Thursday, June 25, 2015

Just Walking in the Rain

                                                                Just Walking in the Rain
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            “Just walking in the rain. Getting soaking wet. . . People. . . stare at me. . . saying who can that fool be.” That fool be me.

            Gloriously, deliciously drenched. Three hurricanes this month held promise of rain and then either drifted out to sea or fizzled into nothing. Not a drop of rain in months. Then one morning, the skies burst. I waited for a pause in the downpour and headed out for a walk. A block from my casa, the sky unzipped right on top of me. I loved it. Instantly I was dripping, sopping, soaked with warm rain.

            I felt like a kid again, running through the sprinklers or playing on the lawn during a summer rain. When did we start grabbing raincoats and umbrellas and boots? Why?     

            A few steps to shelter, beneath an umbrella of a tree, thick with waxy leaves, waiting for another pause in the downpour. The sweet elderly, and I say elderly with trepidation, man who walks his dog and kisses my hand when he sees me, shared my shelter for a moment. We laughed at the wonder of our first real rain of the season. He kissed my cheeks, European style, and moved on. A young woman walking the center of the street, paused, gave the universal arms akimbo sign for “What can you do.” We laughed, sharing the moment.  

            The main street, Sabalo Cameron, roared curb high and over, like a creek in flood. Buses sent plumes of water shooshing over the sidewalk. I changed my intended direction, scooted around the corner to shelter at the fruteria. When patches of blue appeared and the rain settled into a gentle sprinkle, I picked up my laundry next door at the lavanderia. Back home, I peeled off wet clothes and hopped in the shower.  

            The entire month of June, albeit following a perfect sub-tropical winter, Mazatlan had sweltered under a tropical depression, with three in-line hurricane threats off shore, Hoovering up any breeze, leaving air soggy with moisture. One might drown by breathing. One need not lift a finger to be bathed in sweat. “Mucho calor”, the greeting of the day, while sopping one’s brow. Overhead, a flat blue sky.

Following that gift of rain, I checked the forecast daily, hoping for a repeat performance. Rain was often predicted. But weather follows its own whims. I wooed each puff of cloud like a desperate lover. The next three days dawned blue, clear and white hot. I hold tight to the promise of the monsoon season, July through September. But most of August and September I will be in Montana. Do you suppose it might rain?

Finally, this morning the western sky loomed purple as a fresh bruise, clouds heavy with promise. I scooted out the door to the lightest of sprinkles, like baby kisses. I never got wet. The drops dried on contact. But I enjoyed the promise. Monsoon rains are around the corner. People tell me after a rain, comes the steam bath. I don’t care. Bring on the rain.

When I got home I swabbed my floors and drenched the potted plants out my front door with the mop water, a leftover habit from too many drought years.

Though it goes against my Puritan upbringing, I’m going native. I understand why offices close for the sweltering afternoons and people disappear from the sidewalks. Activity, chores, projects get scheduled for the polar ends of the day.

Old habits are hard to break. At first I napped sneaky siestas, accidents of sleep, hiding from myself. Guilt finally slunk around the corner. During the afternoons, without conscious thought, I enjoy a half-hour nap time while my ancestors who formed me with their sensibilities roll in their graves.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

June 25, 2015
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The Road Not Taken

            The Road Not Taken
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            I could have been a surgeon. That is one possibility. Political geography, architecture, and anthropology; intense fields of interest. I sigh at lost possibilities.  Now and then I think about them, the latter three.

            Raised when and where I was, none of the above vocations were realistically within my reach. Nurse, secretary, school teacher; my limited options. I didn’t have a passion for any of them but knew the first two were out of the question so settled on the teaching course, at which I was a success, then a failure and once again, a success. Life, eh. Then I went on to other vocations as my life twisted and turned on the roller coaster.

            Back in the Jurassic Times, in high school, we were subjected to a series of tests. One that sticks in my memory showed that among other abilities, I tested high in mechanical aptitude. Made no sense to me. I could give a fig about cars and how they worked. It took years to realize cars, for me, had nothing to do with mechanical ability. Your story may be different.

            It’s true. Often I have an uncanny sense of how things work, how to take apart and put together. At times I’ve been able to make certain items, a wringer washing machine comes to mind, work even better than before it broke down, even with the extra parts left over. I never did figure out the extra parts. However, items frequently have unnecessary extra parts. I’ve assembled hundreds of Christmas toys. Trust me.

            So why surgery? Where there is a need . . . My daughter Dee Dee is plagued with an extremely painful knee. Oh, lord help us, do I ever have experience. My right knee was shattered in a car accident years ago. I had three surgeries in as many years and lived with increasing pain for the next forty-some years. At which time I had knee replacement surgery.

I know how to do this. I have empathy. I don’t want my girl to go through decades of pain.

Knees seem fairly simple. A vertical slice with a sharp knife, roll aside the flesh, saw the top and bottom bones off, throw out the middle section. Replace with a ball joint (I’m sure I can find one in an auto or farm machinery parts store) with a post welded onto each end. Drive the posts into the leg bones, wrap the flesh back around, and fasten the two sides together with hog rings and wait for it to heal. Smear daily with Bag Balm and it will hardly leave a visible scar. Voila, a new knee and no more pain. A simple mechanical solution.

So I told Dee Dee that all we need is a Skil saw, a hot glue gun for cauterization, hog rings and pliers. Her husband Chris joined the conversation and said he had a chain saw. Crude, but it will work. Her father has fencing pliers and hog rings. I have the glue gun.

Dee said she refuses to let Chris and me near each other. Why not? We love her. We want to help.

Of course, we have a few loose ends to tie up. Anesthesia, for example. But, hey, we are talking about the good old Montana frontier do-it-yourself work ethic here. So the good old frontier anesthetic should be good enough. And my daughter is not a drinker, so a small amount of “medication” ought to do the trick. Chris said he’d hold her down.

There is one little bitty drawback to this plan. Blood. Blood renders me unnecessarily and helplessly queasy, particularly my own children’s blood. In fact, back when I was considering the big three decision, nurse, secretary or teacher, blood knocked out the first option without question.

Chris suggested a swig of frontier medication might work wonders on my squeamish stomach before letting Dee Dee finish the bottle. And, of course, historically there is well documented evidence that frontier physicians relied heavily on this self-medication to remedy all manner of social ills. I’m not crazy about that option. But I figure this is just one of the small problems, easily solved.

Let me think on it. After all, surgery is a simple matter of mechanical dexterity. I hope there are not too many extra parts.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

June 18, 2015
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Life Without Logic

            Life Without Logic
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Envy me if you wish. My living room ceiling leaks drops the size of tadpoles. The wind stirred by Hurricane/Tropical Storm Blanca, like an angry sieve, filtered a heavy layer of grit over everything in my casa. The entire week has been muggy with temps in the nineties and air as heavy as water.  

            Mama Dove has taken her pair of baby doves, scruffy creatures, through basic flight instruction. The first day, as mama dove called encouragement, orders, from the top of a palm in the opposite corner of the courtyard, the babies perched on the edge of the flower pot nest and flapped their wings. The next day they flapped, lifted off the runway, and flew away into the mango trees. I witnessed it. What is this world coming to? The children are not old enough to have a license.

            Every morning I hobble out into the courtyard to harvest mangoes which have dropped in the night. I eat mango: plain mango, mango with yoghurt, mango with every fruit, mango in salad, mango sauce on mahi-mahi. I mince mango and store it in my refrigerator freezer. I give away great bags of fresh mangoes. The second tree is a different variety of mango which hasn’t ripened yet. I fear I may begin to disdain my favorite fruit.

            In my explorations of local eating establishments, I have never found mango pie on a menu. So I created mango pie in my kitchen. I cannot eat a whole pie, so I shared my pie with Carlos when he came to take me to the market, with Marie, Sylvia and Reuben at the corner Luncheria, with Johnny at the tienda across from the resort, Pueblo Bonito. With strangers. Wonder if I could create a cake.

            When I walked out my door I could hear the surf over the sounds of traffic on the main street. This is unusual, another by-product of Hurricane Blanca. I walked down by Pueblo Bonito and cut behind to the beach. The surf was high, waves shooshing one on top of another. I walked the beach down to Tony’s by the Bay where I stopped for breakfast. When I left my house, I had not intended to eat out. But I decided to sit and watch the water. For the price of breakfast, I stuffed myself like a pig, took home enough food for a second meal, and “rented” a table for an hour and a half of mesmerizing wave watching; a bargain.

Carlos stopped by to ask if I had another piece of mango pie. So I took advantage of opportunity and had him drive me along the malecon during the height of the dancing waves, wind whipping the spume up the seawall and across four lanes of traffic. Carlos said this week the fishing will be spectacular. Storm water moves the fish inland. Ordinary moments sublime

            A wise man once told me that we are incapable of seeing ourselves. That’s one reason why we need people in our lives. Others act as mirrors, teachers, truth-tellers, thorns. I remembered those valued words from Bob when I read Evelyn’s message: “How wonderful, Sondra, you took the plunge and re-invented yourself in another place.  And after a serious operation you are out laughing at the grim reaper, laughing and running to the nearest beach to walk, swim and sit in shade. You have a full life, well lived and enjoyed. How I envy you.”

            Ah, Evelyn, with your three-story brownstone filled with art and books on a cobbled street in New York City. Maybe we are not aware of it, but we all are to be envied. 

Bless you, Evelyn. Before I could get the big head over all the positive praise, I recalled a number of equally close and wonderful friends, true friends, who think I am crazy as a coot. And, of course, other friends will fill in the blanks between the two extremes. Know what? All are absolutely correct in their assessments. We sift our observations and opinions through our own filters—can’t help it.

Now and then I shift and shake and scrub my “filter”. I owe it to myself to see my friends clearly, with grace and gratitude.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

June 11, 2015
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Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Neither Snow Nor Rain Nor Heat Nor Gloom of Night

                                    Neither Snow Nor Rain Nor Heat Nor Gloom of Night
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            Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds reads an inscription on the James Farley Post Office in New York City, the unofficial postal creed.

            Maybe the creed also applies to the UPS. Although it makes no mention of tornado, hurricane, earthquake, tsunami or flash flood or volcano, I believe both delivery services strive to do a decent job.

            Through my own stupidity, I got tangled in a Brown Truck nightmare.

            Nearest I can figure I got stupid April 28.  Richard and I were walking the beach. Kathy was housebound, had sliced her heel on a broken bottle in the sand. Richard and I cut across the beach to the street so I could use the nearby ATM machine. We are long time friends with like interests. My mind was distracted with our stimulating conversation. I think I left my card in the machine. I’m not sure. I can create another couple possible scenarios, equally stupid.

            It took me two days to discover my card was missing. I checked my account. No activity. That was a relief. I emailed Debbie at Bear Paw, who had saved me from myself before this, asked her to stop the card, to issue a new one and mail it to my daughter who would send me the card via UPS.  

            No worries. In a couple weeks I would have a new card. Meanwhile, friends were in town. Then my cousin came for a week. I had places to go, people to see, things to do. I had pesos in my wallet. With rare forethought, because the exchange rate is excellent, little by little, I had put aside a small stockpile of pesos toward next year’s rent. Plenty for two weeks.  

            Sure enough, about the 12th of May, Dee Dee called me. Mom, your credit card arrived. Because of our work schedules and because UPS in Glendive is only open 4:30 to 5:30 for shipments, Chris won’t be able to send the card until Friday.

            Chris is a trooper. He sent my packet out Friday the 15th. I figured it should arrive Wednesday. But just in case, on Tuesday, the 19th of May, I submitted to voluntary house arrest. I didn’t want to miss the Brown Truck.  All week I skipped walking. I cancelled my weekly trip to my favorite market. For necessities, I walked to my local fruteria, up the street, around the corner, after 6:00.

            Monday, the following week, no Brown Truck arrived. (You might wonder why I didn’t track my shipment. In a fit of weekend housecleaning, my daughter inadvertently tossed the receipt.) By Tuesday I felt a hint of depression. Wednesday brought flutters of panic. Thursday, panic and despair and poverty. Two weeks in transit? How can this be? I was a mess.     

It gets worse. Friday, I was unfit for man or beast to be around. Chris, bless his heart went to UPS, told my sob story, got the tracking number.

            You will think I made this up. May 15th my packet left Glendive. On the 16th it went to Bismarck, Dickinson and back to Glendive, homesick already.  After a rest, on the 18 it went to Billings. Tough trip over the pass. Another rest. On the 20th it went to Casper, Wyoming and Commerce City, Colorado.  Remember, severe storms across the plains at that time.

            On the 21st it reached Vernon, Texas, by rowboat for all I know. It bounced around Texas a while, whooshed through the clearing agency in Fort Worth, passed to Mesquite and San Antonio, dodging tornados and sloshing through floodwaters, arrived in Laredo the 26th.

            The shipment waded crossed the border to Columbia, Mexico the 27th. Remember, at each stop, UPS picked up more goods heading south. On the map Columbia looks pretty small, so it was probably in Monterrey that the customs officials gave the huge shipment the stink eye and decided to inspect every piece before releasing it. Probably over coffee and donuts. On the 29th, I was assured that my card had sailed through San Luis Potosi and on to Guadalajara. I was promised my card would reach Mazatlan and my quivering hand June 1.

            Well, I wasn’t going to hold my breath. But sure enough, Monday morning that familiar Brown Truck stopped in the street outside my door. I could feel my shoulders drop from my ears down to where they are supposed to be, loose and relaxed.

My envelope marked “Extremely Urgent”, opened and taped shut on two ends, had signed up for a seventeen day tour with sixteen stops.       
    
Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

June 4, 2015  
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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Use Your Fine China

            Use Your Fine China
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            As far as we know we have only one life to live. That suggests to me that I want to make careful choices. Of course some things are out of my control, such as the sock that went missing when I picked up my laundry at the local lavanderia this morning. It is a universal truth that washing machines the world over eat socks.

            People love clichés for that hint of truth. I like clichés. One I frequently hear is this: if you were on your deathbed, would you bemoan that you had not spent more time at the office? That is a great argument for seeking more experiences, for spending more time with friends and family, for travel to exotic places, for shopping, for skipping school. And I agree.

            But what if work is your pleasure? That certainly was true for my Dad. Work gave him satisfaction. One year I talked Dad into visiting relatives in Indiana with me. My agenda included looking up people from the past, asking blunt and uncomfortable questions of family, visiting cemeteries which aided in the former, and generally stepping outside the family rule of silence. I frequently made my poor father uncomfortable. He wanted to be wallpaper. Or better yet, back home in his shop changing tires.

            I knew two things on this trip. I could always make peace by talking about work, his or mine. And, I was not responsible for my Dad to have a good time. That one only took me fifty years to learn! When we returned to Montana, I commented, “We sure had fun.” Dad’s response, no surprise, “Well, I don’t know I’d call it fun.”

            I’m my father’s child.   I get satisfaction from work. In Mazatlan I see expats and snowbirds who live the tourist life. Okay, I don’t have the money to support a tourist lifestyle. But if I had the money, that life would not make me happy. Simple jobs give me great pleasure.

            Monday I ripped apart two blouses I didn’t like and seldom wore. Today I’m wearing a new red blouse, made of the crocheted yoke and sleeves of one and the African print lower section of the other. I’m so pleased that I sent pictures to friends, showing off. One friend wrote back bemoaning that she had no sewing skills, hated sewing, couldn’t imagine why I’d do this for fun.

            Strangely, as a child, I hated and dreaded sewing. Grandma started me with simple projects when I was eight.  I could do nothing right. I was never good enough. Nothing was good enough. That was my Grandma. She would only accept perfection. I learned to love sewing despite her. We don’t have to cast those early experiences in concrete.

            Make as many mistakes as you can; that’s what I say. Make silly, stupid mistakes. One learns from them. Be a fool. Dance in the parking lot. Quit looking over your shoulder.

This morning I made a mistake. I walked my laundry home. My bag of laundry weighed eight kilos (minus one sock). My arm nearly dropped off. I should have hailed a pulmonia for the three block walk. I’m on the lookout for an old-woman cart.

Laugh a lot. Now that I am multi-lingual, I laugh in three languages. When we learned to write letters in grade school, remember how we peppered our notes with Ha! Ha! Ha! In Spanish laughter is Ja! Ja! Ja! And in Norwegian it is Ya! Ya! Ya! 

Fall in love at least once a day. I didn’t say you had to act on it! Fall in love secretly, if you must. It can be as much fun and less painful. I adore the sweet elderly man who walks his scruffy dog, always tips his hat and kisses my hand. Love ugly people. They have their own story. Listen hard. Listen between the lines. You’ll discover there are no ugly people.

We are told we cannot choose our relatives. Well, blast that myth. We’d better choose them if we want to be loved and have friends, especially after we attain a certain age where most of our family lives in a small plot and a memorial service is a weekly social event. Just this week I adopted Kent Haruf, one of my multiplicity of favorite writers, as my brother, only to find out he’d recently died. He’s still my brother. I love that man.

Live, laugh and love. That’s what I say.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

May 28, 2015
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As The World Turns

As The World Turns
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            The Guiding Light: While weather in Havre continues to be erratic, after weeks of Mazatlan perfection, Summer arrived. Each day is hot. Mucho calor. My little apartment stays reasonable with a flow of breeze most days. Summer suggests I limit my walking to early morning and late evening. Of course, at times necessity dictates I deviate from that rigid schedule. I walk home drenched in sweat. Click.

            Dark Shadows: Long ago at a rodeo in Roundup, I suffered a mild sun stroke. Even today if I get too much sun I get sick. I carefully stay in the shade as much as possible and keep most of my body covered. Despite this, after enjoying pool time with cousin Nancie last week, my upper arms erupted in tiny watery blisters. They finally broke. Ewww! Yesterday I peeled enough skin to paper my bathroom. How is that possible? Click.

            General Hospital: Each doctor, masseuse, and medical person with whom I’ve talked, including a pharmacist, has told me to walk in the sunshine each day, preferably in beach sand. The beach vendors stay covered head to toe. What do they know that we don’t know? Click.

            The Edge of Night: While I try to moderate sun time, my friend Kathy took a royal whopping from her Irish dermatologist who wants her to wear a burka, day and night. (She said.) Kathy lives on an island in British Columbia where the sun seldom shines and the rain often reigns. God Bless the Queen. Click.

            Search for Tomorrow: Last evening I had my first complete all-Spanish conversation. Granted, it was a short conversation, with Sara, a clerk at the local Farmacia, perhaps ten sentences each. I’m sure most of my “sentences” were not grammatically correct, but they were understandable. My English language brain is learning to not go immediately to “blank” when asked a question in Espanol. When I grasp a word or two, I might be able to cobble together the intention if not the entire meaning. It’s a heady feeling when words begin to make sense. Click.

            The Secret Storm: Soon a storm of mangoes will bombard me from the two trees in my back patio. The “rain” began this week. The trees are tall, the fruit out of reach. When nearly ripe, the mangoes drop to the ground. I scout the patio often, to beat out the ants, whose voracious appetites can hollow a mango in two hours, leaving the skin with the seed inside. The ants appeared this week. Timely, eh? Next week I will gorge on the sweet mangoes. A month from now I will give away most of my harvest, over-indulged. Click.

            The Young and The Restless: My dove eggs are due to hatch next week. I hope this batch survives the grackle attacks.   But if they don’t, I am determined to harden my heart and clear the nest from my planter, maybe, just maybe, in time to save my lovely plant, so dry and pitiful. If the babies survive, I lose the plant. I’m resigned to wait and watch. I console myself with my newest garden “babies”. I slipped sweet potatoes and planted the slips last week. They are thriving.  I planted too many and will, no doubt, harden my questionable heart to weed out all but one or two of the strongest. But let’s not think about that. Click.

            All My Children: My oldest girl’s oldest girl, Jessica, is scheduled to grant me a great-grandchild (How did I get this old?), June 23, just two days after Jess’s summer solstice birthday. In a few short weeks I’ll fly north, hold Baby Harper in my arms, spoil her rotten, my heart soft and gushy. Click.

            Days of Our Lives: I nailed the guava pie! I made a crust of crushed cinnamon cookies. Covered the bottom with chopped guava fruit. Then I poured in the rich filling. Topped that with more guava fruit and chopped pecans. Once the pie set up I drizzled the top with cajeta, a caramel-like syrup. I ate the first slice early that evening. The next slice I had with coffee the next morning. Later that day I gave Arturo, my physical therapist, a generous slice—he’s a growing boy of twenty-seven. Then I gave the remainder of the pie to Reuben, Sylvia and Marie at the Luncheria at the corner. Such a rich treat needs to stay special. Guava pie is not an everyday dessert.

            A pregnant pause. Cameras zoom in for a close up. Music builds to a dramatic pitch. Cut to commercial. Tide. Or Dreft. Or Cheer. Or Duz. Or Ivory Flakes. Or Oxydol.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door.

May 21, 2015
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Back To Normal—But What Is Normal?

            Back To Normal—But What Is Normal?
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            After two weeks of active (not normal) social life (non-existent) with friends from British Columbia and then with my cousin from Sedro Woolley, Washington, and following two nights of long sleeps, my life has returned to a sedate routine. Mostly.

            I could call it “routine times two”. Each day with my friends, I walked three or four or six times what I previously had been doing. Plus, I continued with my physical therapy, which means the extra walking enhanced my strength and flexibility. In two weeks time, “extra” has come to seem “normal”. 

            Instead of once a day, I restlessly walk twice. In the mornings I like to walk the beach. In the evenings I stroll the back streets of my neighborhood. Many people recognize me with greetings. Two men routinely kiss my hand, which delights me.

            Jorge runs a car wash business on the corner with a bucket of water and bundle of rags. The other man is quite elderly and he may have told me his name months ago. He walks a scruffy looking but well-loved little white poodle/wire-haired mix of a dog. His wife also has damaged joints. With my vivid imagination, I choose to believe he honors our similarities when he takes my hand, bows and lifts it to his lips. Melts my heart. Ah, so much for my love life.

            This morning Carlos picked me up for a trip to the market so I could stock my cupboard with essentials for the week. I’m on a search for goat’s milk, leche de cabra. I want to make cajeta the traditional way.

            Two weeks ago I had never heard of cajeta. Liz, at a Se Bilengue session, explained to me, “Cajeta is boiled milk.” Goat’s milk with sugar is simmered to reduce it to a caramel-like syrup. I first tasted it with coffee. Oh, my. One can make it using cow’s milk. But goat’s milk is richer, traditional. At the market I found great rounds of goat cheese but no leche de cabra.

            Three different women, eyes sparkling, explained to me in great detail how to make cajeta from sweetened condensed milk, if I must insist on making it myself. Crazy gringa. Why would anybody want to stand over a hot stove stirring for hours to reduce milk when one might buy it ready-made. I’m not giving up. When I see Rudy at the fruteria, I will ask him to order goat milk from his village. They may think I’m nuts, but nuts or normal, what is the difference?

            At the market today I selected perfectly ripe guavas to make a pie. Last week Nancie and I feasted on guava pie (a new taste experience for my cousin) at three different eateries. We analyzed each slice and determined how to make the best even better. Imagine creamy filling, rich with layers of slivered fruit, sprinkled with chopped pecans and topped with drizzles of cajeta made from goat’s milk, ready-made. Who knows how long before I find a source for goat’s milk. But I won’t give up.

            During my physical therapy session, Arturo told me the tide tomorrow morning is forecast to be loco high, to flood the streets even more than it did two weeks ago at full moon, with gigantic waves. This morning the sea lay calm like glass. I will walk to the beach tonight to check it out.

Extreme water action from the sea is normal during storms but not on a quiet regular day like this. But where on earth, today, is water, wind, terramoto and volcan action normal?

Oscar just knocked on my door with mail delivery and verified that tomorrow promises to be mucho frio with winds from the norte. And indeed, it seems strange energy pulses through the air. A yellow-green wall of fog obscures the ocean horizon. Clouds stretch gray bands across the sky. Do I detect a noticeable dip in our usual warmth? But then minutes later, the sky is blue with fluffy clouds. Like normal!

When the guava pie is ready, I’ll let you know. Would you like coffee with yours?

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

May 14, 2015
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