“Winter’s Coming” to Granny’s Landing

Am I stuck in a season of Game of Thrones? Since moving to northern Minnesota, I’ve heard the ominous phrase, Winter’s coming, more times than I can count. It sends an anticipatory chill down my spine. Leaves are turning and the next thing we know there’ll be white drifts waist-high.

I loved GOT, but I don’t dare start the sequel, House of the Dragon, before my own house is winterized and liveable. I’d be hooked, binge-watching, and worthless, like I was when I finally tuned into the blockbusting House Targaryan/House Stark series and swooned over Jon Snow’s woeful appeal. In spite of violence, torture, and relentless bloodshed, I couldn’t stop watching. That’s what happens when the plot is irresistible.

What does any of that have to do with my little house on Fantasy Bay?

Plenty! After hiring Leighton Movers to bring an abandoned, half-finished cabin to a prime spot on the family farm, my sister, brother-in-law, and I have been working our senior bods to the point of extinction, skirting the crawl space, putting in new windows, insulating the floor, and digging a trench from the electrical pedestal to the house. It’s a scramble to meet the encroaching cold. Every morning the thermometer reads a degree or two chillier as we brew coffee and shiver under our layers.

Sometimes it seems like an impossible dream. Then we complete another day’s work and I drag myself to bed, hopeful again.

This was the cabin when I first saw it about a quarter mile from where it is now.

The idea of installing new windows across the entire front of the house was daunting. I hired local handymen to remove the front wall and build frames for six. “Six?” Lofty, my main guy, repeated the number. “Yes, six. And I want them six inches apart.” I showed him my drawing. He scratched his ear and nodded.

I would have loved a full wall of glass, but…winter’s coming. In the far north, windows aren’t the best insulators. I compromised, couldn’t afford all that glass anyway, and I still have a to-die-for view. Eventually, two more windows will wrap the corner on the right.

I want it all now, of course. Finished – like it is in my head. Patience was never my forte.

After Lofty and Dante had been at it for four days, the framing was ready and the exterior was sheathed. Gwen, W, and I cut holes in the Tyvek, installed the windows, and applied flashing tape. Ahhhh! The view!

Then we turned our attention to the floor.

I’ve never seen such a thorough job of screwing as demonstrated in the sheets of plywood we had to remove to install insulation. There must have been fifty rusted screws in each piece and they didn’t want to let go. With bruised knees and slivers in our butts from scooching along the floor, we were able to get about one-third of the sheets up the first day. I removed old insulation from the walls to reuse between the floor joists. It took us three days total to complete that job.

After each phase of this project, I’ve thought, Whew! The toughest part is over. Then something even more physically challenging comes along.

Thirty feet long and two feet deep, that’s the length and depth of the trench required by code to bring electricity from the pedestal to the house. I filled out the form on the State of Minnesota website, paid the fee, and within seconds the electrical permit landed in my email box.

Digging the trench would have killed us all if we didn’t have the auger. With that beast of a machine, W punched eight holes in the ground, each one of them four feet deep. Then we shoveled out the solid-packed dirt between each hole connecting them and removed the excess that had fallen back in when the auger came out. We persisted until we had our two-foot depth.

When I say dirt, that’s a euphemism. This soil is clay. When it isn’t sticky-wet slime, it’s a dense, rock-solid wall. Salty sweat burned my eyes. My heart pounded. My shoulders and back ached. I was so tempted to throw down that shovel and walk away. But there was Gwen, sweating and scooping the earth like a maniac, and W the same. Gratitude, guilt, and willpower kept me going.

By the way, what do you think of my fashion-statement designer overalls? They’re Gwen’s. She sews her own and guessed my wardrobe might not be up to the tasks we were about to undertake. So she gave them to me along with the pretty peach workshirt. I accepted, delighted, knowing she had three more of the same pattern. She wears them for gardening. The others are in sensible colors: green, brown, dark blue. I have the serviceable-but-pretty floral ones. I’ve never worn anything as comfortable!

But I digress.

What’s next?

We’ll bring the wiring to the electrical box inside the house and install outlets, switches, and lights. Then the inspector will come to point out everything we did wrong. When he leaves, we’ll correct any mistakes. Once again we’ll call him for another look and he’ll give the final thumbs-up. That’s a best-case scenario. Fingers crossed.

Right now, it’s fifty-two degrees and raining at ten-thirty in the morning. We’re still drinking coffee and procrastinating. That’s a luxury that doesn’t happen often because that phrase beats in our heads with every tick of the clock and drives us forward.

Two words…

Winter’s coming.

Progress Report from Granny’s Landing

After living in dense communities near pulsing commerce and throbbing nightlife in both Bali and Mexico, I could only theorize about peace. Quiet, for me, was closing all doors and windows against noise seepage and turning on Leonard Cohen.

What would it be like at Granny’s Landing with a mile-long gravel road to reach the blacktop, and the closest neighbor also that far away? What about the twenty-minute drive separating me from the nearest town, Palisade, MN, population 167, with a church, a gas station, and the local pub? I couldn’t imagine it.

Now that I’m here, my understanding of quiet has been radically redefined.

Deep and profound, the hush stretches unbroken across fields to the horizon. Sun-soaked or moon drenched, it envelops my senses and holds me in a womb-like embrace. Jangled synapses in my over-taxed nervous system relax. Sometimes crickets, sometimes the rattling bugle calls of cranes passing overhead, remind me that other life exists.

Actually, that’s not quite true about the distant neighbor. My sister’s front door is a short stroll from mine – like half a city block at most. But Gwen and W are family. They occupy a completely different category.

I’m staying with them while my dwelling takes shape and they’ll be my main social scene in the years ahead. We have extended morning coffee and hash over the latest breaking news. At five o’clock witching hour, we convene on their screened porch to recap the day’s events. Wine flows and our conversation morphs into deep philosophical discussions while sunset outlines the treetops in gold.

Wonderful family! They know what needs to be done, how to do it, and who to call if they don’t. They have a seemingly endless supply of saws, drills, hammers of all sizes, and motivation to get my house built. (I would, too, if I were hosting me!)

But when it came to installing my new windows, we needed help. At 10:00 a.m. this morning, reinforcements appeared on the scene. A van and a car lumbered toward me, a mini-parade kicking up a trail of dust. My construction crew had arrived.

Lofty, his right-hand man, Dante, and Gene, whose role remains a bit of a mystery, unloaded an impressive stream of power tools, looked at my plans, and groaned. “You want six windows across the front here? And three more in this wall? Nine windows?”

Of course, I want nine windows. The view is spectacular. I love light. And I think I mentioned that number when I hired you to install them.

I didn’t say it, but I thought it. Instead, I asked if there was a problem with my drawings because the installation of all my windows appeared to work just fine on paper. The three of them studied the diagram again and agreed that it could be done. I left them to it for a few hours. When I returned, the southeast wall as I had first seen it like this…

had been transformed to this!

The vision I’ve carried in my dreams for months, inviting light and sky and the tranquility of pastoral views into my house, is manifesting.

Moving the House to Granny’s Landing

I tried to imagine the process. I lost sleep thinking of the ditches, the lumpy field, the mature hardwoods lining the road. I obsessed. Even if he managed all of that, how would Leighton, the mover, maneuver the house to fit exactly on its foundation? Had we made it the right size?

I wrote about building the foundation in Granny’s Landing on Fantasy Bay. Three, seventy-year-plus old farts (my sister, brother-in-law, and me) dug sixteen holes, five feet deep, and secured posts to support the platform that would hold the house. In a few hours, I’d know if our combined math skills had withstood the test of time.

Me: “How will we know if it’s square?”

Gwen: “If the lengths of the diagonals are the same, it’s square.”

Me: “How do you figure the length of a diagonal? Doesn’t it have something to do with the Pythagorean theorem?”

W: “Only on paper. Right now, all we need is this…” He whipped out the tape measure.

Me: “Oh”

I am beyond lucky and so grateful that these two have my back. They’ve done it all many times and have answers to questions I don’t even know enough to ask.

Wake-up coffee and breakfast were finished when W sounded the alert. “He’s here!” I glanced at the time: 9:00 a.m. Leighton said he’d come between nine and ten. I gave him an A+ for punctuality and raced out the door.

W and I jumped in the gator and took off while Gwen leashed four-month-old Freya, their German Shepherd puppy, and walked with her to the site of the action.

When we arrived, Leighton was already at work.

I took hours of videos and ran three phones out of battery power, but I’ll spare you most of them and cut to the chase. The adrenalin rush when the house started to move is impossible to describe.

His father moved their house when Leighton was a baby. That was his practice move. From then on, he was in the business. At an early age, Leighton became his right-hand man and inherited the company when his father passed. This professional guy had thirty-plus years in the business and it showed. His every move was fluid. It was clear he’d done this so often it was inscribed in muscle memory. He didn’t even have to think.

On his prior visits, Leighton assured us that the two, right-angle turns at ‘T’ intersections with deep ditches on three sides, were nothing to worry about. W had already spent hours clearing trees from the right-of-way and had a stack of potential firewood to prove it. But as the house approached the first corner, and the machine pulling it dipped in and out of the ditches, I’ll admit my mind went to scarey places.

After that first masterfully executed, impossible hairpin turn hauling two tons of house, I began to relax. From the beginning, Leighton had said, “No problem.” Sometimes my vivid imagination is a terrible thing. I obviously have trust issues. Maybe that’s typical for a woman who has spent most of her adult life depending solely upon herself. But this post isn’t about introspection or self-analysis so, back to the story.

The house trundled merrily down 578th Lane faster than it would have if I were driving. The massive tires absorbed every rut and bump in the gravel road. The house seemed to float

Lieghton polished off the second turn as elegantly as the first.

As he pulled the load across the field toward the platform, Uncle John and Aunt Joyce arrived to watch. My aunt and uncle never come empty-handed and this was no exception. We’d feast on their goodies when the work was done. I introduced them to Leighton, whose perpetual smile never wavered. He joked that his job was a spectator sport.

Up to that point, precision hadn’t exactly been necessary. Big beams, big wheels, big house…there was wiggle room. Now, there was a 20′ X 22′ foundation platform and a more-or-less 20′ X 22′ foot building to set on it.

Gwen, W, and I had measured as best we could, but winter frost heaved the ground under the house and it was torqued. One end sat for years approximately nine inches higher than the opposite end. I’d been assured it would even out once it was on its new, perfectly level foundation. But what if our measurements were off? What if – I was sweating.

I don’t think I fully believed any of this was really happening. I’d pictured it in my mind for months, but in my heart, I’d remained skeptical. As I watched, my home came to rest squarely on the platform, set down as delicately as a bone-china tea cup. Cheers went up from the peanut gallery while I swallowed the lump in my throat and fought tears.

It was perfect from the start to Aunt Joyce’s pizza-and-chocolate-chip-cookie finish. As the sun sank slowly in the west, there it sat, my house at Granny’s Landing on Fantasy Bay.

Now it’s time to turn this abandoned hunting shack into a home…wish me luck!

Don’t Destroy The Messenger – Even If You Don’t Recognize Her

I didn’t listen to Frank Zappa in the 60s, 70s, and 80s when he was at his most prolific. But when I found this quote, I pulled up his Live in Barcelona Concert on YouTube and fell instantly in love. What a satirist. What a brilliant and open mind.

Which mine wasn’t. You’ll see why.

It’s not that I haven’t been meditating. I have. Like a fiend. At this epic juncture in my life, I want all the help I can get and the Universe never lets me down. But, sometimes the messages coming through are obscure. Sometimes, they don’t look, sound, or feel like emissaries from a most powerful energetic source.

I’ve welcomed spirit guides in the most unusual forms that I won’t discuss here because I want to maintain a modicum of decorum for all of you who at least try to believe what I write. Those messengers, in whatever fantasmagorical shape they assume, have answered every question I’ve ever put out there in the most synchronistic and beautiful ways.

For that reason, I thought my mind was conditioned to promptings, especially when seated on my pillow fully focused on getting those downloads.

But today, as I sat trying to access that quiet dark place behind my eyes, intent upon merging with all beings, all energies, becoming one with the flow, a fly, yes, a common housefly infiltrated my space with no awareness of personal boundaries whatsoever. Concentration impossible, I leaped up, grabbed the flyswatter, and returned to my pillow. I had several perfect opportunities but swung and missed, swung and missed, swung and…

A while ago I read a book, If Truth be Told – A Monk’s Memoir the life story of Om Swami. A visual of the monk high in the Himalaya’s, sitting for hours in the bitter cold without eating, drinking, or allowing any distractions to interfere with his meditation, glided into my mind. Here I was getting hot and bothered over a common fly.

I took a deep breath. I would not kill the fly, not now, not ever. It seemed I couldn’t anyway, and once again I settled into the quiet.

The fly crawled up my arm. It traipsed across my shoulder and lit on my closed right eyelid. Suddenly, the light came on.

“No!” Laughter erupted, deep, ironic laughter. “No!” I said again. “You are NOT my spirit animal. I detest flies. Okay, Universe. I’ll admit you have a great sense of humor, but, a fly? No!” And yet, I knew. This fly was a resounding Yes. It had been tirelessly trying to get my attention and escaping all my efforts to annihilate it. This fly had a message.

Trying to meditate at that point was futile. I got up and Googled Fly Symbolism.

The Universe has creative ways of letting me know that I’m on the right path. The fly messenger was no different. The speed at which changes have unfolded for me in the past nine months, as baffling as it has seemed at times, was affirmed by the fly. It was the appropriate messenger with exactly what I needed to know for this moment.

I still don’t like flies, but this one, the one that’s dive-bombing my head even now while I’m paying it the ultimate compliment, has earned my respect and the right to co-exist with me until it dies a natural death or escapes through an open window. I’ve bonded with worse.

Granny’s Landing on Fantasy Bay – The Countdown

As of today, I have four more weeks in Mexico, then my adventures here will end. I’ll fly to Minnesota, the house will get moved onto this finished foundation platform, and life will …

…will what?

Life will be a race against winter – an all-out effort to have a warm, secure place to live as temperatures plummet. I’m almost as eager to write about that process, the ongoing saga of Granny’s Landing, as I am to experience it.

In my absence, electricity is being trenched to the site. The underground cable will follow the red line from the pole, around the white stake, to the little flag… ‘

My sister keeps me updated by sending photos like this while my brother-in-law clears brush and trees from the ditch along the roadside to widen the area so the house can pass. They met with the electric company and made arrangements. They found the house mover and ferried him around to find the most direct way to get a 20 X 22-foot structure from point A to point B. They’re tirelessly helping me. They say they’re as excited as I am to have me there. That’s my family.

Far away from the action, I tune into Tiny House Nation. I’ve never been a crowd-follower but come to find out, small houses are trending worldwide. It’s a movement and I’m part of it. I watch DIY how-to videos on YouTube, and research heating possibilities – baseboard, in-floor, mini-splits, heat storage units, and off-peak options.

What I really want is a wood-burning stove, the kind you can see into and watch the flames, like a fireplace but more efficient.

A red one.

The decor isn’t quite my aesthetic, but look how cozy that fire is!

I’ve been counseled that a stove could be a backup heat source but I’ll need something less high maintenance for the long frigid months. Something that doesn’t require chopping massive amounts of wood, hauling it, splitting it, stacking it, and, okay, okay, I get it.

Or do I?

There’s something innately appealing about that process, about not having to depend upon electricity. Being self-sufficient.

Then again, I’m seventy-two. Should that end the conversation right there? I don’t think so. I’m in excellent health, strong, able bodied, and my sister adds, Now. Okay, granted. I could do it now and when I can’t I’ll hire someone else to chop, split, and deliver firewood to my door.

These are the types of debates that are carried on continually with people who know a lot more about what I’m doing than I do. But I’m a risk taker. I love a challenge. I need a large measure of that in my life. So I’m tempted to just do it. JUST DO IT! I can always add one of those befuddling other heating systems if tending a fire proves to be too much.

I’m also told I’ll need a vehicle. Bah! Humbug! I haven’t had a car for eleven years. I’ve lived in places where I could walk to everything I needed. But they’re right. It’s thirty miles to the grocery store. There are no Lyfts or Ubers (or a trusty Ketut with his motorbike). If I must have one, I want a Jeep. Does anyone have an old Jeep they don’t need anymore? I’m serious!

Meanwhile, the succulents adorning my San Miguel rooftop suck moisture from frequent showers and grow fat. Sun-filled days kept cool by drifting festoons of fluffy white clouds lure me outside. I wander cobblestone streets meeting load-bearing donkeys and the bronzed, wizened men that tend them. Church bells, firecrackers, mariachis – two nights ago at midnight I awoke to a procession. A group of maybe thirty, maybe fifty local people paraded in the dark singing with loud, melancholy gusto to the steady beat of drums. They stood in the street in front of my house for thirty minutes, serenading the shrine located there. It was haunting. Beautiful.

At a fair last weekend, my friend bought medicinal herbs from a vendor. In the course of their conversation in Spanish, we were invited to Temazcal, a thousands-of-years-old sweat-lodge cleansing ritual performed by indigenous women in a nearby village. Thrilled, we accepted. As we walked away I said, Do you think we’ll do this naked? Barb went scurrying back to ask and returned with a look of relief. Clothing, it appears, is optional.

Remember The Sound of Music, that iconic movie starring Julie Andrews? I saw it seven times and one line from a song she sang toward the end is embedded in my memory. Somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good. That’s how I feel about my life now. Since I retired it’s been touched by magic and there’s a knowing in my gut that says in spite of outrageous politics, global warming, and never-ending covid, there are plenty of good times ahead.

Granny’s Landing on Fantasy Bay

Where to begin?

It’s been nine months since I left Bali for my first trip back to the States in two years. I’d planned to return to my beautiful home in Ubud, my dear friends, and the amazing Ketut. I’d purchased a round-trip ticket. But as time drew near to go back, I couldn’t. The impact of Covid, lockdown, and ongoing monkey invasions tied my stomach in knots at the mere thought of revisiting that nightmare. The desire to be closer to my family had become the mantra of my existence.

So I diverted to San Miguel de Allende in the mountains of central Mexico where a friend welcomed me and helped me find a home to rent. I signed a one-year lease and settled in.

Needless to say, I had a lot to process. That’s what this blog is about, the process.

I’m astounded at where this journey is taking me and the doors that are springing open as the way ahead becomes clear. And I’m grateful to the bone for my morning practices. The guidance that comes through journaling, yoga, and meditation is uncanny and the synchronicities that accompany each step forward are beyond my imagining.

But backing up just a bit…

After several months in Mexico, I realized how far away I still was from family. To visit me required an international flight and passports. It was the same for me to visit any of them. For those of you who haven’t experienced air travel lately, it has become a brutal undertaking, and although San Miguel is a magical playground for adults, it isn’t set up to thrill pre-school grandchildren. What had seemed a possible long-term solution in theory, wasn’t adding up.

But I was meeting wonderful women, soulmates really, and loving the Tuesday Market shopping excursions where I pawed for hours through hundreds of tables stacked high with clothing of every imaginable description. Vendors shouting “Barato! Barato! Barato!” (Cheap! Cheap! Cheap!) made me giggle, but they weren’t lying! Some tables had signs that read 2 X 50 pesos. That would be two pieces for $2.50 US. For a clothes-loving bargain-hunter like me, the Tuesday Market was paradise. There were US labels with tags still on them, Express, Lucky, August Silk, and Coldwater Creek, to name a few.

To add to the fun, I found Bananagrams players. They were fierce competitors and challenged my abilities to the max.

I said fun. How long had it been since I’d had fun?

I relaxed into the high desert heat and spent days exploring, often with my new friends, but sometimes alone, following mouth-watering scents for some of the best food I’ve ever eaten anywhere. Even in Italy! (Please note – Mexican wine doesn’t compare.)

I felt alive again, yet playing on repeat in the background was the gnawing knowing that I was still too far from family.

By now I knew I would not be returning to Bali. I’d left everything behind, a paid-for house that still had a seven-year lease, furniture, appliances, clothing, jewelry, deep friendships – everything. How could I justify not returning, especially to Ketut. His management of my property and the B&B supported his family.

There was only one acceptable answer. I told Ketut that if he wanted Rumah Jelita, I would transfer the lease to him and hopefully, after Covid it would become a good business again. He said yes. I left enough funds so he could maintain the property until it became viable. (His first guest will arrive in three days. I’m over-the-moon excited for him.)

The issue of my personal items and keepsakes remained. There were hours of hilarious laughter as Ketut and I videoconferenced while he went through my stuff. He’d hold up a ratty pair of flip-flops, “You want this?” One by one my treasures were placed in ‘keep’ or ‘discard’ piles. When the task was accomplished, he took the whole mess to the post office and had it shipped. It took three months to cross the Pacific – or was it four? Doesn’t matter. It arrived intact. Once again, bless you, Ketut.

After putting Bali in order, I finally felt I had the mental and emotional bandwidth to tackle the question, If not Mexico, then where? I put it out to the Universe but in my heart, I knew there was only one place that made sense: Aitkin County, Minnesota. The family farm.

When I moved to Bali I said I would never live in Minnesota again. I told myself I hated winter, navigating icy streets, shoveling snow, no way! And the thought that I would ever make the remote corner of northern Minnesota where I was born my home, well, no. Never. And yet…and yet…

That’s where most of my family has been for five generations – Aitkin County, Minnesota. My sister, Gwen, and her husband have their home on the family farm. My brother has 30 acres adjacent to them. Uncle John and Aunt Joyce live about a mile away and a host of cousins and old family friends are all nearby. My youngest daughter, her husband, and my twin grandsons, now 4 1/2 years old, live in Minneapolis, as well as many relatives on my mother’s side. It’s a 3 1/2 hour drive.

How does black become white overnight? All those nevers turned to nows?

Gwen and I have been emailing back and forth every day for the past two years. When I tentatively broached the prospect of my move she grabbed hold and ran with it. At one point I asked her why she was so excited at the idea of having her older sister living next door. She told me that she and W, my brother-in-law, acquired the farm from our parents twenty-five years ago because she felt her purpose was to create a place of abundance and safety for family and friends in the difficult times ahead. My coming, she said, affirmed her vision. Goosebumps.

Before I was even certain myself, Gwen had spread the word. Then, as I was researching freight container homes a cousin offered me a cabin. All I had to do was build a foundation for it and have it moved. My next chapter was unfolding effortlessly, which has always been the case when I’m in the flow listening as the Universe clears the path ahead.

My 180-day visa expired in May. I found a woman to sublet my home in Mexico for a month and I flew to Minnesota. When I saw my gift house for the first time I had one word for it. Potential.

For three weeks Gwen and W and I, augured holes for 6″ x 6″ x 8′ posts and worked our sorry, seventy-plus-year-old tails off building my foundation. We contacted a house mover and made arrangements. A representative from the electric company came out to the site and, ouch! Running new service from the pole to my home was pricey but essential.

If potential described my new home, torrents of glowing adjectives tumbled from my mouth when I settled on a building site. Words like serene, expansive, majestic, peaceful, nurturing, verdant, unspoiled. This is my view to the northwest…

Soon, building materials were being delivered by Home Depot…

W kept a close watch overseeing the delivery…

Gwen and I took turns stabilizing the augur while W manned the controls. The foundation was in progress…

Just getting to this point felt like a major accomplishment. This is my view to the east…

The three weeks with Gwen and W gave me a peek into what life might be like for this new – maybe final – chapter.

I arrived just in time for spring planting. Gwen loaned me a pair of overalls and a straw hat. She informed me that I could have as much garden space as I wanted and they would share all they produced with me as there was always an overabundance. (The mask isn’t mandatory – it was the only protection against the nasty biting gnats!) I set about relearning how to plant seeds.

In the midst of the excitement, the goddess Freya arrived. It turns out that was a very fitting name for this fur-bundle of love.

I’ve never seen Gwen so smitten!

Hardly a day passed that some relative or friend didn’t stop in for coffee and, I’m sure, a chance to check out what cosmic shift had occurred to bring Sherry back to the farm. Gwen and I baked goodies to have on hand for those occasions. I asked if frequent coffee klatches were a normal occurrence. Gwen assured me that, true to our Norwegian heritage, they were.

Then, the witching hour. Come 5:00 in the afternoon, all work ceased. Out came the wine and cheese and several hours of cozy chit-chat and DPQs ensued. I love that about my sister and brother-in-law. They know how to contemplate, deliberate, theorize, and examine to death a Deep Philosophical Question. They not only know how, but they enjoy it as much as I do. We agreed that even after I’m living in my own place next door, 5:00 is sacred together time.

One of my last evenings there, we were sitting in the screened porch staring out at the sea of green meadow undulating in the breeze. My father named this farm Willow Island for the clump of weeping willows clustered between the house and the barn. A few years ago, I dubbed the meadow between the house and the forest Lake Imagination. Now Gwen and W are happy to tell anyone who asks that they have Willow Island Farm on Lake Imagination.

My house will overlook a different field. Gwen wanted to know if I’d thought about a name. As I pictured myself sitting on my front porch gazing across the landscape, the answer was there. “It’s Granny’s Landing on Fantasy Bay,” I said. “What else could it possibly be?”

We laughed and after a quiet moment she said, “Sherry, that’s perfect on so many levels!”

So it is. All of it. And once again I find myself manifesting a dream.

There have been times lately when I’ve looked in the mirror and asked myself, “Who are you? I don’t know you!” A five-year-old, blue-eyed imp with bouncy blond curls looks back at me and says, “You’re little Sherry Grimsbo, and we’re going home.”

And That’s All I Need To Know

My nervous system is recalibrating. I don’t wake up to monkeys screaming at dawn. Ketut says they’re still there. Every day. Many.

I loved Bali. No other place has ever captured my heart and soul like that mysterious island did. No other human has shown me such kindness or giggled as contagiously as Ketut did, and still does, but from a great distance now. Life, however, moves on. Circumstances change. As Willie Nelson so eloquently put it, Shit happens.

So we pick up the scraps and move on, a little battered, a little shaken up, but still hopeful that the path will open before us and the sun will shine again.

It’s important, though, especially for those of us who are optimists, to feel the feelings. Everything is not always sunny-side-up and we need to let grief in where it belongs.

When I landed in the U.S. I was numb. Reuniting with family after two years should have been bliss. I had expectations. It would be a love-fest – joyous – thrilling. My heart experienced it that way but my mind was in a state of utter overwhelm. I remember almost nothing of that time with my children and grandchildren.

My nervous system was in dire need of a reset.

The past five months in Mexico have been healing. The joys and sorrows of life are played out in the streets. There seem to be no taboos. One day they’re dancing and drumming with wild abandon. The next day brings a procession so somber and reverent the beholder hardly dares breathe. Battles, revenge, love, craziness. People in costumes depicting angels, demons, and everything in between. Effigies of personas non grata hung over the streets and blown to smitherines. My energies merge with theirs and I’m purged and cleansed.

Writing used to occupy my free time. I could sit for twelve hours at a stretch, so absorbed in the story I’d forget to eat.

I don’t know if it’s the altitude, the weather, or the tectonic shifting within my own being, but here in Mexico, my body wants to move. It refuses to sit still. It’s all I can do to bribe it into a chair long enough to hammer out a blog post.

So in-between delightful visits from friends who view my current proximity to the U.S. as a much less arduous undertaking than a trip to Bali, I seek projects.

The patio set on my roof frustrated me. The Acapulco-style table was missing its round glass insert. If mine ever had one, it was long gone. The rubber-string top was worthless if I wanted to set my coffee cup or glass of wine on it. I didn’t want a glass top anyway. I preferred a statement table, something that would express with color and design what stirred in my heart and didn’t yet have words.

Roberto, my landlady’s son, supplied a round piece of plywood.

I borrowed a brush from Martin, the handyman.

There is a Sherwin Williams paint store down the street. I stopped in and bought a can of black, a can of white, and a can of marine varnish – a product Dad used years ago to protect an antique coffee table he refinished. To this day it doesn’t have a scratch on it. An art supply shop had tubes of red, green, and gold and the smaller brushes I needed for details. I was ready.

For some reason, I decided to use a sponge rather than Martin’s new brush to apply the white base coat. I shook the can vigorously and pried it open with a tool that was not made for that purpose. In minutes my tabletop was white.

I took the sponge to the kitchen sink and squeezed it under running water. It was at that moment I realized I had not purchased acrylic paint. A sticky, oily, white substance covered my skin and the faucet. Panic. I grabbed a bar of soap and scrubbed to no avail. By now my hands looked like the face of a Parisian mime.

Stop, Sherry. Think.

Nail polish remover? I didn’t have any. I quit polishing my nails around month number six of Covid lockdown in Bali.

Rubbing alcohol? Worth a try. But anything I touched was going to be slathered in white. I slapped my palms down on two pieces of newspaper. It stuck like glue. I found the bottle of rubbing alcohol and gave my poor hands a liberal dousing. It didn’t work on the paint but the paper disintegrated.

Now what?

Martin had been painting recently. There might be turpentine in his supplies. I applied fresh newspaper and ran downstairs. The storage cabinet was full of bottles all labeled in Spanish. One looked promising, diluyente de pintura. Dilute the paint? Thinner perhaps? Back at the kitchen sink, I poured and scrubbed, poured and scrubbed, poured…. Were my hands a slightly pinker shade of pale? There had to be something that worked better than this.

Newspaper refreshed once again, I hurried back downstairs and paged more carefully through the confusing labels. Solvente de poliuretano? Polyurethane solvent? Now we’re talking! Back up the steps, two at a time. I poured a small amount of the liquid into a cup and dribbled it on my hands. This time paint came off when I scrubbed. Jackpot! I picked up the cup for another splash of miracle juice and WHOOPS! My magic paint remover had dissolved the bottom of the cup and solvent was running over my polyurethaned concrete countertop!

I don’t want to crash the climax for you, but there is a happy ending to this story. I grabbed a rag and swabbed down the counter. No harm done. The solvent removed most of the paint from my hands but a residue clung to my cuticles creating interesting half-moon shapes that framed the fingernails for weeks.

It took each coat of oil paint three days to cure and there were multiple coats. After the basic white, I taped squares and painted them black.

When that dried, I taped over those black squares and painted another layer of black to create a checkerboard pattern. The black paint bled into the white squares under the tape. Wiggly edges looked like the scribblings of a toddler, not at all the crisp, professional masterpiece I’d envisioned. The quickest fix: sandpaper for a distressed finish. It worked.

Adding the artistic touches was a treat. The flowers, slightly transparent, allowed a shadow of the black and white to show through. Touches of metallic gold added a sprinkle of sparkle to catch the light.

The project that I’d hoped to finish in three days took three weeks because I assumed I was buying acrylic paint. I didn’t ask for a water-based product so why would I assume? If I were in the U.S. I would have specified exactly what I wanted. Sometimes my ignorance astounds me.

The important thing, though, is the finished product, a hard surface where I can securely park my morning coffee cup or evening wine glass.

But even more special for me is the subtle message written in paint. Black and white checks represent the balance between darkness and light. Every Balinese Hindu male owns a black and white checked sarong and important statues are draped with checkered fabric for protection against dark spirits. Nothing says Bali to me like that pattern.

Vibrant red flowers are life itself – creativity, innovation, fire, passion, beauty.

Green is growth. Renewal. A calming, peaceful, dependable color.

And you might ask why I didn’t cluster the flowers in the middle? It would have created a more symmetrical balance. Science shows that symmetry is comfortable. Our minds don’t have to work to process symmetry. But asymmetry is more interesting and we engage longer with it. I’ve never been satisfied with comfortable. I like challenge, and the design I chose to paint reflects that truth.

My table says it all! It’s wonderful! My body had to move a lot to get those stories painted. But for the last three hours, it’s been perched on this chair, retelling the saga that’s already been told in color and pattern. And now it’s begging me to finish because it’s after midnight and this bird is not a night owl.

I’m grieving the loss of my beloved Bali, feeling it deeply, and that’s necessary. At the same time, I’m enjoying wonderful new friends in San Miguel and visits from dear old friends in the U.S. I don’t have all the answers but I know I’m in the right place for right now, and that’s all I need to know.

With Luck, I’ve Learned A Lesson

My last walk was ten miles through downtown San Miquel de Allende and ended with this steep climb – hundreds of steps – up to my home near the top of the mountain.

I’m feeling boundlessly grateful today for my robust immune system and the two AstraZeneca vaccines that strengthened that solid foundation. This is my seventh day of isolation. I have Covid.

At first I ‘knew’ it was ‘just a cold.’ It felt like every other cold I’ve ever had. But I quarantined myself while my daughters urged me to get tested. I sent out a request to my new friends here in San Miguel for a home test kit and one appeared. The very clear POSITIVE reading stunned me.

How could that be? It’s just a cold.

But it isn’t just. And now, seven days into the experience, I feel the difference. The coughing has passed. The fever’s gone. A raging strep-like sore throat has finally dissipated. My nose runs but the congestion was never extreme. My bronchial tubes and trachea remained clear. I had no problem breathing.

But what happened to that powerhouse of energy that used to propel me out of bed at 5:00 a.m. and keep me going like Napolean’s army until sundown and sweet sleep?

Gone without a trace.

I have no choice but to rest, which I haven’t done since leaving Bali three-and-a-half months ago. Of course, all this downtime brings with it hours upon hours to reflect on – well – seventy-two years of life, and be humbled. There were events I shouldn’t have survived physically. There were years when I could have been devastated emotionally. There were traumas that might have left unhealable wounds.

But none of that happened. Why?

As I reflect on that question, I see the faces of kindness at each fork in the road.

Kindness.

In the last seven days, confined at home, one after another of my new friends have messaged me,

“We’ve found a test kit. We’ll drop it by…”

“You must need groceries, Send us your list…”

“How are you feeling today? If you need anything…”

“If you need anything…”

“If you need anything…”

Kindness.

My daughters were relentless. They knew far more about the virus than I did and my cavalier approach brought out the mama-bear fury in each of them. I was scolded, educated, and reminded how much I was loved.

I’m a bit ashamed that I had to be knocked flat out to realize the unsustainable pace I’d set for myself. It isn’t like there weren’t gentle nudges along the way. (Falling off the pillow and conking my head, for example – not so gentle but definitely a nudge.) Then along came Covid making it physically impossible for me to push myself.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from this, that’s it. Will this time be the charm? Will I accept that I’m human, elderly, and have limitations? Oooo. That’s a tough one. I guess time will tell.

Hello, 2022. You’re a welcome sight…

We’re three days in. Already your energy feels hopeful.

2022 A new dawn. A new day.

Photo credits Alamy 2C52HKF

2020 and 2021 brought a harsh reckoning…a world reset. None of us is the same person we were at the end of 2019. Life as we knew it came to an abrupt halt and we’ve been scrambling ever since.

But I don’t need to revisit the nightmare of the past two years.

A new dawn, a new day, and a new home. I’m settling in and embracing the differences. From a tropical island in Asia to the high desert of the Sierra Madre mountains in Mexico – how opposite could it be? I’ve exchanged hot and humid for cool and dry. That, and the altitude, required this shocked, very-soon-to-be 72-year-old body, to slow way down and recalibrate.

My Bali home…

My San Miguel de Allende home

It’s been a month already and, to my delight, I’m finding far more similarities between here and my Bali home of the past ten years, than differences. I’ve exchanged the practices of one devout people for the very different but equally devout rituals of another. Bali Hinduism is unique in that it is heavily influenced by ancient animism. Mexican Catholicism is also a blend. It retains flavors of Mayan, Aztec, Toltec, and other long-gone cultures.

It feels right to me to have a hint of those shamanic elements of the ancestors operating today. It fulfills a need to connect to a past where spirituality was an integral part of life, if not life itself. I’m also glad the decision-makers have been selective about which ceremonial activities to leave in the past – human sacrifice for instance – not a fan!

The Day of the Dead in Mexico and the march of the Ogoh-Ogohs on Nyepi in Bali – the wild clang and crash of gamelan orchestras accompanying the monster parade – feed my Plutonian shadow. Darkness is lured out of hiding. We’re face-to-face with the ‘other’ realm and perhaps confronted by our demons. It’s an invitation, an opportunity to look at our own dark underbelly and accept that part of ourselves. That wasn’t available to me in the U.S. Darkness was kept hidden until it came out sideways, unhealthy and destructive.

There are other similarities, the double lives, for instance. In Bali, a beautiful smile, gracious hospitality – a facade is applied for the tourists, the ex-pats, the foreigners in white skins. It’s like that here, too. I hate it. I can’t say it more bluntly than that. I’m studying Spanish with a frenzy, as though my life depends upon speaking the language, because the life I want, does.

Only when I learned Indonesian did I become privy to the reality of the lives of the Balinese, the nitty-gritty behind the smiles.

I’m hoping that’s the same here. A common language is a connector that opens doors. Only when we can communicate in a shared language are we able to trust ‘the other’ enough to speak our truths and our secrets.

I was ready for a change, but I also hoped that I wouldn’t have to sacrifice some of the daily things I loved about my life in Ubud like the Ibu (esteemed woman/mother) who had the fruit and veggie stand where I bought all my produce.

Imagine my delight when, lo and behold, there was Señora Petra’s tiny tienda not ten steps from my door. The Señora sells just about…no, not just about…she sells everything I need to survive out of her hole-in-the-wall space no bigger than an average American bathroom. Besides fruits and veggies, I get my cheese, eggs, yogurt, crispy corn tortillas (by the 30-count package) flour, sugar, salt, a few select homemade pastries, beer…

And yesterday, on a whim because a button fell off my favorite shirt, I asked if she had white thread for sewing. She cocked her head and grinned. From somewhere in the depths under the back of the counter, she extracted a plastic box and – I kid you not – there it was. Thread in an assortment of colors. She fingered them and pulled out a white one. My jaw dropped. (Yet another example of a time when I’ve been thankful for the mask!)

Ubud has two Western-type supermarkets. So does San Miguel and I’ve been to both of them. (There may be more but these are walking distance from me. SMA is a city. Ubud was a small town.) It only took that one trip to each of them to know that I’d only be going there when I want, not NEED, just WANT something like Italian seasoning or baking powder which I found yesterday at $10 USD for a bag of Red Mill brand – the only option. I nearly choked.

On the flip side, there are gigantic traditional markets where I wander, overwhelmed, dazed, enthralled. I’m the odd duck, very much in the minority, in the midst of hundreds of local people going about their ‘business as usual.’

There are similar-but-different markets targeting tourists and ex-pats. I’ve visited a couple of those, too, just to see what’s there. It’s fun to look but I find them high-priced and glitzy. I’m happier in the markets with less ‘show.’ I’m not necessarily more comfortable, aware that my white skin radiates like a beacon and certain assumptions are made about me on that basis alone.

But I need that, too, to remind me of my privilege, my entitlement, my colonizing heritage that has wreaked destruction for centuries upon centuries.

How does one atone for that? It’s a question that weighs heavily and one I need to answer for myself.

So, “Hello, 2022,” from this new place, ten years into my ongoing adventure called RETIREMENT. I’m poised excitedly, hopefully, on your doorstep with so much to be grateful for, and so much to learn.

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