Friday, October 28, 2016

Refrigerator Karma and Mexican Business

Refrigerator Karma and Mexican Business
            Back in March, the first day I moved into my wee casita, a noise, like a 747 on the runway awaiting clearance for take-off, startled me into combat position. (It ain’t pretty.) Once my heart quit pounding in my ears, I realized the racket came from my refrigerator. Three days later I began accompanying the noise with pilot to control tower “conversation”. Another three days and the sound was background noise, like cars on the highway, ignored.  

Something is wrong. The fan rattles? The motor is on its last legs? I don’t know. I consider buying a new one but delay action. My food stays cold and fresh. 

A month ago, Leo asked, “Would you like to sell your noisy refrigerator and buy a new one?”


“My cousin Eddie just got married and he and Anna don’t have a refrigerator.”

“Maybe. What do you think my refrigerator is worth?”

Leo hemmed and hawed, wanting me to give a price. I refused. Finally he said, “$1500 pesos.”

“No, I said. Too much. I don’t know if this fridge will run for five days or five years. How about $1,000?” Reverse bartering. We sealed the deal.

At the local mubleria where I had purchased my bed and my stove, on a Wednesday, I bought a refrigerator. Delivery on Friday. I followed directions: let the gases settle for twelve hours, then plug it in. Sounded strange but what do I know?

I was busy. I plugged in the new fridge late Saturday. I’d moved my old fridge, filled with food, to the outdoor kitchen, so no hurry. Sunday morning I began to transfer my food.

Oops! Opened the freezer door and felt hot air. Opened the fridge. Decidedly warm. The “frost-free” aspect certainly worked overtime! But no refrigeration. Maybe I could use it as a stove in winter.

Business is different here. Working with both Leo and Josue, because of my language deficiencies, we contacted the store. “Refrigerator doesn’t work.” “Not our problem. Call Mexico City.” There is a process. Mexico City to Guadalajara to a company repairman. I don’t want a deficient model repaired; I want an exchange. Doesn’t matter. Follow the process. He’ll be there manana.

The man didn’t show. More calls. Reschedule. A week later, the repairman came in, plugged the machine in, wriggled his hand inside the freezer compartment. Warm air. Called his supervisor. Josue was translator that day. The repairman didn’t acknowledge me. I was wall paper. He explained the next step in the process to Josue. Supervisor had okay-ed an exchange. Repairman would email a report. Order would go out for exchange. No problem.

Ha! On Friday, delivery day, no truck appeared. Called the store. Shrug. Start entire process over from Step One. Many phone calls.

Week Two Plus: Repairman said, “I’ll email exchange approval form. You print. Take it to the store.” Leo delivered form.

 Moving into Week Three. Still no refrigerator. Store response: Shrug. Not our problem. Both Leo and Josue got ornery for me. “Firm words”. Fortunately, not easily translatable.

Meanwhile, my patience wore thin. I don’t have a new refrigerator. Eddie, remember Eddie the newlywed, doesn’t have any refrigerator? I’m ready to remove the doors on the $5300 pesos fridge, paint Mexican designs around the body and make a garden planter. (That is the least offensive of my creative ideas.)

Then I got it. Karma. Refrigerator Karma. Back around 1990 we bought a house in Poulsbo, Washington. No fridge. We charged a new one at a mall store and in order to save delivery fees, my husband and my son loaded the refrigerator in the back of the pick-up. It’s a short drive. They didn’t tie it down. Going down the freeway, the refrigerator, which even then cost more than $5300 pesos, bounced out of the back of the truck and landed upright in the middle of the highway, still on the attached pallet.

We removed strapping tape and cardboard, lifted it from the pallet. Yep, large scrape and dent. We called the store to repair it. Here is where my story gets confusing. Evidently, the men from the store thought the refrigerator had been damaged in shipping. Evidently, nobody corrected their assumption. They delivered a replacement, post haste.

Interestingly, we never were billed for the refrigerator, which we had charged at the store. Time passed and we, I confess, sort of “forgot”. Well, it was easy to forget. Easy but not honest.

Today, three weeks from purchase, my newly replaced refrigerator, delivered last night, is filled and silently keeping my food cold.

I think I just paid my “Refrigerator Karma Debt”.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

October 27, 2016

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Maybe Behind The Bathroom Door

Maybe Behind The Bathroom Door
            I’ve lost my robe. I’m beside myself with anxiety. I didn’t realize it was gone. In fact, I have no idea exactly when I misplaced it. Surely, I couldn’t have thrown it away. I depend on that robe. It is a piece of me.

            My hermit robe. A “security blanket”. I wore it from the day I moved to Mazatlan. Protection in my desert of solitude. It circumscribed my hermitage, defined my retreat.

            Yesterday Bonnie said, “Sondra. You look so different.” We met in March, when I bought my casita. Bonnie manages the Rancho for her mother. She is a practitioner of several forms of Chinese medicine. She’s my acupuncturist and my friend.

            “Your face, you look so . . . happy. Tranquillo,” she continued.

            I looked around at the beauty, the garden I’ve created around my home. Who wouldn’t be happy?

            When Bonnie left I walked around my yard, thinking about my years in Mazatlan, the changes I’ve wrought in my eight months in Etzatlan. That’s when I discovered that my robe is missing.

            My apartment in Mazatlan, a block from the beach, was a perfect retreat house for me. I walked to the fruteria for groceries. I walked my laundry to the lavanderia. Several people greeted me regularly. I looked forward to seeing familiar faces. Every several days I called Carlos with his pulmonia to take me places I couldn’t walk. In winter months I visited Ted and Frank, apartment neighbors.

            Often days passed without me talking with anybody. I reveled in my solitude. My life as a recluse suited me. I needed it. I needed the quiet. I needed my time for healing in my desert hermitage. I wore my hermit robe comfortably.

            My life didn’t change overnight when I moved to Etzatlan, near Guadalajara. My first weeks I cleaned and fixed the inside of my casita, alone, content with work at which I’m good.

            I suspect, a guess, mind you, the changes began when I shifted my attention outdoors. This morning when Carol and John, “sometime” neighbors, came over, they asked, “How did you develop your garden? Did you start with a landscape plan? How did you begin what could be an overwhelming project?”

            Plant by plant. I took out planters. I added planters. I removed trees. I planted trees. I made spaces where flowers flourish.

My garden evolved, is still growing and changing. I suspect this will be true forever, my forever, as long as I’m here to derive pleasure from the privilege of creating spaces where beauty flourishes.

Along with the flowers, I count people friends in my garden. Some, like me, live here year-round. Some locals. Some Americanos. Some arrive for weeks or months and then go to another home for weeks and months.

Recently, I’ve added daily language study to my life. Not that it’s a necessity. I can, and have, gotten by with rudimentary Spanglish, pointing and desperate gestures. Like a toddler, I’m beginning with basics. I’ve yet to figure out how to introduce “El perro camino sobre mi camisa” (The dog walked over my shirt.) into everyday conversation. And I’m not sure I have the correct verb tense. But I’m doing it.

Recently, Bonnie’s daughter, Samantha began teaching Qigong, a Chinese energy movement practice, in the park behind our cluster of casitas. We meet for class twice a week, people from our Rancho, people from town. Between times, my neighbors meet in my back yard patio for practice daily.
See what I’m saying? My life has turned downside up.

It’s not all rosey-posey. My brand new non-working refrigerator has not been replaced, two weeks now. My yard resembles an open pit mine around my septic system. Poco y poco, tanks are cleaned only to find the drain is clogged with Yucca tree roots. Yucca, that same pretty summer flower along roadside barrow pits, is a tall tree in my yard, same creamy cluster of beautiful flowers. The roots, millions of tendrils, grew to encompass the tanks and clog the pipe. New pipe, new drain field, coming up. I’m still researching for a new computer since my trusty desktop died of old age and other infirmities.

Next step for my garden? The soil in the flower beds surrounding my yard is tired. I’ll dig out all the hundreds (literally) of lilies, planted helter-skelter, replace the dirt with composted topsoil, add a serpentine path through the middle of the five-foot wide flowerbed, replace the plants in neat clusters. What do you think?

My hermit robe is still missing. By the way, my bathroom doesn’t have a door, merely a curtain. But if I had a bathroom door, that’s where I’d hang my robe, on a hook, safe for when I need it. I’m naked without my trusty robe, aren’t I? I need my robe, don’t I?

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

October 20, 2016

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Meanwhile, Back At The Rancho

Meanwhile, Back At The Rancho
            Those dratted leaf-cutter ants are at it again, drilling holes, raising mounds of pebbled dirt around their nests. Their chain-saw jaws can strip my hibiscus, roses, oleander and hydrangea in minutes, leaving bare-naked stalks. Unsated, they turn to the rest of my garden.

            I gently escort spiders out of my house. But when I see fresh ant hills, I show no mercy. We were driving out the Rancho road to the highway, going to Guadalajara to pick up Pam at the airport, when I saw a dozen new anthills outside my walls. That means they were also inside the walls. I made a note to sprinkle yellow death when we got home or I’d have no garden tomorrow.  

            For three days, twice a day, I tied a kerchief over my nose, slipped on nitrile gloves and sprinkled last rites above the piles. More will appear. Constant vigilance is required.

            Pam had shoe-horned a short trip into her schedule, five full days, days of exploration in Etzatlan, meeting my friends, wandering the tianguis, adventures in Tequila (the town, not the  drink), Teuitchitlan and the Guachimontones pyramids.

One morning we went shopping in town. I bought a new refrigerator. The store delivery men brought it the next day. Instructions say to let the gases settle twelve hours before plugging it in the outlet, then wait another twelve hours before filling it. I did all that.

My new fridge blows hot air. I’m waiting for the factory repair man to come verify the appliance doesn’t work. Then he writes a report to the company supervisor. Then I get a different new refrigerator. Once the refrigerator left the store, it became a factory problem. Or my problem.

My old refrigerator is out on my patio, plugged in next to my outdoor kitchen sink. Dinner prep means many trips in and out. The fridge still works, just sounds like a John Deere.

At the tianguis, the weekly open-air market, several blocks in length and crammed with goods, Pam took a million photos. Vendors from around the area hawk everything imaginable. The market is colorful, noisy, exciting; a place to explore delicious flavors and aromas and see fruits and vegetables unknown to us in Montana. And flowers.

I bought three tomatoes, a small head of lettuce and a pineapple. And a hydrangea, a gardenia, a small plant with orange flowers and a large plant with red flowers. And one more hibiscus. Well, I don’t have one that beautiful shade of tangerine.

Briefly I contemplated that I might have developed a strange garden obsession, I mean disease, I mean addiction. I don’t believe it is deadly. So why does everyone laugh at me when I bring home more plants? I don’t understand. There is a wee side effect. New pots must be purchased.

Pam is a trooper. We ate meals out at least once each day, sometimes twice. We had a breakfast of pork ribs with nopales at Dona Mary’s, a roadside shack near San Pedro, where all the foods are cooked over wood fires, including the best ever hand-patted tortillas. Believe me, this place would never catch one’s eye for fine dining. We licked our plates. We feasted on cheese stuffed gorditas in Magdalena, topped with a kind of mushroom stew. We sated our appetites on shrimp at every opportunity. Tacos or shrimp, all was excellent. Except one meal.

After a day at the Guachimontones pyramids, we were starved-horse hungry. We decided to splurge, to eat at a fancy restaurant on the lagoon. The caldo, a soup made from dried shrimp, served in many restaurants as an appetizer, was excellent. The rest of our meal was inedible. We left this supposedly posh place disappointed, dispirited and still hungry.

Best of all were times spent out on the patio, simply visiting and working on final details of Pam’s book. I loved watching people’s faces when I would introduce her. “This is my friend, Pamela. She’s my ex-husband’s wife.” Their puzzled faces scrunched even more when one of us would mention, “Our daughter.”

Pam got Dee’s hardest teen-age years, when I was a single parent with a world of other problems. Her Dad and I agreed that two parents were better than one for our mindful daughter. I got the holidays, the good stuff. I blessed Pam daily though she didn’t know it. 

Pam will come back to Etzatlan. Who knows, she might buy a get-away place here. After all, this was her “first” trip.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

October, 13, 2016

Thursday, October 6, 2016

All I Can Say

All I Can Say
            It is a good thing you have me to think of these things. It took a long time but I finally have the weather figured out.

            For years I have stated that weather forecasters use the dart board method. They follow a probability theory that some ding-bat engineer has worked up into a chart which a graphics specialist transferred to a giant dart board. So the meteorologist is blindfolded, turned in circles until dizzy, pointed toward the board, handed a dart. Wherever it lands, that is the forecast for the day. I used to sneer that the dart never landed on the right square.

            All week the meteorologists have predicted sunshine with 0% rain. We’ve had storms with as much as two inches of rain every day. I’m wrong. The forecast is right. I don’t know how I could have missed the obvious all these years. It’s the timing that is flawed. The monsoon will end. Manana.      

            Made you feel better, didn’t I? Well, somebody has to think of these things.

            In case you are thinking to attribute any genius to my mental abilities, I must confess, at times, I’m slow on the uptake.

            For about a month my bathroom shower has been slow to drain. By the time I rinse my hair, I’m standing in a couple inches of water. Soapy water. It’s not filthy. But, still . . .

            I meant to tell either Josue or Leo that I had a problem but by the time I saw either of them, my shower water backup had fled my brain.

A few days ago I heard Josue working next door and the proverbial light bulb flickered. “I think my septic tanks must be full or the drain-field saturated with all the rain.” I described the symptoms of my problem and Josue agreed to check the tanks the following day.

Meanwhile I spent a sleepless night worrying that I would have to replace the entire septic system and drain-field, more money flushed away. Why not? I’ve had to replace everything else in and around and connected with my house, except that and my refrigerator.

The refrigerator sounds like a 747 sitting on the runway, revving engines for take-off. I’ve already scouted out the new models in town.

So it was an easy stretch of my elastic imagination to suppose I’d be faced with a major septic mess.

And with company coming too. I have a friend arriving for a week’s rest and relaxation. I imagined both of us holed up in adjoining rooms in the hotel, eating all our meals at the nearest taco joint.
Josue dug up the septic tanks. Sure enough, both are full. It took a day to locate a sewage pump truck from a neighboring town. “He’ll come tomorrow after he finishes a job south of here.”

It rained. All night and half the day. The man with the pump truck never showed up. The next day was Sunday. Sunday is family and church day. Nobody works. Monday he came and looked at it. “Yep, needs to be pumped.” 

Meanwhile, belatedly, I began thinking. It’s only the shower that drains slowly. The kitchen sink is fine. The toilet flushes like a trooper. When the men laid new tile in the bathroom, they snagged a bucket (literally) of old hair out of the shower drain pipe. Suppose they loosened enough hairs that a gob fell back and clogged the small opening through the mesh. The men hadn’t cleaned the whole drain pipe, just what they could reach.

Leo told me, “Yvonne was ill. She lost hair by handfuls.”

Lani added, “She had long hair.”

Eventually the sun will shine. Wednesday the pumper guy with truck and tank arrived. Today Josue will snake out the shower drain pipe and remove the rest of the tangled mess. As long as the pipes are exposed, he’ll also make sure the drain-field pipe is clear of debris.

            Again, the sky rained all night. Rained until noon. My back yard looks like a lagoon. The weather forecast for the week ahead is sunny skies, same as the forecast for the week behind.

            In my next life I’m going to be a meteorologist. I’ve studied on a different method for predicting. Instead of throwing darts at a board, I’ll walk out my door. If the sun is shining, I’ll say, “Rain is on the way.” If I get wet, I’ll say, “Sunshine soon.” It’s all in the timing.

            Between the now and the then of this life and my next life, I’ll try to locate the sky faucets.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

October 6, 2016