Magi Azul - Caribe Beach House

Enjoy my family's adventure living on a Caribbean island as they build a boutique vacation beach house. Get a peek at island living and join me in some mischievous musings!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

It's not all coconuts.

Whenever you say you live on an island in Mexico, people begin to ooooh and aaahhh. But one of my missionary friends who has lived abroad said knowingly, "It's not all coconuts - is it?" I just finished reading one of my friend's blogs about her frustrations in Mexico with a chuckle and an "I feel your pain" in my heart. But there must be some sadomasochistic tendency in me because for some reason I always come back loving the good and putting up with the bad and the ugly. Anyway in 6 days we will joyfully return to Isla Mujeres. I will once again try to shove a cacophony of household goods into 6 suitcases - 4 lights, swimming pool equipment, bedspreads, mattress pads, pictures,leopard pillows, foodstuffs, toys,candle holders,and an urn. We are Mexico's version of the Beverly Hillbillies when we go through the airport, except we have a chihuahua instead of a bloodhound. (I know you are thinking Granny probably did not have leopard pillows.) I go by the strategy that if your family has enough suitcases they will just wave you on so they don't have to search through all your crap. Anyway I am making preparations for our pilgrimage with great anticipation. Hasta la vista baby!

Monday, November 22, 2010

My Favorite Things

In 5 weeks I will be back on my beautiful island. My days are busy constructing our website, researching advertising, and deciding what I need to take back the most in our 6 check-ons. Our plans to bring a container of furniture back to the island have been put on hold and more possibly canceled. To make a long story short, they said that as long as we resided in Mexico our things could be in Mexico; but if we ever left, our things had to leave the country too. There was a little more to it, but that point alone was enough to convince my packing-dreading husband to give up the idea (one less 1 ton bookcase to move.) Well I am adjusting to the idea and consoling myself with the fact that it will enable us to return to the island a little sooner. I miss getting up with the sunrise, reading in the hammock, driving my golf cart to the market, buying fish right off the boat and fresh tortillas from La Gloria. These are a few of my favorite things. Just call me a Mexican Julie Andrews.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Imperfect is Perfect

If imperfections are a mark of hand made goods, then my house is surely hand crafted! We are down to our last 2 weeks and it looks as if we will not finish. We are going to shut it up and finish where we left off when we return. We are thoroughly exasperated with the struggles of building, as I know our builders are too. Hopefully we will return refreshed and ready for the final details.
That said, I will say the house in general is quite magical. It has the pathos of a renovated ruin off the coast of Spain. The rock walls and stone floors give it old world charm while the grass palapas add that Caribe vib. Throw in hints of Morocco and you have Magi Azul – Caribe Beach House.
We are now sleeping in one of the almost finished rooms upstairs. At night I light my candles on the patio, listen to the surf and watch the palm trees and grass edges of the palapa sway in the breeze. I can almost feel my blood pressure go down after a hard day of monitoring workers. There is such a sense of peaceful relaxation here even while it is still a construction zone. I remember when we first started and I was trying to get the workers to do irregular finishes on the walls and rounded imperfect corners everywhere. I said, “Imperfect is perfect.” Well I am certainly getting what I asked for in areas I never expected, but I am also learning to live with those words and realizing in Mexico that truly – “Imperfect is perfect.”

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Magia de Jose

The house is just starting to transform from a building site into a home. I love the new grass palapa entry and covered patio. The pool should be finished this week, and so far it looks beautiful. When we are through it will be surrounded by multi-tiered bamboo gardens and overshadowed by palms and oleanders. I am hoping it looks like a Balinese garden. If I can keep the workers from trashing each others work before the house is finished or before I lose my mind and temper it will be a small miracle. Everyday I find new paint, wood stain and chicken asada grease on the rough stone floors and I pace the house like Yosemite Sam with fire coming out of my ears. This house has been the most stressful project we have ever undertaken besides raising a teenager (that is another blog.) Instead of spending the whole blog harping on my frustrations, I would like to sing the praises of one lowly worker. He is not the architect. He is not even the foreman. He is just one of the workers who always tries to do a good job and always listens to my broken Spanish and somehow understands what I want. I have never caught him rolling his eyes at my requests, and he is always very truthful and sympathetic with me. Plus he is also an expert at all things concrete. Yesterday as we surveyed bathroom counters that were done improperly and looked unacceptable. We discussed possible solutions and what could and couldn't be done. Finally we came upon a compromise that I think Jose can make work. I told him he would use the magia de Jose (the magic of Jose) on them. I left the site in my golf cart with peace and confidence that everything would be alright (no small feat.) When I look back on this building process, Jose will be one bright spot in the picture. I thank God for the magia de Jose - a young man with patience, a work ethic of excellence and a talent for taming the Yosemite in me.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Magi Azul

Some months ago I decided that Casa Leon was not the name that I wanted for the house here on Isla Mujeres. I didn't want clients thinking a person named Leon owned the house. Leon in Spanish means lion, and at one point I was going to have a lion fountain spouting water into the pool. However the lion is gone along with the name. From Casa Leon, I pondered The Grotto - Beach House. I got mixed reactions. My father was appalled that I was going to name my house after a cave. I explained that grottoes were sometimes gardens and sometimes ornately decorated. Our house has so much stone work that the name really does fit well. However, as much as I had visions of candle light and monks in mysterious old ruins, I was afraid clients might have visions of cold, damp caves. And so I continued my quest for that name full of mystery and magic. While reading a foreign design magazine I ran across an article titled "Magi Azul." As soon as I saw that title I said, "Oh I love that!" And so Magi Azul - Caribe Beach House was born. My husband, Stan, then asked me, "What does that mean?" I said, "It means blue magic. Imagine the blue ocean, the blue sky and the magical beauty of it all." My husband, the consummate investigator, then does a web search and informs me that magic is magia in Spanish and that magi were wise men. I, however, was undeterred and a women with a passion. "It doesn't matter," I said. "It's a great name. The magi were star gazers, travelers and seekers of truth. It still works." Then I, the consummate researcher nerd, did a linguistic search and found that magi does indeed mean magic in Swedish! So all those visiting Swedes will know exactly what I mean! The rest of us will just think it's cool no matter what language it is. I tried to explain to Stan that it didn't have to have a specific definition. It is about the emotions the words evoke. The words even sound and feel beautiful rolling off your tongue. The g in Magi is pronounced like the g in genre (Maagjii Ahzzuul) Magi Azul. Didn't that feel good? So as house construction is coming to an end so is my search for a name I love. I have found it -
Magi Azul
Caribe Beach House.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Don't Worry -Be Happy

"Blessed are those who endure to the end..." After building this house in Mexico that scripture has new meaning. The stress level from design decision making has subsided since we are so close to being finished, and it has been replaced by a different kind of stress. The term "over budget" doesn't even begin to express the disparity between the allotted funds planned for this project and the actual cost. I pray I will have enough dinero to buy my light fixtures. I now understand why there are so many houses halfway done in Mexico.
The last house we built in Mexico took Stan 8 months to complete. By the time construction was over Stan was so disgusted with being ripped off and paying bribes that he decided he didn't want to live in Mexico anymore. He slapped a "Se Vende" (For Sale) sign in the yard, and we sold it without me even getting to spend a night in it completed. Now we are not to that point yet, but lets just say that I can't wait for this to be over.
Right now I am sitting in a folding chair flanked by bags of cement and stacks of stone tiles in my future living room while I babysit tile setters to make sure they get the pattern right. Actually Julian is working on the tiles today, and I have more confidence in him with tile than anyone. Panso, the stone setter, is working on the 2nd floor garden wall, and Jose, my fantastic finish guy, is working on the poolside garden wall. As I move my chair to the ocean front patio I whisper, "Calgon take me away." The wind on my face and the sound of the surf do the trick, and I begin to imagine what life will be like when all the bags of concrete and workers are gone. Of course, all our money will be gone too, but let's not think about that. I think I will paint a primitive sign on some drift wood that says, "Don't Worry - Be Happy." Anyway, for now I will just sit by these bags of cement and dream of the day that I am eating guacamole by my pool with Sophia begging me to play shark with her. It will be here before I know it.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Mexico Time

I should know this after 15 years, but it continues to amaze and annoy me. On a video I recently heard, "Is it possible to be astonished, but not surprised?" I would have to answer, " Si, Senor." Even my pastor (who is Mexican by the way) refers to time here as "Mexican time" and "American time." Mexican time is epitomized in the word "manana." It is an elusive term that is always in the future and never present tense. American time is generally in comparison - on time. I was raised with the ethical principle that 5 minutes early was on time, on time was late and 5 minutes late was VERY late. In Mexico this slogan is not even in the stratosphere. In Mexico "I'll be back in 2 hours" means "I'll be back in 2 days (if you are lucky.") "I'll be there manana" means, "I'll be there in one to two weeks." If they say they will be there next week, you are really screwed, because that means at least 2 weeks; and if they are a carpenter it means 2 months and still don't hold your breath!
I was dressing for my Taebo class that was "scheduled" to start at 8 am. About 7:45 I was packing up my gear to get to class by 8. I was packing the latest novel I was reading, so that I could fill the time till 8:20 when class would actually start. My husband said, "Why do you bother to get there early, when you know it will not start on time?" "It's principle," I say. In fact, I am not sure that the word "appointment" means the same thing when translated into Spanish. Yesterday we waited for a pool contractor to get a bid on a pool we want constructed at our home. In a weak, hurting economy, he never showed up for his "appointment."
Having whined and complained about this, I will say that although punctuality may not be the forte of the Mexican culture; there are other noble qualities I must note that make up for their transgression in tardiness. A Mexican will spend his last 300 pesos (if he has them) on a costume for his child for the local Spring festival. A Mexican will serve you the only lobster, while he eats fish. A Mexican will honor his mother and father. A Mexican will not leave church without kissing you, and saying, "Dios te vendiga (God bless you)," at least once and very possibly twice. I guess punctuality is not everything. In fact, here in Mexico I always feel good about myself. I have not always been the paragon of punctuality in the U.S., but here I am always early - by Mexico time that is. So as long as I pack a new novel in my purse, I just consider it an enrichment to my literary education. That being said, "I will write again manana - that means one to two weeks by Mexico time!"

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Where do I begin? My architect and contractor, Lucy, had to have emergency surgery and could not come to work for 2 weeks. Her husband, Sergio, who is also an engineer along with Stan and myself have been trying to be at the site to supervise matters. At the same time we moved out of our dumpy apartment (no small feat after a year of living here) into a luxury condo that is heaven on earth for me right now. It was just what I needed this last leg of our race. It is so nice to have a washing machine and not smell mildew on everything. I love the kitchen here. I have counter space, a full size refrigerator and an oven! I can plug more than one appliance in without the electricity going off, I do not have to mop up water in the apartment after every rain and I do not have to sit directly in front of an oscillating fan 24/7. The grounds are gorgeous, the view is stunning, and the A/C is delicious!
Last week the crew had to rip up 1/3 of the MBR that they had laid improperly. Two of the three bedrooms so far have had to have tiles ripped up because the pattern was off. Now however, they seem to grasp what we want. We still watch them, but now it seems we don't have to correct them so much. The stonework is gorgeous, especially the wall behind the pool. The aluminum window manufacturers have installed doors and windows downstairs on the ocean side. They have not passed Stan's splash test yet, but hopefully they will eventually. He tosses water on the outside of the windows, and if it leaks in he figures it isn't sealed well enough. When you get horizontal rain on the ocean you must have well sealed windows.
The carpenters are beginning to bring wood work over. I am excited to see the cabinet and closet doors. Hopefully we will have Lucy back with us when we begin the kitchen and patio/pool area. We have had a building site for so long, it is hard to imagine it finished and habitable. But hopefully in a couple months we will have reached our goal. Until then we are rejoicing in our new condo, admiring progress made, and praying for Lucy's full recuperation. We are thankful for God's grace and provision and are in awe of how He paves the way before us. It seems that what ever is thrown our way, God is somehow making it a blessing. And so I am learning to focus not on the obstacle, but on the One who always provides a way through it. Looking back I can see His footprints in the sand. I know it's a corny ending - but since we are on an island it seems apropos.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

I See the Light

There is finally light at the end of the long, long tunnel. We still have quite some way to go, but I can see a glimmer of light in the distance! The stress was quite high at the beginning stages of finish work, but it seems to be tapering off. Most of the larger issues have been resolved. I now love my multi-tono stone floors, and we have begun the process of grouting them. Now the big challenge is making sure the workers get all the concrete off without leaving that concrete haze so common in Mexico. This is no small task. We put 3 coats of sealer on the stone prior to grouting, but they are so pitted and textured that it is still difficult to get them clean. Stan, Lucy and I, all get in there with sponges to try to help. The guys are really trying hard. But you still have to keep watching them. They will finish one room just the way you like it, and then go onto the next one and revert to their old way of doing things. Por ejemplo (For example), you would think after I say, "Rodundo esquinas porfavor (rounded corners please,)" over 100 times in the past 6 months that they would understand that I want ALL the edges in the house rounded. Just when you think they have it there is a new worker on site that doesn't know the mantra. What's really funny is listening to me trying to explain a design change when Lucy is not there to translate. I have learned that when they nod and say. "Si." That does not mean they understand. But I would not trade our crew for any other. They are hard working, have the patience of Job, and are very good at what they do.
Next week we are having to move out of our flat we have been renting for the past 6 months because someone else has reserved it. God in His mercy has provided a luxury condo for us to stay in. The past 6 months have been what I call Caribbean camping - no A/C, no washer (except for a tub), no hot water. Everything in our old flat is rusted and broken; but I won't complain too much, because we have gorgeous views and wonderful breezes. It also makes me appreciate modern conveniences now that I will have them soon. I am counting the days until we move into our new place. Now that our return trip has been postponed because of construction, Gramma Fauscett is coming to visit us. We are happy we will have a nice place for her to stay while she is here. Well I'm off to the lot to check grouting and admire the stone wall they just finished in the master bedroom. Today is Saturday, and the workers only work half a day; so that means I get half a day off too. So it is time for some poolside R&R with Sophie. Adios amigos!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Lost in Translation

It has been a trying week. My last blog that I could not print was titled "Pissed." Now you know why I didn't publish it. I have debated on the basis of being true to my subject matter that my previous blog should indeed be printed. But I detest whiners, complainers and nit-pickers, and I don't want to join that rabble. However there is a valid argument and good correlation between nit-pickers and excellence. Unfortunately I don't know if you can be one without being the other. I prefer to call it attention to detail! (Spoken like a true nit-picker.)
My first challenge this week was perfecting a lime paint color with my husband, who gruelingly mixed and remixed paint himself until his lime blistered fingers could take no more. After "a little more yellow," "a little less gray," "no, a little less yellow" - he finally said, "It's perfect," out of sheer exhaustion. My husband went from "I like warmth," to saying a silver gray-white was perfect. I DID want a cool-toned wall, but not that cool. But I am nit-picking now. So I am acquiescing to pale dove gray walls. Believe me it could be worse.
Then there was the utter gut-wrenching despair when our sun-bleached wood planks for a loft floor got stained rustic red. It's a long and complicated story as to how this happened. But needless to say our rustic red floor has now been sanded down again. But now because of the rustic red fiasco, my husband wants to paint the cabinets clear. I am horrified that we may end up with yellow streaked cabinets and have the knotty-pine look. So now between my husband,our architect and myself there is an emotional Bermuda triangle.
But the piece de resistance was our "multi-tono" floor. When I saw the sample I was told it was multi-tono gris (my translation - various shades of gray.) This is where my title "Lost in Translation" comes in. I did not know that the sample floor I was looking at was unsealed and that most unsealed stone floors look grayish. And wouldn't you know that the one tile my husband put water on was gray, so I thought it was great. Stan was complaining, I mean expounding, that he did not want a floor that looked like gray concrete, so I jumped on the "multi-tonal gris" verbage to get my husband to see the light and agree to my beautiful, soft gray floors. Little did I know that I would end up with burgundy, terracotta, pink, white, and almost no gray in my floor. Then whenever I spoke to my architect I was sure to emphasize "multi-tonal gris." But somehow the gris got left out of the translation. Anyway I am now trying to come to terms with the utter abolition of the word monochromatic in my design scheme. I am trying to convince myself that the varied hues ( I can't bear to say the term "tones") of stone will add a "hint" of color to the rooms.
Anyway I think I have begun wallowing in whining and complaining.
I could go on, but I won't. Monday in my journal I wrote Romans 5:3-4, "...we glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulations produce perseverance, and perseverance, character; and character, hope." Well I hope and do believe that I will make it through this "tribulation" and in the mean time I am really developing perseverance and character. I also have to sit back and say, "If your biggest problem is that the stone tiles in your Caribbean home are not gray enough, then you have it pretty good." I guess I can't complain, whine or nitpick too much. I need to accept the fact that when you are an American in Mexico, some things are just going to get lost in translation.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Hammock Time.

I am sitting in my hammock on an overcast, windy afternoon enjoying the reprieve from the blaring sun. Soon I will head to the lot to see the new cooper sinks that are supposed to have arrived. Hopefully the carpenters will begin laying the wood planks for the floor of the loft upstairs. The pressure of making decisions is diminishing as the house's main structure is nearing completion. From now on, for the most part, it will be a matter of making sure the plans we have made are implemented correctly.
Yesterday we met with our aluminum window manufacturer to discuss modifications to my arched windows. I was happy with all the windows except for the arched ones, but they will be fine after his modifications. On the sea side of the house we are forced to use aluminum because of the brutally corrosive nature of the salt spray. Wood windows rot, swell and require constant maintenance. Lucy, my architect, contractor, and designer, found aluminum from Spain that looks as close to wood as I have seen in aluminum. I am very pleased with the results.
Today after researching lime paint on the web, we have decided to use this non-toxic natural paint on the house in place of normal store-bought paint. Lime paint has been used in the Mediterranean and Mexico for centuries. In addition to being green, it has natural ant-fungal properties and bugs do not like to crawl on it either. It reflects light exponentially due to tiny microscopic crystals that form during it's curing process. That is why it is often used on many historic buildings. It develops a beautiful patina over time and actually penetrates into the surface and bonds with it so when applied properly there is no flaking or peeling. Stan is going to mix up a batch and try some out. Sometimes I think he should have been a chemist. He really gets into test analysis whether it be the soil in my garden, our pool water, or our drinking water. If it has test tubes and colored water he will be out there reading his results. Well now he is totally into researching lime paint to make sure we have the perfect mix.
Soon we will be ready for paint. The block walls are finally beginning to look like a house now that the acabado (the texture or stucco like coating) is over most of the front. I know the workers were going nuts when I kept inspecting their work saying "no ballitos." (No little balls.) Our texture is supposed to have a soft uneven texture the undulates a little. For the most part the workers were doing a fantastic job, but then when you weren't looking all the sudden this chicken pox or ostrich skin, bumpy texture would appear and of course it would be front and center on the house. I told Lucy there was a fine line between old world charm and cheese, and that I didn't want the house to look like a Disney Land Castle. She understood perfectly and soon she was hollering with her Spanish accent, "Marr-cooss!" I love how she does that! I don't know if he does, but he always comes running with a smile. He is our foreman. All our workers are so hard working, pleasant, and very good at what they do. These short Mayan men are as strong as oxen, never drink on the job, are punctual and seem to have a gentle and genial disposition. I am honored to have them working on our home.
Well it is time to get out of this hammock. I can't wait till it is hanging at the new house. I love looking out from the patio or my kitchen window to scan for passing dolphins or sea turtles. The later are quite common right now since it is their season to lay eggs. From our lot I have seen one bobbing on the waves several times. I can see a misty curtain of rain heading this way over the ocean. If I hurry I can make it to the lot before it does. Hasta Luego!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dreams in the Making

Last week Sophia and I went native - we slept on the balcony in hammocks all night. Well we made it most of the night until it started to rain at 3 am. Then it was back to the stuffy back bedroom where your only relief from the stagnant air was our precious oscillating fan. You lay on top of the sheets just waiting for the soft breath of air from the fan to flow over your body. You know you are in a tropical island with no A/C when your child says, " I want a fan for my birthday." (Sure beats having to fork over the dough for a Wii.) Sophia did not have to wait quite so long to get her wish. We have since graduated to one fan each so we can enjoy our own individualized, uninterrupted flow of air. Ahhhh - the pleasures of roughing it in Mexico. I will save Stan washing laundry in a plastic tub for another blog. Anyway, we will certainly appreciate a return to modern conveniences when our house is done.
In the mean time our house is finally beginning to take shape and the house is developing the Caribe/Moorish quality I was wanting. Sophia's bed is a small masterpiece and it doesn't even have the woodwork on it yet. The woodwork is going to be a little tricky, because in the average Mexican mind new is preferred and modern is in vogue. However, in my mind old is best and the more beat up it is the better. Give me an old turquoise shutter with chipped paint and the wood grain poking through and I will shout, "Perfection!" While others are deciding how many coats of polyurethane to cover their wood with, I am searching for drift wood to use as a frame on a mirror.
The house design has always had an organic and textural style. Stone floors, rock walls, grass roofs, and hardwood beams add a very natural and earthy element to the house. Throw in multilevel built-in gardens, a few trees, a live bamboo wall and numerous vines cascading over walls and hopefully we will have a tiny tropical paradise. It is exciting to see what I have envisioned take shape.
Lucy Chavez, my wonderful architect, laughs at me. She says I get these ideas, but I don't really think out how they will actually work. I say, "That is what I pay her for!" And she does make it happen some how. She is there almost everyday guiding the workers by the hand and me too sometimes. I am there with my folding chair, measuring tape, graph paper and pencil scribbling up changes or details just ahead of the workers. Today's assignment was finalizing the shape of the shower walls. I also redesigned my concrete sofa to a double chaise design. Today Lucy and I were standing on the roof as the workers were walling up the final level of the stairwell. As we were looking out on the gorgeous panoramic views from where we were standing, Lucy looked at the workers and said, "Why am I building that wall?" We decided to stop the wall and leave the stairwell open on top since it led to an outdoor patio anyway. In doing so we preserved a beautiful panoramic view that would have been blocked at several vantage points in the house by the top of the stairwell. I love Lucy's sensitivity to detail and willingness to change things.
Now that we have reached the roof top it is all about finishing the acabado ( the stucco-like finish) and the interior details. So tomorrow I will be there with Lucy and my graph paper,  measuring tape and bottle of water. Dreams are truly in the making and in this case dreams are coming true.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Silver Lining

I love summer on the island. The winter winds die down replaced by soft tropical breezes that drift like a lullaby over your skin. This morning I am enjoying my coffee and Bible as I watch the morning sun sparkle on the waves like a thousand flecks of silver. Some sort of black sea birds swoop over the water looking for their breakfast. My favorite are the pelicans who glide by on the same mission. Today is slightly overcast so I am mercifully spared from the blaze of the sun.
Later I plan on going to the lot and working on finishing details. The house as you can see from the pictures is coming along splendidly. They poured the second floor ceiling last week when we returned from Missouri. We had hastily flown home to be with my wonderful father-in-law, Ray Fauscett, before he went to be with the Lord. It was actually a time of love and growing closer as we all cared for Dad his last days with us. His funeral was beautiful and filled with family and friends who loved and respected him. Now he is watching us from heaven.
We have returned to the island and the realities of building and are experiencing the "should haves." If you have ever built a house you have experienced this. We should have done this or we should have done that. We are realizing that my change in floor plans because of the neighbor's palapa may have been a mistake. In fact, we are wondering if we should have built on the left side of our lot instead of the right. But now things cannot be changed. I am praying there is an underlying purpose that I don't know about right now for how it is laid out. I told a friend earlier today who was experiencing a hardship that I always look for a silver lining. So I will take my own advice. There is plenty of silver lining on this beautiful Caribbean island. So for now I will enjoy the breeze on my skin and the morning sun breaking through the clouds. I will listen to the sound of the surf, the neighbor's dog barking and the occasional car or motto passing by. I will send Sophia to get eggs across the street and make some guacamole. Then after a day of errands and time spent at the lot, I will end my day where I started it -- looking at the sunset over this beautiful ocean with a book in my lap and a coffee mug in my hand.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Rain, Rain Go Away

What would life on an island be like with out a week long tropical storm or two? I have been mopping and wringing out towels for 3 days now. The wind has been howling day and night, and our already cluttered apartment stuffed with our luggage and things for our house is now a disaster. I have shuffled things all over trying to find islands of dry area and our apartment looks like a rummage sale. Just when I was beginning to really feel sorry for myself, a friend on the island posted pictures of a family just down the road from me (one of many) who live in a tar paper house with water streaming in from the roof, walls and windows onto mud floors. I suddenly had a reality check and realized how blessed I am in my muy rustico apartment.
Building is coming along great despite the storm. They are building closets, couches and counters on the first level. Things are coming down to the wire now where any changes can not be made easily. Lucy, our architect, has been so patient with last minute changes. I am so excited about how the house is coming along and wish it were done yesterday. I don't really see how people can build without being here. It is impossible to plan it perfectly. In fact perfect is a word you must eliminate from your vocabulary in Mexico (any place for that matter.) What things look like on paper and what they look like in person are two different things. For instance, I thought the view from my second story balcony facing the street would be a stunning view of the bay. No. It is a view of the college across the busy street in front of our house. Stan had a brilliant idea to have tall built-in flower beds on the second floor balcony that blocked the busy street view below, but allowed you to see the pretty tops of palm trees and a distant view of the bay over the foliage. In addition it created a cozy and private feel to the balcony. If we would not have been able to stand on that balcony ourselves, we would have never realized that changes needed to be made. And there are countless little details that your architect questions you about when you are here that she would just have to guess at otherwise or try to ask by e-mail. Lucy and I spent 2 hours today combing through design books and hammering out subtle design details. How tall will the concrete sofa be? How tall will the end tables be? Can we put stone on the stairway facing? How about the bases of the columns? Can we put stone on the kitchen back-splash. What about the back wall of the outdoor grill? On and on the list goes. Should we do wood shutters or aluminum? If we do wood, how will we secure them? Think about rust, think about wind, think about water leaking in, think about ventilation, think about security, and last but not least, think about cost. The considerations are endless.
And soooo with all the considerations, calculations, and decisions you can see why I am quickly approaching a vegetative state. It's time to set the house plans aside. Pop some popcorn and veg out in front of the TV with my husband and daughter. I will see what discovery channel has to offer if Sophia has her way or the current action film if Stan has his. And so for tonight I am going to ignore the howling wind, relish the warm crunch of popcorn and snuggle up to my loved ones. Buenos noches mi amigos.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Top of the World

Everyday I am loving the island more. Today is Saturday, and it is my favorite time of the week. It is the one day I can totally relax - no Taebo, no home school and no appointments. The steady sound of the surf mixed with the warm tropical breeze has a tranquilizing effect. They say watching an aquarium lowers your blood pressure. Well magnify that by one hundred, and you will get a glimpse of my tranquility.
I am so glad we are building just outside of town so I can enjoy the privacy of the beach and waves alone. We are close enough, however, to walk or take my golf cart to town in minutes if I get the urge to socialize. Today I may indulge myself and drive in for a crepe filled with Nutella (a hazelnut chocolate) and bananas. Yes, I definitely love Saturdays.
Today I will go by the house and the workers will be gone, so I can walk around and imagine it finished. They have started on the second level, and it is so exciting watching everything pull together. I couldn't be happier with our results so far. The house is evolving as Lucy, Stan and I make changes along the way. I am so glad we are here during the process, because when you are actually standing in a room you realize that some of your ideas may not work well. Yesterday I totally changed Grace's room configuration to open it up more. We've also added windows where there were none and little details here and there.
Also at one time I thought roof top terraces were hardly used. But now as I am sitting on one writing and overlooking the ocean I have changed my mind. David, a new friend we met, rented the apartment behind us for several months. He would sit on the roof everyday and watch the fish swimming 3 stories below. I would go up on the roof to hang laundry, and he would point out his latest discoveries, such as a parrot fish or a sting ray. Now I have discovered the delights of this private pinnacle. So here I am looking out over waters rippling in various shades of turquoise planning my own ivory tower of stucco and stone - my own little top of the world.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


I am sitting on the patio of our rented flat listening to the surf gently rolling onto the shore with the morning sun warming my skin. Days like these are called "bonanzas" by the locals. A bonanza is one of those days when the ocean is smooth and the sun is full. If you are a snorkeler you are dropping everything else and heading to the water. It is peaceful tranquility compared to the normal winter winds that whip up waves and sand. Pelicans are skimming over the water, and I am imagining what it will be like to sit on my own patio.
I love our little flat with all it's "rustic charm," but I am looking forward to the modern conveniences of: hot water that I don't have to boil, being able to plug in more than one electric appliance with out breakers flipping, and most of all a fully functioning kitchen with an oven. But for now I will just have to collect remember-when stories about the old Mexican flat with turquoise walls and broken everything.
Fortunately, our building is progressing rapidly. The bottom floor is walled in and has it's ceiling. Tomorrow our 15 inch hard wood columns are being placed, and we are quite exited since they are one of the major vocal points when you walk in the front gate. I am very happy with my architect and my work crew. Lucy is talented, dedicated and honest. She understands what we are trying to create. The workers are hardworking, always there, and don't drink. The other day one of the Mayan workers who isn't much more than 4 feet tall was carrying a steel reinforced concrete girder on his shoulder! Tomorrow our half ton columns are placed and somehow those guys will move them. I love Mexican ingenuity. Stan used to joke that Mexicans can build a house with a metro (measuring tape) and a piece of string. And they can! I have learned a lot about using what I have to supply a need.
I love this island and it's people. Sure on an island 4 miles long and half a mile wide there can be gossip and factions. But just like everything in life, you have to focus on what is good and overlook the weaknesses. I don't have to look very hard to see the most beautiful ocean in the world. I also love the smile on little Tomas' face when he says an English word right, or buying fruits and vegetables from Raphael, or chicken from Catrina, and Sophia's favorite amigo, Jose, the ice cream man. They all make up the cultura of Isla Mujeres. When you look beyond the obvious beauty of the ocean and palm trees into the hearts of the people you will see that indeed life here is a bonanza!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Winter on Isla Mujeres can be described in one word - wind. It is always howling at various decibels. Even now I hear it whining outside my window. Today has been an exceptionally gray day on the island, but usually we have a rapturous several hours of sunshine that permeates the tropical air with liquid heat. Today is not such a day. Sophia and I finished our first day of volunteering at the English Language School near our flat. It was a small class today, but we had a great time. Sophia was timid at first, but as we played a Spanish/English game and laughed with all the kids she began to loosen up. At the end of class she didn't want to leave.
At the house things are moving at a rapid pace. The bottom floor is walled in and they are putting up 8 x8 hardwood beams on the ceilings. They are gorgeous and really add warmth and texture to the house. They will begin pouring the ceiling next week and are working on the exterior staircase now. We've changed our front arches to include 14 inch square wood beams on stone bases. We have made important changes as we progress and I have been so thankful that we are here to see the process and to make adjustments as needed. Lucy, our architect, has been wonderful to work with and she really understands the atmosphere we are trying to create. She and her husband, Sergio (an engineer) have been a huge blessing.
Last week was 5 days of Carnival on the island. Everywhere you went you saw sequins and feathers on guys and girls. What I loved about the carnival participants on the island is that they were all shapes, sizes, ages and genders. They were men, kids, and grammas; and they all got in on the fun. It was quite an extravaganza. Now it is back to normal life. Time to fix chicken tacos, and then boil the water to do dishes. If it weren't so cloudy I would hang wash on the line on the roof. Instead I will take the dogs for their several mile walk while Sophia goes to her dance class. Life is good on Isla Mujeres.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Journey Continues!

The Journey continues on Isla Mujeres as we return after a wonderful winter break with family and friends. Although I enjoyed the beautiful snowfall in Missouri, a couple weeks of it is sufficient. I've traded my wool coat and winter boots for flip flops and my Panama hat. We are thrilled with sunny 85 degree days and the sound of the surf out our window. Our house is finally beginning to look like a house. The bottom floor is getting close to having all it's walls. It was so amazing to be standing in rooms that I spent months drawing on paper. I am very happy with the progress and the work that Lucy and Sergio are doing. She ordered the wood timbers for the ceilings several days ago. I can't wait to see them up.
We have a new flat that we are living in that I describe as muy rustico! It is much more spacious than the one room we lived in for 2 and a half months last time. It has 2 extra large turquoise colored rooms. The kitchen, livingroom and Sophia's bed are in one room and our bed is in the other room. What it lacks in creature comforts - A/C, ceiling fans, and hot water in the sinks (there is hot water in the shower), it makes up in space and a wonderful view. We are right on the water so we get a constant sea breeze so it isn't too bad without A/C. It may be another story in June. We are right in a Mexican Colonia called la Gloria. Stuart, Oscar (our two dogs) and I went exploring this morning and I found a tortillaria (tortilla factory) a couple blocks away. It is worth the walk for fresh, warm tortillas. There is a fairly nice grocers close by, a jogging trail around a lagoon, and a panderia (bread and pastry shop) just around the corner. I may need that jogging trail!
Sophia has started a modern dance class and oil painting class. Next week we will also start to schedule volunteering at the language school for Mexican children on the island. The language school is walking distance from our flat so it will be nice to be in the neighborhood with many of the children we will be helping. We still need to go to Cancun and buy a few supplies. In another week I think we will be settled and off and running. For now we are happy to continue our dream in the making on sunny Isla Mujeres!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Here in Missouri we are digging in for sub zero temperatures, but on Isla Mujeres they are about to fiinnaallly begin building walls. All the new pictures on the slide show related to the building are the foundation. But what a pretty foundation it is! The pictures are basically the support walls, footings and cisterns under the house. Today I am pulling out my first suitcase in preparations for our departure in 3 weeks. I'll be carrying things like faucets, 10 jars of natural peanut butter (non-existent in Cancun), a bread maker, rice cooker, water filtration system, comforters, protein powder, and on and on the list goes ending with a Chihuahua and Stuart (my little black poochie). Don't worry; I'm not packing them today. We will certainly be a sight to see at the airport - 3 people with 6 giant suitcases, and 6 carry-ons (2 of which are dogs!) I'm thinking about drugging Stuart and possibly myself! Anyway, it makes this cold weather a little more bearable knowing that in 3 weeks I'll be back to my ocean breezes, sunshine and guacamole!