Villa Infantil

We really looked forward to getting more involved with hands-on charity work in retirement, and now that we are there, one of the charities we most enjoy working with is Villa Infantil.  The Villa is a local orphanage run by some Mexican nuns. They have a nice compound on the south side of the lake, about one-half hour from our house. There are about 35 children at the home. Every one of them has a heart-breaking story, but in most cases it has the happy ending of them being at the Villa.  Our parish helps by (among other things) collecting supplies and groceries once a month, running an annual fundraiser, and holding a party for those children who have a birthday each month.

Someone always wants the bow
Seconds on cake?

We attended the birthday bash this month. The event began with Mass in the chapel, where we got to enjoy the children singing and high-fiving Father Basil as he processed to the altar. At the end of the Mass, the children orderly exited one row at a time under the watchful eyes of one of one of the Sisters. One of the youngsters, Santiago, gave us a guided tour of the premises. The younger children were thrilled with some large marbles thoughtfully provided by a volunteer; some of the older kids played games like t-ball or catch with an American football. Once the lunch was ready, the kids took their seats and we served them hamburguesas with potato chips. We all sang Happy Birthday and ate cake, then each child with a birthday that month got a set of presents again provided by volunteers.

She is still liking that bow…
and “what is that?”

You’ll never see kids happier with a toy, a game, or a ball and a chance to play catch. Whatever joy those children felt, I bet all the volunteers would agree with me that we had “the better part.”

Español, por favor

One challenge every expat faces is “what to do about the local language?” Do you just ignore it, speak English very loudly, and hope for the best?  Do you learn a few phrases, so you can ask for another beer, or where the restrooms are, and just get by? Do you rely on Google translate and hope we get the Universal Translator before you croak? Do you just keep trying through experience and osmosis to pick up the language? Do you go online and try the free or pay language training sites? Do you take language classes in person?

We always assumed we would learn Spanish, just to be comfortable in our new home. We both have foreign languages in our past: I spoke German and some French; Judy also spoke German and had four years of high school Spanish. We thought we would find some immersion training in Guadalajara, since it has a major university and is known for immersive language training. However, most of the immersion training is aimed at college students, and we weren’t interested in moving into a dorm for six weeks (imagine that!).

We found many great language aids online. YouTube is full of decent instructional videos. We weren’t partial to Rosetta Stone, but we did like Synergy Spanish and look forward to following Destinos when we learn a little more vocabulary. We really like free apps like Memrise or sites like, which can really help with practice or training aids. Judy has done a great job putting new vocabulary words on flashcards on Quizlet.

In the end, we needed more structure: we learned many phrases and short questions/answers, but we weren’t learning the language. So we decided to try a local language school, Olé México. We meet three times a week, for 1 hour and 45 minutes each class. Our class is just four students and one teacher, so we get ample opportunity to practice speaking.

Class, L-R: Judy, Nadia, Darcy, Penny

We started with the alphabet and pronunciation drills, and then began conjugating regular verbs. We keep adding vocabulary by learning sets of words, like directions, or adjective pairs (strong/weak, short/tall), or noun groups (Mom, Dad, Son, Daughter, Family). We just tackled the ever-difficult “when to use Ser versus Estar” lesson. For those who don’t know, Spanish has two different versions of the English verb “to be”, and they are used for different qualities of “being.” Ser is for essential characteristics, and estar is for more transitory characteristics, mas o menos.

I always heard from language teachers that Spanish was the easiest foreign language for English-speakers to learn, because many words translate almost directly (like anything ending in -ion), and in Spanish the vowels and consonants have only one sound and you sound them all out.

Our teacher, Nadia, has done a great job. We enjoy lessons where she asks us to describe our favorite actor or singer, and the class has to guess who it is. We just finished describing our extended families. Or sometimes she asks us a basic question like “where were you born?” and then asks us to describe the differences between that place and where we live now. It is a lot of oral practice, but we can already see a difference in our language capabilities. We can hold basic conversations with merchants, exchange pleasantries with people we meet, and at least make ourselves understood, even if we don’t always know the correct terms.

Perhaps I will try out a dual language post in the not too distant future!

Mexican Water Torture

I thought about titling this post “leaks and dirty leakers who leak them” (apologies to Al Franken) but then I realized some might mistake the topic for something which goes on far too often in Washington, DC, and that’s not the case at all. No, today I am covering the neverending story which often accompanies life in the tropics: leaks during the rainy season.

Most people know that a tropical deluge can represent several inches of rain in a single day, followed by more of the same the next day in the rainy season. We’ve had several nights of rain in a row recently. We have a mostly flat roof, with a gently sloping surface that feeds run-off spouts which let the water fall directly next to the house; since we have no basement, there is no need to worry about flooding a lower level.  The roof is treated with a water-proofing cover that resembles asphalt paper, and the more decorative sections (like the cupolas) have a painted stucco exterior over a waterproof fiberglass material covering the brickwork.

Over the course of time, that constant flow of water wears down the waterproofing, and cracks form, letting water into the house.  This is not the major crisis it would be north of the border. The interior is brick and stucco, the floors tile; there is no wood, baseboard, or wallboard to absorb moisture, be ruined, and require replacing. So the key is to sop up the rain and get the crack sealed; too many leaks in the row are nature’s way of telling you to reseal the whole roof.

So I am sitting at the table, surfing the web one morning, and I hear the pleasant hum of rain outside.  But in among the rain-sounds is an occasional “thump.” It sounds closer, and not at all natural.  Unless you consider the sound of water dripping from your ceiling onto a custom-made Spanish leather storage chest “natural.” Yes, we had a small leak above the windows in our cupola, which was dripping on the furniture. It was in such an out of the way place, we even developed some mildew,

Arghhhh! Get the bleach!

since we did not discover the leak until several rainy days in a row generated enough moisture for it to leak down into the ceiling and fall. We called Jorgé the repair guy, who dutifully patched the cracks and resealed the cracked areas of the cupola.

New sealant around the cupola…
and on the corners of the boveda ceiling





Several more days of rain revealed more cracks, and more repairs. Now we have been two rainy days without leaks, so perhaps we are done. We’ll re-evaluate whether to replace the entire sealant on the roof when the rainy season ends.

Looks like the neighbors are repairing, too

If you have ever had a serious roof leak, or worse yet water in your basement, you know what a drill it can be. Leaks are a fact of life here, but more of an inconvenience than a major deal.

Nuestra Casa

I continue to experiment with this medium. I trust the photos I include are getting better, or at least they are all now “right side up!” Now I am tackling video. I apologize up front for the resolution: while I could take the video in HD, getting it uploaded to the cloud and then onto this site was impossible. I filmed it in HD and then retrofit it to a lower resolution to make it fit, but I think it is still pretty viewable.

For those considering visiting, consider this a preview.  For those who aren’t, see what you’re missing!