Friday, July 28, 2017

Ants In My Pants and Other Observations

Ants In My Pants and Other Observations
            Ants, those little buggers, are a constant, year-round plague.

Mosquitoes don’t irritate me nearly as much.  I don’t disdain the power of the mosquito, dastardly carrier of dread diseases, to wreak havoc on people and animals. But after surviving years of Milk River Valley mosquitoes, this inferior breed is a mere inconvenience. Okay, the truth is, I seldom see any.

Ants are another beast entirely. A nearly invisible fawn-colored ant likes my house, especially the kitchen and bathroom counters. I can, with diligence, keep them under control. However, I don’t use a sugar bowl or honey pot. I keep sugar and honey and most comestibles in containers with screw-tight lids. I quickly learned that necessity.

A larger rusty-colored ant which makes its presence known by creating mounds of grainy dirt also has the capability to eat bushes down to bare stems overnight. Just last week they ate every leaf and bounteous flower from my five-dead trees.

I shall always call them my five-dead trees because all winter I insisted they were dead and wanted to replace them. David from Centro Vivero insisted they were dormant. He won. They are quite alive, gifting me with months of beautiful flowers, purple and pink and white. New growth will appear soon but it is a shock to have leaves and flowers one day and naked stalks in the morning. They also munched half the leaves from my orange tree, newly planted last fall.

Another ant, huge and dark red-brown, meanders by my feet occasionally, but I find only one or two at a time. Smash.

I lose my Zen compassion for creatures when I see an ant. I become Super Woman with four kinds of ant killer in hand. Ants are my kryptonite.

The other day I spotted a line of black ants, a thousand-thousand all in a row, marching across my patio. I shucked my glasses and donned my cape and made ready to do battle when Leo, my garden helper, stopped me. “Those kind ants move from place to place. They no eat plants,” he said. I saw they each held a bundle on their back, like people fleeing a war-torn country. So what do they eat?

I let them live but it wasn’t easy for me. Sure enough, a couple hours later, the marchers were out of sight.

If I grew up in a different culture, I might look upon the lowly ant quite differently. I might hover over a mounded housing, waiting for the opportunity to scoop out a handful of the delicious little buggers. Chomp, chew, swallow. Mmmm, good.

It’s all a matter of perception, right?

Like this: It is mango season. Mangoes are my favorite fruit. Okay, my favorite fruit is whatever is in season. So today it’s mango. I have a friend who refuses to eat mangoes, doesn’t like mango, but feasts on my mango jam. Go figure. Perception.

Another friend won’t eat anything slimy. A few weeks ago I bought jaca fruit. It’s even juicier, more flavorful than mango. She said, “Eww, it’s slimy.” It’s no slimier than peach or kiwi or mango. Thinking about jaca makes my mouth water. It’s the best.

But, if we must consider slime, I am quite fond of okra. Not to mention oysters, raw on the half shell with lime and chili sauce.

I’ve learned to appreciate other fruits and vegetables in Mexico that I had never heard of or seen in my northern life.  Like pitaya and tuna, the cactus fruit. Or nopalitos, the pulpy pads of the prickly pear.

Mexican friends tell me the iguana is tasty—not the little brand of garden iguana I have in my yard, but the larger variety on the coast. They tell me it tastes like chicken. People say the same thing about snakes. Chickens taste like chickens. Snakes taste like snakes. Iguanas taste like iguanas.

If iguana, chopped and sautéed in butter with garlic and chilies, were presented to me on a tortilla, would I eat it? Maybe. It’s logical. I ate menudo tacos. I ate brain tacos. Liver taco is quite tasty. Therefore, I’d probably try an iguana taco.

I draw the line at ants. Not on a tortilla. Not in chocolate. Not in ice cream.  

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

July 27, 2017

Morning Has Broken

Morning Has Broken
            “Like the first morning.” Scrub oaks, verdant from recent rains, reached out branches and clutched passing clouds onto high mountaintops, puffy sombreros heavy with moisture.  Mountains held onto the clouds tightly until near noon when clouds, with a mind of their own, lifted off and away. Clouds will return, dark with a new load of water in the late afternoon, tonight’s fresh downpour.  Since the season began, about six weeks ago, we’ve averaged half an inch each night.

            Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? Like any place, it has its moments.

            Geraniums do not like this rainy season. Roses barely tolerate it. Everything else looks like an explosion of green on steroids. I have grasses that look like field corn. Beetles ate all my rose, gardenia and magnolia blossoms plus one hibiscus out of a dozen.  Ants chomped leaves off several tender trees. This morning I had to kill ants before I could do my spiritual practice of Qi Gong. I don’t claim perfection.

            Lani, Nancie and I went to Teuchitlan this morning for birria. Birria is a meat soup made with a spicy clear broth. The best birria is made with goat. And the best we have found is served at this little open terrace eatery alongside the highway at the entrance to Teuchitlan.

            Nancie leaves tomorrow, back to her other home in Sedro Woolley, Washington, until she and Pat return in September.  Nancie has astonished herself with her different attitude this trip. She said other trips have been frantic with projects to get done. She made this trip for the vacation of it. She puttered in the garden but that is pleasure. 

            I reaped the side benefits of my cousin’s vacation. We explored, ate in favorite places, and spent a lot of time sharing stories and relaxing. She said this is the first time her new house feels like home.

            She and I have talked a lot about what makes us like this place so well. Etzatlan has no  tourist attractions. It’s not fancy.

            For me this has been an easy place in which to settle. I’ve pared down my life to essentials, yet, have more than enough activities to keep me busy and satisfied.

I view living here as a blend of old ways with new ways. I can get anything I need in this little Cowtown with its winding lanes and cobblestone streets.  It might take a bit of searching. Like this morning. I needed a rubber tip for my walking stick. Rubber rots quickly in our climate. To my northern way of thinking, the tips would be found in any (medical supply) pharmacy. I checked at four pharmacies and an electronics shop, directed there by a pharmacist, before I found the tips in a hardware store. What one “needs” is here. What one “wants” may require a trip to Guadalajara.

            I had to chuckle when a friend in Oregon sent me a picture where she and her husband will move to downsize. It’s a three bedroom, three bathroom mansion, to me. Downsizing?

I live in a 465 sq. ft. bungalow, plunk in the middle of a garden. I own one electric appliance. I make toast on a griddle and do most things in a similar old-fashioned way. Every item in my home I use on a regular basis. I love my life. It’s not everyone’s cup of coffee. I wouldn’t dream of talking you into the changes I’ve made. I know what is good for me might be unbearable for you. I lack for nothing but not everyone would see it that way.

            One modern convenience I’m particularly fond of is my solar water heater. I formerly refilled my propane tank every two months. Now it’s more like every two years if the gauge is to be trusted. My electric costs 55 pesos a month. Water is 900 pesos a year. I have a venerable Kenmore washing machine. My clothes dryer is old-style solar, four lines strung between two poles. Does anybody remember those? My life is truly a blend of the old and the new.

            I like the slower pace. Nobody hurries. If something doesn’t work according to the plan, shrug. Go to Plan B. People in town greet me with a hug and kiss. I feel welcomed, at home.    
I’ll miss my cousin. But she’ll be back soon. Meanwhile, “. . . Sweet the rains new fall, sunlit from heaven.”

“Que le vaya bien.” Roughly translated, “May your day go well.”

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

July 20, 2017

Monday, July 17, 2017

Riding Along In My Automobile

Riding Along In My Automobile
            Have you ever had a day when you feel unutterably sad for no earthly reason except that you are human?

            On my patio, on this day when my thermometer registers a mid-afternoon temperature in the low 70’s, rain still dripping from tree leaves, a lizard lays splayed out, soaking up every iota of warm comfort from the patch of sun-drenched concrete. I know how he feels.

            My habit, when I get this way, is to work through the mood. But in the last few years I’ve learned to slow down, examine myself inside and out. Do I feel well? Is something bothering me that I’d rather not see?  Am I avoiding something?

            Thank you, Chuck Berry, for accompanying me in my pondering, for popping into my head with the song that became my metaphor for the day. The lyrics describe my life: “Riding along in my automobile . . . with no particular place to go.”

How lovely is that? I can ride along, enjoy the tunes, and let life take me where it will.

I don’t have to adhere to a schedule. Don’t need to suit up, show up, to perform in any manner. If I feel lethargic, why not just be lethargic? That concept goes against my grain, let me tell you. But I’m learning.

Here comes the rain again. I rather miss the lake that used to rise in my back yard whenever the skies unzipped. Last week, in a morning of sunshine, I asked Leo to run a drain pipe from the upper yard through the rose garden so the accumulating pond waters would drain onto the lower patio and out beneath the brick wall. A simple solution (genius idea, thank you) that took an hour of work.

So instead of thinking about stocking trout, I have to wonder if another week of too much rain to mow the lawn will mean I’ll need to bring in a swather and baler. “Make hay while the sun shines” takes on a whole new meaning for me. For a few brief moments I worry about the weeds that need pulling, the oleander bushes that I should prune, the geraniums that I want to re-pot.

The ants stripped two of my flowering trees overnight. I sprinkled a powdered poison for ants. Rats have shown up. I’ve spread poison pellets for rats. The black and green beetles that have decimated my rose and hibiscus flowers seem impervious to each poison spray I’ve tried. Every garden of paradise has its “snakes”.

Physically, my body scan reveals runny nose, scratchy throat, and weepy eyes. A summer cold is stealing my energy but I won’t push against it or pretend it’s not with me. Today, I’ll settle in with a box of Kleenex, hot tea, a good book, and let the garden grow out of bounds, which it seems determined to do whether or not I participate.

As for worry, what? Money? I never did find any gold at the end of the rainbow though I’ve tried to follow a few. Whatever is in my pocket today is all that matters. Words easy to say, easy to forget, but true for me.

I worry about my children, long-time adults, my grandchildren, babies and newly adult. From oldest to youngest, each has his own different problems. Don’t your kids? But our children are sharp; they are capable. They have the tools to work out their own solutions without my help, read that “interference”. Sure, I still worry a bit. It’s my job.

The sun has burned through the clouds again. Maybe I can work in my garden—maybe tomorrow.

Thanks for riding along with me. Sorry about the seat belts sticking. This old car has its quirks.  You’re a good listener. I feel better, now that I’ve shared with you. Say, would you like to swing by the In-and-Out for a cheese burger and chocolate shake? I’ll drive.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

July 13, 2017

Friday, July 7, 2017

Field of Dreams With Converse

Field of Dreams With Converse
            “I love my night life.”

            “You don’t have a night life,” my cousin Nancie, in Mexico for a three-week vacation in her house across the road from mine, countered. “You’re in bed when the sun goes down. What do you mean, night life?”

            “My dreams. I dream marvelous stories. I usually wake up feeling happy and full of energy. Most of the time I don’t remember my dreams once I’m out of bed.  Most of my dreams are like playing solitaire with a pinochle deck, but, lately, I feel that in my dreams I’m solving problems or answering questions.”

            About that time Nancie parked her car and we took our “old-woman shopping trolleys” out of the back and set out to stock up on fruits and veggies and a few necessities at the tianguis in Etzatlan. 

            We have our favorite vendors but there are always new and different things to see, especially since we don’t go every week. I bought 15 kilos of mangoes for 10 pesos a kilo. When you go to the IGA check out mangoes. I bought mine to make jam. It’s mango season.

            I hiked my mangoes back to the car, emptied my cart, and rolled it back to the market to fill up with 6 potatoes, 3 onions, 2 peppers, a pineapple, 6 guavas, lettuce, 5 tomatoes, 2 avocados, etc. Groceries for one.

            While prepping mangoes for jam at my outdoor kitchen, I mused about the dream I had last night.

            Several classmates and I set off on a trip together. We met somewhere vague—this is a dream, remember—and traveled in a large vehicle. At times it seemed like a tour bus. Other times we were clowns in a VW Beetle. We crossed eastern Montana. I distinctly recall going through Malta, Saco, Hinsdale, Glasgow, some places, recognized, some places, unknown. Dreams are quirky that way. They don’t make sense in the awake world.

            Among those on the bus were Jerry and Lola, Karen, Jess and Sharon, Jane, Fred and Sandy, and Denise and Don. Jim climbed on the bus in Glasgow. We were on our way to a wedding in North Dakota. My dream wasn’t specific about who was getting married. Quirky dreams.  

            Half way across North Dakota, in the winter, I realized I’d forgotten to pack shoes to wear to the wedding. All I had were the sandals on my feet. Sandals, in winter snow, in North Dakota.

            I don’t usually recall my dreams in such detail. We drove into Rugby, (Yes, Virginia, there is a Rugby, ND) afternoon sun fading behind us, and I said, “Let’s go to a western-wear store. I’ll buy a pair of leather boots. Warm enough to keep my toes toasty yet dressy enough for the formal wedding.” I never claimed to be a fashion maven. 

            My friends milled throughout the small store and helped me pick winter boots, soft brown leather, exactly as I had imagined them to be, knee-high, lace-tie front, sheep’s wool lining, with fur trim around the top. Classy.

            Then a pair of classic Chuck Taylor Converse red high-tops jumped out and snared me. I had to have that pair of red Converse high-tops.

            While I tried on the shoes, Sharon sat down beside me. “How could you have forgotten to bring your shoes?”

            “Usually I travel alone. When I pack, I make a list and check it twice and then check it again. This trip we are traveling together. I had all of you with me so I didn’t need to worry.”

I woke up remembering all those details. When we have friends whom we are confident will be there for us, it doesn’t get any better than that.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

July 6, 2017