Tuesday, July 19, 2022

It’s a Conspiracy


It’s a Conspiracy 


Hurricane Estelle blew in lugging a heavy cloud blanket behind her until the sky looked like cry me a river.

Day after day after day darkness reigned and time warped, smudged and dripped down the mountain walls like Dali-esque clocks.

If one took the sky and flattened it out like a topographical map, it would be criss-crossed by rivers cascading off the edges in waterfalls. (Flat sky, flat earth, what’s the difference!)

Under cover of day as dark as nightfall, somebody sneaked in and stole the sun.

I heard rumors that “they” took the sun to Montana where, doubled up, it reigns supreme forcing temperatures into the triple digit extremes.

Meanwhile, life as usual in central Mexico, right?

Wrong. While in town for dental work, I saw my neighbor Ariel and we had a ten minute chat. Next day, he felt sick, tested positive for Covid. We all who summer here are fully jabbed with needle marks to prove it. Life is not fair, right, Ariel?

So I self-quarantined for a week. Not that isolation is unusual this time of year, with hardly anybody about. But I have vulnerable friends, so would rather err on the side of caution.

With that modicum of extra time on my hands, I got an idea. Not a lightbulb idea. It coalesced slowly. With numbers of Covid cases and deaths on the rise everywhere, despite Covid being a left/right wing conspiracy, I figured I’d probably not grow wings and fly north for yet another year. Sigh of Disappointment.

So I consulted with my team, Leo and Josue, and asked if a bathroom could be made in the tool tunnel on the back side of the bodega, which is minimally used, most tools and manly gear residing in the other tunnel to the left side of the bodega.

Team took measurements, said it is do-able, and gave me a price less than I’d spend on a northern trip. So once a doorway is knocked through, my travel money will be flushed down the toilet, or rather, will go to build a toilet, sink and shower in a wee-tiny strip of space, but will make my bodega bedroom with en-suite much more attractive to any friends lined up for trips south to visit me.

So, if you haven’t got your passport yet, get that application filled out, please.

The destruction/construction area is covered by a roof, so take that, Hurricane Estelle. Pttttt!

The other conspiracy I can only partially blame on Estelle. The synthetics fabrics industries have rendered natural fibers such as cotton, linen and wool, very hard to find and expensive. In town there are no cotton fabrics suitable for clothing. None. Synthetics make my skin hurt. Truth.

In Guadalajara, there is a wonderful huge fabrics store with acres of cotton fabrics for dressmaking. For the past month, Michelle, Ana and I have intended a trip to the City. Every week, our plans were blown out of the water (Like that one?) by one and another Hurricane, stacked off the coast, one after the other, just to foil our plans, of course. I call this the clipped-wings conspiracy.

Guadalajara is an ancient city, grown to over six million people, built over literally thousands of years. Parts of the city are ancient with little drainage and are vulnerable to storms. Streets flood with regularity. If Guadalajara is rainy, we don’t go. It’s that simple. We are wary, having watched videos of cars washed sideways down flooded streets, smashing into everything along the way.

Not to be outdone by mere weather or the oil industry, I have now made a new nighty from bedsheets, and three blouses from cotton beach wraps.

I’ll not thumb my nose at hurricanes or major or minor conspiracies. We plan to go to Guad next week. Will we make it? Maybe so, maybe no.

Will my en-suite be finished in time for your visit? Maybe so, maybe no.

Will the sun escape the chain of clouds and again grace our sky? See above.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

July third week


It’s a Great Place to Live . . . But


               It’s a Great Place to Live . . . But


Yes, it’s a great place to live (for me) but you wouldn’t want to visit.

I’ve been accused of having a Paradise Complex, but it is not true. I’ve been told Paradise is full of snakes and liars and have no reason to either believe it or not believe it.

Nope. I live in a dusty little cow-town, farm village in Mexico and though I often say I live in Paradise, I mean Paradise for me. For me. Amen. And Awomen.

When Dr. Landazari, eye specialist, who lives in Mazatlan, the Pearl of the Pacific, but performs his surgeries in ultra-modern Guadalajara, flew over Etzatlan to see just where in, er, where I’d moved, he asked me before he scraped my eyeballs, “Why do you want to live in that dirty little town?”

What could I say? How could I tell him, an unbeliever, that I feel at home here? After all, I grew up in a dusty little farm town. There is a reason the highway by-passed my hometown on the way to elsewhere.

Is Paradise an accident of geography? Is that how Heaven got to be up there and the Saints and Angels walked in clouds? Remember, the earth was flat back then, before it wrapped itself into a swirling ball.

So why not have Paradise be wherever one lands? Or the Nether regions if one is so inclined. You know, the fiery pit. Same geography.

I came here in 2016 with all the fervor of a woman in love. What’s not to love? I had a small house just the right size, a large yard, just the right size, and a town, a little dirty and timeworn, with shops that carried everything I needed, with diligent searching, if not everything I wanted. Goldilocks had arrived.

It’s a great place to live but you wouldn’t want to visit.

There is nothing touristy here. We don’t have sandy beaches, or any other beach. No river or ocean. No amusement park. No casinos. No movie theatre. No mall. No big box stores. No spectacular wonders of the world. No Wally’s World. No MickyD’s.

Streets are cobblestone. That will joggle your suspension system all right, both yours and your car’s.  A shopping trip for basic supplies for a week might send you to a dozen tiny tiendas, or more. Houses are not insulated, not built to code (Code? What’s that?), windows leak, roofs have to be cleaned and sealed annually, and probably not more than a dozen people in the whole town speak English and why would they?

Those are some reasons some of you might not like it here. Nothing is familiar. Nothing is, well, comfortable. It’s foreign.

That’s why tourists go to all-inclusive, air-conditioned beach resorts on holiday. They are enclosed in a known world where the staff speak English; they provide zip-lines, day tours, and familiar food. Vendors ply the beach with cheap sun-glasses, printed tee-shirts, henna tattoos of geckos and braid your hair with beads. It’s comfortable. Safe. Meow.

Okay. So how do I find Paradise in a dusty little village, far from the madding crowds? 

Skip over the part where flowers bloom year round and temperatures are generally moderate, and fruit falls off the trees into one’s mouth, rather like “summertime, and the living is easy”.

My first visit here, I was crossing the wide street from the Plaza, slowly, my cane a permanent extension of my right hand. A young man, perhaps sixteen or seventeen, ran across the street, gave me his arm and walked me across, helped me up the curb, said, “Adios, Senora,” and went on to join his friends who waved to me.

It happened right here, see where that stain is. That stain is where my heart melted into the sidewalk, where I became a permanent part of this village. It’s the People.

I’m older and physically impaired, read “invisible”. Not here. Teenagers greet me. Everybody says hello. Elsewhere, I am invisible. Here, I am at Home.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

Second week, July 2022


Memories . . . Thoughts . . . Changes


            Memories . . . Thoughts . . . Changes 


Why do memories come to visit, often at inopportune times? I’ve questions but no answers.

I distinctly remember once telling a minimalist friend how much I admired her way of life. An entire bare wall with one picture. A vase with one sprig of flower. “But I know me. I couldn’t be minimalist in my surroundings. I like it. I just can’t do it.”

My home was never cluttered. But wherever one cast one’s eyes, one would find a vignette of simple beauty. That’s my passion. Making spaces beautiful.

I’m also not a collector—except of old china tea cups, vintage tablecloths, and lovely old mixing bowls, all kitchenware. But that was back then, before I changed my entire life to Mexico.

Another distinct memory, even older, was when a friend said, “Sondra, if you found yourself in Hell, you’d start arranging furniture and hanging pictures.” I took it as a compliment at the time. Years later I wondered if he meant I made myself comfortable in difficult circumstances instead of clawing my way out, perhaps up a rung, into Purgatory? Even so, I’d still be arranging furniture and hanging pictures.

Here I am today, living in Paradise, living a minimalist life I could never have previously imagined, and loving it.

Do I miss my stuff? No, not a bit, not even the china cups, tablecloths and ceramic bowls.

When I made the decision to move to Mexico, I made the decision to completely change my life, to not drag my old life along with me. That means all my stuff. Like I said, no regrets. But, lucky me, I’ve made a lot of moves and changes in my life and knew at least what to expect of myself.

What triggered these memories was watching how my various neighbors have made changes in moves or partial moves to Mexico and how they’ve made these changes work for them. Other than Lani, who has lived here a dozen years before the rest of us showed up, only two couples and myself live here full-time. Others are half-timers or part-timers.

We all approach our lives differently, of course. I’m just looking through a keyhole at this one tiny aspect of our lives.

Some of my neighbors moved into furnished spaces and left them intact, adding personal touches only, perhaps focusing on the outdoor space. Others pitched the works, or like me, moved into bare walls and a blank slate. Some brought loads of goods from home. Most put together an eclectic mix of favorite items from home plus traditional Mexican art and furnishings.

New Minimalist Me, I brought clothing, sheets and towels, silverware, an iron, those sorts of basic supplies in my move to Mexico and nothing more. I think what triggered this path of memory and thought is watching one set of neighbors who bought three houses on the rancho and have filled them with their entire household of belongings from Washington.

Now for the part I don’t like to tell, the piece of my story that shows my uglies. Nobody is more righteous than the converted, right? So in my rather new minimalist persona, I confess to feeling a little bit prideful that I need so little and other neighbors, not just the ones I mentioned, by the way, but others, need so much. Self-righteous pride stinketh worse than a neighbor’s field full of cow flops.

Redemption cometh. Fortunately. Given time, I can find at least eighteen sides to every situation and defend them all.  

My good neighbors moved to a new country, left behind friends, jobs, home, all that was familiar to them. Why not bring with them all the surroundings that give them comfort and a familiar feeling, surrounded by things they know.

We each approach change differently. I chose a blank slate. They chose the familiar. We are neither right nor wrong. This is not a test.

And though I now have moved up the rung from Hell to Paradise, I still “hang pictures on the wall”. Okay, I don’t have walls but I have windows and from two windows, my Granada tree obscured the view of most of my back yard, which is a beautiful back yard.

We each view the world through personal eyeballs. We each stand in personal shoes, none alike, all different.

Yesterday I had my gardener remove the Granada tree. Gone. My view is returned. My vignette of beauty from those windows is my comfort, like hanging a new painting.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

First week in July


Sunday, July 3, 2022

An imaginary story, none of which, or all of which, is true!


An imaginary story, none of which, or all of which, is true! 


One day in the far distant future, back when I was God, time is relative, one of my very intelligent earth persons proved that, but more will be revealed, anyway, one day one of my other earth persons requested a visit.

Which I granted. I set up times for personal visitation, one hour in the early morning and one hour late at night, since most hours in between, I seem to be out of sight, out of mind.

I quite like visitation. No matter whom I am scheduled to see, visitation is always, well, let me give an example.

“God, we need help down here.”

“What is the problem, my child?”

“You gotta help. We’re desperate. Now that each State is a separate Nation, it’s a mess. The vote is coming up. You gotta make it come out right. I swear to God we cannot keep going on like this. Woops, slip of my tongue there, I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it. I’ll take any acknowledgement I can get these days. However, you know I don’t interfere in politics. You all chose this path, so make it work, eh?”

“But people can’t get food, or medicine, or meet basic needs. We are scared. We are dying. The roads are crumbling. Not that we have cars that still run, most of us. Getting drinkable water is a nightmare.

“And you know how we divided up the land in our Nation so that every citizen had an equal parcel. Well, some acreage isn’t inhabitable. And some people are going feral and shooting their neighbors, rioting in the streets, and“

“Let me interrupt you here. Hmmm. I believe there is precedent for giving people uninhabitable land. Ah, here it is in the records, yes, such parcels were designated ‘Reservations’. The People made it work for them, not easy, no. If they can do it, you can do it.

“The record also shows that you voted to have no taxes, taxes being deemed oppressive, and no social services, such services being deemed unconstitutional in your State, I mean Nation, so it looks to me like the way you have it set up, if you want roads, all you have to do is get a group of people together, find picks and shovels, and build the roads. Right? Is that how you all envisioned this working?”

            “Have pity on us. Please help.”

“I told you, I don’t interfere in those things. Now anything else you want, you know, the usual requests, sunshine, rain, your team to win the football game, blessings or curses?”

            “Please don’t make bad jokes. We need help. Everybody is scared. Everyone is fighting.”

“I see you glanced at your Rolex. Before you leave, let me show you something to think about. Come up here next to me. Look around you. What do you see?”

            “I see a bunch of trees.”

“What kind of trees do you see?”

“That is a cottonwood. There is a box elder tree. Willow. Pine. Fir. I don’t recognize most of the others--trees I don’t know. Just trees. All kinds of trees.”

“Uh, huh. Every kind of tree is here for you to see. Each one different. Each unique. Something for you to think about, maybe.

“Special Effects, could we have some wind, level one, please, through the tree tops.

“Now what do you see?”

“Is there a test?” Gulp. “The branches move differently. Some leaves are frothy and some look thick, heavy, plastic-like. They all move differently in the wind.”

“Very good. Every tree moves differently but however they sway in the dance with the wind, they all connect, like holding hands, at the roots. That is my gift for you for today. Think about it.

“You look disappointed. I can’t give you what you wanted. It’s not in my nature. What I just gave you could be a tool for you to use for building better.

“Careful on the top step as you exit my presence. Adios, sayonara, ciao, cheers. And good luck with your mess down there. I’ll be watching.”

See what I mean? Those earthlings provide riveting entertainment.  

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

End of June, 2022


Wednesday, June 22, 2022

A Dangerous Corner in the Road


A Dangerous Corner in the Road


Yesterday I took a deep breath and offered my services for a job, for which not only am I ill-prepared, but in my deep heart-of-hearts, I know I cannot do.

This will seem like nothing to you but to me it is a BIG DEAL.

I offered to go to Glendive to fill in as secretary for my daughter until she could hire somebody adequate to her needs.

See? I knew you would say, “So what?”

Back when I was in high school (early 60’s) the career opportunities for women were sorely limited. On the cusp of opening, perhaps, but in northeastern Montana, the barriers were still firmly implanted. Five years later it was a whole different world for women.

What were our options? Nursing, secretarial work, store clerk, teaching and homemaking. None of those jobs appealed to me in the least, but two things I knew I was constitutionally incapable of being. A nurse? No way. A secretary? Not in a million years.

What I really wanted to do back then was to go to the University of Indiana, School of Journalism. I let fear shove me against the wall in a paralyzing headlock and took the easy way out. I got married.

Occupationally, I already had the necessary skills. Emotionally, not so much.

Sometimes what seems the easy road rounds a rocky corner and the resultant wreck tumbles one onto an entirely different pathway, down a steep cliff, and splat, so to speak.

I’m a most fortunate person. Life gave me many rough corner turns. And I grabbed the opportunity to learn many skills I could not have imagined back in those teen years.

However, fortunately, life protected many people along my pathways and neither nursing nor secretarial work popped up as options. Those people who work those heroic jobs have my undying admiration and gratitude.

I made my offer to Dee Dee in fear and trembling, but, not to blindside my daughter, whom I’ve not seen eyeball-to-eyeball in three years, I asked her if she thought I could be trained to fill in on an emergency, very, very, very temporary, basis while she assiduously searched for a real secretary.

She said, “Oh, Mom, it would be easy for you.”

I thought she knew me better than that.

But I love my daughter with all my heart so I was willing to feed myself to the lions for her. If it would help.

She turned down my offer.

Perhaps she does know me well.

Sondra Ashton

Looking out my back door

June 23, 2022


No More Monkeys Jumping on the Bed


            No More Monkeys Jumping on the Bed


 I suppose you’ve all heard about the latest horror disease, monkey pox? Evidently, this near cousin to small pox is transmitted by bodily contact. I want you to know I’ve sworn off sex with monkeys.

Not that monkeys are an issue in my life. Nor is the other.

I’d no more than digested that bit of breaking news when my friend, Kathy, informed me Canada is proposing to print a health warning on every individual cigarette. Yep, my reaction too. My mind boggles. Beyond a healthy giggle at the first reading of the first printed cigarette, do you really think anybody will even ‘see’ the warning again. We see what we want to see.

Not that cigarettes are an issue in my life.

Has anybody considered launching a search for intelligent life on earth? Just asking? NASA?

Not that intelligent life is an issue in my life.

What is an issue is Rain, Rain, Glorious Rain.

On the weekend I was praising the glories of our rainy season to my son, Ben, when he stopped me. “Mom. This is me, your son, you are talking with. I still live on the Peninsula in never-ending rainy Washington.”

“Oh, yeah,” I sheepishly said. “I do remember. Hang in there. Summer comes July 17. That day the sun will shine.”

But after nine dry, dusty months in Jalisco, I can’t help but immerse myself in the new beauty of sparkling droplets of water on every leaf. Every living thing perks up. The sky is a different blue. Green is greener. And one can watch grass grow but watching paint dry is more difficult.

Fortunately, most of the rain sneaks down in the night. Like last night, sneaky rain. Other nights, there is no sneaking, but thunderous crashes and flashes, then rain.

I’m reassessing my garden buckets, cleaning out what is finished and planting more rain-tolerant plants such as cucumbers and radishes. They seem to not mind the wet so much. Tomatillos and tomatoes look great. Rain or shine, they don’t care.

And, wowsers! I am eating the first couple of mangos from my own tree. Nothing tastes sweeter. These are smaller yellow mangos, sweet and juicy, not the ones you buy in the store. These have a tender skin and don’t like bouncing around in a container truck.  

I’ve made a new friend. He lives on the other side of the Rancho, by the arroyo. He is so beautiful, just looking at him nearly stops my heart. My guess is that he’s a two-year-old, a gaited bay gelding. At first we just looked at each other, shy like. Then I began going to the wall and waiting. Sure enough, curiosity won out. I began petting him. Then I noticed guamuchil fruit on the ground. Picked some up and offered him my hand. Oh, yes, a treat. Now I go to the wall and if he is not already there, neck stretched out, I call, “Pretty Boy,” and he comes running. Spoiled rotten, he is.

I want to ride so badly it makes my heart hurt. But those days are well gone, a closed chapter.

Me, I’m falling apart at the seams. The tremor in my hands has doubled. My skin, which has always been like rice paper, is now become crepe paper and, I swear, is separating from the flesh beneath. My knuckles are enlarging by the day.

Ears, nobody told us ears keep growing. If I live long enough I’ll be able to flap and fly.

I go slow. I go slow.

But life is good. If NASA finds signs of intelligent life, let me know. I want to see what it looks like.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

June 16, 2022


Haircut Day at Mi Casa


                 Haircut Day at Mi Casa


Rainy season has arrived early. Hooray! Hooray! Evening rains revive this parched mountain valley. Trees tilt their sombreros when I walk by.  

When one hasn’t seen rain in nine months, the typical gestation period one might think, each raindrop is a birthing. A renewal. New life. Figuratively and literally.

And I laid claim to my Baby Rain, took credit for bringing it about all by myself. I’m human, okay? It may sound silly but it is the way I felt, wet, standing out in the rain, drenched by my baby, laughing.

Gardening is different here in central Mexico. Pruning plants to keep them within bounds is a constant chore, just less frequently necessary in the dry season. But knowing the rains are here leads to thinking, “We need to hack this stuff off now, stuff like the Plumbago hedge and the ferns.”

We, my garden man Leo and I, had let the Plumbago hedge along the entrance wall go to flower. This shrub dresses itself with a profusion of blue flowers. When the branches get rain-soaked, they fall over, blocking the walkway. When trimmed regularly, and this shrub grows out of bounds quickly, the plant makes a lovely green hedge.

I am rich with a hedge for Plumbago flowers in back and a greenery hedge in front.

Trimming the Plumbago led to hacking the potted ferns down to a flattop hairdo, led to whacking back the vigorous Wandering Jew, all of which grow like weeds on steroids; once planted, watch out!

“Everything is getting a haircut, Leo,” I said, clippers in hand while trimming one of my favorites, something like a cousin to asparagus fern. “I should go to town to have Lorena cut my hair too.”

My hair, born with a mind of its own, responds best to short, wash and wear cuts. I’ve been whacking it myself during the entire pandemic. Poor hair. But as my Dad always said, “The difference between a bad haircut and a good haircut is two weeks.”  If only that were true. It worked for a couple years until my head got to the point I wanted to shave it and start fresh.

Leo said, “I drove my car today so I can take you to town if you want. Or I can ask Erika if she’ll cut your hair.”

Well, I didn’t know Erika cut hair. She’s a multi-talented woman. She’s got to do better than me. So I wrapped a towel around my neck and Erika pruned me in short order, pun intended, out in the courtyard between the Plumbago and the geraniums.

After Erika finished my hair, Leo and I continued pruning, whacking, weeding.

Sadly, we had a death in the family. There is a shrub with multi-colored leaves of such beauty to make you catch your breath. It grew here possibly twenty years or more. This winter, the poor thing struggled to keep any leaves, and, in naked humiliation, finally gave up. So Leo whacked, sawed and dug the skeleton out of the ground.

Pre-pandemia, I would have made a trip to Vivero Centro to buy a replacement plant. But for the past years, I’ve simply been splitting or moving around what I have on hand. I had been wondering where to put the hollyhocks I had planted in a bucket from seeds Michelle gave me. Well, here it is, a sunny spot, now vacant, perfect for hollyhocks. Thus proving (to me) my belief that to make room for the new, one has to clear out the old.

Gulp. That’s a grim thought. This “Old” got pruned today but when will she need to be dug out and replaced!

Whoa! That sounds severe. Hopefully I have a bunch more trimmings before The Master Gardener cuts me off at the roots! I’m having too much fun.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

June 9, 2022