Sunday, December 30, 2018

Endings and Beginnings

Endings and Beginnings
            Christmas has been celebrated. The first day of the New Year lurks around the corner.  We arbitrarily close out one year, stamp it “over and done” and with trepidation open the flaps of the box labeled, “next”.

            The one thing, the only thing, I can say with certainty, is this: Nothing, absolutely nothing, will come about, unfold, or happen the way I think it will. Just by consistently getting up each morning I have lived long and I have learned--that I don’t know much.

            Jim recently told me, “Farming is a microcosm of life.” I had to think about that a moment. He went on to say, “We are idiots if we think we have any control.”  

            We had been talking about my amaryllis. Two years ago I had over 200 amaryllis in my garden. Last year I counted a few more than 400. This year I have none.

David at the vivero in town identified the pest by the evidence Leo took to show him. Leo came back and said to me, “Same thing the spray planes go over the cornfields to stop.”

A bug that ruins whole cornfields infested my little flower crop. I have four which have actually bloomed, but they are also doomed. The roots have holes with worms.

            Immediately I thought of my squirrel who plants corn throughout my garden. Did she bring the blight? Probably not. The bug that causes this plague goes through several incarnations. Moths fly through my imaginary boundaries.  We live surrounded by corn fields in three directions.

            My same farming friend from Missouri has been in St. Louis this year, caring for his 95 year-old mother. In October, Jim brought her to meet us and see his place in Mexico. We all fell in love with Juanita. She died Christmas Day, at home, cared for by her family. Some endings are beautiful; hard, yes, sad, yes, and beautiful.

            I seem to be ending a “solitude” phase of my own life and, inexplicably metamorphosing into a social butterfly. I didn’t ask for this change. It is happening and I accept it, interested to see where it will take me. Friendships deepen. I like it.

            Twenty meters of barren flower beds stand empty. A sure sign of a new beginning. Oh, I will fill them. Maybe with plain, hardy geraniums. They bloom year round, seem oblivious to bugs, iguanas don’t eat them. Squirrels plant corn among them but I can handle that. I’m in no hurry to decide.  Might take a few trips to the vivero.

            I have no clue what the New Year portends. No doubt, it is better that way.  I make no resolutions that I am sure to break. Though they can be kind of fun. “I’ll walk five miles a day, eat only vegetables, lose fifty pounds, give all my money to the poorer, only smile and show cheer, promise not to shoot my neighbors—oops—how did that one sneak in?” See, all resolutions ready to be ignored.

And, no, I don’t own a gun. But see how so much forced “goodness” just begs for a bad to balance the scale.

No predictions. No forecasts for the future. I hope you, my friends, as well as myself, keep waking up in the mornings to watch what the days unfold.

Happy New Year, one and all.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
December 27, 2018               

Saturday, December 22, 2018

In My Garden of Earthly Delights

            In My Garden of Earthly Delights
            Angels and snakes, metaphorical. Every garden has each. While moving my water sprinkler, I stepped in a nest of fire ants. Stepped out quickly, swiping ants  off my legs, onto my arms, off my arms, moving at lightning speed to patio and can of Raid where I drenched my legs, shoes, socks and soaked the ground around me. Back to the garden, barefoot, with a stronger spray and obliterated the newly sprung ant nest. Stings like fire.

            Since Jalisco winter is like Montana spring, I figured leafy lettuce would do well.  I don’t favor iceberg lettuce. What is there to like? Convenience, maybe. Good leafy lettuce is imported to us and hard to find.  

            In an available empty flower pot, I planted a test garden. In a short time, I had a goodly little crop of lettuce.  Each time I pass by, I munch a handful. Since I constantly renew or change my floral potly residents, it was easy to gather three more empties and plant more lettuce.

            Along came Squirrel. Squirrel, the bane of my life. We have a love/hate relationship. This sassy ground squirrel has survived all the salivating dogs on the ranch as well as my ire.  Every winter that rodent with a fuzzy tail plants corn in my flower pots, in the lawn, wherever she can dig and plant. Squirrel is industrious.

            You guessed it. I planted lettuce seed. Squirrel followed me and planted corn seed, scattering dirt and lettuce seed to the winds. She’s an equal opportunity nuisance—she also dug holes and planted corn in my bamboo, in the amaryllis, canna lilies, geraniums, my lawn.

            My avocado tree has dropped its last fruit. I have developed two kinds of avocado bread. Zucchini or banana bread recipes are easy to modify. Reduce shortening, use mashed avocado, adjust spices to taste. Yum.

            I also made a quick bread with avocado, jalapeno, and onion. Reduce shortening and liquid. I used buttermilk. I threw away my first loaf, heavy as a brick. Further modified my recipe and my second loaf was a delicious success.  

                        My papaya, planted eight months ago, must be related to weeds to grow so quickly. Already I have huge fruits hanging on the center stalk. A friend gifted me a second papaya plant two months later. Both were baby starts, mind you. The second has fruits the size of my thumb. I’ll be giving away papaya by the basketful.

            A garden without people is an empty garden. Every morning I spend an hour or two out on the back corner patio, drenched in sun. I feel like I am holding court. Julie comes by, sits a while. We talk. Then Carol shows up. Nancie wanders in. Maybe one or another leaves.  Here come’s Kathy. Or Tom and JRae. It’s like a salon in the sun.

            There is a perceptible ease that has transformed our rancho friendships. It happened over the last couple weeks, with two parties: the Posada and the Memorial with Pizza. Little tensions have disappeared.

            Carol’s birthday was Friday; John’s Saturday. Several of us gathered for cake, a song, best wishes and hugs. 

            Last night I went with Kathy and Richard to the Plaza. The tree in the center kiosk is a beauty to behold. When darkness fell and the tree lights were turned on, a sigh of hushed wonder lifted all. We spent three hours, walking, sitting on a bench munching churros, being part of the greater community of Etzatlan.

            Last night Tom and JRae hosted a bonfire for our Rancho community. Tom and JRae, here for a few days to ready their casita befor retirement, drove toward home today. We had a simple get-together around the crackling fire, shared snacks, soft conversation.

            Then Kathy and Richard joined us after a day in Guadalajara. They brought sparklers, a meter long, yes, sparklers like on the 4th of July. Giant sparklers that sprinkled light five minutes or longer. You should have seen us, children revitalized, waving dancing sparklers in the dark, magically lighting the next page of our lives.

            Merry Christmas to all. I wish you could be here with me to share the wonder. But I am here and you are there, so I wish you all moments of glory and beauty and love.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
December 20, 2018

How I Got to be the BVM at 73 and then I Died

            How I Got to be the BVM at 73 and then I Died 
            For me, it was a fortuitous choice. I don’t sing in public. We were gathered on the festively decorated patio out by the pool. Yes, there is a pool on the Rancho. I don’t talk about it because I don’t get in water lower than my body temperature.

            We owners, gringos, workers, everybody who had anything to do with the Rancho, sat around the long string of table, practicing the tune with lyrics in Spanish, to celebrate the Posada.  Bonnie might have heard me mutter to Carol, next to me, that I don’t sing in company.

            I love music, don’t get me wrong. I sing in private, the only ears to offend my own. Back in 6th Grade, when we were forced to sing for daily Mass, Sister Mary Frances took me aside and said, “Just mouth the words, honey.”

            Then we moved to Montana where everything in my life was different but I hung on to Sister MF’s sound advice.

            At any rate, I was chosen to be Mary. Alexandro became Joseph. Bonnie and Samantha accompanied us on our trek to find lodging. The remainder of the group rudely turned us away. When we stood up to begin our rounds, I grabbed my cardigan sweater from my chair, rolled it into a bundle and tucked it under my pullover. It made a perfect bump. I draped my neck scarf over my head and I was in costume, green with brown, but it worked.

            It occurred to me during the trek, what a rough journey it would have been for Mary, pregnant, over hill and dale on the back of a sweaty donkey. I glared at Joseph and muttered under my breath.

            Once we found room in the stable, I pulled my cardigan out and deftly created a babe in swaddling clothes. Joseph touched the baby’s face and said, “He looks just like me.” We were great.

            We ate tamales and drank atole, traditional Posada food, along with assorted pot luck dishes. Bonnie led games. We had a piƱata but wisely saved that for another time since darkness had come upon us. A good time was had by all and I don’t say that lightly.

            This was a big deal for me. Back in the day, when we had enactments in church or school, I never had a chance to be Mary, draped in blue robes, holding the porcelain doll in my arms. Mary was invariably petite, blonde, blue-eyed, with long curly hair. I was even taller than the boys, fence-post thin, with straight-as-stick brown hair. I was a sheepherder.

            The second part of my story came about as a direct result of memorial tributes to President George Bush. Leo was saying to me that he thought it sad that we didn’t say the good things about a person when he was alive but waited until he was dead.

            Next thing you know, that simple thought evolved into a Memorial Service for all of us here on the Rancho. I said I would host the party, a celebration of our lives.

The idea grew, took on a life of its own and next thing you know, we moved the event to Oconahua Pizza, in a village of about 250 people, some 10 kilometers or so from here. I brought a lovely cut flower arrangement, for every memorial should have flowers. We left the bouquet for Ana and Michelle, the owners of the pizza place, to take home and enjoy.

We each wrote and read our own obituaries. Every one of the nine of us had a different take on how we presented our lives, how we wanted to be remembered. After each reading, we got to say how much that person who’d momentarily “gone beyond” had meant to us. The hardest part was keeping our eulogies in past tense, as if our subject were not sitting across the table.

Laughter and tears, we had a bit of each. We created a very simple and touching ceremony, bringing us closer to one another, increasing insight and understanding from listening to each participant’s story.

I ended my obituary reading with these, my final words: “At last I got to fulfill my lifelong dream and desire. I got to be the BVM* at the Christmas pageant.”

*Blessed Virgin Mary, respectfully
Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
December 13, 2018

Saturday, December 8, 2018

A Tempest in a Teapot

                     A Tempest in a Teapot     
            We narrowly averted a minor crisis on Rancho Esperanza this week. A waterline broke, flooding the entrance road into our gringo enclave, which we fondly call Colonia Americano. This is a dirt road I am talking about so running water can do a significant amount of damage in a short while.

With residents’ vehicles plus delivery trucks, the city garbage truck and such, wading in and out, the ruts deepened, water ran faster, ruts deepened.   

Worse, what an incredible waste of water. The Rancho is private property. We are granted use of purified city well-water, delivered by gravity flow. While run-away water floods our roads here on the lowland, the poor people living up on the hills are left with empty pipes.  

To complicate the picture, and believe me, the story is twisted, the water pipes and the road are ranch property, private, not city responsibility.

So whose responsibility is it to fix the broken pipe, from which water ran like a small brook? Ah, that is the question.

The way I heard it, a delegation approached Bonnie, who manages the ranch for her mother, with the demand to “fix it”.

Bonnie’s response, “Read your contract. It is the owners’ responsibility to fix the breaks.”

Dusty contracts were retrieved and read.

While we each own the pile of bricks from which our casitas are comprised, we lease the land. With that, comes some clearly worded plus muddy-worded responsibilities. Among the clear words in our contracts, are these: We get to pay for the fix. (Among muddy-worded directives is found: We are not to run around the property naked and so forth. And so forth?

Now comes the storm. Words. But words hurt, never mind the sticks and stones. “Well, we shouldn’t have to . . .” “Well, they should . . . “ “We won’t.” There was a lot of he said, she said, they said, we said flying back and forth.

Thankfully, I wasn’t around for most of the fury. I’ve learned to sit back and wait; most storms blow over and amount to nothing. 

That’s not to say I wasn’t worried, that I didn’t feel my own stomach churn. I was on city council for seven years in Harlem. I knew a water valve cost substantial dollars. I think the emotional words flung about had their birth in fear of the cost.  

I’m not saying I was blameless. Pearl Pureheart I am not. I griped and grouched too.

Damage was done.  The Border Wall, built by our words, between the Gringo section of the Rancho and the owner section went up brick by brick. I sensed the stringing of a row of razor wire glinting in the sun.

Like I said, most of the time I hunkered down in my own back garden, coward that I am, dead-heading geraniums.

The plumber came; the men were shown where the valves were located, and the cost was declared.

The men fixed the water pipe before the sun went down. I’d bet good money a new valve was not installed. We are in Mexico. Here nothing is purchased new; everything is fixed. When presented the bill, each share was $75 pesos, on today’s exchange, about 3.75 USD. Shame on us.

I heard that Carol said, “All this upset over a few measly dollars.” And I was told that eyes were averted, faces flushed, cards were shuffled and the afternoon card game continued, though much subdued.

Fear had moved my mind (Would my share be hundreds of dollars?) and my mouth. In retrospect, it sounds like “I’m going to take my toys and go home. I don’t want to play anymore.”

The storm blew over. The wall came down. There is a party tonight, shared time with Rancho family and gringos. We will go to the party. We will share food. We will feel chagrin.

 Maybe, just maybe, we will have learned a lesson. Maybe we will seek accurate information before filling our mouths with words we will later regret, words that build walls.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
December 6, 2018

Monday, December 3, 2018

Do You Ever Have One of Those Days?

Do You Ever Have One of Those Days?

            Maybe you don’t but I have a tendency to automatically and immediately attach a judgement to various happenings during my day. You know—that’s good; that’s bad. Usually I catch myself and adjust my attitude before damage is done. Usually.

            Today is not a “catch myself” day. Take this morning. Generally the sun hits my back yard patio beneath the jacaranda by 8:30. I like to take a book and cup of coffee out and bask like a lizard for half an hour, Mexican time, which often stretches to an hour.  Ah, beautiful sun.

            At 8:30 the sun made a spotlight on my azure-blue metal rocking chair. Coffee and book in hand, I settled.  Ten minutes later the sky clouded up, temperatures dropped, and I felt a distinct chill. It wasn’t a big deal until I made it one. “ said sunshine for Etzatlan. Sun must have forgot to check the forecast,” I grumbled on my way back to the house, where I swept my floors to warm up.

            On a scale of one to ten, my spiritual temperature hovered near a four.

Before I could do anything else, I needed to clear up a little communications problem. Have you ever clearly and distinctly said A-B-C-D? Your friend heard E-F-G-H and responded with W-X-Y-Z. I hate when that happens.

            Steve and Theresa, friends from Washington, visited me in April, fell in love with my town and Rancho Esperanza. 

Delia owns the Rancho. Bonnie, her daughter, manages it. Theresa carefully sent every e-mails of the negotiation, start to finish. I had told Bonnie my friends wanted to live here, gave her a synopsis of our history plus a character reference.  

How could we know Delia no longer reads her e-mail. I won’t go into nitty-gritty details. Turned out the deal was made, sealed with a check and neither Delia nor Bonnie knew. I scurried from place to place, making nice, showering waters of clarity to douse miscommunication fires.

Steve and Theresa followed up with phone calls. It all got handled. All is well. A-B-C-D now reads A-B-C-D to all concerned.

My friends are now my neighbors. They’ll be here in February to start work on the pile of bricks they bought sight unseen.

Me, I’m having trouble shaking the icky feeling generated by the misunderstandings and it’s not even my problem. By the way, the sun came out and I merely growled at it. Spiritual temperature dropped down to two.

Next on my agenda was a trip into town to get my teeth cleaned. Going to a dentist, any dentist, for any reason, generates terror in my heart. Elda, my dentist in town, found a crack in a tooth, found the crack before my tooth fell out of my mouth, one half at a time. Well, well, isn’t that just jolly good news! Negative reading?

“I can fix it,” she said, and proceeded to do so right on the spot and it didn’t even hurt.

“Why, you ungrateful little snit,” I told myself. “You could have lost your teeth, one by one.”

Next, I had to deal with money, not my strong suit. Down to my last thousand pesos, read fifty dollars, I had gone to several ATM machines, different banks, each of which spit the card back at me—pfffoooey. I don’t face rejection well.

I suspect my card has somehow become de-magnetized. It happens. I called my daughter to go to Western Union and wire me a few bucks for emergencies.

I had to make three trips to the Western Union and still they would not/could not release my money. That also means three trips for my daughter trying to correct problem. Don’t ask. By the third trip, I had fire in my eyes that not even money could quench. On a scale of one to ten, how far negative can one drop?

Meanwhile, back at my bank, Debbie took care of my bankcard problems. That woman has the patience of a saint and I appreciate it.

Relationships. Money. Health. What a day. If I had a job, today my boss would have fired me.  The icing on my cake is the gasping scorpion which managed to crawl in my front door.

 Hey, most of the problems are resolved, right? So I should feel on top of the world, right? After all, the scorpion was dying.

 Go away. Let me wallow.

Tomorrow the sun will shine again. Well, maybe.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
November 29, 2018

Romancing the Snow

Romancing the Snow

            My daughter Dee Dee sent me pictures of Antoinette building a snowman, the falling white fluff thick on the ground, the tree branches covered with hoar frost. For a moment, just a moment, mind you, I had a twinge of homesick nostalgia, for snow.

            I have a theory. Since snow in inevitable in our northern climes, in order to find a marginal ability to tolerate the slick, nasty frozen stuff (as opposed to the genius of ice-cream), we inventive humans, creatures without benefit of naturally wooly or furry protective skin, invent a romance around snow.

            I mean, really, think about it. We have to find some way to live with the ugly truth, so we invent myths right and left. (That is not necessarily a political statement unless one wishes it to be so.)

            With the holiday seasons, the romantic myths surrounding snow, snow which surrounds everything, take on an unnatural energy. Consider Thanksgiving.

“Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go. The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh, through the white and drifted snow.” It is bad enough in a heated vehicle. We think an open sleigh behind a self-fueled horse would be lovely? Get real.

            The song image gets worse. “Oh, how the wind does blow. It bites the nose and stings the toes, as over the ground we go.” As far as I’m concerned, those words take any vestigial romance out of the picture. Winter wind. Icicles mounting on scarf wrapped around lower face. Feet turned into blocks of ice, even in wool lined mukluks. Don’t forget the fingers one can no longer move.  Frostbite imminent. Yep. Real romantic there.

            Christmas is even worse. “Dashing through the snow, etc. and etc.” “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas,” just like the one when we slid off the icy road on the way to Midnight Mass, car snuggled in the snow-filled drainage ditch, three miles from town, a quarter to twelve, with no other Catholics living on our stretch of the gravel road.

            We walked the mile home, skidding and sliding, Dad silent in his ice-encased thoughts. Back in the kitchen we drank hot chocolate and ate cinnamon rolls to warm frozen fingers. Dad fired up the old I-H tractor, stood me on the tow bar and chugged out to chain up and pull the Ford out of the ditch. Dad followed me home while I carefully steered the wheels between the ruts.  T’weren’t nothing romantic about it.

            Plug in the car. Scrape ice off the windshield. Shovel the walk. Bundle up like Michelin Man to go get the mail. Listen to the wind howl. Watch the snow blow horizontally, all the way to the Dakotas.

            We need our myths or we would not wrap them around ourselves. When we are warm and cozy in the house, and the outdoor world is wrapped in white fluffy, we convince ourselves that it appears romantic and beautiful. 

But, while I bask in Mexican sunshine and dine on a burrito, I wish you a snowless Thanksgiving. Please cut a chunk of turkey from the thigh and eat it for me. Oh, and a huge mound of dressing and a slice of pumpkin pie. Whipped cream? Yes, please.

If I were in Havre this week, I would feast at the Annual Havre Community Thanksgiving Dinner and love every minute. I miss you, my friends. But not the snow. Please, no snow.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door.
November, Turkey Time

“Same to mango—everyday more better.”

            “Same to mango—everyday more better.”

            In other words, “The older the mango, the sweeter the fruit.” Words by which to live from Leo’s Aunt Cuca, one-hundred years-old. Sundays she walks five kilometers to church, refusing rides from neighbors.

Senora Cuca Chavez lives on a small farm, alone, near San Antonio de los Vasquez, about an hour north of Guadalajara. I cannot find the tiny village on any of my maps.  It is near Cuquio, toward the river.

            I had written to my son, “Not much to report. Guess my life is boring.” Ben immediately wrote back, “Not boring, Mom. Every single day life is exciting. It is a matter of perspective.”

            I got my comeuppance. Sometimes I get complacent. Forget to open my eyes.

With both those reminders, I went to my bodega and rummaged through my dibs and dabs of paint remainders. I had a dib of yellow, emptied a dab of ocher to it from another can, and painted my patio chairs and table, a job I had put off for weeks. I painted over the orange rounds of wood, seats and table top, now weathered after three years of use in all seasons. Amazing how that little chore changed my mood.

Once the paint dried, I decided to varnish the chair rounds and table top for added protection from the sun. I meticulously used up the half-inch of varnish in an old can. Not my best decision. Even with added thinner, the varnish spread awfully thickly, gave a bit of marbled effect. Oh, well. I’d done it.

Amazingly, my project dried to a nice finish, complete with several flying insects, one a mosquito. I named it “collage with bugs” and threw a blue cloth over the table.

While visiting Julie in the late afternoon, she said she’d like to see the poems I read in Poulsbo in September. I told her Kathy and Richard wanted to hear them but we hadn’t made time. “If you will arrange it, I will do a reading tonight.” Fifteen minutes later, Julie had set the stage, so to speak.

If reading new work to a group of poets is daunting, I need to tell you, reading poetry to a group of non-poets is terrifying. I opened portals to my soul that these people, most of them new friends, had never seen. I read to acceptance, to honor, to affection. I had to peal myself off the ceiling that night before I could go to sleep.

The daily rains have ceased, not to return until next June, so I turned my attention to my garden, soggy a mere week ago. The rainy-season beetles which had infested my hibiscus blooms are gone so they wear their “skirts” of blossoms in full glory.

Sad to say, a plague of root eaters wiped out a goodly portion of my amaryllis. Every time my garden-helper Leo weeded the beds, he threw out more bulbs. Last year I had over four-hundred flowers in bloom. Maybe a hundred are left, shooting up nice green leaves; too late to pull them out and replace the soil. This is a “wait and see” time for my amaryllis.

When I held a pulpy, half eaten bulb in my hand, a look of distress on my face, Leo said, “That’s life, Sondrita.” “No,” I said. “That’s farming.” Same thing.

I’ve been hankering for a banana tree for several months. Made the decision. Had Leo take me to David’s Vivero Centro in town. I want the specific banana plant that produces the sweet tiny bananas. David will deliver one next week. I’ve chosen the place to plant it, now I wait.

Meanwhile the papaya tree I planted six months ago has six large green papaya fruits. I asked, “When will they ripen?” “Maybe a month,” Leo said. How does a baby tree produce fruit so soon? I am taller than the papaya tree. My son says it is not small. It is fun-sized.

I chopped the last of my avocados, dropped from my prolific tree by the wall, and put them in the freezer for guacamole, for a time when avocados are rare in the market place.

Later, Pat and Nancie and I drove to Oconahua, a village just north of us. Ana and Michelle make good pizza with a Mexican slant.

While family and friends from the north-country bewail that sunshine is but a vague memory, I’m outside, basking in the warm.

Perhaps life is a collage with bugs. As Ben reminded me, “Daily life is exciting. It’s when it feels exciting in the moment that afterwards it’s a letdown. Perspective.”

I’m taking my cues from Aunt Cuca. That woman knows how to live. Estoy como mango de buena.  

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
November 15, 2018

Equal Opportunity Mail Order

Equal Opportunity Mail Order

            Crin wrote, “Look at the nice young man you can get online these days.” A photo accompanied her note.  

            Ah, Crinny, it’s been done. Mail order was quite a popular movement back in the late 1800’s, after the Civil War, when settlers began homesteading the great western reaches of the country. The men sent off ads for brides.

            Generally, I understand, once the package arrived, usually by train, parties on both sides of the fence were in for an unpleasant surprise, as the promised goods were often misrepresented. Even with so-called gender equality, do you really think there is anything new, as has been said, under the sun?

            The young man in Crin’s photo looked to be about twenty-four. Slim, dark hair, sparkling eyes. I will leave it to your fertile imaginations to fill in details to complete the picture. Before you get too excited, I caution you to remember even a buffalo can be photo-shopped to look handsome.

            Crin, my friend, have you lost your last wing-nut? What are you thinking? Do you realize the risks? Has this site been vetted by Amazon? Does he come with a money-back guarantee if you are not satisfied? What if he sent his grandson’s photo and arrives with no teeth, no hair, with a box of adult Pampers under his arm?

            Have you, dear woman, considered the fifty-year age spread? What will you talk about? Will he give you a blank stare if you mention The Beatles? His grandfather was a child when Jack was downed in Dallas. He will think the “Moonwalk” an antiquated dance form, if he thinks at all.  When you want to play Canasta, he will want to play Minecraft.

            Dear friend, there are other ways to meet men if you want another man in your life. You might hang out at the Senior Center, the library, or the hardware store. Church. The checkout line in the grocery store.  I don’t care that dating online is the new normal. Shudder.

            You have a valid point that of our age range, there are twenty women like vultures eye-balling the lone available man. So why not shop the younger set. Okay. A little younger.

            What? Yes, that is true. Men of a certain age accompany, even marry, twenty-five year-old women with great frequency. You query me as to my bias.  I blush. When you put it that way, I have to confess to a certain uncomfortableness with my antiquated thinking. I hardly blink anymore when I see that particular December/May pairing.  I am guilty of holding a double standard.
You are right, of course, and I am wrong. Turn-about is fair play. The longer I think about it, perhaps I can even admit that an older woman with a younger man should be equally acceptable and makes good sense.

            And, after all, in my own life, my young gardener takes me to town for shopping, gives me his arm when crossing the uneven cobblestone streets, when climbing the high curbs. He carries my bagged purchases for me. He treats me with great respect and consideration. But . . . he does the same jobs for you, for Carol, for Nancie, for Lani, for Jim, for John.

            I give up. I am wrong. You are right. Our young men can stand on ladders, clean the fans, change light bulbs, clean the rain gutters, and do any manner of disagreeable jobs we no longer can or care to do. In later years, they might push our wheel chairs.

            But I don’t care. I still can’t wrap my mind around it. Not a span of fifty years difference in age! Old fool that I am, if I were looking, I’d choose fat, sags and wrinkles, missing teeth, a pacemaker and a sense of humor rather than a buff youngster who’d remind me of my grandson.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
November 8, 2018

Comings and Goings

Comings and Goings

            They flapped a clamor like rain drumming on my roof. The day is sunny and bright. Overhead, a gigantic thundercloud of blackbirds shadowed the sky in annual migration.

I like to imagine these are the same blackbirds I see gathering in the wheat fields around Havre in September, eating grain, preparing for the 2,500 mile flight south. I will see these flocks daily until spring, moving between feeding grounds in the valley and night perches in the hills.

Jim was here with his 95-year old mother, Juanita, for a week. He wanted her to see this part of the country he loves. We all fell in love with this delightful woman.

One day, while she and I sat in the Plaza, another wrinkled woman, one I see frequently in town, a woman near the same age as Juanita, walked over and lay her hand on Juanita’s shoulder. The two women, mirror images, leaned, round heads face to face and congratulated one another on such a long life, gabling back and forth, each in her own language, no barrier to understanding.

Juanita said she knew she would never have another chance for such a trip. She tires easily but she is sharp as a tack and loves to tell her stories. She paused in the middle of one such story, obviously frustrated. “Oh,” she shook her head. “Sometimes words forget me.”

She is back in St. Louis. We told Jim he could go home and leave his mother here. But, I know we wore her out and she is glad to be home, in her own bed. Jim plans to return in January, depending on his mother’s health, of course.

The same day Jim and Juanita boarded an outbound plane, Pat and Nancie arrived from Sedro Woolley, Washington and Julie flew in from the Twin Cities. We are wearing paths through the grass between casitas, visiting, welcoming. 

Crin has been here three weeks. She leaves in a few days. Single women, living across the road from one another, we often share a meal. Crin will return in February for a longer stay, perhaps a couple months. I will miss her. Everyone else here is partnered up.

If I could, I would send you my crop of avocados and iguanas.  My tree is large and loaded. I began eating from it in August and it still drops several a day. By the end of its crop, I do not care if I ever see another avocado. I pick dropped avocados off the ground in the morning and hike them over to the neighbors in rotation, every other day keeping one for myself.

Iguanas? They love avocados and chomp all but the seed. Often I see or hear a fat iguana, belly full, slip and fall from the tree, mouth full of pulp. My flowers are safe from foraging, for now.

 Today my great-granddaughter, Kyla, the baby, is in the hospital in Billings for a bone-marrow test. If I could, I would take unto myself the entire family pain. Instead I have my own helplessness, my confusion, my questions, my anger.

If I could I would flap wings like a blackbird, fly against the cold and snow and bitter winter winds, and like a fairy godmother or a witch, who cares which, wave my magic wand and make life sparkle.

Which one of us would not do likewise for those we love? But that is fantasy. 

Why does it take pain to motivate me to do something I know is good? I get lazy, break the good habit. Last week I began anew, beginning anew, dedicating the first hour of morning to meditation. The first hour. If I set any different time, I set up myself to fail.

The first hour, as the sun is rising, is for me, for you, for all my children. Maybe I cannot make anything different or better. But I can find ease for my own heart. Who knows? Life is a Great Mystery.

After meditation, I drink my morning coffee, pick avocados, dead-head geraniums, mop my floor, watch blackbirds, walk across the little dirt road and visit a neighbor. Some days I go to the Plaza.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
November 1, 2018

A Normal/Not So Normal Day ...... Or Why I Live in Mexico

A Normal/Not So Normal Day
                                                    Or Why I Live in Mexico

            I woke up grumpy. Not normal.

            Beautiful sunrise. Normal.

            After coffee and Qi Gong with Jim, I still felt out of sorts, no energy. I sat; he gonged. Decided to go to the doctor. Definitely not normal.

            Leo, who came to see if I needed anything from town, offered to take me and be my interpreter.  “Do you want to see the cheap doctor or the good doctor?”

            “I don’t care. I just want to make sure I don’t have pneumonia.” The “cheap” doctors are those who are working off government loans for education. I have been to them more than once.  I got excellent care and diagnosis for thirty pesos.  That is about $1.58.

            Leo said, “I think you are depressed and worried.” What I heard was, “It’s all in your head.” Silently, I replied, “You can keep your think to yourself.”

            Leo parked in front of the Paris Hospital. Doctor Fermin owns the small, private hospital. Leo made the choice for me.

            After a thorough exam, Dr. Fermin said, interpreted loosely by me, “Yes, you had very bad head cold. You are clear now. Heart, blood pressure, temperature, oxygen level, lungs, eyes, ears, nose and throat, all normal.”

            Immediately I felt better. He followed up with a prescription. When my children were small, one favorite Little Golden Book was When I grow up, what will I be? The nurse exclaims, “Here’s a little pill for you. This will make you good as new.”

            That’s modern medicine for you. I don’t care. Three prescriptions plus the exam cost me 450 pesos or $23.70 USD. I will take the pills. Not normal. I will rest, drink juices and teas all the long day. Normal.

            I asked Leo to stop by my favorite panaderia for a chocolate croissant, my version of a lollipop for being a big girl at the doctor. Eight pesos. My other favorite treat is an ice-cream cone. It was a difficult choice.

            Leo then went to a neighborhood tienda to pick up fruit to welcome John and Carol when they arrive tomorrow. Leo is thoughtful that way.

I needed a few items. I bought a large carton of yoghurt, a round of Oaxaca cheese, a pineapple, rack of bananas, apples, a cantaloupe, a papaya, 3 cups raisins, 2 cups peanuts, a hefty stalk of broccoli, head of garlic, squash, carrots, a green pepper; this munificent bounty for the paltry sum of 219 pesos, or approximately eleven and a half dollars. Not normal.  I bought more than I usually do. My eyes outflanked my stomach.

We stopped by Leo’s sister Amparo’s house so I could meet her brand new baby girl, not a week in our lives. Marifer is beautiful. She will break hearts just like her three-year-old sister, Isabella, who calls me her Tia Lola. Who knows where she came up with that, but to Isabella, I am Aunt Lola. She came to me, lifted her foot for me to tie her shoelace. That small act made me feel better than any medicine.

The remainder of my day was normal. I rested. I drank teas. Neighbors stopped by to check on me. Are you okay? Do you need anything? Is there something I can do for you? Crin came to ask if I were up to a lounge by the pool. Bonnie chewed my ears off for not letting her know I had been sick. Josue came twice. Leo came and changed my water jug. A normal day.

P.S. Hurricane Willa must cross two mountain ranges to reach us. We get slop-over. Wind and rains but we are safe.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
October 25, 2018

Ripa Van Wrinkle Rides Again

Ripa Van Wrinkle Rides Again

            I should have a good ten years of health ahead of me, since the last time I was this sick with a head cold was a good ten years ago.

The prevailing wisdom is, if you don’t medicate a cold, it will wear itself out in two weeks. If you do medicate a cold, it will hang on fourteen days. In these two miserable weeks, I’ve hardly left my bed.  

            Medical advice from the young men on the Rancho; Tequila. Medical advice from my cousin Jim; Whiskey. My Medicine Cabinet is empty.

            My friend Lani, she and I are the only gringas here at present, housebound with different maladies. I said, “Can’t you just see us two old fools, setting out to seriously drink?”

            First, we would have to locate the right place. We would not want to get tipsy where people know us, assuming a drink or two would render us wibble-wobbly. Which is probable. That rules out favorite places like the Restaurante Don Luis, up on the mountainside. Maybe that little corner bar in town, the one with blue walls, the one with the beautiful carved-wooden barstools, the one that always has loud music blaring out onto the street?

            Then we would need to decide what to drink. Neither of us are drinkers—see Medicine Cabinet above. This is a serious quandary. Since we would surely get sick, umbrella drinks are ruled out. If we upchucked a drink that tasted good, we would never be able to drink it again.  

            If we go to the loud-music bar, we couldn’t stay long, so we’d better order doubles. Think about it. A double shot of Medicine would probably do us in. Two doubles would kill us.

            This is all in the interest of getting well. Seriously. Once we downed the drinks, some kind souls would pour us into a taxi and send us home where we would puke and then we could get up and go.

            This is pseudo-scientific information. Like attracts like. Did I learn that in school? We have poison in our bodies making us sick, so, add more poison. The poisons stick together like iron filings to a magnet. We disgorge the whole mess, and voila, two healthy old fools. What do you think?

            That imaginative outing gave us a good laugh and the next day we did indeed feel better. Laughter is the best medicine. It chased out the poison. The following day we ventured out for lunch at Rolando’s Acapulco Tacos. No outside stimulation needed.

            Did I mention Lani and I are the only two northerners at the Rancho? We expect Crin and her sister Anne to arrive Monday. Then Jim and his 95 year-old mother are coming in Thursday. John and Carol will show up Sunday. And Nancie and Pat, along with Julie, fly in to Guadalajara the following Wednesday.

            Imagine my surprise when I got up this morning. I had not even made coffee. I had just put a load of laundry in the washing machine, stepped out of my bodega, and saw, coming in my gate, Kathy and Richard, who were not expected to show up until December.

            Double take. I could not believe my eyes. Was I awake? Was I still in bed, asleep, dreaming?  Hallucination? Imagination? I was not drinking, I swear.

Hugs around proved they were my real flesh and blood friends. “We could not stay away.”

            I chopped apples, bananas and papaya and cooked oatmeal for breakfast. We ate. We talked. We hugged some more. I drank my coffee.  

            Within a few short days, we will have a “Full House” on the Rancho. We will get rip-roaring intoxicated, all under the influence of friendship and laughter. Let the good times roll.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
October 18, 2018