Free" on the condition that I buy the furniture from Liverpool. 

We then visited a series of rattan furniture stores.  The last place was the most forthcoming on my options.  She informed me that I would be wasting my money by buying real rattan for exterior use -- it simply does not hold up in the tropics.

She could afford to tell me that, though, because the PCV rattan is just as expensive as the real stuff.  At least, at her store.  A couch, love seat, and chair would be as expensive as the dining table and 10 chairs at Liverpool.

It appears that I need to start saving more aluminum cans.

But, it could be worse.  The line between classy edginess and questionable taste is a thin one.  I could end up with this in my living room.  It would look as if I had decided to earn income in an ancient way.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

dumping quicken

I have been waiting over a week for the email.  Three weeks if you include the onset of the problem.

While I was between Korea and Japan (if I remember correctly), my Quicken program started acting up.  No, not "acting up."  Not acting, at all.

Whenever I entered the password for my data file, I was informed it was incorrect.  When I arrived in Bend, I discovered that two updates to Quicken had created several problems -- one of them was mine.  Quicken no longer recognized my password. 

After spending hours with Quicken "agents" on the internet, I was informed nothing could be done until the Quicken team could produce a patch for the errors that Quicken had lodged in my program.

The long-awaited email arrived last evening.  I opened it and started to add the patch to my program -- until I read the following not-so-good news: 

Unfortunately, due to the nature of this lockout issue, we were unable to fix existing password issues caused by the R6 or R7 patch.  If you are currently experiencing a password issue, you will need to restore a file backup from a point prior to when you began experiencing this issue.
Stripped of its evident spin, that means even though Quicken caused the problem that has locked my data file, there is nothing they can do to fix it.  Unfortunately, their proposed solution is not very helpful.  All of my backup files have been locked by the same incompetence that caused my primary file to be locked.

I considered titling this essay
"dumping on quicken" because that is how I feel right now.  My instincts are that some class action lawyer is greasing up his printer in contemplation of filing a suit over this egregious conduct.  And I will jump on that bandwagon if it rolls by.

But I have a more immediate decision.  Because my most recent backup is nearly a year old (August 2014 -- the one I relied upon when my backpack was stolen), I will need to start fresh.  That gives me two obvious options.

The first is to pick a date (say 1 June) and start all over by creating each of my accounts.  That sounds easier than it is.  And it is easy for cash and bank accounts that have a specific balance on that day.

What is not so easy is credit cards with their billing and payment cycles that pay scant regard to second acts in financial tracking.  But with a bit of ferreting, I should be able to do that.

The second option is to stop using Quicken.  Most of my accounts are already online with my banks.  I can always check balances by opening each one of them.  The only thing Quicken does is give me a central location for each account -- much the same way my Outlook tracked email, tasks, and appointments.

But I have written enough essays on how Quicken has played Judas to crucify me on its cross of gold.  If I could have all of the time back I have spent on fixing Quicken, I would be -- well, younger.  The question is whether the convenience justifies the time and aggravation.

A nice ledger book may fill the gap if I decide to abandon Quicken.

I will give it some thought on my trip to Puerto Vallarta. 

"Trip?," you may ask.  Yup.  I am driving friends to the Puerto Vallarta airport.  That gesture will give me the opportunity to look at furniture and to buy a new DVD player.  It turns out that my current player is stuck in permanent update.  For all I know, the dreaded R6 and R7 may have caused that, as well.

In any event, I will have a fresh start -- one way or the other.  And anything new has to be good.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

where have all the young girls gone?

It happens every year.  But I still find it startling.

The villages around Bahía de Navidad have a very noticeable rhythm.  Even though the area makes most of its living supporting the surrounding farming enterprises, it also depends on pesos and dollars from tourists to survive.

Our beaches are busiest during Easter week when Mexican tourists troop here to celebrate Jesus' resurrection in their own unique sandy way.  But there are also other parts of the year when we have plenty of visitors.  Christmas, of course.  From January through February, when northern tourists show up in varying flocks.  And the six weeks of Mexican school vacation -- starting in July, I think.

As you can see by that list, we are now experiencing what folks in the travel trade call the "shoulder season."  Stripped of its euphemistic coloring, that means the tourists are not here.

I walked into town in Barra de Navidad yesterday afternoon to try my luck at ATM poker.  (I won, if you care.)  There was no line at the machine.  In fact, there were no lines anywhere.  The streets were almost as deserted as the set of On the Beach.  With the exception of the guy in the key kiosk, I could not see another living soul.

After grabbing my cash, I drove over to San Patricio for dinner at Papa Gallo's.  The photograph you see at the top of this essay is of the beach there.  That is about as deserted as I have seen a Melaque beach.  But the town was just as deserted as Barra de Navidad.

For the merchants who make their living off of tourists, it looks like a long dry spell until the middle class families of Guadalajara pile their 2.2 children into their expensive SUV for a couple of weeks at the beach.  But that will not be until July.

Until then, I am going to have no trouble finding an open table for dinner.  Instead, the problem will be finding an open restaurant.  Fortunately, I can always count on Papa Gallo's.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

undocumented housing

I have been a homeowner in Mexico since mid-October.  At least, that is what I have been led to believe.

Last October, I drove to Manzanillo with my two realtors (everything is new again) to close on my purchase of the house with no name.  As in every closing I have ever been party to, I signed my name on multiple pieces of paper.  What was not usual for me was that all of the documents were in Spanish -- as was the notario's explanation of each document.

I signed over my money, and was on my way.  What seemed strange to me is that I left with copies of no closing documents.  I am not certain I even received a receipt.

My realtor informed me the documents needed to be recorded in Puerto Vallarta.  As soon as that was done, I would receive my copies -- including a copy of my deed that is held in trust by a Mexican bank.  I am not even certain which bank that is.

I have been waiting.  But that does not mean nothing has happened.  You may recall I received a visitor from IMSS (Mexican social security) in early March (moving to mexico -- pitfalls of buying a house (part 532)).  He informed me IMSS had not yet received the wage withholdings for the workers who built the house.

I was under the impression that the former owner (and builder) of the house had handled that matter.  It was a condition of our earnest money agreement.  It turned out she was negotiating with IMSS on the appropriate payment.  I left the matter there.

A month ago, while I was at the Manzanillo airport waiting for my flight that would eventually take me to Shanghai, I received a call from the same IMSS inspector.  He was at my house and needed me to come to the house to allow him to take some measurements.

There was nothing I could do.  My flight was boarding.  So, I called my realtor.  She took care of it.  Once again, I am under the impression that the matter is still being negotiated.

But the paperwork drama does not stop there.  When I stopped by my realtor's office to ask about the IMSS situation, she briefed me.  When I asked her about the status of my closing documents, she informed me that the notario needs some additional items from me to formalize the closing.

Something showing my new Mexican address (easy; an electric bill will do -- the universal form of identification down here) and a document to show my legal address in The States (preferably a utility bill, but not a driver license).

And there's the rub.  Even though I am a legal resident of Nevada, and I do have an address, I do not pay any utilities at that address.  The best I can come up with is a federal tax statement -- and a copy of my Nevada driver license.  I have a sinking feeling this is going to be another IMSS-style request that will go unresolved for some indefinite period of time.

In the end, it does not much matter.  I have a house -- with a refreshing pool that is getting me through our early onset of heat and humidity.  And no one asks me for any form of documentation when I view one of Barra's apricot sunsets.

Am I concerned?  Nope.  I have long ago learned that everything works out well in the end.  With a bit of patience to complement my Mexican mask.

Monday, May 25, 2015


When I was still a galley slave on the good ship Workalot, I worked for a guy who carried his own anti-electronic force shield with him.  Not unlike Joe Btfsplk's cloud.

Whenever he sat down at a computer, odd things happened with programs.  The screen would go blank.  Functions didn't.  And it was not just his computer.  It would happen with anyone's computer he used.  Even his blackberry.

Our IS staff was baffled.  The problem made no sense.

I thought of my former boss while I was on my trip in Asia.  In addition to contracting a head cold, I seem to have developed an electronic virus.

It started with my personal Quicken account.  When I entered the password for my data, the program reportedly informed me I was not who I have always thought I was.  Or, at least, the program thought I was so slow-witted I could not remember my password.  Even with hours of support from Quicken "agents," I have been unable to use my own data for three weeks now.

That was the first problem.  The second was my credit cards.  According to my bank, an undisclosed merchant's files had been compromised by a data miner, and my credit cards were being cancelled at the end of the month.  (The merchant was Amazon.  I knew that because Amazon was far more efficient at informing me than was my bank.)

At least, I would be back in Mexico when the axe dropped -- effectively cutting me off from credit cards.  But, I was told not to worry.  New cards were on their way.  On their way, of course, to my Reno address.  I suspect I will eventually see them.

Glitch number three involved my trip photographs.  Well, my trip and more.  I had some essay ideas in mind supplementing my earlier posts from China and Korea.  But, when I looked in my April folder, it was empty.  Not a single photograph.

My usual procedure on trips is to transfer my photographs from the camera's memory card to a portable hard drive.  At home, that drive is then backed up on my large backup drive.

But there was no backup.  The folder was simply empty.

I think I know what happened to the photographs.  I mistakenly deleted them thinking that they were the copies on my camera's card.  That was my fault; not the mysterious aura.  At least, that is the most logical explanation.

The credit card mess is simply one of those little exercises that banks jump us through to protect "our" interest -- when, of course, they are merely protecting their own interests.  As they so helpfully informed me in the telephone message they left for me: I would incur no financial liability.  Other than for the automatic payments associated with one of my cards.

And the Quicken problem?  It turns out that one of the company's recent software upgrades caused Quicken to suffer amnesia -- and to refuse to recognize the passwords of people who wanted to access their own data.  Quicken's helpful solution?  "We are working on a patch."

A patch without a potential release date.  That leaves users (read "me" there) without access to the program we purchased to track finances.  It is a large black eye for Quicken's reputation for producing quality software.

And I thought it was over.  Not so.  Last evening the CD player in my Escape started skipping.  Apparently my DVD player, which I had just set up as part of my home theater, got jealous.  While watching a new import from the north (The Queen), it also started skipping and sticking.

I won't even bother you with the dodgy responses I have been getting from my laptop and Kindle for the past week. 

Rather than deal with the DVD and the CD players, I turned them off.  Maybe I just need a break from my electronic cocoon.

Scarlett may have provided the best advice: "I'll think about it tomorrow. ...  After all -- tomorrow is another day."

I am going to bed.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

wearin' of the blue

What a welcome home!

First, my friends Wynn and Lou pick me up at the Manzanillo airport -- an act of kindness that I greatly appreciate.  And, when the three of us headed off to dinner last evening, what should I discover but a group of placard-carrying, flag-waving revelers welcoming me back to San Patricio.

It did not take me long to disabuse myself of that center cut piece of narcissism.  The PAN emblem should have put a little bit of humility in my stride.

Last April I told you in on the street where I live that the electioneering for what Americans would call "off-year" elections had kicked off in my area.  And they are still kicking. 

Rival groups gather as many followers as they can muster.  The group then marches through town chanting slogans, showing off their partisan-labeled chests, and doing whatever they think will convince their neighbors to join them by voting for the party's candidates.

The election is 7 June.  That means two more weeks of orderly campaign parades accompanied by sound trucks (and motorcycles) that put the "loud" in loudspeaker. 

Then it will all be over for another three years.

If my arithmetic has not deserted me, I will get to vote in that election.  And it will be a presidential election.

Of course, all that means I am glad to be back home.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

buying food up north

I made a quick trip to Fred Meyer yesterday afternoon. 

While making a variety of my internationally-acclaimed (well, in Canada, Mexico, and The States) Greek salad, I came up short for some of the ingredients.  Essential ingredients.

One of the joys of shopping up north is the certain knowledge that what you need will be readily available.  Unlike Mexico, where supply is always a flexible economic ingredient.

I gathered together my meager purchases and slipped them easily into one bag at the self-checkout station -- a marvelous idea.  When I was half way across the parking lot, a revelation hit me.  I had just spent $52.58 for one small bag of food.

To be fair, I had purchased two napkins and a small plate to accompany the treats I will eat on the airplane -- apple, pepperoni, Tillamook extra sharp cheddar, crackers.  But the remaining food items were still the vast majority of the cost.

Small bottle of olive oil -- $9.99

2 honeycrisp apples -- $3.04
1 English cucumber -- $1.50
1 1/3 pounds olive mix -- $12.81
1 bottle Coke Zero -- $1.74
1 packet Boar's Head pepperoni -- $3.99
1 1/2 pounds heirloom tomatoes -- $6.54

It would be hard to compare the cost of those items with what I would pay in Mexico; very few of them are available in my little fishing village by the sea.  And, if they were available, most of them would cost far more -- as imported foods.

But these are rather common items up north.  A similar bag in Mexico of salad ingredients would cost a fraction of the dollars and cents I left with Uncle Freddy.

That, of course, is one of the reasons it is far less expensive to live in Mexico than it is to live in Oregon.

Saving money was not the inducement for me to move south.  As you read this, I am on my way home to Barra de Navidad.  And, if you continue to follow these essays, you just might find out why I have chosen to make Mexico my base.