Monday, February 27, 2017

What’s In A Name

What’s In A Name
            This morning, Ricardo, our waiter, kept track of us by name. Lu became, forevermore, “Hello, Mary Lou, Goodbye Heart”, accompanied by Ricardo not-Nelson, with Spanish accent, embedding the song in our minds for the rest of the day. Ha! Now try to get the tune out of your head!

The two couples were Jerry and “Jerry’s wife” and Jesse and “Jesse’s wife”. Lola threatened to stab Ricardo in the leg with a fork. Sharon just laughed. I began calling Jerry, “Lola’s husband, just to keep things even.

Karen, he renamed “Carmen” and she immediately became dark and sultry. When I said my name, Ricardo replied, “Oh, you same name as the owner.”

I said, “We must be cousins.” Thus I became “cousin of owner”.  

            For the hour and a half it took us to have breakfast, Ricardo had fun with our names. That personal touch means we will always remember both him and the restaurant.

            Names are important. When my friends arrived from the airport, we caused a hubbub in the lobby, hugs and talk and the usual commotion. That was no problem. But we tried to check in and encountered a “boulder in the road”.  

            When finally the desk manager, one whom I’d not yet met, got my attention, he asked for the copy of my reservation from Expedia, which thoroughly confused me. “I made my reservations in person with Amalia,” I explained. “I never used Expedia.”

            He insisted he must have a copy of the elusive reservation in order to give my friends their rooms.

            Obviously we had a communication problem. I tried using different words, sprinkling my explanation with Spanglish. Then I used the lobby phone to speak with Amalia, who said she would clear up the confusion.

            However, the strangeness didn’t go away until another woman approached the desk and introduced herself as Sondra Jean Ashton, holder of the Expedia reservation.

            This woman had my entire name. What are the chances of that? What are the chances of us converging on the same day in the same resort lobby?

With profuse apologies the desk manager straightened us out and set us up with our rooms. I never had a chance to talk with my “same-name stranger” nor did I see her again.

            If I were Billy Bob Smith, I might expect to find entire phone book sections devoted to my name. But Sondra is unusual, a British name, and Ashton isn’t overly common as a last name. I’ve only met one other, Steven Ashton, from when I lived in Poulsbo, Washington. What I remember most is that he and his wife (I want to say Arlene but I’m unsure.) were square dancers.

I regret not talking with the other Sondra. We were rushing in different directions, which is a bit sad, when you think about it.

But, my, what a time! We hit the ground running and haven’t stopped yet.

I love being “tour guide”, introducing a group of friends to “my Mazatlan”. My list of things to do, places to go, is long. Time is short. And, true to form, we don’t always end up where we aimed. That is a good thing. Like the night we landed at the Shrimp Bucket (not our original destination) for, yes, shrimp, and a jazz/rock-n-roll band, accomplished musicians, who played music we all knew and loved.

            An advantage of having lived here is that I know what is “tourist” and what is “Mexican”. My friends have gotten to see the working Mazatlan, the shrimp boats, the tuna factories, the docks,  and  along with the Mercado, the Plazuela Machado, a day of exploring the Golden Zone, tourista central. We went north to La Noria and El Quilete, south to Concordia and Copala. We’ve eaten meals on the street and in fine-dining establishments. We’ve purchased beach junk and quality art, jewelry and clothing.

            Tomorrow we begin the second half of our Class of ’63 Reunion with a bus trip to Zapopan on the edge of Guadalajara.

            There is only one problem: not enough time. There is a solution: this is my friends’ “first” trip, but not the last.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

February 23, 2017

Saturday, February 18, 2017

                                                The Richest Poor Woman In Mexico
            Rich? Poor? By which stick do we measure? It is no secret I chose to play house in a small village in the mountains of Jalisco because I can do so and live well on my bare minimum pension.  I live quietly, unobtrusively.  By diligently shuffling pesos into my bottom drawer savings bank, similar to under the mattress, I can spend a week now and then on the beach.  I am rich.

            Sometimes I lose sight of how wealthy I am.  The other day I was walking down Calle Del Pulpo, the street where I used to live in Mazatlan, turned the corner and Jorge jumped up from his chair.  We both lit up like Christmas trees and threw our arms around each other.

            What makes this a worthy event is that I would have told you Jorge meant nothing to me. When I lived here I saw the man nearly every day. Jorge washes cars for a living, probably runs errands for people at the Solamar Hotel, where he parks his own car, where his black Lab, Rocky, sleeps and waits for handouts. Rocky is always sleek and well-fed. I’m not so sure about the care and feeding of his owner. Jorge always greeted me, often with a kiss, a cultural politeness.

            We had not seen one another for nearly a year. Obviously, we had forged a bond of sorts. A bond of recognition, connectedness, respect? A bond. That is true wealth.

            Moving on down my street I headed straight for Reuben and Sylvia’s Loncheria, ate quesadillas de marlin, the best in all Mexico. Again, hugs, greetings of delight.

After lunch I sat in the courtyard behind my former apartment with Ted, Teresa, Vern and Laurie. Ted and Teresa I’ve known for almost three years, neighbors. Vern and Laurie and I had made an immediate connection when I turned my apartment over to them, let them know its secrets, where it turned cranky and where it ran smoothly.

For me, it is a comfort to see a home I have loved, made beautiful for its new people. I had a part in making that happen and it pleases me well. See what I mean. Maybe it is subtle, but I am rich.

I still feel selfishly sad that Denise and Don didn’t get to spend the week with me. Denise says to make every vacation a trip, not a tumble. Don calls it his “pre-flight to Mazatlan”. He doesn’t recommend it; the flight is short, bumpy and with a hard landing. Don is recovering nicely from his fall downstairs on the very day he was to fly here.

Words are magic to me. This morning I experienced what I have come to call the “shuffle off to Buffalo” pass. I went to Pueblo Bonito to see if I needed reservations on Valentine’s Day for Cilantro’s Restaurante. The man at the front information desk shuffled me off to the Concierge, Denisse, who shuffled me off to whomever I could find at the restaurant (early in the day). Carlos sent me back to Denisse, who after several phone calls, said, “Come back in an hour when the manager is in.”

The “shuffle” comes from an ingrained politeness. Nobody wants to say they “don’t know” and leave you hanging. Such politeness might send you up the street when the place you seek is across the street. We do the same thing—we nod and smile that we understand, when in actuality, we haven’t a clue what was just said.

I notice I began using the phrase “my people”. “When my people are here . . . or let’s go to the flower market and get room bouquets for my people, or, I’ll go there when I can go with my people.”

The bond we small-towners have, the bond of that shared experience of school, a “survival” of experiences, that bond is tighter than glue. The Class of ’63, Harlem High, meets again, a smaller group this year. My people are here. We are wealthy.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

February 16, 2017

Friday, February 10, 2017

Down By The Seaside

                        Down By The Seaside
            A hundred frigate birds dip and soar overhead. Sun glints off the waves. Sailboats provide suitable backdrop in front of Bird Island.

A beautiful bride and groom, surrounded by family, repeat vows of matrimony on the beach. Three young flower girls, adorable in frothy white dresses with long pink sashes roll on the lawn. Nobody yanks them on their feet to “behave”. The bride’s train will be filled with sand so, in the bigger picture, what’s a few grass stains?

It’s a typical day at the Luna Palace. Kids splashing. Volley ball and soccer (modified  versions) in the sand. Swimming and surfing and fishing and simply walking the beach.

Up at five this morning, I left home at six, to catch the eight o’clock bus in Zapopan. I love to travel in luxurious comfort for the six-hour bus ride to Mazatlan. My lunch bag, provided gratis, had the requisite juice, water, chips and cookie but the lonche (sandwich) was missing. I’ve grown rather fond of the ham, cheese and jalapeno on a bun. My obstinate streak reared her head and refused to eat chips without my lonche.

            Carlos met me at the bus station in his sparkling “new” pulmonia, new motor, new wheels, new seats, new paint, new everything. After we hugged and caught up on family news, Carlos asked, “Where do you want to go?”

            “I’m starved. Around the corner to the bakery.” It’s the best bakery in Mazatlan, in my opinion. I bought too much, along with a lonche, but I’ll have goodies for my morning coffee. I can rationalize any bakery purchase.

            It’s nice to see people I know wherever I go. When I arrived at Luna Palace, Jesus met me to take my bag to my room, “Welcome back. We haven’t seen you for a while.” Jorge yelled, “Hola, Sondra,” from down by the pool. Isabel gave me a hug.

I walked down the street to buy a bag of coffee for morning. First I saw Alexandro and visited him a while. Next I saw Don and Albert, having their afternoon happy hour drink at El Paraje. I joined them for a chat. Arranged to have lunch with Don and Dorothy tomorrow. Just passing the time of day.

Finally, got to Oxxo and bought a bag of over-priced coffee grounds, packaged special for touristas. No matter, in the morning, I’ll enjoy every tourista sip.

Every day brings the unexpected. Coffee—bueno.  E-mail—mal. Denise sent a picture of Don hooked up to every unimaginable device in the hospital. Don, preparing for their trip to the airport, tumbled down the stairway. This is no small thing. He hurt his head, front and back and damaged an already damaged spine. Denise and Don were due to join me in Mazatlan this afternoon.

I am hugely disappointed. Selfishly. I looked forward to having them all to myself for a week of exploration, of introducing Mazatlan and lots of good conversation. I cancelled their room, the room with the best view of all, three floors above me. Tomorrow I’ll walk over to Dr. Paty’s office and cancel Don’s dental work.

I shall fill this week with friends and outings. But it won’t be the same without Denise and Don. Next week Jesse, Sharon, Jerry, Lola, Karen and Luana will join me. I wanted to say, “will join us.”

Stay off the stairs! And, please, no plagues, earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis or falling off the edge of the world.

Think I’ll go sit on the beach, try to hear what the little fish say.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

February 9, 2017

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Simple Pleasures, A Baby, And Lost in Transit

Simple Pleasures, A Baby, And Lost in Transit
            Certainly, I’ve no need to complain about my life. Today is the sum total of all my choices.  I accept that.

            Yet, I like to complain now and then. Grumble brings a certain satisfaction. If only I had done this or that differently, I’m sure I would be rich, famous, beautiful, all the above, fill in the blank.  E-gads, of course, my life could have gone the other way; I’d be ugly, infamous, and living under the bridge in a cardboard box.

I also wouldn’t have my children, grandchildren, and second great-granddaughter, born this morning. All my friends would be strangers.

Maybe I wouldn’t live alone. But, maybe I wouldn’t know she with whom I am alone; would not know her well enough to love and respect her.

Well, that side-trip was fun. I have to do that now and again just to get myself back into balance.

Just this morning when we gathered for our early morning Qi Gong practice, Jim mentioned how satisfying it is to pull weeds. I thought I was alone in this particular universe of pleasures. So, see, perhaps we are not as alone as we think. There are now two known people in my world who enjoy ripping weeds out by the roots.

Must be others who  enjoy the satisfaction of a just mopped floor, making bread as a meditation, and ironing line-dried clothing.  I’ve learned to find pleasure in small measures. Don’t even think I find joy in every household chore—most I muscle through like a bulldozer.

Five of us begin each day with Qi Gong in my back yard, under the jacaranda tree, along with millions of Chinese in city parks. When we started, a few weeks ago, each movement had numerous steps, intricate, confusing and difficult. One day the movements became fluid. This simple morning gathering takes no more than fifteen minutes. But some days it lasts an hour. We pad the time with conversation, helps us fuel our day, keeps us connected.

Sunday about twenty of us from Rancho Esperanza and from the town of Etzatlan celebrated the Feast of Candelaria, which is actually today, February 2. We feasted. Tables over-laden with food. Met new neighbors. Stories. Laughter. Doesn’t get much better.

For a simple and refreshing, easy Taste of Mexico, add a spoonful of cinnamon to your coffee grounds or plunk a couple sticks of cinnamon into the pot while it perks, drips, or otherwise concocts your morning brew. For a more complex “taste”, add chopped mango and juice of a key lime to your favorite cheesecake recipe. With modifications, this has become my famous mango pie.

Tuesday Lani, Nancie, Carol and I made happy three potters in San Marcos, pottery we “need”. We lunched at Dona Mary’s on the highway (she makes the best tortillas).  Then we drove on to Magdalena, city of the opal mines, for exploration and adventure, a “girl-day”.  We gather all the women who are around and head out for a simple meal and/or to “see what we can see”, a new tradition for us.

Every road has rocks. Friends ask for my address and I suggest they stick with email. Don’t send me packages. I have good reason.

My son shipped my new computer over three weeks ago, from Seattle, via UPS. So far it has visited seven states, fourteen cities, has experienced two different severe weather detours and a box-size audit. This morning it crossed the border into Mexico where it is held up for “missing or incomplete documentation”. It looks like it will be released for delivery and I will pay taxes and duty on her—again. Missing documentation. Uh huh. Go figure.

I leave for Mazatlan Saturday, for my HS Class of ’63 reunion. I may return before my computer arrives. Maybe we’ll both be in Etzatlan for Carnival (Mardi Gras). If she gets here before me, I’ll dance in the street, festooned with beads.

I talk about being alone.  I misspeak. I am anything but alone. I am surrounded by people who like me, love me and care. Not for a minute do I forget. I live by myself in my little casita. But I am not alone. 

Wonder if I could arrange for little Kyla Marlene, my newest great-grandbaby, to come dance with me.  Not by UPS!

Sondra Ashton
Looking out my back door

February 2, 2017

On Hold—But—The World Keeps Turning

On Hold—But—The World Keeps Turning
            Thank you, Daughter, for writing my article last week. Rocking chair, indeed! Next time I’m incapacitated, I’ll ask my Son to take my place. I didn’t break that many rules.

New eyeballs! There is a huge, vibrant, crisp and clear world out here, just waiting for me to explore. But my most excellent doctor, with whom I nearly fell in love pre-surgery, turned into a growly ogre post-surgery. End of romance.

            “What do you mean, stay indoors? Don’t garden? Stay away from public places? Don’t bend. Sleep on back. Don’t pick up anything weighty. What does that mean? Don’t stand over a steaming pot cooking. Stay out of the oven. Don’t read, no computer, no television. (I don’t own a television.)

            “Sunglasses.” “Okay, shades, I understand.” Sunglasses are sexy, friends tell me.

            “You bring me back this same pair of perfect eyes I see today,” said Dr. Landazuri.

            Reluctantly, I nodded. I never thought of myself as a rebel. In fact, I’m rather too compliant. But this is hard. Don’t read? I feel like my life is on hold, final exam February 7, before Dr. L will push the “play” button.

            Meanwhile the world keeps turning.

Do I follow the rules? I do the best I can. If I drop a sock, I can hardly call my neighbor. I pick up the sock. One day I went outside without my sunglasses. Two infractions in one. Josue immediately tagged me, sending me scurrying back indoors. On a windy, dusty day, yes.

            My never-ending garden demands care. Reluctantly, I get help. Leo always does the heavy work for me. (Yesterday he also swept and mopped my floors. Asking for help is hard for me to do.)

            Roses need dead-heading. My first amaryllis bloomed. My lime tree is heavy with blossoms; my orange trees filled with tiny green globes. The jacaranda trees shed leaves in the smallest breeze. In days they will burst with new green.

I asked David, who owns the vivero (garden center) why my naked trees along the brick wall were dead. He looked at me strangely, “It’s winter.” Winter? Fall? Spring? How do I tell? Each plant seems to have a different season. You should see my riot-of-color-geraniums!

            My son bought me a new computer and set it up so it would be easy for me to use. He knows me, knows what I want. She is a lovely all-in-one with a large screen so I can watch movies via Netflix. Three weeks ago my son put my computer into the care of UPS for shipping.

            Henrietta, she already has a personality, is taking the scenic route. She has criss-crossed Washington and Oregon, delayed by ice storms and extreme weather, and is now in Idaho? What is “extreme weather”? Why Idaho?

            My son said, “Don’t worry. Think about all the stories she will have. Think Mardi Gras beads.”

            Several days ago Bonnie carried around a colorful King’s Cake for each of us to cut a slice. People in many countries follow this tradition, to celebrate religious festivals, some at Epiphany. In Mexico, the celebration is held Candlemas Day, in observance of Jesus’ presentation in the Temple.

            When I cut into the cake, my slice held a Baby Jesus figurine, which conferred on me honor and fortune throughout the year. Along with the privilege, I also have an obligation to host a party for friends and neighbors. Bonnie served three cakes so several of us lucky ones will co-host the festivities. Following tradition, we will serve tamales and atole, a drink made with masa, the corn flour used in tortillas, to which fruit or chocolate is added.

            This year’s party is February second. I’d made plans to be in Mazatlan the third, so I changed my reservations to the fourth. While I was changing my plans, Bonnie changed her plans. The party will now be the fourth! I’ll contribute, but I’ll miss my own party. What kind of fortune is that!

            “Mexican surprise” is what my gringo friends and I call it. It’s what happens when communication lines are fouled; happens frequently when ordering dinner in a restaurant.

            Meanwhile I am doing the best I can with healing, patience and following rules. I can’t help it if sometimes I forget and a book opens in my hands. When I was growing up, Grandma would call me to set the table or do dishes. “Just one more chapter, please.” Not a lot has changed. “Just one chapter, please.”

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

January 26, 2017

Thursday, January 19, 2017

When the Mom’s Away, The Kids Will Play

When the Mom’s Away, The Kids Will Play
First, I want to let you know this is Dee Dee, Sondra Ashton’s daughter.  Mom had cataract surgery on Friday, the 13th, the lucky woman.  Mom decided to do both eyes at once.  Her life of fun and games interrupted, she found out she’s not allowed to read, or write, or garden, or go outside because of the dust in the air from the corn and sugar cane harvest, or really do anything for several weeks.  I’m glad I’m not there.  She’d be a beast to live with.  Not really, but maybe. 

Mom seems to have trouble with the “not do anything” part of her doctor’s orders.  Now, I am a baby.  If I had just had my eyes peeled layer by layer and repaired and the doctor said not to do anything, that rocking chair, a cup of tea, and watching the day pass away would be on my to-do list.
Mom argued that her martial arts group isn’t exerting energy.  Uh, I believe it’s listed under energy movement.  No.  Going shopping surely can’t be bad.  Let’s see, you’re not supposed to bend over and pick anything up because of the pressure this creates on the eyes.  I can’t see her accidentally dropping something and letting it lie there, or asking someone to pick it up for her like royalty.  No. But what about going to a friend’s for dinner?  I lost this one.  She snuck out anyway.  I’ve half a mind to call her doctor and tattle.

Mom loves to garden.  What normal people consider a chore, such as weeding, replanting, trimming, etc., she considers a delight.  She has a most beautiful, cared for garden and yard so all her work and love surely does show.  To mom, this is pure bliss.  To me, this would be torture. 

If I were with mom, she would ask me to “just trim this a little there”, “that needs to be re-potted and placed here”, or “don’t you think those plants all want to be dug up and placed on the other side for more light in the afternoon?”  I’m not sure all the people who help her really know what they are going to be doing.  Wish I could be a fly on that wall.

Mom is a voracious reader.  She and I find an author we like and read every book we can.  I told her that Kindle has audio books and she can get them delivered to her that way.  To do that however, mom would have to read.  Yikes!  Have you ever tried to find books for someone on the phone?  I read the descriptions and she says that sounds terrible, too gruesome, not gruesome enough, and on and on.  I think she just was trying to keep me on the phone to kill time.

The last time I wrote for mom, I was teaching K-8 in a 2-room school house.  I’ve since left and opened my own mental health practice.  I sure miss all my kids. 

I am so happy to be back into the field of counseling.  It is a career I know I am good at.  I like to help people to feel better and to get back into control of their lives. 

If you have a friend who lives in or near Glendive who needs a therapist, feel free to send them my way.   Right now, my mom is my most frequent contact.  She won’t be a good referral though, as she is not a great patient and directly disobeys just about everything.

An example just occurred while we were talking on the phone.  I heard a knock on her door, and a male voice, Josue, said he had seen her outside walking yesterday.  Busted!  She’s not supposed to be outside in the sun.

I could hear mom trying to back-pedal, justify, rationalize, reframe, whatever you want to call it. She was out against medical advice and walking where she’s not supposed to. 

Wouldn’t you know, Mom called again.  Busted again.  Mom reports she’ll stay home because she was trying to sneak to a neighbor’s to gossip and Josue caught her and sent her home.  There is a huge grass fire.  Pretty sure the smoke is on the no-no list.

That rocking chair sure isn’t getting much use right now.  It is nice knowing that all her neighbors are watching out for her.  I also heard her give Josue a chore for tomorrow.  Remember when I said she would want something dug up?  Well, she wants a whole area dug up and paved with bricks.  I knew I was happy to be in this beautiful, balmy Montana and not trying to control mom down in Mexico.
Dee Dee Robart, for Sondra Ashton
HDN: Havre Daily News; Looking Out My Backdoor

January 19, 2017

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Sleepless Nights and Rocky Days

Sleepless Nights and Rocky Days
            Three nights ago I couldn’t sleep. Rather than crawl out of bed, slump into a comfy chair and grab a good book, or even a boring book, something conducive to sleepiness, I chose to review every dumb, ignorant and bad decision I’ve made throughout my entire seventy-one years.

            Unlike in the past, now that I’m hopefully wiser, I rarely waste my time in such ways. But that night I simply couldn’t close the door. So I hosted the entire troop, which had been under lock and key for so long that they were delighted to be out of the closet entertaining me.

            I was explaining this to Carol, one of my neighbors, and she responded, “You were able to do all that in only one night!”

            We were cramped in Jim’s cup-o’-truck, a hardy four-wheel drive vehicle, on our way up the mountain to Las Piedras Bolas. My knees were indenting the dash in front of me (I exaggerate slightly) while John’s knees were indenting my back. ‘s truth.

            Comfort wasn’t the goal. We were in search of the experience. Our unspoken agreement amounted to, “whatever it takes”.

            It took bouncing up a terrifying excuse of a road, water washed, stone littered, peering over immense drop-offs, holding our collective breaths when the wheels slewed around. We stopped several times to stretch, to peer out over the track of unmanned zip lines, to walk several meters along a bridge, made of a plank supported by cables. They walked. They swayed. I sat on a stone at “home base”. I justified my squeamishness, “There’s gotta be a witness.”

            Las Piedras Bolas is a geologic mystery, as far as is known, in all the world, found only at the top of this particular volcanic mountain near Ahualulco. Theories vary as to how these gigantic lava balls were formed.

            Whatever the history, the bolas or balls seem magical. Some were small enough for me to drape my body over, hugging them while I marveled. Jim climbed atop one of the larger bolas and stood, arms akimbo. He looked diminished. The smallest I saw was over three feet in diameter.

            The government has set aside a huge area as a park, in order to preserve and protect the bolas as well as the flora and fauna within the park. The park is only about thirty miles from the rancho colonia in which we all live.

            Jim cajoled his truck, through scrub oak and varieties of pine, all the way up to the amphitheater where the lower bolas are found. From there we picked our way further up the mountain. We didn’t go all the way to the top but we spent several hours among the bolas, picnicking, marveling and speculating.

            Imagine a giant standing atop the mountain with a fist-full of marbles of various sizes. He opens his hand and lets the marbles roll down the ravines, only to stop at trees, in a choked gully, or to land in a pile of ash. I like to imagine the giant grinned, said, “This is good. Let them figure it out!”

            When we came down the mountain, late afternoon, we had too much energy to go home. So we stopped at a favorite local restaurant for a leisurely meal. One cannot chip apart and quantify experience. But in one day, I had my arms around rocks known as a rare phenomenon and got to know Jim from Missouri and John and Carol from Michigan, three neighbors who were, up until that day, practically strangers.

            Last night I couldn’t sleep. This time it was caused by honest terror. Tomorrow I go to Guadalajara for cataract surgery. Of course, I know it is rare for anything to go wrong. But I’m a voracious reader. Of course, I’m scared.

            I’ve been accused of seeing the world through rose-colored glasses by more than one critic. That’s not a bad thing. I’m looking forward to simply seeing the world clearly again. And if there is a rosy tint, I’ve put it there with my own paintbrush.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

January 12, 2017