Realigning

(Post 60 of 233. Thanks again to those who participated in the Fundrazr!)

This day three months ago, I started my lockdown. I remain infinitely grateful that I was able to get in my trip to Oaxaca first.

The first two months of lockdown were somewhat of a shock, a bit of “This can’t be real and can’t last,” so I found myself kind of just floating through my days. Everything was uncertain. I’d come back from Oaxaca very tired and footsore, so it took ages to get back into an exercise routine. Work was coming only in fits and spurts, so I had a lot of financial uncertainty. But as the weeks progressed, I started to adapt and create a “new normal” for myself in the current world context and the predictions for the months — and years — ahead. If there is anything about myself that I like, it is that I am resilient and adaptable.

Work sorting itself out really helped. I’m now at something like 33 days and counting of averaging seven hours of work a day. That’s plus admin time. 🥱 I’m not doing as much proofreading as I’d like versus transcription, but considering how many freelancers I know have zero income right now, I’m not complaining!

The biggest thing that’s come out of lockdown is a realignment of financial priorities that came to a head with the roof leaking as badly as it did during the storm two weeks ago. The Oaxaca trip was supposed to be the start of my starting to travel again. I was thinking of going to Quebec this summer and Peru this autumn (provided I could find a dogsitter, of course). I can’t be planning for travel in the current world context. I know lots of people are, but I think that’s just going to lead to a lot of heartbreak, wasted time and energy, and loss of money. For me, it’s not the right thing to be focusing on now.

What makes sense to focus on right now are to continue paying down my debt and to find a workable path to homeownership.

The debt is going really well. I’m a quarter of the way there, which leaves me in disbelief. I’ve had a lot of false starts in that regard, but I’m making steady progress now. I’ve given up trying to give myself an end goal — my income is just too erratic for that — but instead I focus on continually moving forward at a rate of at least 1% a month. Slow and steady wins the race and all that.

As for homeownership, it’s interesting how the lockdown has changed my perspective on a lot of things. I came back from Oaxaca eager to explore other cities and states and all the more certain that I didn’t want to stay in Mérida long-term. Now, I know I’m in the right place to ride out just about any crisis the world wants to throw our way. I’ve reconciled the things I’m not fond of here and have made the choice of deciding this is where I need to start rooting myself for the long-term. No more looking just two, five, even ten years out. Time to start looking twenty years out — I’ll be on the cusp of retirement by then and nearing the end of my life expectancy, even! I need to stop living like I’m twenty or thirty and accept that I’m in my forties now and start thinking about what I’m going to do when I’m ready to stop working.

The issue with the roof leaking made me realise just how badly I want to get out of renting. My landlords increased my rent, saying that they would keep on top of all the big maintenance and I would have to take care of the little things. Great. But they have proven that their idea and mine of keeping on top of big maintenance are not the same. The entire roof needs work, but they would only agree to a patch job. Am I really going to live with a leaky roof every summer for the foreseeable future? Or am I going to pay out of pocket to maintain a roof on a home that isn’t mine? Or am I going to simply move to another rental house?

Well, I spent some time looking at other rentals and, wow, the market has changed in the last three years! After hours scouring every rental resource I could find, there wasn’t a single thing in my budget that would have made me want to get off the couch and go look at it in person. This house has really spoiled me and, leaky roof and lack of pool notwithstanding, has gone from being at the market rate to being a bargain! I made the decision that, if at all possible, I don’t want to move again unless it’s directly into my own home. So time to figure out how to make that happen

Finding a path to homeownership sounds daunting enough in your home country, and even more so in a new country where your expat network insists that homeownership is not a possibility if you can’t pay cash. I refused to accept that and dug deeper. I spoke to my bank and a few peer lending companies. All said that there is credit out there for someone like me, yes, someone who is self-employed (and not even within this country!) and a foreigner. I will have to find a large deposit and accept high interest rates and that homeownership is not something I can plan on happening for at least two more years. But if I can shoulder all that, it can happen within the next five.

The fellow doing the roofing work here and I had a really good chat. He knows this house well. He walked me through a lot of the objections I have to buying it if I had the means, from the cost of a cosmetic overhaul to annual maintenance costs to projections for how the neighbourhood and the city might change over the next twenty years. I really love this house and I know it could be the perfect forever home, but I just don’t see a path to buying it in my current financial context. Well, unless someone wants a guaranteed 8-10% (typical mortgage rates here) return on a 90,000USD investment by giving me a personal loan!

So, realistically, I’m looking to buy something a lot smaller than this house, ideally under a million pesos (about $45,000USD) and in this neighbourhood (because I’m already very rooted here), older, and needing a cosmetic upgrade, but in liveable condition. That feels a lot more attainable in two to three years than any of the plans folks have thrown out for how I might acquire my current house. So that’s what I’m focusing on. Well, there is also the possibility of buying a brand new home in one of the developments outside of the city — that would actually be my quickest path to homeownership as their deposits are much lower — but I don’t like the new developments with the houses so close together, not being able to walk to anything, or the “modern” style of construction. I really want to stay in an established, walkable neighbourhood and have a home with a bit of character. Just making that decision is a huge step forward!

The only other “exciting” thing going on is that I am cooking so, so much. The new freezer was the missing piece in my kitchen. I can now shop and cook in bulk and that has made such a difference. It’s hard to keep a stocked pantry here due to the humidity ruining food very quickly. I can use the deep freezer to keep so many ingredients fresh. Now, I can stock things that I used to have to buy for a specific recipe. I can also freeze portioned meals. I don’t know how many times in the last month that I was about to order dinner because I didn’t feel like cooking but instead raided the freezer for curried beef, baked pasta, soup, or even Tex-Mex-style burritos to just pop in the microwave instead.

I’m trying my hand at all sorts of new things. Remember that I was a vegetarian for 15 years, so I’m still learning how to cook meat properly. My project the last month has been roast chicken. Don’t mind how anemic this bird looks — my broiler compartment isn’t tall enough to be able to brown the top of a bird — it was SO moist and succulent. I had no idea roasted chicken breast could be that good! Of course, the carcass goes to making stock, which I store in the freezer in small portions.

And then, I can grab some of that stock out of the freezer, along with udon noodles, shrimp, and veggies to make a wonderful 10-minute soup!

I keep buying myself new tools for the kitchen. I have a new two-burner cast iron comal/griddle incoming from Amazon (remind me to share the why for that purchase in a future post because it’s a pretty funny story). I have also soothed some of the regret of having managed to twice forget my huge cutting board on Miranda’s stove. A large wooden cutting board has been surprisingly difficult to find here — I’ve asked artisans and also looked in fancy department and kitchen stores. I had one on my shopping list for Oaxaca, but could only find small ones. So when a vendor I trust offered these up for sale with all proceeds going to buy despensas (pantry staples) for local communities economically ravaged by both COVID and Tropical Storm Cristóbal, that was an easy 1,000 pesos to spend!

And then, I promptly put in an order to my local honey supplier for some pure beeswax so I can make “spoon butter,” a conditioner for wooden cutting boards and utensils!

That is the beauty of getting rooted somewhere, establishing relationships with local suppliers and simply knowing where to find things. As a repeat customer, I was given the beautiful sheet of beeswax even though it was probably worth 30 or 40 pesos!

I promptly melted half of the beeswax into some oil to make the spoon butter. I cannot wait to condition all my dull wooden spoons as well!

Finally, Yucatán is starting to open up a little, so I’m going to make an effort to go out at least once a week now, just to get back into the swing of things. This week’s outing was to the dentist (just a regular check on how the braces are doing appointment) and to get groceries (I’d rather keep getting groceries delivered!). So it was time to buy some masks as we will have to wear them for the foreseeable future. I’m tired of going out looking like Chevy Chase in The Invisible Man!

So I decided to support a local entrepreneur by buying handmade masks. Please, I don’t want to get into “the mask” thing with anyone. Law is I need something over my face, so I’ve got something over my face. At least, now it’s something pretty and easy to put on and remove!

C’est la flotte

(Post 59 of 233. Thanks again to those who participated in the Fundrazr!)

All jokes aside, I think this is really the apocalypse. The rainy season has started with a vengeance, with major flooding reported all over the state thanks to Tropical Storm Cristobal crawling across the state. There is no blue sky in the forecast for weeks. So on top of COVID, we’re now dealing with major floods (some communities, like Oxkutzcab, are nearly entirely under water) and mosquito-borne illnesses. I’m not sure what else the poorer communities of the state can take. The authorities seem on top of getting people evacuated to shelters, friends, or family. Thank goodness they are not completely overwhelmed by the pandemic.

I love that Siri was programmed to give opinions on the data she provides.

The roofers spent all of last week prepping the roof for the final stage of applying a weatherproofing product. They saw the forecast ahead and still decided to take the weekend off. So the work never got done I’m now dealing with a leaky roof in every room of my house except the downstairs bathrooms and back bedrooms that have a second story over them. I’m trying to keep a modicum of perspective — I’m not flooded out and I only have actual leaks worth mentioning (not just major dampness) in three rooms, but the humidity levels in the house are hard to take. Everything is just so… clammy. I will allow myself a brief moment of woe is me to say that I feel like my beloved house has completely betrayed me. 🙁

I will spare you the pictures of all the damp spots, but will share some of the downstairs landing, which has been the most badly affected. Water has been coming in at the second floor from the new living room roof they put in. Imagine that roof is the same height as the floor up there, separated only by a wall that was never meant to be an exterior wall (they intended to build a room over the living room, so they just built a temporary closure from the top landing to that space). So the water is leaking in from the bottom of that wall. And then, instead of pooling on the second floor landing floor, it’s just soaking through and coming down the wall.

Water was coming in so fast last night that I was up very late mopping. I finally had to go get a few hours of shuteye. When I got up, the whole downstairs landing and part of the living room had water. I filled up the entire bucket.

This morning, I had to leave the house for the first time in two and a half weeks to go deposit some money on my cleaning lady’s debit card. I almost had to swim to Oxxo!

Bonita was loving this weather the first few days, spending the nights playing in the mud so that she could get a thorough rubdown in the morning, one of her favourite things.

Last night was the usual. I wanted to keep her in, but she wanted out. I expected her to be a mess this morning, but found her in her dryish bed perfectly clean. I guess she’s as over this weather as humans are!

I learned from my winters in the Pacific Northwet a decade ago that I do not do well at all in this kind of climate. I am truly solar-powered. I had no idea at the time, but I was dealing with major depressive symptoms during those winters. Cognisant of that now, I’m making a real effort to not fall back into bad habits while I have absolutely no motivation to do anything but sleep until Cristobal passes. I’ve actually made myself checklists for each day of everything that needs doing that are normally second nature to me — continue having a healthy green smoothie for breakfast (when I want sausage and toast!), keep up with chores, keep up with the exercise regimen (weights + treadmill), and keep up a full work schedule.

Laundry is difficult in these conditions and I understand now why some Yucatecans have a dryer to use during the wet season. Moreover, it’s hard to get to the laundry room when it’s pouring rain because the patio outside its door floods. So I took advantage of Wednesday being almost a reprieve before the worst hit to do several loads and then set up the guest bedroom as a drying space. With the ceiling and floor fans, all but towels dried in a day.

In a bid to find something positive to do and keep myself nourished while this is happening, I placed a massive 1,800-peso order to the local purveyor of Asian (mostly Japanese, Korean, and Chinese) foodstuffs, Asian Mart, so that I can try out some new recipes. Most of that was “ingredients,” like giant bottles of oyster and fish sauce, not convenience foods, so the order will last me a long time.

So last night, I tried my hand at making pad Thai from scratch. Like all the “truly authentic” pad Thais I’ve had, it came out tasting quite fishy (thanks to all the dried shrimp — what an acquired taste!) and not very sweet, but still wonderful. I was very pleased with my efforts and can think of a few tweaks to make it even more to my taste next time. I followed Jet Tilla’s pad Thai recipe nearly exactly — I didn’t have the turnip or tofu he mentioned, and I subbed soft tofu for egg.

Asian Mart is still not yet well-known in the city and is such a gift. I can find elsewhere some of the products they carry, but Asian Mart’s prices are much better (tofu is about 10 pesos less a brick, for example) and the prepared foods they carry are better than what you can find in supermarkets. I treated myself to a tray of gyoza, Japanese dumplings, and they were like what I’d expect to find at a high-end restaurant. So good. The few times I can find gyoza in the supermarkets here, they’re very… meh. I also like that the store buys things like sauces, oils, and vinegars in huge, restaurant-sized, portions and then decants into containers sized more for the average household.

So that’s all the excitement over here. Please send sun if you have some!

Another Favourite Local Dish

(Post 58 of 233. Thanks again to those who participated in the Fundrazr!)

I think my love of tacos is becoming the stuff of legends, but that’s not the only local food I enjoy! The dish I’m going to share today might not seem “Mexican,” but it’s on the menu of just about every local cocina economica, a small family restaurant that does brisk business at midday (between most start after 10:00 and close by 3:00). I love cocina economicas, and I have three good ones right around here who send me their menu daily. Sadly, at this time, only one of them is still operating. I try to order from them an average of once a week. Some weeks I don’t order at all, other weeks, I order every other day. It depends on the menu, how busy I am, and if I’m in the mood to cook or not. I really like how the menu comes out sometime been 8:00 and 9:00 A.M., at which point I can order for delivery whenever I think I’ll want lunch. A “half” portion for one person from these folks is just 40 pesos (about 1.90USD or 2.50CAD), and I add a 10-peso tip. Delivery is always within five minutes of the requested time!

The menu today had nothing that particularly appealed to me, so I did a special order of a “pechuga parmesana,” which some other kitchens called a “pechuga cordon bleu.” It’s a chicken breast with ham and cheese, lightly breaded, and pan fried. You can get them in the frozen section of any supermarket, but let me tell you, they’re nowhere near as good as one made with fresh chicken and the chef’s secret spice blend in the breading!

You get “salad,” black bean “soup,” and a pile of tortillas with your meal, as well as a side of red or green spaghetti or rice. I love the green spaghetti, but the red not so much (hmm, same thing with salsas…). It’s happened before where I ordered green spaghetti and they sent red, so now, I ask for green spaghetti or rice and it’s always a surprise what I’ll get. These folks know spaghetti should be al dente, and the creamy sauce is not too heavy and is well seasoned. I’m not a huge pasta person, but I love how these guys make it.

The pile of tortillas is always too much, so I leave it to make a couple of meals over the next few days. So, really, the amount of value you get from ordering lunch is staggering, especially since the food is as delicious as it is inexpensive!

Another dish I enjoy from this kitchen is their breaded pork. I think they make the best breaded pork in the city, putting lime zest in the breading.

But my absolutely favourite dish is, of course, mole chicken. There’s a kitchen with better mole than these guys, but right now, I’m not being picky. If mole shows up on the menu tomorrow or Saturday (yes, they operate Saturdays!), I’ll be sure to get it. I always have the mole with rice.

BTW, I love raw carrots. With my current dental situation, I can’t be chewing on crisp carrot sticks like I normally do, so it’s a huge treat to have a big braces-friendly grated portion sent with lunch. 🙂

Pro tip: lime juice really elevates boring old iceberg lettuce.

Question: what item is surprisingly missing in the above meal?

This Week Is a Bit Much

(Post 57 of 233. Thanks again to those who participated in the Fundrazr!)

Monday, 8AM, boom, work on my leaky roof started. I had been told it would be 9AM and was under the impression it was a one or two-man job that would take a day or two. Oh, no. Full work crew of three to five depending on the day, plus a full week of work, from 7AM to about 3PM! Thank goodness I currently do not have a ton of work that requires quiet! Bonita, “La jefe,” is  so happy with everything that is going on. I don’t think she realises how bored she usually is until there’s excitement like this. She blossoms when I have people working around the property for her to supervise. She doesn’t want anyone to come too close, but she can sit for hours and watch people work.

It’s a bit of a shock to have people here after months of social distancing. Oh, don’t get me wrong — we’re still very much aware that we’re in the middle of a pandemic and are limiting contact and taking precautions — but it’s still lots of people about the property when I’m used to being alone all day. One thing that helps is that the way the house and property are set up, I was able to give the crew chief a key to access the property and a bathroom without giving access to my house. So I don’t have to get up super early to wait for them to arrive and I can sleep peacefully until I’m ready to be up… or they start making noise! Bonita has been very good about letting them in in the morning without any fuss and doesn’t seem bothered by the change in routine, greeting me normally each day.

The noise levels were high Monday and Tuesday as they broke up the original cement roof, but now, they are at the applying fresh cement step of the process, so the day was muuuuch quieter. The only excitement was when all the materials were delivered, which involved having to move my truck out of the way, get La jefe into her harness and leash, and open gates so everything could be brought in under La jefe’s watchful eye.

I am now barricaded in my office — this was the best place to stack the bags of concrete where it was certain they would not get wet.

Lots of gravel! The way it is delivered here is that it comes in large heavy-duty woven plastic bags that are emptied into a pile. The bags are then reused for another order. You can also bring your own bags and have the material delivered in them rather than dumped into a pile. When we had the side yard covered in fresh stone, I accepted delivery of something like 50 bags full of stone that were unloaded by hand from the truck. The use of tools like dump and hand trucks is very limited here. In fact, when I saw someone use a hand truck/dolly to deliver my freezer, I was surprised. Cement is mixed by hand. So, yes, labour is inexpensive in Mexico, but it’s also inefficient, hence why construction projects can take so long.

They smoothed out the roof today after having applied some sort of weatherproofing product and added guide lines for when they start pouring the cement.

This is not my crew — the landlords are paying — so I don’t have to worry about feeding anyone, but I made it clear that they are to come to me for cold water and Coca-Cola. They use my side terrace with its table and cosy chairs as a break room. Since it’s within sight and sound of my office, I know when to head out with a pitcher of cold water.

The crew chief and I had a chat on Monday that was very interesting. He asked when I’m renting instead of being a homeowner. I explained that I wasn’t sure until this mess started if I even wanted to stay in Yucatán, never mind buy a home, but now, I do. So I’m working on figuring out my path to homeownership. Which is where things got interesting. Because he laid out the exact same plan my maintenance guy/gardener who knows me well did… I now have two people who told me to contact them when I get closer and who promised to help me out so I don’t end up doing what I did in Canada, buying something that seems perfect but is a poisoned fruit (ie. no internet in 2012 but promised for 2013 and then told in 2014-2015 that I’m never getting internet). I’m getting really excited about the thought of owning my own home again and am thrilled to be meeting people who understand that I’m not an expat with deep pockets and who are willing to connect me with people who will treat me like a local with limited savings.

With the state of the world right now, there is no point in expending energy planning my next adventure (spoiler: I had planned to go Peru this autumn as flights there are cheap!), so I’m glad to have another place to direct my energy and keep some positivity about the future in such tumultuous times. And it’s great to be getting some building and construction knowledge to apply for when I have my own build! 🙂

In Which I Learn that Unit Can Mean One or One and One Is… Variable

(Post 56 of 233. Thanks again to those who participated in the Fundrazr!)

I wanted to try a different green leaf for my smoothies besides spinach and kale. I used to use chard instead of spinach before I discovered kale. So I thought that could be a really good option.

(Chard is one of those Spanish words that doesn’t really resemble the word for that food in any language that I am even remotely familiar with, acelga. On a hunch, I just checked what the word is in Arabic, and sure enough, it is so similar that it must be the root of the word acelga.)

I had to order some things today that I can only find a Chedraui, so I decided to just put together a produce order at the same time, and they had chard on their website. Recently, I ordered celery and it was per unit. I figured that meant a whole bunch because that’s the way that I have to buy it at the store. I have to ask the produce manager to split up a bunch if I don’t want the whole thing, and depending on the produce manager, my luck is hit or miss. Imagine my surprise when I just got one big stalk of celery.

Chard was also priced per unit and it was eight pesos. Considering how huge the leaves are, it did not seem unreasonable to me that the price per unit meant per leaf. Nope. It was per bunch:

The quantity of bananas was intentional.

I just spent a half hour washing every single leaf carefully and then making myself a lovely packages for the freezer. If anyone needs their greens, you know where to knock. 😂