Sunday, May 31, 2020

More Potatoes

I usually don't buy potatoes, but after making "rösti", I still had half a bag left over.  The following day I made a simple recipe for a potato salad that Alejandro's mom used to make, and which Alejandro now makes for something easy to prepare.  It's another recipe that bears no resemblance to what we think of as typical Mexican cooking.

I cooked the remaining potatoes in their skins the night before and put them in the refrigerator.  The next day I peeled them and cut them into chunks. I dressed them with some apple cider vinegar and raw, chopped onion.  I seasoned it with salt and a generous amount of oregano.  I added some cubes of ham.  That was it!  It's a good dish for a hot summer day when you don't want to do a lot of cooking.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

(Mis)adventures in Swiss Cooking

More than a week ago, I wrote about the Swiss cookbook that my cousin Brigitta sent me from Switzerland.  On Thursday I attempted one of the easier and best known recipes... "rösti"... which is basically like our hash browns.  (The cookbook says that the Americans took their recipe from the Swiss.)

It called for "waxy potatoes" which I read are new potatoes or fingerlings.  I couldn't find those at my grocery store, but I bought a bag of baby red potatoes and hoped that they would fit the bill.  (They did indeed turn out to be much less starchy than baking potatoes.)  Per the recipe, I cooked them in their skins the night before.

To fry the potatoes I needed to use clarified butter.  I had heard of clarified butter but had never made it before.  (I don't use much butter in cooking, and for frying I usually use olive oil.)  I had to research the process of clarifying butter on the internet.  The recipe did not tell me how much butter to use, so I put a couple of sticks in a kettle, and melted it over very low heat.  I then had to skim off all the foam at the top, and then strain it to remove all solids.  It was a very tedious process.

Then I peeled and grated the potatoes.  I chopped up some onion, sautéed that in the butter until it was translucent, and then added the potatoes.  After cooking and stirring the mixture for a few minutes, I then tamped it down with a spatula to form a giant pancake.  I let that cook undisturbed for fifteen minutes.

Then I was supposed to put a large plate over the frying pan, flip the "rösti", and slide it back into the pan and fry for another fifteen minutes so that the other side would brown.  When I flipped the "rösti" it did not come out like a pancake, but folded over like a omelet.  I put it back in the pan, formed it into a pancake again, and tried to flip it once again.  This time some of the butter, potatoes and onions spilled out onto the stovetop.  What a #!!*#* mess!
I just put the remaining mixture back into the pan and let it cook a while longer, and served it on a plate.

It was very tasty... but what a mess I had to clean up afterward!  If I ever make this again, I will do what I do when I make "tortilla española".  Instead of attempting to flip it, I will put it under the oven broiler for a few minutes to brown the top.

So that was my first experience with Swiss cooking.  

Friday, May 29, 2020

Snow on the Mountain

I frequently look at webcams of Mexico City to see what the weather is like and, now, during the pandemic, to marvel at how relatively empty the downtown streets are.  I also like to look at the webcams of Popocatépetl, the volcanic peak outside of Mexico City, and the nation's second highest mountain.  

"Popo" used to be snow-covered most of the time, and even had a glacier.  But recently, due to warmer temperatures and increased volcanic activity, the glacier is gone, and the slopes are usually bare.

Yesterday, Alejandro told me that there was a weather advisory for heavy rain in Mexico City.  Obviously, at the mountain's high elevation, the precipitation was in the form of snow.  When I looked at the webcams this morning the mountain was covered in a mantle of white.

More Flowers

For five consecutive days, beginning with Memorial Day weekend, it did not rain here.  In spite of the heat, with temperatures rising above 90F, I was able to make some progress in the garden.  Yesterday we had some light rain, and today it is supposed to rain again, so I am taking a short break from gardening.  Tomorrow we are supposed to have a string of cooler and rainless days, so I will once again be working outside.  

Here are some more pictures from the garden...

 I have many kinds of day lilies in my garden.  This simple yellow variety is always to first to begin blooming.

My lilac bushes are in bloom.  They do not have many flowers however.  I am wondering if the deer have added lilac buds to their menu.  I guess next year I will have to include my two bushes on the list of plants that must be sprayed with deer repellent in the spring.

My garden is almost entirely planted in perennials.  However I put annuals in the hanging baskets and in flower pots.  I have hung several of the baskets.

The flower box outside my bedroom is also filled with annuals.

I previously shared with you a photo of the first of the bearded iris to bloom.
That plant is now full of flowers with more buds yet to open.

And another bearded iris is now blooming.

The smaller, delicate Siberian iris have begun to flower.  (Unlike last year, I sprayed them this spring before the deer had a chance to snack on the buds.)

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Hair Report

Many guys have grown "quarantine beards", but  I have been growing "quarantine hair".  Back in early April I wrote that I was no longer shaving my head,something that I have been doing ever since I retired.  I posted a picture on April 3rd showing the fuzz covering my pate.

Nearly two months have passed.  The hair on top is, as I suspected it would be, rather sparse.  But on the sides my hair is becoming shaggy and unruly.  

I am going to continue to let it grow for as long as I am unable to resume my normal life of travel... which I fear will be a long, long time.  Eventually I may even have to get out the hair dryer that sits unused in the linen closet.  Do you think that I would look good with a pony tail?  Ha! Ha! 

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

A Garden Resident

I few days ago I was working in one of my flower beds, pulling grass out of my ground cover.  As I pulled out some grass at first I thought that a clump of dirt went flying.  But then I realized that it was one of the creatures that I see each year in the garden... a toad.

Since then I have been seeing a toad almost every day as I work in the garden, much more than usual.  One of my neighbors told me that he had seen a bunch of tadpoles in the "lake" in his back yard during the heavy rains.  So I guess it's not just a couple of toads, but a small army of them.  That's fine.  You are all welcome to take up residence in my garden and eat the mosquitos!

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

May Flowers

The spring flowers in my garden are in blossom.

Lilies of the Valley...

I usually have a lot of columbines, but every so often there is a die-off of the plants.  Just a few plants survive, but then they reseed themselves and the numbers increase.  This is one of the few columbines that I have blooming this year.

The azaleas have been especially beautiful this spring.

Even though the deer began nibbling on the buds of the new azalea bushes that I planted last year, I obviously sprayed the bushes with repellant in time.

The first blossom of my bearded iris opened a couple days ago.

Monday, May 25, 2020

We Need a Vaccine for Stupidity

Gary Denness, the author of "Mexile", one of the blogs on my blog list, has never been shy about expressing his opinion about the "pendejo" in the White House.  A few weeks ago he reacted to the "pendejo's" blanket comment that the demonstrators in Michigan, which included some people carrying swastikas, Confederate flags, and other hate symbols, were "very good people".  Gary wrote (and I quote him with his permisiion)....

I've said it before, and I'll say it again - If you actively support Trump then you've either lost your senses, or you stand with these 'very good people' with their swastikas.  There are no excuses, there's no wriggle room, there's no justification.  You've planted your flag, chosen your side, and clearly indicated you're will to goose-step with those 'very good people'.

The thought that 40% of this nation's population is either racist or stupid (or both) is very disheartening.  However the fact that there are a lot of stupid people out there is born out by a recent poll.  

(images taken from the web)

Forty four percent of the Republicans polled believed the cockamamie conspiracy theory that Bill Gates plans to use the mass coronavirus vaccination (when it is developed) to implant microchips in the world's population so that their movements can be monitored.  The fact that such ludicrous conspiracy theories gain credence is every bit as scary as the virus itself.

To those loonies I would say that a microchip implanted in the human body is superfluous since most of them are probably carrying GPS enabled smart phones which already track their movements.  Secondly, your beloved "pendejo" is all in favor of fast tracking a vaccine, so he must be in cahoots with the nefarious Bill Gates.

As this photo from a protest in the United Kingdom shows, the United States does not have a monopoly on stupidity.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Sunday Humor

Alejandro sent me this cartoon...

-Five years have passed since the coronavirus, Robert.  We can hug now.
-You never know.

I found this cartoon on the internet, and it expresses my sentiments perfectly...

Saturday, May 23, 2020

My Swiss Ancestor

I have written many times here about my distant cousins in Switzerland.  We are related through my mother's paternal grandmother who immigrated to the U.S. with her family when she was nine years old.

A couple days ago, when I was going through a box of mementos, I found an old tintype that I had forgotten that I had.  Here is my link to Switzerland...  Susanna Elisabeth Marti.

Susanna, or Suzie, as she later called herself in the U.S., was born in 1864 in Othmarsingen, Switzerland.  In 1873 she and her parents and siblings moved to Ohio.  It was a time of economic depression in Switzerland.  The family owned a stone quarry on the edge of town, but Suzie's father had heard that the sandstone quarries in Berea, Ohio, were thriving.  They packed their belongings, left the small town that had been the family home for generations, and made the long journey to America.  Suzie's father and her older brothers found work in the quarries of Berea. 

The tintype was probably taken around the time of her marriage at the age of twenty in 1885.  She married my great grandfather, Charles August Plau, the son of a German immigrant who owned a farm in Middleburg Township outside of Berea. 

Suzie and Charles were married for only nine years.  In 1894 Charles died at the age of  forty three.  During their time together, they had five children, including my maternal grandfather.  In 1902 Suzie remarried, but it was an unhappy marriage.  Her second husband had a drinking problem, and in 1917 he abandoned his wife and the two daughters that they had together.  In 1922 Suzie did something that for that era was considered scandalous... she filed for divorce.  Her divorce was granted, and the ex-husband was required to pay child support and give her their house in Berea.  She must have been a very strong-willed and feisty woman to have defied the stigma of a divorced woman.  Nevertheless, in the subsequent census she listed herself as a widow.  Well, it wasn't a lie.  She was the widow of Charles Plau.  

Suzie passed away in 1945 from a heart attack at the age of seventy seven.  My grandfather was the informant of her death certificate.  Fortunately, he provided the name of the town in Switzerland where she was born.  It was that bit of information that enabled me to find my cousins living in Switzerland.  

My mother always spoke fondly of her "Granma".  I wish that I had known her.  

Friday, May 22, 2020

Remembering Mom

Today, May 22nd, is my mother's birthday.  She would have been 109 years old.  If you are figuring the math, and thinking that I must be pretty advanced in years myself, you should know that my parents were married for twenty years before I, their only child, was born.  Surprise! Surprise!

I was going through a box of old mementos tucked away in the closet, and I found some  photos of her.

I cropped this picture of her from a group photo which I believe was from her church confirmation.  It is probably from the 1920s when she was an adolescent.  Look at that bow in her hair!

She looks quite glamorous in this photo which is probably from around the time she married my dad in 1932 at the height of the Great Depression.

Here she is in the early 1950s with her little surprise bundle of joy.

Here she is with my dad and me on their Golden Wedding Anniversary.  A year and a half later she passed away from congestive heart failure.  Mom long suffered from heart disease.  When I was in the sixth grade she had a serious heart attack.  But she survived and lived to see me graduate from high school and from college and to begin my teaching career.

Happy birthday, Mom.  You are still remembered with love.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

More Mail from Abroad

In my previous entry I wrote about the postcard which I received from England on Tuesday.  Well, yesterday I had another surprise in the mail.  When I went outside to do some gardening, I discovered that there was a package at my doorstep.  It was from my cousin Brigitta in Switzerland.  The gardening could wait.  I immediately brought the package into the house to see what it contained.

Brigitta had sent me a Swiss cookbook (fortunately in English), and a couple bars of chocolate from two of Switzerland's major chocolatiers... Lindt and Cailler.  Yum! (I have to admit that one of the bars has already been devoured.)

I have taken a look at the cookbook, and quite a few of the recipes have ingredients that I doubt that I could find here.  I don't think my local supermarket sells quail, and many of the sausages and cheeses from Switzerland probably have no close subsitutes here.  And what the heck is this "full fat quark" that appears in a number of the recipes?!   I will have to investigate which kinds of potatoes are considered "waxy" as opposed to "floury" (starchy?).  Nevertheless, there are quite a few recipes which sound very tasty which I think I would be able to make.  I definitely could handle one of Switzerland's best known dishes, "rösti", which is similar to our hash browns.

My thanks go out to my dear, thoughtful cousin, Brigitta.  I treasure my Swiss family!

A Postcard from England

One of the blogs on my blog list (in the right hand margin) is "Mexile" written by Gary Denness.  Gary is an Englishman who lived and worked for a number of years in Mexico City, and his blog began as a record of his experiences and travels there.  He and his Mexican wife now live back in England.  For a while he stopped blogging, but he is now back at it stronger than ever. 

A couple weeks ago he wrote an entry about postcards.  He said that he always used to send postcards when he was traveling, but that he had not sent any for quite a few years.  He did however have still have quite a stash of postcards, and offered to send one to any interested readers of his blog.

I quickly responded that I would enjoy receiving one if he didn't mind shelling out for postage to the U.S.  We exchanged addresses, and I told him that I would send him one from Ohio.  There is only one store in my vicinity that still sells postcards... a nearby drug store.  (Of course in the U.S. "drug stores" are not like pharmacies in most of the world.  They sell all sorts of stuff.  In fact filling prescriptions is almost an afterthought.)  Anyway, as it turns out, we both sent each other a postcard on the very same day...  Tuesday, May 12th.

Exactly one week later, I received a postcard from Gary... a very cool card from the National Railway Museum with what appears to be a vintage illustration of the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol, England.

I did a bit of research and read that this bridge, which crosses the gorge of the Avon River, was built in 1864, and in its day was considered quite a marvel of engineering.

This morning, as I was getting ready to write this post, Gary emailed me and told me that his postcard from Ohio had arrived.  So both the British and the U.S. postal services are working quite efficiently.  I had sent him a card of the Perry Monument in Put-In-Bay, Ohio, a monument which commemorates a victory over the British (ha! ha!) in the War of 1812.

Gary, you will be pleased to see that your postcard is now on my fridge, along with postcards that my cousin used to send me on her travels and an excessive collection of magnets that I have purchased on my travels.

Come the day when I am able to travel again to Mexico I will send him another postcard from there.  But instead of arriving in a week, it will probably take months!

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

A Pot of Soup

Usually when I make soup I just throw things together and don't use a recipe.  However, I found a recipe for cabbage soup on the internet that I thought that I would try.  I followed the recipe, but I could see that this wasn't going to work.  I like my soup to be thick, but I had still not added the cabbage, and there definitely not enough liquid here to call this "soup".  I didn't have another carton of chicken broth... and I wasn't going to go to the store just for that... so I added a some more water and another can of undrained diced tomatoes.  (Since I always buy cans of diced tomatoes with jalapeños, the soup was rather spicy.  That's fine with me, although it might not be to some people's taste.)  Then when I added the cabbage, the recipe said to simmer for six minutes.  Huh?!  In six minutes time, the cabbage is still going to be raw!  I let it simmer for more than an hour, and I also added some cubed ham for additional flavor.

With my alterations, the soup turned out delicious, and, of course, was even tastier the second day.  If I had followed the recipe it would have been raw cabbage stew!

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Lovely Weather for Ducks

A couple days ago I wrote about the heavy rains which flooded my front and back yards.  Saturday it rained again, and Sunday it rained most of the day.  The lake in front of my house and on the street was not as bad.  Because the grass had grown, the back yard looked more like a swamp than a lake. 

I looked out the window and discovered that a pair of ducks had discovered this temporary wetland!

Monday, May 18, 2020


Yesterday I was on YouTube and one of the videos that was recommended for me was created by a contributor that goes by the name of "4K Walk".  He (or she) films continuous, unedited walks, capturing the sights and sounds along the streets of cities throughout the world.  Quite a few of them were done in Mexico City, and I have already watched several of those.  Imagine my surprise when I realized that this video was from "Nápoles", the neighborhood where I stay when I am in Mexico City.  I have walked countless times every single step of this 25 minute video.  The film passes restaurants where I have eaten and ends near the Metrobus stop that I would use on a nearly daily basis.  At one point I could see the side street where the apartment I rent is located.  It was filmed last November when I was actually down there.  Large Day of the Dead skulls decorate the pool in front of the World Trade Center.

I have written that sometimes I feel as if I don't know where home is.  Is it Ohio or Mexico City?  Watching this video I felt a very strong sense of homesickness, and I was longing to return.  So I guess that even though I am a life-long resident of Ohio, Mexico City is home too.

You may not find this video as fascinating as I did, but here is the link...

A Walk through Nápoles  

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Rain, Rain, Go Away!

Whenever we have heavy rains here, the back yards along my street flood.  This has been going on, literally, for decades.  When we complain to the city officials they just shrug their shoulders.

Last Thursday it rained off and on all day.  It was the same on Friday, but then in the late afternoon the rain was torrential.  We received over two inches of rain.  As a result, the lake formed in the back yard.

This time the street in front was also flooded.  The lake stretched from the tree lawn of the neighbor across the street, covered most of the street, and extended across my tree lawn and sidewalk and into the front yard.  Whenever a car went down the street there would be a wave coming up my driveway.

Yesterday was a warm, sunny day.  The flooding in the front along the street disappeared, but my back yard remains a swamp. It would have been a beautiful day to do some gardening, but it was too wet.  The forecast calls for rain today... rain on Monday... rain on Tuesday.  

Saturday, May 16, 2020

From England via Switzerland

Every Saturday I have a video chat with my Swiss cousin Walter and his wife Helen.  They live in Aarau, the capital of the Swiss canton of Aargau.  Walter is a medical doctor.  Helen  works as a speech therapist at a school for special needs students.  They are wonderful people, as are all my Swiss cousins, and I love them very much.

Helen's mother was from England, and she still has family there.  A couple weeks ago Helen sent me one of her mother's English recipes, a quick and easy version of Welsh rarebit.  I had heard of Welsh rarebit, but had never known exactly what it is.  The word "rarebit" is actually pronounced like "rabbit".  In fact it is sometimes spelled "r-a-b-b-I-t" even though it contains no rabbit meat.  The dish consists of grated cheese, egg and a few other ingredients, spread on toasted bread, and put under the broiler for a few minutes.  

The recipe calls for Gruyere or Emmenthal cheese.  I told Helen that I would buy Swiss cheese, which is the North American version of Emmenthal.  She got a chuckle out of that... as if Emmenthal is the only kind of cheese that Switzerland produces.  My only other deviation from the recipe was that I spread the cheese mixture on toasted English muffins instead of toast.  

An interesting side note:  I was researching English muffins to see if they are really are of English origen. (Yes, they are.)  I discovered that Thomas' English Muffins, the best known brand here in the U.S., is now owned by Bimbo, the giant Mexican bread company.

For supper last night, I made the Welsh rarebit.  I was easy to prepare, and it turned out very tasty.  I served it with steamed asparagus.

I will definitely make this again.  Helen says that she has some more recipes to send me.  It they are as easy and delicious as the Welsh rarebit, I look forward to them.

Thanks, Helen!  Danke schön, Helen! 

An Avocado a Day

Even though they are the most fattening of fruits, avocados are extremely good for your health.  For several years now I have been eating one every morning for breakfast.  My trips to the supermarket are timed according to when I need more avocados.

They MUST be avocados imported from Mexico.  I do not like those big, pale green things from California.  At one time my supermarket started importing avocados from Peru.  They looked just like the ones from Mexico, but they rotted before they ever ripened.  I complained to the produce manager, and ever since, the avocados have been Mexican.

In the hollow I always put a big dollop of black bean dip.  Recently I had a bottle of lime juice that I had bought for a recipe.  I didn't want what was left over to go to waste, so now I put a squirt of lime in each hollow.  Then I throw in a bit of shredded cheese, and then finally the black bean dip.  A yummy way to start the day!  

Friday, May 15, 2020

The Grim Reality

Recently I came across a YouTube video of a British news report that was posted on the blog "Mexile" (which you will find in my blog list in the right hand margin).  I am going to repost it here.

In Mexico City the Hearses Just Keep Coming

Earlier I had found this article from the New York Times on the internet...

Hidden Toll: Mexico Ignores Wave of Coronavirus Deaths in the Capital

That article was lambasted by President López Obrador as "fake news".

Are these reports sensationalistic?  From what I hear from my friend Alejandro, a Mexico City native, during our nightly chats on Skype, I would say that they represent the grim reality.  Yes, his stories are second hand (he has been wisely isolating himself at home)... but they come from first hand reports from his relatives and friends.  He tells me of a Mexico City hospital where the staff have no protective gear and are being infected... of medical resident students from UNAM (the National University of Mexico) walking out of the hospitals because of the lack of safety precautions... of a doctor who thought the virus was a hoax, but who is now hospitalized with Covid... of a fellow who went to the doctor with a fever and cough, but who instead of being tested was simply sent home with antibiotics... the fact that no one is enforcing the rule that all passengers on crowded public transportation wear masks. 

From the very beginning, Alejandro has been telling me that the number of coronavirus cases and deaths are grossly underreported.  If you look at the statistics you would think that Mexico is faring much better than the U.S. with only 9,643 active cases and 4,477 deaths. (Compare that to 1,055,841 cases and 87,025 deaths in the U.S.)  However Mexico has one of the lowest testing rates of any major country in the world.  In the U.S. (which itself has been criticized for not doing enough testing) there have been 32,246 tests given for every 1 million people.  In Mexico 1,211 tests have been given for every 1 million.  Even the "official" figures do not make me optimistic.  Officials were saying that the peak of the pandemic would be reached on May 6th, and then they kept pushing the date back.  Somehow they say that the curve is flattening, yet the highest "official" number of new cases was reported today with 2,409 new cases, and May 13th saw the highest number of "official" deaths with 353.  (These statistics come from Worldometer, a website which tracks coronavirus in every nation of the world.).

President López Obrador is re-opening the economy on Monday.  Alejandro tells me that he has been pressured by the "pendejo" in the White House to open quickly so that Mexican factories can resume supplying car parts to U.S. auto manufacturers.  About half of the governors of the Mexican states are ignoring the President in regard to reopening schools.  They will not open again until the next school year in August.  Whether or not Claudia Scheinbaum, the mayor of Mexico City and an ally of López Obrador, keeps the schools closed remains to be seen.

Some people, such as Alejandro's family, are taking the pandemic seriously, but others are not.  That is hardly surprising given the fact that López Obrador was late in viewing the virus as a problem.  Just a couple months ago he was constantly shown hugging and kissing crowds of his supporters, and he urged people to support their local economy by dining out at restaurants.  He remarked that pandemics won't do anything to Mexico, and that the Catholic scapular that he wears is his good luck charm.

I am extremely worried for Mexico, and for my "Mexican family".   

Thursday, May 14, 2020

A Place of Refuge

A couple weeks ago I wrote that Alejandro's family has a new puppy.  It is very mischievous.  Their older dog, a golden retriever named Olinka, gets tired of the puppy's constant pestering and attempts to play.

Last night, while I was on Skype with Alejandro, Olinka came into his room to take refuge from the puppy.   Alejandro closed his door so that the little one could not follow.  Olinka stretched out on the floor and seemed happy to finally have some peace and quiet.

Slow Progress in the Garden

After finishing one of the islands in my front yard more than a week ago, further progress in the garden was slow due to chilly temperatures, rain or even snow.  There have been many days in which I have simply stayed inside.  

However, when the weather permitted, I continued forward, gradually moving ahead on my gardening.  I next cleared the leaves and the weeds out of the bed in front of my house.  A couple of years ago I had several overgrown shrubs removed, and last year I planted four azaleas in their place.  I wanted to clean up that bed before the azaleas started to bloom.  I was very dismayed to find that the deer had already been munching on the buds.  They had never bothered my azaleas before, but every year it seems that they discover a new taste treat in my garden.  Fortunately they didn't get all the buds, mainly just the ones at the ends of branches.  That bed has been completed and deer repellent sprayed on both the new and the old azaleas.

A few blossoms have already opened on one of the older bushes.

From there I headed over to the flower bed next to the driveway.  I cleared it out, weeded it, and edged it.  This bed is always slow going since as I edge it I have to chop out the tree roots that are continually encroaching on the bed.

This bed, which is a mix of sun and shade, is planted with hostas, ferns, creeping phlox, day lilies, Asiatic lilies, lilies of the valley, columbines, and coreopsis.   You might be able to make out, toward the top of the photo, the clump of phlox which is in bloom.  The columbines and lilies of the valley have buds and soon will be blooming.  There are some bare spots which I will fill in with perennials from other beds that need thinning out.

Yesterday was a lovely, sunny day... chilly at first, but with temperatures that eventually reached the 60s F.  I completed a good portion of the flower bed to the side of the house.

Today, the high temperature is supposed to pass 70 F.  However, the forecast calls for rain today and tomorrow.  My progress will be halted again for a couple days.  Today is the day that I should have returned from my trip to Mexico.  Even though I would have liked to have accomplished more, all of this is a head start that I would not have completed if I had been traveling.