Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Miss Bitzy

Six months ago we found her huddled under a car in our driveway in Mexico.  Skinny, scabby, and scared is how she was.  Of course, we knew we had to feed her and give her water, if for no other reason than to get her on down the road on the same journey that thousands of Mexican dogs take every day.  They roam the roads of Mexico, after being discarded like yesterday's trash.  They look for food, a safe place to sleep and learn the wisdom to stay free of the ladies with brooms.  We have seen many of them pass our place, some stopping for a fresh drink of water.  Some for a rest in the shade for a moment, before moving on.  It breaks our heart every time.  But we know we can not save them all.

But this girl stayed.  She wagged her tail and ate her food and crawled back under the car. Soon, she was waiting at the gate for us with her bowl of goodness .  She would look at us with those golden eyes and say "thank-you".  Dirty and covered with fleas and ticks, a bath was next.  She did well and seemed to look at Paul as if she had meet her Prince Charming. Soon, the door opened and inside she ran.  At first, she was content to sleep at the bottom of the stairs and wait for us to greet her each morning. It did not take much time for her to find her way upstairs, and soon she was snuggled next to Paul every night.  She gained weight, her wounds healed, her confidence slowly returned.  But the bond she would make with Paul was pure magic. 
We knew from the beginning that she would not stay forever.  That we had been charged with making this broken dog whole again.  We knew it would not be easy, it never is.  But, we don't hold back, we fall in love.  To keep reminding himself that she could not stay, he'd tell her in his southern voice, "You ain't got no kin 'round here.  You ain't even a second cousin or nothin'.  You a orphan."  But, then, he give her a good rub and skritch, so I think Bitsy was convinced he was just crazy.

Finding a "forever home" is never easy for adult dogs.  People feel like they won't bond with them, that they are flawed, that they have been "thrown away".  It takes a special person or family to open their hearts.  Lucky for our Miss Bitzy she has found hers!  Out of the blue they appeared, they looked into her golden eyes and knew she needed them.
With tears in our eyes, we let go of her.  We gave her a new start, she gave us everlasting memories.  

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Where is Home?

For the last two weeks, I have traveled on my own.  I guess driving three thousand miles gives a person time to think and reflect.  I did both.
I started my journey in Colorado Springs, a place I called home for over twenty years.  I suppose I thought when I got to town, I would step off the plane and feel some familiar feeling inside me. Something that said "home".  I drove around, seeing friends, doing errands just like I had done for almost half my life.  I had raised a family here, built two business and nurtured my family and countless people in my life.  But it felt somehow foreign to me now.  Beautiful, yes, with snow falling and the mountains holding my gaze, but it no longer felt like home.
I drove up to the condo that we have owned for fifteen years.  A place were our children had grown up on the slopes of the Rocky Mountains.  A place were we had spent countless Christmases, entertained countless guests and consumed more than our share of hot soup from the stove.  I looked out onto the lake, from the deck where I had stood many many times.  I wanted to feel some overwhelming desire to stay, to curl up with the green blanket that I feel in love with on our first trip to that condo all those years ago.  But I didn't.  I packed boxes and loaded a trailer and in 6 inches of perfect powder, I drove away and never looked back.
I arrived in Las Vegas, location of our newest purchase.  I walked around and touched all those "things" that I had held close to me after we retired.  I ran my hand across the antique kitchen table that my brother John had in his kitchen before his death thirty-eight years ago.  There was a time that I thought that where my "things" were would be my home.  I did not feel that any more.  I felt anything but that.
I was on my way to my old hometown the next day.  As I crossed into the San Joaquin Vally, I saw the valley alive with Spring.  I felt the fresh nip in the air, and the flowers I grew up loving were in full bloom.  I had been born and raised in this Valley.  I had loved and lost more people here than I cared to think about.  I had three children in this sunshine state.  It was the last place I had seen my mother alive.  On this trip, I visited with friends, held new babies and shared in the joy of a new engagement of a young man I once held in my arms as a baby.  I have been blessed with so many fine friends in this place.  But it too no longer felt like home.
I drove to Mexico through deserts that reminded me of the High Desert of California that brought back the memories of our first Air Force duty station, George AFB.  A place that we called home for three years and was the location of the birth of our youngest child.  Along the way, I drove through some of the most beautiful agricultural fields I have ever seen.  Green houses full of tomatoes and fields full of workers picking crops.  It was very much like the San Joaquin Valley of my youth.  The fields where my mother and father worked as laborers when they arrived from the South so many decades ago.  I could smell the dirt.  The clean smell that fresh-tilled soil makes. The way my father smelled when he would arrive home in an old Ford pickup. I drove through mountains and over passes and crawled through small towns.  I thought about that feeling that home gives you and wondered why I did not feel that on my journey.
I drove into my driveway late at night after dark.  Much later than I should have been on the road, in Mexico, the US, or any where else.  But something kept driving me, instead of looking for a place for the night.  Something that made me force myself to sit up straight and stay alert.  It was not until the moment that I saw him walk down the stairs and put his arms around me that it became so clear.  It was never about the place, or the things.  It was never about the history or the smells.  It was always about this moment.  It was there in his arms, that I closed my eyes and took in the feeling that came over me.  When he put his arms around me, I was finally "home".

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Trip to Capulin Coffee

We visited someplace completely different a couple of days ago: the home turf of Capulin Coffee.  (www.capulin.com Bookmark It, NOW, so you don’t forget!) We’d been buying whole-bean Capulin coffee for several years, primarily because we knew it to be locally grown, and we’ve always been in favor of keeping business as local as possible.  Daniel and his wife, Marta, usually have a table at the Sunday Market in the nearby town of Aticama, where they sell fresh-brewed coffee as well as whole-bean and ground coffee, and over this past winter, Paul, surprisingly enough, struck up a casual friendship  with Daniel, due in part to Paul’s interest in roasting our own coffee at home, and, of course, Daniel’s extensive knowledge of all things coffee.

This past Sunday, Daniel mentioned to Paul that he was going to host a tour of his facility in nearby Tecuitata, about 30 minutes from our house, if we wanted to swing by on Tuesday.  We arrived about noon, and were treated to an experience that we simply were not anticipating.  We have only a couple of “must-see” places that we nearly insist our guests visit while we’re here.  This has just made that list.

Daniel & Marta’s company, Capulin Coffee, is made the real, old-school way.  The coffee bushes are carefully picked by hand, and Capulin only buys top quality, fully-ripened coffee cherries.  Most other companies simply strip off all the cherries, regardless of stage of ripeness, leading to a poorer quality product in the end.  The cherries (and they really are cherries; taste one and you’ll agree that while it’s not a big old fat Bing, it’s not bad) are sun-dried on a large concrete patio.  The various piles of cherries have small wooden tags that identify which pile is which.  Every night, the spread-out cherries are gathered into a pile and covered to prevent dew from slowing down the drying process.  Then, each morning, the piles are spread out again, being turned by hand with a plastic snow shovel several times a day.

The collection of the ripe cherries is one of the many ways that Capulin exercises true “Fair Trade” and socially active business practices.  Because Capulin demands only truly ripe cherries, they are willing to pay more for them than other buyers.  This year, most coffee was sold at 4 pesos per kilo; Capulin paid 12 pesos, fully three times the prevailing rate.  This is partially to compensate for the additional time required to hand-pick only ripe cherries, but also to provide a living wage to coffee pickers.  At 4 pesos a kilo (about 13.5 cents a pound), workers can barely survive and may have to pull their children out of school to help with the picking.  At a buck a kilo, a worker can actually afford to put food on his table and keep his kids in school.

The sun-drying process is another way Capulin practices environmentally friendly business, while providing a superior product at the same time.  Most commercially produced coffee is “wet processed”, which means the cherries have their skins removed with a whip-stripper  (sounds painful, but we’re told they don’t feel a thing!)  The beans are fermented in a water bath for a couple of days, and the fermentation process metabolizes the natural sugars into alcohol.  This alcohol causes the naturally sticky cherries not be sticky, and the bad beans (more about bad beans later) float to the top, while the good beans remain submerged.  Following fermentation and separation, the water is wasted, and the remaining sludge containing a mixture of cherry flesh and beans is then dried for further processing.  This wet-processing requires hundreds of thousands of gallons of water for even a medium-sized coffee operation, and, because the water is contaminated, it’s not suitable for domestic use, and ends up polluting local waterways.

Additionally, the sugars used by the fermentation come not just from the flesh of the cherry; some is leached out of the bean itself, increasing  the bitterness of wet-processed coffee, and some of natural caffeine is also leached out, as caffeine dissolves quite readily in water, hot or cold.

Anyway, getting back to the Capulin tour, following a couple weeks of drying, the cherries are ready to be husked by a rotary beater that knocks the dried cherry husk off the inner bean.  This process looks to be about 80% efficient, and cherries can sometimes make several passes through this process before finally getting properly husked out.  In the old days, this process was performed by men beating the dried cherries with sticks to break them apart.  The use of a motorized rotary beater speeds up the process dramatically, keeps the process affordable and allows Capulin to process enough coffee through to make it worthwhile.

The next step towards becoming coffee is winnowing.   In the old days, the mix of beans and cherry husks was tossed up in to the air, allowing the wind to carry away the lighter chaff, and the more dense beans would drop close by.  Today, because production has to occur every day, regardless of weather conditions, fans are used to provide the air currents needed to separate the beans from unhusked cherries from chaff.  Beans fall straight down, unhusked cherries fall a little farther away and chaff flies farther off.  The unhusked cherries are returned to the beater for another trip through.  Winnowing is about 95% efficient, and unhusked cherries and the chaff are both sent through a second time for further efficiencies of separation.

The separated chaff, consisting primarily of the dried cherry husks, as well as a certain amount of broken beans, is sent to a composting operation, for distribution in the village.  I would imagine that plants grown with the aid of this compost would tend to grow quickly and all night, be nervous, and easily distracted.  (HA!  I kill myself!)

The beans collected through the winnowing process are then taken to a sorting screen.  Three different screen sizes separate most of the remaining unhusked cherries on the top screen; larger, #1 size beans sort out on the second screen, and smaller, #2 size beans end up on the 3rd screen.  Broken beans fall through to the bottom.  The unhusked cherries are returned back to the beater again.  The sorting of the large, small and broken beans is performed in order to provide a uniform roast, as larger beans take longer to roast than smaller beans or chips.   The bean fragments are used only for coffee that will be sold as ground coffee.   The large and small beans are kept separate until they are roasted, after which there is no further distinction.

The screened green beans are then taken to the sorting station, where women pick through them, looking for bad beans.   Remember, these would be the beans that would have been removed by the alternative “wet-processing” operation used by many commercial producers.  “Bad” might mean with a bit of discoloration (which implies mold or disease), broken, or otherwise less than nearly perfect.  Also, the so-called “pearls” are pulled out and set aside.  Pearls are the beans that can grow at the very tip of a flowering branch, and tend to provide a naturally sweeter coffee.  Any remaining bits of husk are pulled out, leaving only top quality beans.  Some women working at Capulin have been there for 20 years.  A top producer can provide quality sorting up at a rate of up to 75 kilograms (more than 150 pounds) in a single day, and because the sorters are paid by weight, many women who work here make more in a day’s work than the village men earn for a day’s work.  Thus, a seat at one of Capulin’s sorting tables typically has a waiting list.  To see these sorters work is very interesting.  They chat away mightily (I imagine the caffeine absorbed through their finger tips may have something to do with this) and their fingers fairly fly over the beans, picking, flicking, pulling, putting, and a steady stream of the finished product cascading off the table into a collection pan in their laps.

The coffee is then either placed in air-tight plastic 5-gallon food-grade buckets for storage until shipping, or it is roasted and packaged for local marketing.  Bucket storage is preferred over burlap bags because of two things: dried coffee beans stored in burlap will tend to absorb moisture from the air, given the humid climate, and start to deteriorate.  Also, exposure to air causes the beans to lose some of their essential oils, so storage in air-tight buckets ensures the beans stay dry and away from the deteriorating effects of oxygen on the stored product.  However, due to export regulations, the coffee must be bagged into burlap bags of 69 kilograms prior to shipment to the US.  Beans were being transferred into the burlap bags at the time of our visit, as an shipment to the US will be occurring within a couple of weeks.

Capulin has a contract roasting, packaging and shipping operation in Tucson, AZ to meet the growing demands of US and worldwide markets.

At the end of the tour, as we were asking Daniel questions, we were treated to cold coffee.  It’s made from a mixture of regular brewed (albeit, somewhat of a strong brew), milk and sugar.  The mix is chilled and served without ice.  It was refreshing and amazing!  Paul had about 4 or 5 cups, and as we were walking to the car, he said “Dang, I feel like I’m tripping from that coffee!”  Now, that’s some coffee with zing!

So, what we learned is that coffee is the second largest single item economic factor in the world, following petroleum.  Its economic impact surpasses by far every other food item and non-food item in the world.  It represents 17% of Mexico’s economy.  However, due to the demands of the large-scale coffee producers, most coffee is produced by environmentally damaging methods, by workers being paid slave wages.  Areas that have been turned into coffee-producing regions typically have been denuded of nearly all native birds, except for sparrows, finches and buzzards, and mammals of any larger size (bigger than a raccoon) have been rendered virtually extinct.  Water supplies have been compromised and polluted and once vibrant village economies have been strangled by continuing downward wage pressure.

It also turns out that coffee that’s marketed as “Fair Trade” really only means they pay 15% above prevailing rate for beans.  That’s it.  They don’t have to be environmentally conscious; they don’t have to worry about wrecking the water supplies or anything.  They just throw an extra 15% into the hopper and receive their “Get Out Of Jail Free” fair-trade certification.  Then, these companies turn around and up-charge you, the consumer, an extra 25 to 50% for the “feel-good” aspect of buying fair trade products.  Everyone goes home happy, except for the coffee growers and pickers, who continue to spiral downward with low wages.

You can help, and it’s super easy.  Plus, you’ll be glad you did.  Just go to www.capulin.com and order your coffee from them.  It’s not any more expensive than buying from Starbucks and we can tell you, it’s WAY better.  It’s better for the economy, it’s better for the environment, and it’s better for your mouth.  You’ll get that nice, warm “feel-good” moment, knowing you did a good thing, and if you have more than a cup or two, you’ll end up buzzing your ass off, like Paul! 

Have fun!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Surgery in Puerto Vallarta

Last week, I attended the "Medical Matters 2013 Seminar" in Puerto Vallarta.  What a great day of information.  So many people who hear I live in Mexico ask me about the medical care available here.  I sat in on several presentations and chatted with several of the reps in the conference hall.
I was delighted with the professionals I met and their willingness to answer all my questions.  Mexico has become one of the leading countries in "Medical Tourism" and I was more than interested to ask questions about what was happening here.

As luck would have it, I knew someone coming to PV (Puerto Vallarta) to have bariactic surgery the following week.  Since this is about a $20,000 surgery in the States, I decided to ask her lots of questions before and after the surgery.  She was so kind to answer all of my questions.

She researched for more than a year about the surgery both in the United States and other countries.  I was amazed at how much she knew about the procedure and how she knew all the questions to ask.  I wondered why she chose Dr. Joya, who has offices in both in Puerto Vallarta and Guadalarja.  She told me she read about several doctors and hospitals and had decided that his patient reviews and that of the hospital were outstanding.  Don't think she was looking at 3rd-world medical services.  All these facilities meet or exceed any hospital you've ever seen, and many of the doctors are US board-certified specialists.  Of course, they are all Mexico board-certified.  She was so excited, and of course nervous, about checking in and meeting Dr. Joya.  I promised to check on her as she recovered in a beautiful resort (included in the price) for four days after the surgery.

I met up with her again three days post-op at the brand-new, beach-front luxury resort where she was waiting for the Dr. to stop by and check on her (yes, you heard me right.  The doctor was actually coming to her).  She looked wonderful and said she felt "great".  She told me that when she checked into the hospital (AmeriMed), she was amazed how beautiful it was.  She said it was more like a beautiful resort than a hospital.  All pre-op tests and the surgery were done right there and five hours after check-in, she was back in her room.  She laughed as she told me about how the beds were amazing.  "You know how crappy the beds are in the States, so hard.  Well, these had the memory foam toppers that made you happy to be sleeping."  She went on to tell me that the nurses were great and that if Americans ever get wind of this level of care, they "will be down here in droves".  The hospital was always being cleaned and she could not believe how beautiful her room was.  Again she said it was like being in a resort.

We said our good-byes and I took a last photo of her and made her promise to update me once she got home.  I was so happy for her and so excited for her future.  I told her to go home and throw away all her old clothes.  She deserves to get a new wardrobe (not sure what her husband will think of my idea).  So, I know by now, you are probably asking "Alright, already.  What did it cost?"  The whole thing, everything included except airfare was $6,000.  That is less than 1/3 of what she would have paid in the US and that included the resort for a week.  I was stunned.
So many people have asked me about this surgery, breast lifts, tummy tucks, face lifts and much more.  I am pleased to tell you that Puerto Vallarta is a wonderful place to come, have surgery at a fraction of the cost of these typically elective (and therefore, uninsured) surgeries, and recover in luxury.  In my opinion that is a pretty good deal.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Bob and Nova Mexico 2012

An amazing three weeks with Bob and Nova.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Fall is Coming

The last several mornings as I go out to walk my dogs here in Dillon, Colorado I am grabbing my sweatshirt. Where does the summer go? It seems like just yesterday we were sleeping with the doors and windows open. I love living in the high country of Colorado during the summer. This is our first summer since we retired and the first summer we have lived in our home here. We have owned our place for fifteen years here in Summit County. At the time we bought this "second home" out two youngest children were still in school and snowboarding every weekend. It was a great family place. We used it almost every weekend in the winter. It was home to many of our children's friends and many who Mr.B taught to snowboard. Many AFA cadets took their first run here at Keystone under the watchful eye of Mr. B.
We spent many many Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays with a roaring fire and snow falling on the lake. But to be honest once the snow had gone away we did not use the place much. Our summers were busy with all the things our kids did during the summer. Once we started talking about retiring we thought "what the hell" we would spend our summers at 9100 ft. What a delight it has been. The mornings and evenings have been cool and crisp. The days warm but not hot. It really has been a perfect summer. But now our days here are getting very cool. It is our sign that fall is coming and our journey back to the Pacific is near. I have started packing boxes with "can not live without" goodies to take back to Mexico. I am looking forward to hearing the waves, smelling the ocean and watching the sunsets. But I will miss my mountain home and my cool morning walks. Where did the summer go?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Jake and Megan Wheatley

Paul and I attended a beautiful wedding this weekend in Denver. Both of us love weddings for so many reasons. I think the fact that we get to experience love over flowing. Every wedding we attend Paul holds my hand and as the say their vows he always gives it a squeeze as to say "I do" over and over again. I have been so lucky in my life to have married this amazing man. He always tells the groom that marriage is amazing and that he hopes they are as happy as we are. God I am so lucky. This was also a special wedding because we have known the bride and groom for many years. Megan worked for us while she was in college and Jake is the son of our close friends Greg and Tammy. They welcomed us into this family gathering filled with love. Of course there was also a LOT of laughs (thanks to Mr. B). We stayed the night at the venue and had a beautiful brunch with close friends Rob and JoEllen. I don't think I will be able to ever eat again! We wish these beautiful "kids" a magical journey in life. I can only hope they find the happiness that Mr.B and I have found all these years. Mazel Tov!!