Saturday, February 7, 2015

I Left My Hip in Sinnn-a-lo-a: Meet Rosie

                                    I Left My Hip in Sinnn-a-lo-a: Meet Rosie
             With a bit of lyrical jiggling, I could write a new hit song. Okay. So I’m not Tony Bennett. Okay. So not all my good ideas work.

            I’m happy to be back in my casa. My bionic knee, Ruth, acquired in India, is bonding with my new bionic body part, Rose Hip. With every step, I lean onto the arms of my new best friend, Hopalong Cassidy. I have another supportive friend who lives in the bathroom whom I call Howdy Doody.

            This sounds like my body is quite cosmopolitan, chic multi-national. However, I suspect Ruth and Rosie were each purchased in a US Body Part Store.

            No, I do not have multiple personalities. I have multiple replacement parts.

            My hospital experience was the best, new modern facility, attentive doctors and nurses. I can say only good things about my care. My surgeon came to check me several times a day. I know this is hard to believe, but he comes to my house to check my progress at home and replace the dressing over the incision. He will come to my house to remove the stitches. I tell the truth.

Two more truths. I’ve become a firm believer in prayer in the trenches. Surgery is not fun.

In one area only did this hospital experience fail to impress. After eating the best Indian food I’ve ever had at the hospital in Bangalore, India, the food in this lovely facility was despicable. How can anybody render Mexican food both unappealing and tasteless?

Rueben and Sylvia who own the luncheria at the corner of my apartment building make the best marlin quesadillas in town. They bring meals to me until I feel up to cooking again. They are open weekdays only but friends and neighbors keep me well supplied on the weekends.

First in a steady stream of visitors, Dorothy from St. Paul, Minnesota and up the street six houses, walked in with a good old-fashioned mid-western macaroni hot dish in hand. Comfort food, yes, and I enjoyed every comforting forkful. Frank, my neighbor, makes a killer southern-style chili (an American dish I’m talking about here) at least once a week. He brought me a bowlful. Mmmm. More comfort food.

I’m soaking up all the comforting I can get. My post-surgery emotions keep me on a tilt-a-whirl, bouncing from gratitude to my good friends and neighbors to abject self-pity and feelings of alone-ness. Feelings pass. I know that in my head. Heart rules.

Physically, I’m healing quickly. On my hip, covering a six inch incision, looking like a fungus growth on a tree, rests a poufy bandage the size of an Unabridged Oxford English Dictionary. But it couldn’t weigh three grams. I have to wear dresses, loose and casual, not slinky. I like dresses.

The next three weeks I will read an amazing number of books, sit in my chair with my leg propped on a stool, keep my foot jiggling to make the lymphatic sausage effect recede, and will drink enough water to drain a mid-size lake. I had more pain pre-surgery than I have post-surgery. The way it should be.

While I was in the hospital I could feel all the good hopes, prayers, best wishes buzzing over the airwaves all the way from Havre. Now that I am in recovery, please send books, tuna casserole, grilled cheese sandwiches, tomato soup, Cocoa Puffs, more chocolate and lots of love.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

February 5, 2015

A Hip Bionic Woman Gets A Tire Change

                                                A Hip Bionic Woman Gets A Tire Change
            Holy Smokies! I never know which way the ball will bounce when I get up in the morning. Hey, keeps me on my toes.

            When I saw my x-ray, I knew I’d soon have to go under the knife, become more bionic than I already am. My hip joint was shot. Hip shot, get it? Whoops! Is it even legal to use “hip” and “joint” in the same sentence?

            Despite instant knowledge I decided to live with the painful hip as long as I could stand it. Stupid, yes? Why would any normal person make that decision? I know. Follow that thought to its logical conclusion. But I’m a Montana Woman. Rough, tough and hard to bluff. We can handle Pain. That was two months ago.

            A couple weeks ago, said Pain changed my mind. I began research into surgery, surgeons, hospitals. Choices became overwhelming. My best bets in terms of cost seemed to be Tijuana or Mexico City. Travel complicated that bottom line. I would go back to Bangalore where I met Ruth, my titanium knee, in a heartbeat. If it were not for the 25 hour commute.

            I want to stay in Mazatlan. So I consulted my local search engines, Rudolfo and Carlos. Between them they know nearly everyone in a city of over 800,000. All they had to do was ask who, where and what were the results. Throw the information into a hopper, turn the handle and out pops a certain doctor and a certain hospital.

            So mid-morning Rudolfo knocks on my door. Get ready. At 6:00 this evening we go meet the doctor. I checked with the clinic and got his hours. Today? Yes, today, why not? Gulp.

            After an exam, questions, answers, a ton of information, I made my decision. I liked the surgeon. It’s a go. The next day I went for blood work. Until my new doctor saw the results of tests, he would make no further commitment.

            Blood letting terrifies me. Needles give me nightmares. I bravely bared my arm, turned my head, squinched my eyes, breathed like a woman in final stages of labor and gave my life-blood to the cause. The vampire man told me I picked the best surgeon in Mazatlan—words more soothing than any band-aid.

            When one has tests done in Mazatlan, one returns, picks up the results and hand carts them across town to the doctor. The doctor said, you are healthy as a horse. He flipped a calendar in front of me. When do you want to do it?

            I don’t know what you are like. You are probably healthier than I am. Patient. Calm. Serene. Once I made the decision to go under the knife, I pointed to yesterday. My doctor has a sense of humor. He laughed and shook his head. This was on a Friday. I pointed to Monday. He indicated Tuesday would be a better day for him. Tuesday it is.

            Just enough time for the night terrors to set in. Mostly I’m excited. But I’m also scared. It’s okay to be scared. When I got my new knee, it gave me a whole new life, sort of like I renewed my lease. Now my hip’s worn out. So I expect the new hip to give me another lease on life.

            Sleeplessness isn’t much fun. Silly questions without answers keep me awake. I did get to put one urban legend to rest. I had heard, you know, the “someone said” thing, that when a person is hospitalized in Mexico, a family member had to bring in meals. So I asked Rudolfo what about food? What do you mean? In the hospital, what about food. Who will bring me meals? He looked at me like I had nine heads. They feed you meals in the hospital. He gave me a really strange look again and sort of made the mental finger roll around his head that said, this woman is moon-struck.

I can’t wait to meet my new hip. I wonder what to name her. Anything I’m that intimate with must have a name. I’m thinking along the lines of “Rose”, as in “rose hip”. Or maybe “Rosie the Riveter”.  Or maybe Jaime Sommers. If you remember this character from late 70’s television, you are officially, bionic-ly hip.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

January 29, 2015

Getting To Know You

                                                Getting To Know You
            When I moved from Montana to the Seattle area in 1984, not my first relocation by any means, I knew it would take a while to develop friendships. Two years later, coffee outings with a couple of women eventually led to trips to Seattle for the Symphony or Elliott Bay Books with Lynn and to picnics or family dinners with Karen, who also had children. A couple more years and I had many friends; men, women, couples and singles.

            Friendships take time to develop. I sorted through a few acquaintances before I had friends with whom, over steaming mugs of coffee, we could bare our souls. The former are great people and the latter are rare and precious. I treasure both.

            By the time I moved to Harlem in ’06, the community in which I’d grown up, I knew what to expect: sure enough, in a couple years I began to form real friendships. Volunteering in my community speeded up the process arithmetically. I simply met more people.

            So I knew that when I came to Mazatlan a year ago, time and solitude would be my first friends. And it is so. I arrived physically and emotionally exhausted and needed rest more than activity.  This past year has been an extended retreat, a gift of incomparable value.

            I rented a small apartment in a building with seven units and a luncheria, each unit a different size and configuration. Four of us share a tiled courtyard in back with covered areas, fruit trees, and a variety of plants, exotic and domestic.

            Since I don’t play golf, cook most of my own meals, and don’t hang out in drinking establishments, the first people I got to know were three other apartment dwellers, snowbirds. The remaining three are friendly but speak very little English. We greet one another, smile and wave and converse with sign language.

Ted, our resident gardener and part-time courtyard caretaker, hails from Edmonton, Alberta. He owns a sand and gravel business back in the north-country. Frank, a retired electrical inspector in nuclear energy plants, or something of that nature, lives in Ione, north of Spokane. I once shared poems at a reading at Ione. Frank was not present.

More recently, I met Don and Dorothy, snowbirds from St. Paul, who live up the street half a block. Don graciously came over an uncluttered my computer. Dorothy brought me a huge bar of Sweet Obsession dark chocolate as a thank you for using my printer.

And, of course, I have several Mexican acquaintance-friends year round. Our interactions are limited by language, but we make ourselves understood, most of the time. I’ve not yet become part of the year-round English speaking ex-pat community. That may happen in time. For now, I am content.

What I find different in my life in Mazatlan, is my role with my new acquaintances. I am the listener, the repository of their stories.

Ted and I fuss over the courtyard garden, his tomatoes and peppers and my garlic and ginger. Then we sit and watch the hummingbirds while he tells me stories of his winter job as a trapper.

Then Frank knocks on the front door. His hair-raising childhood family stories have given me a whole new understanding of and respect for the man.

Both Dan and Dorothy, a couple who seem like two peas out of the same pod, have spent hours telling me about parents, siblings, work, how they met, about friends I’ll never meet. The funny thing is, I feel I know them quite well. They don’t know anything about me.  

Only in retrospect do I recognize my listener role. I didn’t arrange it or make any conscious decision. It just happened. I’m used to conversations being interchanges. 

One thing I learned years ago. No matter my initial judgment of a person, when I hear his story, my first impression flies out the window.

My door is open. I don’t know many people. But when one knocks, I make a pot of coffee. I sit. I listen. It is enough.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

January 22, 2015

Real Montana Winter

                                                            Real Montana Winter
Hi John,

I understand the weather is a bit on the rough and tough up there. I’ll not talk about the weather down here.

Hello Sondra,

That’s what a little time in Mexico does to you. You’ve lost your Montana bravado. Don’t you long for the minus five temperatures, the minus twenty wind chills, the eight inches of snow? You’ve become a wimp.

            Well, that sure shut my mouth! And that after I’d been whining about what a cold winter we are experiencing here, what with the dregs of the cold flowing downward along the Pacific coast. Lows of fifty and highs of seventy for days! Brrrrr.  Locals donned layered clothing and winter jackets. I, accustomed to going barefoot, caught a chill and sniffles and thought I had just cause for complaint. Another Montana friend suggested I stuff a wool sock in my mouth. 

            The socks proved fuzzy and uncomfortable so I took them out of my mouth and put them on my icy feet. The truth is I do long for Montana winter. But only little pieces, as if I could choose to keep this bit and to discard that bit.

            Nothing is more beautiful than morning sunrise with an inch of new frost glittering on branches and twigs and power lines. Or, lying in bed listening to pure silence, knowing that when you look out the window the world will be snug, tucked in beneath a blanket of new snow. And, oh, the delight when fat, puffy snowflakes sift down into piles on the rare windless day, snowman material. Or when the night sky dances and hums with aurora magic. Or the melancholy beauty of the overcast day when the tortured frozen limbs of cottonwood trees seem to hang onto the heavy sky.   
            When I envision these wonders, I like to imagine sitting in a well-worn overstuffed chair in front of a crackling wood-stove fire, fleece slippers on my feet, my cat curled in my lap, a steamy mug of hot chocolate in my hand.

            Unfortunately, what I remember most vividly is a different picture. I shudder to think about bundling up to face extreme temperatures and the chilling, killing wind. Of leaving the warmth of home looking like the Pillsbury Doughboy, so bundled I can hardly waddle. Of nose hairs that freeze with my first cautious breath. Of not being able to wear glasses because the frame gets too cold. Of keeping my mouth clamped tightly shut against the wind.

            Of my feet sliding out from under me on a patch of hidden ice, slamming me so hard I cannot catch my breath. Of my eyes making uncontrollable tears, forming icicles on my cheeks. Of fingers that turn numb despite wool liners inside leather mittens. Of wondering if my toes are still attached.

            Of wind that grabs my coat and tries to rip it from my body. Of walking backwards down icy streets, to keep the wind at my back. Of finally reaching shelter, my muffler frozen solid with a sheet of ice from my breath, salty icicles beneath my nose, eyebrows rimed with frost.

            Of plugging in the car. The sluggish sound when the motor will barely turn over. Of tires that freeze flat in extreme cold, turning round-clunk, round-clunk, round-clunk. The heater full blast, unable to penetrate the chill.

            Of driving through a blizzard, or on black ice, or in a white out, guessing, hoping where the road might be, not daring to stop. Of sliding off the road and wondering how long I can leave the motor running before the exhaust pipe plugs with snow and suffocates me, wondering if help will come, wondering if I have enough gas to keep the heater going, of wanting to walk for help knowing that is wrong decision.

            I flatter myself that I’m pretty good at evoking a scene to convey to others. But I’ve tried to explain winter to Mazetlecas only to be faced with a flat look of incomprehension. Finally I quit trying. If one’s not lived a real Montana winter, one cannot imagine it. I will content myself with whining when the nighttime temperature plunges to 52 Farenheit and I can’t go barefoot.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

January 15, 2015

Resolved: Eat More Chocolate

                                                Resolved: Eat More Chocolate
            Against my better judgment, I made a New Year’s Resolution. There’s a first time for everything. To me, New Year’s resolutions are nothing more than tongues flapping empty air. No matter how much I might say that in the coming year I’m going to run a marathon, lose a hundred pounds, work out at the gym every day, eat no fat, count carbs, read only wholesome literature, keep up with current events, hone my math skills, make a million dollars, get a man-friend, sail around the world, the reality is that I’m not going to do any of those things. I know that. And you know that.

            Take a deep breath. Here goes: Eat More Chocolate.

            Life is short. If the sun rose for me today, that signifies a good day. There are no guarantees the sun will rise tomorrow. Maybe you think differently. I’m no longer invincible. 

            I have good logical and illogical reasons for dedicating a portion of my day to the pleasures and solace of chocolate. Any premise can be easily scientifically proven, or just as easily disproven, by a quick search on the internet. We used to use the research library. Books work the same way but the internet search is easier and quicker and seldom taxes one’s cognitive faculties. Since that is so, I decided not to bother with the research but simply to focus on personal experience. If you want to prove any of my points right or wrong, feel free. I’m easy.

            The number one good reason to eat more chocolate is the sublime good taste. I won’t tell you how to eat chocolate. Be a hog if you want, though I recommend savoring each mouthful with closed eyes for maximum benefit. Sound effects are nice too, such as “mmmmm”. Nor will I give advice as to form.

 Oh, Form! Oh, Variety! Chocolate cookies. Chocolate cake with fudge frosting. Chocolate cream pie with whipped cream  and shaved chocolate curls. Chocolate cheesecake. Muffins, cupcakes, pudding. Candy, home-made and commercial. Unlimited choices. Mmmmm.

In Mexico, chocolate wriggles its way into moles with chicken, pork or beef and salsas. Or savor it in Mexican style rice pudding. More Mmmmm.

Ice cream. Oh, lovely ice cream. Double-chocolate-fudge-chunk ice cream. Oh, adorable ice cream. Double MmmmmMmmmm.

Chocolate drinks. Ah, drinks. Hot chocolate, mocha, champurrado (an atole drink), Kahlua. Much prior to midnight New Year’s Eve, Denise, Cheryl, two Karens, Ellie and I each lifted a steaming mug of our favorite hot chocolates in celebration. I made mine with Mexican chocolate, cinnamon bark, whole milk and vanilla. Sublime—I told you so.

Kathy reminded me that chocolate is the number one main Food Group and is as essential to life as water. Dee Dee said, while licking chocolate muffin crumbs from her fingers, that she is an ardent fan after purchasing “The Cardiologist’s Wife’s Diabetic Cookbook for Chocolate Lovers.  

Certainly it is a universal truth that chocolate is healing. Feeling a bit down in the dumps? Chocolate will warm the heart and lighten the spirit. Chocolate brings comfort to a troubled soul and perks up the brain waves. Dark chocolate lowers blood pressure. Light chocolate sooths the nerves and satisfies the appetite.

Chocolate enhances one’s social life. Is there any woman (or man, admit it) not made happier by receiving a special box of chocolates from the love of her (his) life on Valentine’s Day. Even better, even more special, a box of chocolates makes a most wonderful gift any day, just because. No “special” day other than it simply is a day. Note: Use social chocolate with caution. It has been known to lead to the altar.

Melts in your mouth, melts in your hand, melts on your face. Who cares!

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

January 8, 2014

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

                                                                Tidings of Comfort and Joy
            For two weeks the words of that Christmas song floated through my mind. The chorus won’t leave me alone. Think about it. The whole thing is a strange set up. First angels show up. Then they say, Hey. Dude, chill. Don’t be scared.

            Think about it. If angels showed up at my door, I don’t care what words they used, I’d be terrified. Typically angels might say they bring good news. But what generally comes into play, at least before anything good happens, think about it, long travels, confusion and travails. Wandering the desert, birthing a baby in the barn, trips to Egypt by foot; that kind of thing.

            What does an angel look like? How would I know? Do I really think angels are tall, Hollywood-good-looking men with gigantic wing spans made of white eagle feathers? Think about it. That kind of angel won’t fit through my door.

            Or maybe angels are like six-year old girls, dressed in ruffled white dimity, heads bowed and hands folded in prayer, walking down the aisle for their first communion ceremony. We say the words, Oh, look at the sweet little angels. (Sigh and smile.) Oh, we and our imaginations, equating seeming innocence with angels. What about the little boys in the other line, like the red-head, the one with cowlicks in his hair and the slingshot sticking out of his back pocket? At him, we might frown. He’s innocent too, isn’t he? The little “devil”. (Grin and giggle.)

            About a month ago a stranger knocked at my door. He came afoot, a small pack slung over his shoulder. My Espanol is not good enough for a full blown conversation. But I get by. He asked me something, perhaps directions. I explained that what he asked was beyond my limited comprehension. So we proceeded to have a small conversation, the kind typical between two strangers. Sure is a nice day. Hot though. Yes, very hot. Been walking all day? I still have a long way to go. Sure is a hot day to be out walking all day. This is not an exact translation. But you get the idea—small talk. Comfortable.

            Eventually the man asked if I would bring him a drink of water. I felt foolish that I had not thought to bring him a drink. He was obviously hot and, no doubt, thirsty. I scurried into the kitchen and filled a large glass with fresh cool water.  The man drank the water without pause and thanked me. Would you like more? No, that was perfect. Well, I’ll be on my way. Thanks again. You’re welcome.

            I stood in the door and watched the man continue up the street. I never knew his name. It might have been Gabriel for all I know. He looked like an ordinary man. He had no feathery wings on his back.  Maybe he was my angel, a temporary blessing.

            I wonder about that man now and then. He let me be an angel; let me bring him a small glass of comfort, a simple drink of water on a hot day. When I turned to go back into my house, I felt better. I think that is what is known as joy. So between that man and I, we acted out comfort and joy.

            This morning early as I swept my front patio, a whole family of angels rounded the corner. Mom and Dad, brother and sister and baby in the stroller. They wore Santa hats. In Mexico, all the angels are musicians. Dad played the Saxaphone and brother did an outstanding job on the drum. This angel family walked along the street, playing Christmas hymns, for the comfort and joy of all the people along the way. 

                        Maybe that’s the way it is supposed to be. I’m no philosopher, no theologian. When I look around me, what I see is that we all want to be comfortable. I want comfort. Nothing wrong with that. But if I turn my usual idea of comfort around—set the noun comfort aside a minute and pick up the verb comfort, follow it into action, the result is joy. And I am the one who gets to feel the joy. It’s an inside job.

Me, I’m neither saint nor winged angel. But with all my heart I wish you tidings of comfort and joy, today and every day. Feliz Navidad.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

December 24, 2014

Finding My Inner Pole Dancer

Finding My Inner Pole Dancer
            Dance is different things to different people. To some, dance is pure joy of movement. To someone else, it is forbidden sin. Dance is exercise, artistic expression, communication, a route to seduction. Dance is children cavorting on the lawn in summer, cowboy jitterbug at the Elks Club on Saturday night, the Senior Prom, the formal ball, the shindig. It is the butterfly flitting flower to flower.

            For me, at this time and place in my life, dance is my doctor’s prescription.

            Don’t laugh. I’m serious. Six months ago I couldn’t walk and had a pain level of twelve on a scale of one to ten. I began treatments with a sports medicine specialist and progress has been steady, but evidently slower progress than Dr. Epifanio wanted to see. He sent me off to get an X-Ray and Ultra-Sound, to check there wasn’t a hidden problem, I guess.

            That was in the morning. In the afternoon I delivered the pictures to him at his University office. He scanned them. Nodded. He told me I needed to work harder. I can have life or I can have good life. That is my interpretation of what he said.

            My hip joint feels cemented into place. We knew that. The pain discouraged me. I moved  that joint as little as possible. Dr. E said I needed to move it as much as possible. All directions. “I want you to dance,” he told me while he grabbed a five-foot pole and rotated his hips in front of it, “twenty minutes a day.” “Do you have a boyfriend?” he asked. I shook my head in the universal negative. “You should get one.”

            In the spring, should I live so long, I will be seventy. Nevertheless, I blushed and giggled. “You want me to pole dance?”

            What makes this story woo-woo strange, is that two months ago, my friend Kathy and I were walking south on Avenida Gaviotis. In front of a corner building with two-story window walls, we stopped. For years the building was home to a high-end jewelry store but with the downfall in the economy, the building has stood empty. Now it looks like a low-end dump, windows cracked, filled with trash, walls enhanced with graffiti.

            “This would make a perfect pole-dance studio,” I said.

            “I can see it. Repair the windows, paint the walls, the right lighting, perfect,” Kathy agreed. “We’ll hire street bands, live music.”

            “There are plenty of beautiful girls to teach the moves. We’ll sit in the back room and manage the joint, rake in the money.”

            “Let’s call the landlord and get started. When Richard gets here, we’ll have him write a check.”

            Over the years Kathy and I have created a hundred fantasy businesses and solved most of the world’s problems. Some ideas are flash-in-the-pan. Others, like our pole dance studio, live on for months. We keep adding details. Richard just laughs and grips his wallet.

            In the early morning reality, as the sun peeks over the hills, I don my baggiest shirt and head out the door for my walk, hips subtly swiveling as I go. Emphasis on subtle. Only the tiniest movement, anything more is too painful. But mostly, I don’t want to be a spectacle.

            Oh, I know I am marking time. Hip surgery is in the offing. Dr. E and I talked about it in the margins of our discussion. Meanwhile I follow his directions to keep strengthening my leg muscles.

            In the privacy of my own home, I get creative. You should see me sweep and mop. Housework is an event rather than a mundane chore. I’m rather amazed what is possible with imagination and a broom. Or even the swish of a dust cloth. Twist and turn. One, two, three, side-to-side, slide forward, slide back, promenade left, sashay right,  circle those hips, around the broom and around the room.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

December 18, 2014