Friday, January 24, 2020

Ingenuity and Telephones

                                Ingenuity and Telephones 
It could have exploded. Ben woke up and automatically reached for his phone. The auto reach; it is a generational thing. The phone was so hot it burned his hand. He jerked the plug from the phone and from the power strip. The power cord connection to the phone had melted into the phone. The cord itself was fried. He said, “I’ve never heard of this kind of problem.”

Oh, man; Oh, crickets; Have to buy a new phone. Ben, of course, has one of those phones with which he does everything. It is his lifeline to the world. And they don’t come free in Cracker Jacks.

Nevertheless, Ben cleaned the plastic mess as best he could and, with Leo, went in search of a new phone cord, on the million and one chance, not really believing it would work.

Luis, the man at the counter reached back on the wall and pulled down the correct power cord. Ben tried the plug. No satisfaction. It is a puzzle. Luis said, “Never heard of such a problem.”

Luis grabbed Ben’s phone, a strong light, a magnifying glass of, an assortment of small tools and a razor and dismantled the device. Carefully, he carved away the melted plastic, fiddled with this, soldered that, adjusted another thing, burnished here, jiggled there, reassembled the phone and plugged the phone into the new power cord. It worked. All functions are ‘go’.

Anywhere else, any phone or electronics store in the US, and Ben would automatically be signing up for a new phone, a new contract; we all know the drill. Ingenuity.

But this is Mexico. Here, we fix it. Somebody will fix it. The hard part is finding the perfect ‘fix-it’ person.

Between Ben and me, we have three phones in the house. His state-of-the-art model. My cheap-cheap cell and a bottom-of-the-barrel landline.

Last week my landline went dead. What was truly puzzling is that it had also died a month previously. Leo replaced the batteries for me. Ben took my Panasonic phone apart, found the batteries corroded, dumped them, cleaned the gunk and read the fine print. Leo had installed he wrong type battery. We needed a specific type of rechargeable battery.

Leo is my usual ‘go-to’ person to find the ‘fix-it’ person I need. When asked where to get rechargeable batteries, Leo’s face went blank, that typical deer-in-headlights look, I-don’t-know look.

In my praise for Mexican ingenuity, I must add a caution. Two things of which to beware. If asked, all Mexican men will say, “I can fix it.” even if that person has no idea what you just asked to be fixed. If that same person does not know where to find what you need, he likely will say, “No hay. 
You cannot get it here. Maybe in Guadalajara.” Which takes him off the hook. Ingenuity—in a different form.

In our small town there is an electronics tienda on every other block. So, bypassing Leo, Ben asked Jim to cart him around store to store in search of rechargeable batteries. How hard could this be?

In most small towns in Mexico, stores roll down the door fronts from the hours of 2:00 to 4:00. They drove by a tienda on Mina which had a picture of my same phone in the advertising blurbs alongside the door. The closed door. After trying two or three other shops and not being able to make themselves understood, Jim and Ben again drove to the small shop on Mina, the door now rolled up, shop open for business.

Ben held up the phone to show the woman the empty battery slots. “No hay,” she said. Ben looked up at the thousand items hanging on the wall behind her. There in plain sight, if only one knew what one was searching for, was a packet of the very rechargeable batteries my phone required.

Ben pointed. She took the battery pack off the wall. He paid. I now have a working landline again.

Ingenuity goes both ways. In case you ever need the word, rechargeable in Espanol is ‘recargable’ pronounced something like ray-car-ga-blay, minimal accent on ‘ga’. That is how my ears hear it at any rate.

I try hard to leave superstition in my childhood. I love black cats, walk beneath ladders. How often have we heard, ‘disasters happen in threes’? What could possibly go wrong with my super-simple, no frills cell phone? To say, ‘do not look for disaster’ is to say ‘do not think of an orange’.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
January 23, 2020

Argentine Ants

Argentine Ants
The other day my son Ben, here in Etzatlan to help me in recovery, showed me a video he and his daughter Lexi had enjoyed. The animated video by a German scientist with an unpronounceable name demonstrated characteristics and world migration of Argentine Ants.

"Arrgh!: I shouted. "I know those ants. Intimately. I've eaten some. Inadvertently. They are a kitchen plague. All of us here battle them continuously. Now I can name them. Imagine that."

Argentine Ants. These buggers are teeny-tiny, so small they resemble a little brown dash. They seemingly come from nowhere, in hordes. Leave one simple crumb of food on the counter and Argentine Ants will answer the siren call.
The cartoon-like video fascinated me, only because I fight these critters most days. They win. Always.

Take yesterday. Leo squeezed oranges for fresh juice for me while Ben was busy with a different chore. Leo did not rigorously clean the counter upon which juice splashed in the squeezing.

Me, normally, following a juice chore, I scrub the counter and near-by surfaces with soap about eight times to make sure it is clean. I am not a clean freak. A little dirt is a good thing. I scrub the sugary enticement to keep ants away.
Sure enough, within a couple hours, ants marching in disorganized lines, found each sugary splatter and feasted. "Spray them with vinegar," I told Ben. "Then wash the surface--a lot." He did. I keep a small spray bottle of white vinegar on the counter. Nothing keeps these ants away permanently. But vinegar kills what is there.

That night I could not sleep. I heard the Cathedral bells annouce the midnight hour. 1:00. 2:00. What am I to do? Into my frustrated mind popped the video of Argentine ants invading the warmer sections of the entire world, carried there by who else, travelers, in their suitcases, in shipping cargo containers.

Cartoon images, lines of ants marched from Argentina and Uruaguay, infesting other regions of the warmer world. Ah, ha, I said to myself. I can use this. My body is a microcosm of the world. I will visualize hordes of ants marching throughout my body-world, gathering the good healing properties and settling into the area of my incision, speeding healing. Within minutes I settled into a calm sleep.

That night marked a turning point in my recovery. Humor me. Okay?

After that, whenever I felt restless in the night, I summoned the cartoon ants to bring me the good stuff. Whatever works, right. You count sheep. I give tasks to my ants.

Something worked. Saturday I saw Dr. Francisco, had an X-Ray. "Beautiful." He snipped and plucked out my stitches, pronounced me ready to get up and walk. 

Small steps. Short distances. With a walker. Weight on both legs equally. Hip, hip, hooray!

I can walk. No pain. I am ecstatic. Dr. F set firm boundaries. A long list of 'do nots'. But each day I am to walk further, longer. Just walk.

My emotions were all over the map. Woops. Not the ant map. Different map. Overjoyed. Enraptured. Delighted. Elated. Just plain happy. That map.

Perhaps a secret part of me had believed I would never walk again. On two legs the same length. Without pain. I wanted to hug the joy, the surprise, the wonder to myself.

So I asked Ben to keep visitors away from my door. Rumors flew, of course. "What is wrong. Bad news? Poor thing." And such ilk.

I didn't care. I can walk. I will continue to wield the vinegar-bottle-battle against Argentine Ants, but, perhaps, I shall never view Argentine Ants in quite the same way.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
January 16, 2020

Sondra’s House of Ill Repute

            Sondra’s House of Ill Repute
Surgery successful—Hooray! Hooray! I have a repaired hip. My legs are both the same length again. I promise not to show you the scars.

The news on the other end of that spectrum is that I will be immobilized for two weeks.

My expectation, courtesy of previous experience, was that I would be up and walking the day following surgery. Shattered expectations had my emotions running wildly about, unclothed and unfiltered for a couple days.

And what is this strange motor-mouth reaction? Emotions circle the globe and I cannot keep my lips closed. Normally, I am a listener, the quietest person on the Rancho.

Because of bone damage from the slipped post into my leg bone, now repaired, Doctor Francisco ordered me to have full-time care for an unspecified period of time, to allow my leg to bear absolutely no weight, and to do nothing. That is not as fun as one might think.

In Mexico, when Mama needs help, family moves in and takes care of all necessities. Week One went like this—my Rancho Family became a care-giving unit.

Bonnie slept in my room the night I was in the hospital. For the following seven days my door was never locked and a stream of friends slipped in and out all day. Ana and Michelle, friends from Oconahua, took night duty and bandage changes. (Ana is a retired nurse.)

In and out, in and out, in and out my door, friends with food, with comfort, friends to plump pillows, sweep my floor, change dressings, shop, buy medicines; you get the picture. Everyone I know came. Could not have survived without my friends, my Mexican family.

That also meant I had ten people bossing me and making my decisions. I learned a lot about myself. Just think about it. Enough said.

Meanwhile, Dee Dee in Montana and Ben in Washington were figuring out logistics, what, when and how to be here.

Dee said, “Ben, I will make money and do the organizing, bill paying and such for you while you go take care of Mom with your past nursing experience. I can better be with Mom, helping, from here.”
Ben’s boss said, “Family comes first. You take the time necessary.”

I could hear audible sighs of relief from my Rancho caretakers when Ben arrived to take over my full-time care.

As a bonus to me, in the first two days here, Ben cleaned and updated my desktop, brought me a new tablet so I can email friends from my chair and repaired my printer which was emitting scary smells. That is the least of his help. I know Ben’s presence is speeding my recovery exponentially.

One of the harder aspects of this experience for me has been not being able to communicate with you. I have friends who were quite worried as day after day went by with no word.

If you ever wonder if the love you send me, in whatever form, makes a difference, let me assure you, I feel it.

Saturday I go to the hospital for X-Rays and check-up. I have been in touch with Dr. Francisco via this magical hand-held device of Leo’s (I think you can also use it as a telephone?) with frequent questions and concerns. Everything is going swimmingly.

I hope to be allowed to begin walking and therapy Saturday. Ben, who worked in the health industry when a younger man, assures me he is a physical therapy tyrant. You will hear my whines and screams of pain as they circle the glove and arrive via north winds.

Meanwhile, Jim from Missouri has arrived at the Rancho. He’s also a retired RN. He and Ben are driving me bonkers. They have their opinions contrary to Dr. F’s orders. Yeah, I, too, was surprised to not begin walking right away. I am following Dr.’s orders. We have interesting discussions,
borderline arguments. I tell them, just call Dr. F and ask! They would rather torment me.

I would invite them along Saturday to see X-Rays, to ask their own questions. But do you think we three earballs might “hear” three contrary orders?

For the past five years I have been supporting my weight leaning on a cane. If those bullies give me too much grief, I figure I can take them out with a powerful right hook.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
January 9, 2020

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Christmas 2019

Christmas 2019
I’m writing to you today from warm and sunny Glendive.  Mom had her hip repair surgery on Thursday, the 26th.  Merry Christmas! 

The post from her original hip replacement had slipped down into the bone.  The doctors knew this and knew they could fix it. 

After opening her up, while she was still awake (with a nerve block), the doctors discovered the slippage was worse than they had thought.  The metal post was grinding and eating away the inside of the bone. 

Mom explained how the surgery felt to her.  She reported the room was comfortable, music in the background, and cheerful chatter.  There were never any moments of ominous silence and “whoops”, so she was thankful for that.  

Mom said it felt like they were trying to pull her leg off.  She likened the experience to “being on the rack”.  The good news is mom’s legs are both the same length again!  The bad news is the bedridden part.

Mom has 2 weeks minimum bedridden. The doctor said it was possible it could be 4.  Then she gets to go through the grueling task of physical therapy.  Mom is really super super excited about physical therapy after her muscles atrophy in bed.

Mom came home to a house full of love from her neighbors.  The neighborhood has divvied up her care and meals while she recovers.  Mom wasn’t quite expecting it to be this long and difficult. And painful. 

Mom has no clue how long it will be until she can sit up at her computer and send these herself.  In the meantime, I will tag team write with her to keep her stories coming. Today it will be poetry as she’s kind of not into writing.  Mom may take a while to respond to anyone who writes, but when she is able, she will respond.  Mom loves hearing from you all.

Mom wanted me to share a couple of my favorite poems.

I grew up in isolated
North-eastern Montana.
Everybody knew your story.
I sneaked out of CYC and drove
Dad’s car, crammed with friends,
Up and down Main Street.
Somebody told my Dad,
Better keep a tight rein
On your filly there.

When my baby died,
Women from a hundred miles
Came to me, held me,
Cried with me, told me,
I lost a baby too.
In isolated communities.
There is no privacy.

Today I live in Mexico,
On the edge of a rural village.
I live by myself. In solitude
I find strength and beauty.  
Now and then, I feel lonely.
Nobody knows my stories

Alders Rained
Alders rained leaves
From the sky
Like tears rolling
Down my cheeks.
A leaf caught
In my eye, shattered
The morning with gold.
I love you,
I said aloud.
And the world
Bowed at my feet.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
January 2, 2020