Taking a Break

I realize that some people who read my blog are not connected to me on FaceBook or Instagram and are possibly wondering why I haven’t been posting. Fred and Pinky and I spent the month of January on the beach. Believe it or not, it gets chilly in the Mexican mountains in January. The days are sunny, warm and spectacular, but the late nights are sometimes in the thirties. The houses get cold, and don’t warm up much, even in the afternoons.
Fred and I have managed to take a winter beach vacation for the past 25 years. These trips have ranged from two weeks to three and a half months, and have gone down both coasts of Mexico. Going to the beach has been a very sustaining part of my life. There is something about going to a new place and staying there for a while that gives me a new way of looking at my life and a new way of seeing myself and my situation. Fred and I tend to treat our beach trips like little honeymoons. We got the honeymoon idea early in our travels, on our first trip to Puerto Vallarta. The tradition on many beaches in Mexico is for a guy to stand outside the bars and sort of flag people in for happy hours. And, every hour seems to be a happy one. There was one guy whose line was, “Hey, Honeymooners…two for one.” We loved that line, and did see ourselves as honeymooners, and all our beach trips give us a new look at what being together means to us. We have enriched our last three beach trips by including Pinky, making it a family affair.
This particular trip has been especially important to me. When I finished radiation on November 2, I was kind of a mess. I was shockingly skinny, had just started to get my hair back, and my muscle tone was pretty much shot. In spite of this, physically and mentally I felt really good. But, it was hard for me to reconnect with my physical self. I almost felt like I’d been picked up and reinserted into a different person’s body. I spent very little time without being wrapped in very concealing clothes, and struggling to recognize the woman I saw in the mirror. I also knew that my outlook on many things had changed. My boundaries were stronger (a good thing), and my patience much shorter (sometimes not such a good thing).
One thing being in a tropical beach setting does is force you to confront your physical body. I have managed to gain eight pounds since I was officially declared finished on November 8 (I won’t forget the date, or fail to see the irony of it). I brought my exercise mats and bands to the beach and have managed to get enough discipline together to get my workouts on a roll. I see muscle tone again. My skin looks less like it is draped over my bones. I have hair, and that hair has a definite mind of its own. I started coloring my hair as soon as I had a quarter inch of it, because that’s how I am. I have been redecorating my face, changing my make up. Changing my mind about my face, too.
But, most importantly, I have continued to write. I have been writing, just not posting. So, now that we have wrapped it up and are back in San Miguel de Allende, I have several new posts ready for you. So, more to come.
I have enjoyed Instagram very much on this trip. I have had a creative dry spell for the past many months, as most of my energy has gone into just taking physical care of myself. I have been thinking about that and looking for what I will do next in that direction. I think one of the most interesting phases of the creative process is when you have the drive but aren’t quite sure how to channel it. Writing has been so good for me during all this. I have been encouraged to hear from some readers that my posts have been good for them, too. I am glad to know that. I am writing this particular series not only for people who find themselves slammed by a health crisis, but also for myself as I walk my own way down this path asking “Where have I been, where am I now, and where am I going?”…

When It Hits the Fan

(This is the second in a new series of blog posts, the focus of which is keeping yourself sane and healthy in the face of Real Trouble. The photos for this series may, or may not, have anything to do with the subject matter. Just some nice photos from Mexico taken during this time.The one here is of three San Miguel policewomen.)

As we drove across the border, I felt that the biggest dream of my life was coming true. Fred and Pinky and I were crossing the Rio Grande in Laredo, but this time was a one-way trip. We were moving to San Miguel de Allende, and Mexico would now be our home. I was very happy and a bit amazed that we were actually pulling this one off. My last post talks more about this move.

We had a rental house in Colonia San Antonio when we first arrived. Shortly after we got settled in the rental house, I started having a disturbing symptom, very slight at first, and I kept telling myself it would go away. I think that many people have this same experience. You feel perfectly fine, but you know something is not right. You think it will go away, but it doesn’t. That was a fearful time for me. While I was in the “this will go away” stage I didn’t tell anyone about the problem. Not even Fred.

We had the very good fortune of finding a house we loved very easily. In fact, we bought the second house we looked at on the first day we looked. We made the offer on the spot. That was in November (I was still in the “this will go away” stage). We moved into the house in December. We zoomed on getting settled in, so by Christmas we were feeling at home. By then I was moving from “this will go away” to “I have to deal with this.”

In early January, I told Fred. Then it started getting real. I knew I had to see a doctor. I started out by thinking it would be something minor. But, I was seriously aware that it might be very major. The next few weeks were a rollercoaster ride of tests, scans, scopes, and pokes. I have always been a very healthy person and all this was a very new experience for me. It somehow felt that I had completely detached from myself and I was watching all this happening to someone else. Part of what I felt was that my body had somehow betrayed me. I felt at physical and psychological odds with myself. I felt a huge gulf between my body and my spirit. These feelings manifested in some strange behavior. I reached a point where I couldn’t even get it together to put on makeup, and if you know me, you know that is a very serious situation.

At the end of all the testing, prodding, and probing…the results were not good at all. The bottom line was that I definitely had tumors in my uterus, and there was a disturbing spot on my liver. I would have to have a complete hysterectomy, done by an oncology surgeon. I got the definite message that there was no time to waste. Nobody was smiling. None of the doctors seemed to get my jokes.

It was pretty hard to even believe all this. I had been truly living the dream of my life and then found myself in the middle of one of life’s biggest nightmares. In the moment that you start to deal with a health crisis you realize that most all other things that you think are a crisis are a blip. At least, that was how it seemed to me. All that I had ever heard, seen, or read, about cancer and cancer treatments had always been terrifying to me. And, no one had given me any reason to believe otherwise. If only someone, back in February of this year, could have sat down with me, looked me in the eye, and just said, “Hey, I’ve been where you are right now. You can get through this. You will make it, and here is a plan.”

That wasn’t what happened with me, but something pretty amazing did happen. I, who knew nothing about any of this, was guided by my own inner guide to put together a team of people to get me through the past many months of my life. The one thing I knew for sure, and Fred agreed, was that I didn’t want to leave Mexico for treatment. While we could have used Medicare in the US, I just didn’t want to go there. It would have seemed like such a personal defeat to me, that I am not sure I would have made it. No, I knew I would stay in Mexico, and I knew I would find the right people to care for me. In future blog posts I will talk more about the care I have had, and the alternative things I have done to keep myself as healthy as possible, resulting in less severe side effects from traditional treatments, and a great deal more sanity.

And, I made it through chemo and radiation. I am now cancer-free and getting on with my life. Am I changed? Both inside and out. But, the majority of these changes are for the better. I will talk more in these posts about my own walk down this strange road. But, I am only talking about my own, very personal, experience. Each person is different. I certainly am no expert about anything. The only thing I know is my own experience. My purpose in this writing is selfish. I want to have the joy of being that person that says to another person, at the highest point of their fear, “You can do this. You can take care of yourself. You can make it. It won’t be as bad as you think.”

I am an Immigrant.

Lots of things to process lately. I had promised to stay off FaceBook and all US tv news. Have done extremely well with the news. I’m not even reading many articles in the New York Times to do with the election. But, I have spent time on FaceBook, and I have found some comfort in seeing how so many like-minded people are feeling. And, I see people  on FaceBook who are feeling the same things I’m feeling. But, the thing I see that I am not feeling is physical fear. From my friends who are not straight, white men, I sense a great deal of fear, all the way from a general uneasiness, which we are all feeling, to a serious fear for their physical safety. I think the fears are very real, and not without cause. I see reports also on FaceBook and NY Times, of protests all over the country. I see large groups of white people trying to communicate to the world, “Hey, we aren’t all assholes.”

I don’t know what I would do if I were there. We did not leave the USA for any political reason. We simply did it because we both realized, at just about the same time, that we wanted to live in Mexico…that we desperately needed a change (and, boy! did we get one!), and that while the “New Nashville” was coming on groovy, it really wasn’t the place where we wanted to spend our “golden years.” I am very thankful that Mexico has welcomed us. I do not really see myself as an expat…that seems to imply that i am no longer something that I used to be. I don’t think that is the case. I haven’t changed as much as I have simply moved on. I’m an ex lots of things, but patriot is not one of them.

We started coming to Mexico about 25 years ago, and I was never ready to leave. It finally reached a point, towards the end of my work career, that I realized I was basically waiting all year for 3 weeks in this country. I can’t say what it is that I love so much about this place. What ever it is, that feeling hasn’t changed after living here for a year.  I was seriously wanting to spend more time in Mexico, and had inserted a two week summer trip into our work calendar, along with the 3 weeks in the winters on the beach. The summer trips were to take us to the interior of Mexico, and we saw a style of life there that felt very manageable.

Retirement was not easy for me. I knew without doubt that I had done enough, but it was still the thing that I was identified by in Nashville. I felt that once I stopped doing what I did, people just didn’t know what to do with me. It was a very uncomfortable time for me. I was ambivalent about so many things. One of the beautiful things about just hauling off to another country is that nobody really cares what you “used to do.” Your identity is totally based on how they perceive you. Anyone who is looking for a location for the next act of their life should really consider a move.

We continued to travel to Latin America after we retired. We had a 6 week twirl in Costa Rica and Panama; not for us. We felt we needed to check out a little something other than Mexico, but after that trip we developed an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude. So, our next big adventure was a 6 month drive, the entire length of the country. We spent 3 1/2 of those months in San Miguel, because we were already very attracted to it.We could see ourselves living in San Miguel.The underlying purpose of this trip was to decide for sure where we wanted to spend 6 months a year. We wanted to check out Oaxaca City and San Cristobal de las Casas, too.

Our plan at that time was to spend 6 month a year in Nashville and 6 month a year in Mexico. By the time we drove the length of Texas, heading back to Nashville, we were both realizing that would be kind of a hard job. Plus, finding rentals that take dogs is a bit harder than a regular rental. And, not to mention, the bright idea we had about renting out our house while we traveled turned really dismal. We both agreed it was a  “never again” on that plan. We were very fortunate to have our Nashville house sell, and sell fast. (Thanks Keith and Jonny). And, of course, it was a much more valuable place than it had been in 1977, when Fred bought it.

We could see from all angles that the 6 month here, 6 months there thing was not going to work. We could sell our Nashville house and budget enough to get a nice house in San Miguel, or we could split the money from the sale and buy a place in Nashville that we wouldn’t like and a house in San Miguel that wouldn’t suit us either. Or, we could go for the whole enchilada and just move to Mexico and live here year round. We were totally unified in our decision, and that made it all much easier. So, we sold our house, much of our belongings, gave many things away, and by some feat of magic cleaned out the attic and basement. Then all the work of packing what we intended to take, and setting up all the details of the move was combined with getting the house ready to go on the market. This was a huge deal, and a real Murphy’s Law situation. By the time we actually got out of the house and handed over the keys my brain was fried. Things were getting extremely real.

Again, we didn’t come here because of trump. Or, because we don’t like the USA, or any of those reasons. We came because we simply love the simple life in Mexico. It feels good here to us. I love walking out the door and being in another country. I love walking down the street and not having everyone I see look just like me. I love hearing a new language, and I even love trying to speak it. I know Mexico has problems. I have no interest in Mexican politics, which is good since I am not a citizen of Mexico. For my own well-being I am very glad to have already moved to Mexico. I support all of you who are tin the US right now and feeling this election on a deep, personal level. Each one of us will have to deal with this chapter however we deal. I trust all my friends in USA to know what is right for them to do. Follow your own inner guidance.  Stay alert, and walk towards the light.

[Note: the photos I use with this series of posts may or may not actually relate to the post.]

 

Parade of the Locos…and a nice party

The photo here is Fred waiting for the parade to start. The quiet before the storm.

Fred and I really enjoyed viewing the parade today from a roof top. It was fun to see, but I would have been overwhelmed to be in the midst of it. There were thousands of people from all over Mexico who showed up in costume and filled the streets. Thanks to Plata for a lovely rooftop party. I ended up liking the pictures of the people at the party more than the pictures I took of the parade.

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Women of a Certain Age. Part 4.

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This woman has appeared in my blog before. The story behind these photos is fascinating to me. And, I hope I have my facts straight. I don’t know the women’s names in these photos, but I do know a little about the older one. I put this info together from talking to a few people, doing a little internet research, and actually meeting her son.

The story goes that this woman started in business by selling scarves that she had woven. She took her very young son with her when she went to sell them. She was not only a weaver, she is also a businesswoman. When she saw that she couldn’t get a fair price for her labor and materials, she decided to cut some corners. Many craftspeople in Mexico have done that. The major work, the real quality pieces, can take days or weeks to complete. I don’t fault them for earning a living, and I have some pieces that I really love that I’m sure were done by machine.

Her son, Remigio Maestas Revilla, took a different route. He has devoted his life to changing the economics of weaving. He now has many weavers he works with throughout the small villages of Oaxaca and he presents and sells their work at a price that is fair to them. In his own way, he is keeping alive a vibrant craft tradition. He has a few stores around Mexico, among them, two in San Miguel de Allende. (One is on Correo, just off the square…Los Baules de Remigio. The other is on Recreo…Juana Cata.) The work he carries is extremely high quality, and exquisite. It is all done completely by hand, and uses natural dyes. His main store is in Oaxaca City is Los Baules de Juana Cata.

And his mother, the older woman in these pictures, also has a large store in Oaxaca City, a few blocks from her son’s store. After inspiring her son to preserve the old, tradition methods, she is still motivated to give the customer a bang for her buck. She carries room after room of Mexcan clothing that may not be made in the traditional ways, but is still very appealing. The stitching is done by machine, and the price is not enough to worry about. You can put together a completely wonderful look for not many pesos. Personally, I love these clothes. I think this woman has a real eye for fashion, and knows how to put the inexpensive pieces together for a real statement look. She is a real success story, whose  legacy will be carried on by her son and his children. I visited her store several times while we were in Oaxaca. She is quite a salesperson as well. She greets you at the door and starts to show you things in rapid order. You find yourself trying things on right in the store. If you buy several pieces you will probably get a little discount, and the colors are so bright and the prices so low…..you will leave with a full bolsa.

Then you might find yourself in one of Remigio’s stores. All the merchandise is in impeccable order. Each piece is a unique work of traditional craftsmanship. The colors are from natural dyes. They are beautiful, but much more subtle. No one rushes to show you things. You browse around and think about which piece you would buy if you wanted a splurge. One night Fred and I were there and he bought a scarf for me. The shopping experience was very delightful. The scarf came with a little tag about where it was made and who made it. Remigio, his wife and two children, were in the store. I was somehow able to communicate how I appreciate the work he does. And, that I am familiar with his mother, a true example of a Mexican woman entrepreneur.

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This is a link to a post about this same subject.

Women of a Certain Age, Part 3.

This lady is one I see frequently on the street in San Miguel de Allende, usually helping out a flower seller who works near a sidewalk cafe. There is something compelling about her. I was pleased and rather surprised when she agreed to let me take her photo. She doesn’t have the strong, outgoing personality of the woman in the first of these posts, and she doesn’t seem to have the confidence of the woman in the second post of this series. In fact, in this woman I  always sense a feeling of vulnerability and shyness. I always say hello to her. Sometimes she holds out her hand to me, sometimes she doesn’t. When she does, I always find some pesos for her.

As a woman growing up in the USA I have certainly dealt with issues of strength and vulnerability. I have always thought that a woman could be one or the other…strong or vulnerable…but not both at the same time. My life in Mexico has taught me that only when we realize our vulnerability can we really find our strength. As a child growing up in a fairly dysfunctional situation I always felt vulnerable. The same vulnerability carried over into my first marriage. I was always expecting someone to come in the door in a really hostile mood, and even if it had nothing to do with me, I always felt it was my job to fix it. At around age 35 I managed to see that I could also be strong, and I saw being strong as the key to my survival. I saw strong as good, and vulnerable as not so good.  My experiences in Mexico have helped me to see that I can actually be strong even when I am most vulnerable. In fact, the only way to be truly strong is to be able to accept my vulnerabilities, love that scared child within me, and then to find my strength. I now see that we cannot really know our strengths until we also see our vulnerabilities. It is the ability to see both these sides of ourselves that matters most. So many women, especially women like me (old enough to have been strongly affected by the Feminist Movement..and to know what life was like before it), are not willing to see how vulnerable they really are. It’s always got to be Wonder Woman, all the time.

I don’t know the difficulties that some of the women I see here experience every day. I don’t know their joys. But, what I see is their magnificent survival. It is a simpler life here, and people aren’t all worked up about impressing each other. There is a kindness of spirit that I see in the faces I meet on the street. There is a shyness, just waiting for me to make the first move and say hello. I suspect they wonder about me sometimes, too. While I know that our lives have been very different, I also see more each day how similar we are.

One of the most important things I have learned about living in Mexico is that I simply cannot judge the lives of others. Many people come to a country like this and think that somehow the people’s lives are inferior because of the standard of living that they see. But, wait. Stop and look. This is not inferior, it’s just different. If you can put aside your own standards and expectations you can find a world very different from what you have ever experienced, but a beautiful world, nonetheless. And, you can look inside yourself and find strengths you didn’t know you had. And, when you need to feel vulnerable, you can just do that, too…without judging yourself at all.

Women of a Certain Age. Part 2.

This photo will never cease to amaze me. What amazes me is that I got it. This woman walked by me in the twinkle of an eye. We were in a large market in a village in Oaxaca. It was packed with local people, and a beehive of activity. People were selling things, looking for things, buying things…..things including live chickens, all sorts of food, clothing, household goods, motor parts, vats of a nasty local moonshine called pulque….you name it. From the midst of all the confusion, I started to go down a little flight of stairs, from one area to another. At that moment I saw this woman, and she saw my camera, right in her face. Instead of turning away, as many of the women here are likely to do, she gave me a beautiful smile…a little pose. She even found her light. Then she was gone. I got one shot at this one, and it was sheer luck. Or perhaps I should say, a magical blessing.

The feeling I came away with from this instant was the confidence of this woman. She is who she is. I asked Fred last night if that phrase, “Vanity thy name is woman,” came from the Bible or Shakespeare. (It was Shakespeare.) There is something about this woman that has caused me to think about my own vanity. Not to be too hard on myself, because working in the fashion/art business in the USA can sure cause a woman to want to look as young as possible. I certainly did. Almost everyone I hung out with was also concerned with this. And, most of them were a good 15 t0 30 years younger than me.   And, if you want to true confession, I always wondered why anyone who had access to that kind of technology wouldn’t do it if they possibly could.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not at all critical of having a little work done. God knows, I’ve had a bit. I am not sorry for doing any of it. I just wouldn’t do it at this point. I have come to realize that the right people don’t love you or like you because of how you look. They love you because of the way you make them feel. And, in this culture, the attitudes about age seem very different. Elders are respected. The grandmothers are powerful members of the family unit.

I have been away from the assistance of needles, lasers, and all the other wonderful help with this situation since October. It’s definitely available in San Miguel and it’s about time for a fill-up. But, I’m not going to do it. I am becoming happy with my face the way it is. In this culture I feel no real need to look young; I just want to look healthy and happy. And, of course, I’m not “cashing in my chips.” If you know me you know I love make-up and dress-up. I just am starting to feel that I can feel comfortable with the way I actually look and come across as a 73 year old woman at the same time, and that’s ok. In fact, that’s remarkable.

Falling in Love with a Country

This photo is not what you usually see to show off San Miguel de Allende. Not glamorous, just life in Mexico. I took this picture right up the street from our house. It is the corner of Insurgentes and our street, Quebrada. Both of these streets form a diving line that sets the Historic Centro apart from the rest of this little city. Most of the street scenes in Centro are much more picturesque. This corner is right on the edge. Sort of the dividing line between San Miguel as it is seen by tourists, and the rest of the town. While I find great beauty in the wonderful architecture closer to the Jardin, and I love to look at the Paroquia, and the rest of the big churches here, and all the glorious colonial buildings, I also like the simple, funky side of Mexico, and I hope it doesn’t change.

I love that our neighbors are mostly still Mexicans, and that there are Mexican businesses right across the street…a little barbershop, a tienda that sells all sorts of interesting things, a hardware store, and a bus stop. I even love clothes lines and roof dogs. I love walking down my neighborhood street and seeing people who look very different from me. I love saying, “Buenas tardes” when I walk Pinky down the alleyways. I love living in Mexico, where the colors are so much brighter, and I see things every day that I haven’t ever seen before.

San Miguel de Allende is high in the mountains, about 1,000 feet higher than Denver. As a result, we get wonderful weather, and amazing skies and sunshine. At times, honestly, the light here makes me feel that someone has slipped a psychedelic drug into my guacamole. Some days we just stay home, and enjoy the indoor/outdoor living. Tonight we will probably walk across the street, and through the parking lot, to have dinner at a neighborhood hotel. It is mostly frequented by the Mexican tourists who come here. There is a large courtyard there, so we can take Pinky along for dinner.

I think that the Mexican people, on the whole, are very thankful for all the good in their lives. I don’t sense that they compare themselves to others, and come out wanting for more. They are happy to work. They appreciate their jobs, and they are very hard working people. Older people are respected here, and families do things together. The elders are included and taken care of. It might be just an early evening of sitting in the Jardin, or it might be a large family of tourists, maybe from Mexico City, who are enjoying a weekend in the fabled city of San Miguel. Mexicans see this city as a jewel. There is no place quite like it, and there is no country like Mexico. I am so happy to be in this country. I have truly fallen in love with it. Every day it seems to change me into more of the person I have always wanted to be. I feel so blessed and happy to call it my home.

 

Zipolite. The First Few Days.

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Zipolite. The First Few Days…..

We arrived in Mexico on December 14. I can hardly believe that we are here until the end of March. Over the past 20 years we have vacationed in Mexico for 2 to 3 weeks almost every winter. Each time we have been here I have felt it is the place I want to be forever. That is a remarkable realization. There are some things that it is very good to figure out: what you want to do to earn a living, who you want to spend your life with, and where you want to live on this planet. I don’t know how we’ll figure it out but I know that Mexico is where I want to spend most of my time. Happily, Fred loves it, too.
This trip we are in Zipolite, a small beach town on the Pacific coast in Oaxaca state. It is big enough that there are several restaurants and bars, and small enough to have no traffic on the main street. There are not many Americans who come here. Most of the tourists are Canadian and European, as well as many Mexicans on vacation.
We are staying at Las Casitas, a wonderful collection of palapa-roofed little houses on the hillside, looking down at the ocean. I lack words to describe how beautiful it is. The proprietors, Paco and Javier, are guys we met when we visited this part of Mexico before. They have my favorite restaurant in Mexico, La Providencia, right here in Zipolite. I was thrilled to learn (when I was looking for a place to rent in Zipolite) that they had added Las Casitas to their enterprise, providing not only a stylish restaurant, but also a lovely place to stay, and I have not been disappointed. We decided to extend our trip and come earlier then we had originally booked, so we have spent the first 10 days in the biggest house on the property, where they live during the slow season. We move today to a smaller one, and I’m sure we’ll love it, too. Staying in this wonderful house has been like my fantasy of the perfect Mexican house. It is so comfortable and filled with atmosphere. Paco is the chef at La Providencia, so the shelves are filled with cookbooks. Javier is an artist, and many of his wonderful portraits are in this house. Everything is open-air, so the inside and the outside become one. If you are a close friend of ours in Nashville, you have spent a summer evening with us on our back porch, so you know how well that suits us.
So far, we have been eating two meals a day at home and going out for one. I enjoy cooking here, and will be writing more about that in future posts.
I am going to close for now–more to come……hasta mañana.