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.

The Devil Made Me Do It…almost!

I’m addicted to the Tuesday Market in San Miguel de Allende. It is total sensory overload.

Sights bedazzle in a profusion of color. Tables mounded with clothing, jumbles of shoes piled high, cascading vegetables, fruits, woven baskets, serapes, electronics, tools, cookware, candy, makeup, toys, wigs, and handbags. Caged birds, bunnies, chickens. Flowers, handmade furniture…

…and sounds, a low burble of voices like ocean waves in the background. Strolling guitarists. Vendors yelling, Barato! Barato! Barato! to a chorus of chirpings, cluckings, and an occasional cockadoodledoo.

In the midst of that: Food.

Señors and señoras mixing, patting, grilling, frying, chopping, creating scents that tantalize, luring me to checkered cloth-covered tables with my plate overflowing. The air is chewable. Its drool-worthy aromas permeate every pore until the last shred of resistance succumbs.

When this food touches the tongue, long-dormant taste buds explode. The sauces, salsas, moles, the unique mixtures of herbs and spices, and the freshness of every ingredient, have made Mexcian food legendary throughout the world.

Do Not Touch signs don’t exist at the Tuesday Market. I cannot resist running my hands over exquisitely embroidered linens, absorbing the soft textures through my fingertips.

There’s a smaller version of Tuesday’s Market every Sunday. Some of the football stadium-sized structures sit empty.

There’s less congestion and fewer choices which isn’t always a bad thing. I’ve become a fan.

Last Sunday I went early and headed to the tables where dozens of scarves had been dumped in heaps. I love scarves and it didn’t take long for the world to dissolve around me as I focused single-mindedly on the hunt.

At one point I removed the glasses I wear for distance and hooked them in the V-neck of my shirt to better see the patterns up close. A tiny voice whispered Those aren’t very secure, you could lose them. I ignored it and continued my fevered searching.

After paying for the two treasures I found, I started to walk away. The distance was blurry. I reached for my glasses.

Gone.

Dismay buzzed through me. I rummaged through my purse and dumped out the contents of my shopping bag. Nothing. I patted down the front of my shirt, looked under the tables where I’d been standing, and started frantically ripping into the piles of scarves. In a combination of mime and frustration, I told the vendor what had happened. He, too, dug in, helping me look. By then, there were other people at those tables on their own personal mission. After a futile ten minutes, I gave up and left for home.

My emotions ran the gamut. I was angry at myself. Due to leave Mexico in ten days, I needed those glasses to navigate the massive Dallas/Fort Worth airport. As near-sighted as I’d become, deciphering gate numbers on the overhead boards to find my connecting flight in one of five terminals would be impossible. A shiver of dread replaced anger and dismay.

The next moment, laughter.

Truth was, I hated those glasses. I’d gotten them in Bali and specified to the optician that I needed correction for distance. When I picked them up, the young woman was delighted to explain that she’d made certain the glasses were not too strong so I could still see to read while wearing them. I felt irritation bubbling up. I could read just fine without glasses. I wanted to see leaves on trees and faces on people a block away. But, in true Bali-style, I swallowed displeasure, smiled, paid, and thanked her.

My distance vision was improved only slightly, and the frames I had chosen because they were lightweight and virtually transparent, were flimsy. But the purpose was served. As I transferred flights at multiple airports on my trip back to the States from Bali, I could see well enough to decipher signage.

From the beginning, my intention had been to get new glasses in Mexico. But I’d put it off. Now, with just ten days until departure, my hand was forced.

The joke was on me.

A tickle of excitement replaced dread. I searched online for optical shops in San Miguel. One had five stars and ten great reviews but the only pictures were of cute glasses – none of the shop itself. They had a Facebook page. I pulled it up and sent a message explaining the situation, asking if it was possible to get glasses before I left.

Even though it was Sunday and the shop was closed, within minutes I had a response. Come at 12:00 tomorrow and your glasses will be ready by Friday. Overjoyed, I typed in, Please make that appointment for me. I will see you at noon tomorrow. Thank you!

Even though Google Maps said it was an eighteen-minute walk I left the house at 11:00 a.m. My over-eagerness got me to my destination forty-five minutes early. I stepped through the open doorway into a space no larger than a walk-in closet and stopped. The gray upholstery on the three chairs lined up just inside the door was stained. Dingy walls hid behind taped-on pictures, notices, and advertisements that fluttered gently on breezes from the open doorway. Placards, a mirror, and miscellaneous clutter occupied every inch of the L-shaped, display-case countertops.

I’d seen optical shops at Luciernaga Mall. They resembled Visionworks, or America’s Best Eyewear in the U.S., modern, bright, and clean. But, I’d learned in Bali that businesses catering to ex-pats mimicked the slick appearance a foreigner would find comforting with pricing to match. Those that served locals always had a different aesthetic and more personal service at a fraction of the price. I proceeded into the shop.

A man and woman were seated behind the counter eating lunch. The woman stood as I approached. I told her I was there for my 12:00 appointment. I could see the man hurriedly wrapping his food. No! I said. Please eat. I’m early.

There were shelves of frames on the wall opposite me. I had just enough time to visually decide which ones I would try on before the young woman motioned me to join them behind the counter. I squeezed along the narrow space between the display case and the shelves of frames to reach the 3′ X 5′ exam area. It was only then that I realized the optometrist was in a wheelchair.

He was thorough and meticulously professional. When the examinations were complete I was told my glasses would be ready after 5 p.m. on Friday. I floated home, buoyed by happiness and relief.

Two days later, I set out for the big Thursday Market planning to locate the scarf vendor and see if my old glasses had been discovered. As much as I disliked them, it wouldn’t hurt to have a spare pair.

I arrived at the right location only to find that now it was occupied by electronics. I wandered until I found a couple tending tables arranged in a horseshoe shape covered with mountains of scarves. It was an area at least five times larger than the one I’d visited on Sunday, but they weren’t the same vendors.

To make certain my dilemma would be understood, I’d written the details in Spanish on a scrap of paper. I fished it out and handed the note to the woman. She read it and explained to the man what it said. They exchanged a few words. She told me to wait and returned a few minutes later to say that I should come back next Sunday. Those vendors weren’t here today.

I’d done what I could. I turned my attention to the hunt.

I like to systematically work my way from one end of the tables to the other. In this case, I had about six heaping yards of scarves to peruse. I was deep into it when, digging underneath, I touched something that shouldn’t be there and pulled out a black vinyl wallet.

Heavy.

I unzipped it and caught my breath.

Money. Lots of money.

There was no one around except the vendor man, and he was seated with his back to me, looking the other direction.

I have to admit, my first thought was to tuck that bounty (I estimated it to be about $500 US) into my bag and head for home. But my gut squirmed threateningly at the thought of keeping cash that wasn’t mine.

Minutes ticked and my mind raced. Nobody had visited these tables since I’d arrived so the item had to have been lost before I came. It was a woman’s purse – if I turned it over to the man I could just about guarantee it would never find its rightful owner. By this time I’d secured it in my bag and was innocently studying scarves. I decided that whoever had lost it would undoubtedly be back. I’d hang out there, minding my own business but watching for anyone who looked frantic. That seemed the best bet.

Forty-five minutes later, I’d reached the far end. Other shoppers had come and gone but no one had asked about a lost purse. I decided to rummage back through and see if I’d missed a particularly exquisite specimen when the woman who had helped me with my note approached. She said something in Spanish. In response to my blank stare, she whipped out her phone and typed into Google Translate then handed it to me. Did you find my black purse with money in it?

It was hers!

I smiled and nodded as I opened my bag, and said, Si, tengo. Yes, I have it. A strange look crossed her face when I handed it to her. She thanked me and I turned back to finish my task.

As always, I’d acquired a greater supply than I intended to buy. I weeded out a few, debated over one, a bold lavender and cream stripe, then discarded it and handed the others with the correct number of pesos to the woman whose wallet I’d found. She took the money, put the scarves in my bag, then paused. Slowly, she turned to where I’d tossed my cast-offs. Before I quite knew what was happening, the lavender and cream was in my bag. A gift.

As I walked down the mountain toward home, I pondered the strange abundance, the extra scarf in exchange for a butt-load of money. Again, I felt revulsion, the squirmy-gut nausea that had washed over me at the thought of keeping the lost purse. Bad karma.

The energy of this outcome was pure, clean, guilt-free. Dark thoughts silenced, the right choice had been made and rewarded. I had an extra scarf.

We Did It! The Money You Donated to Help Wayan Change Her Life Is Sending Her To Qatar!

It was exactly a year ago this month that the GoFundMe campaign to Help Wayan Change Her Life was launched. You responded with speed and generosity to exceed our monetary goal. Wayan was grateful and excited about her future.

But Covid still raged internationally and as quickly as potential opportunities for work abroad appeared, they evaporated. Meanwhile, economic conditions in Bali worsened.

Wayan’s sister has a farm in Bedugul near the three lakes, Beratan, Buyan, and Tamblingan. Every day, Wayan motorbiked 1 1/2 hours from her home in AbangSongan to her sister’s farm. From there, she took vegetables to the night market in Denpasar, another hour-and-a-half ride. She sat at her little stand selling produce. At dawn, she packed up and biked to Kintamani, again 1 1/2 hours away, where she cooked for a small cafe during the day. During this time, hers was the only income supporting her parents and two younger sisters.

Sometimes, she stopped at my house, exhausted. When do you sleep, Wayan? To say I was concerned about her would be an understatement. She said she didn’t sleep, she only worked, but sometimes she had a day off from the cafe. Then she slept.

That horrific schedule continued for months until the cafe closed for lack of business. Covid was still taking its devastating toll. The money for Wayan’s future sat in the bank and at times her belief that her dream could be realized grew dim. She asked my advice about alternatives. Should she open a cafe with the money? Should she study to be a midwife in Bali?

My response was always the same. People gave this money to help you change your life. They trust me to honor that commitment. If you stay in Bali, Wayan, your life won’t change. Please don’t give up.

About two months ago, she started the application process again. Since I’m now in the U.S., I asked a close friend in Bali if she would manage the money and give it to Wayan as she needed it. There were medical exams. The agency had to be paid. Government documents prepared. Each step required funds. Wayan sent photos of the paperwork noting the amounts and my friend set up times and places to meet her with the cash.

First, Wayan interviewed for a position in a hotel in Dubai. She was turned down for lack of experience. Her confidence sagged. Her agent told her about The Ned. She rallied and applied. The hotel’s representative said that of all the applicants, her English was the best.

Imagine the thrill when I awoke this morning to the news! Wayan messaged that she was one of eight chosen out of 150 who applied. The Ned is a brand new, five-star hotel opening in Doha, Qatar. She’ll begin in September.

I’m sure you’ve wondered what became of your donations. It’s with great pleasure (and relief!) that I share this news. Your money is launching Wayan, catapulting her toward her dream. Please read the acceptance letter offering her the job.

The 2000 Qatari riyal (QAR) she will be paid monthly is the equivalent of $550 USD. Her lodging and transportation to and from work will be provided by the hotel. She’ll have 30 days of paid vacation each year during her three-year contract. After two years of service, the hotel will cover roundtrip airfare to Bali so she can visit her family.

No one deserves this more than Wayan does. What a worker! I’m amazed at her persistence in the face of difficulties we in the western world cannot imagine. Now her dream is to rise in the ranks – maybe manage a hotel restaurant at some point. I have no doubt she can do whatever she puts her mind to.

Way to go, Wayan! We love you and we’re proud of you. You’re a winner, a shooting star, a fearless role model for other young women in Bali who have a dream.

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.

Mexico isn’t what you think

That’s assuming I know what you think, right? Since I’m assuming, let’s assume that your information comes from mainstream media. Scanning the first three articles that came up when I Googled news about Mexico the results were dismal. Their keywords, killed (ABC News), bodies (also ABC News), and climate crisis (The Guardian) confirm most of our worst fears.

Of the thirty-three articles shown on the NBC News page, five were somewhat upbeat. Not hip-hip-hooray or anything like that, but they contained neutral information that wasn’t meant to shock or horrify the reader. The other twenty-eight were dreadful.

Why does the media do that? Do the decision-makers really believe the public prefers to be alarmed? An article in BBC News unfortunately says yes. Even though when asked most people answered that they would rather read good news than bad, when those same people were tested they responded more quickly to negative media. As the article pointed out, researchers presented their experiment as solid evidence of a so called “negativity bias“, psychologists’ term for our collective hunger to hear, and remember bad news.

How brutally unfair that propaganda is to the splendid country just south of the U.S. border. Before I moved here, well-meaning friends said things like, It’s so dangerous. Aren’t you afraid you’ll be robbed or kidnapped?

I’d like to take this opportunity to sing the praises of the United Mexican States – it deserves better. Did you know that’s the official name? Bet not. I didn’t.

Mexico’s economy is booming. Mexico is the 15th largest economy in the world and the 11th largest in terms of purchasing power parity according to the IMF…The country has become a new hotspot for research and development.

There are more Americans immigrating to Mexico than Mexicans immigrating to the U.S. 

Mexico has the oldest university in North America. The National University of Mexico (UNAM) was founded in 1551 by Charles V of Spain, 85 years before Harvard.

Mexico has 10-12% of the world’s biodiversity, making it the fourth most biodiverse country in the world.

Chocolate originated in Mexico, where the Aztecs and Mayans first cultivated the cacao plant thousands of years ago. They typically enjoyed it as a drink, and they used the beans as currency.

The Great Pyramid of Cholula in Cholula, Mexico is the largest pyramid in the world— it’s even larger than the pyramids of Giza.

Bet you didn’t know that Caesar salad was invented in Mexico, and

  • Color TV
  • Birth control pills
  • X-ray reflection microscope
  • The electric brake
  • Photography
  • Popcorn
  • First automated cigarette machine
  • Captcha codes
  • Zero – yup, the number or non-number, whatever
  • Translucent concrete
  • Sisal
  • Indelible ink
  • Chewing gum

That’s a small example of the many thousands of inventions we in the U.S. probably assumed were our doing.

My experience of the Mexican people is limited to those I’ve met in San Miguel de Allende. I came here from ten years in Bali where I enjoyed the most inclusive, hospitable humans I’ve met anywhere in the world. Granted, Ubud, the town where I lived, was the cultural center of the island and attracted hoards of tourists. Everything was geared toward their comfort, pleasure, and entertainment. Traditional rituals became commercialized shows staged for tourists’ consumption and the locals knew who buttered their bread.

San Miguel is a haven for ex-pats. We comprise 10% of the population and ‘snowbirds’ from Canada and the U.S. love to roost here for the colder months. But I have a distinct impression that the parades, the ceremonies, the cultural life of the locals goes on as it has for hundreds of years. They’ve made room for us, lots of room, and we’ve brought many of the things we enjoyed ‘back home’ to this city. But the Mexican people, although meticulously polite and gracious, seem deeply proud of their culture and traditions and impervious to outside influences.

I’m in the honeymoon phase of this journey to be sure. (And what a place for a honeymoon!) But the shadow cast on Mexico by U.S. media is unwarranted and unfair. I feel safer here than I would on the streets of most cities in the United States.

What’s with this Mexican salt!

When I took possession of my new home in San Miguel de Allende, there were perks. First of all, it was completely furnished right down to salt in the shakers, and there were two of them. There was also a bag of flour and a glass canister of sugar.

I didn’t have an oven in Bali, only a cooktop. The stove in my new kitchen looked to me like it belonged in an appliance ad straight out of Bon Appétit. I eyed its six burners and monster oven suspiciously, waltzing around its giant glass door that stared at me like a judgmental eye. I promised myself, and that eye, that soon, very soon, I’d set about re-learning how to bake.

A few days later, a friend posted a picture on Facebook of shortbread drizzled with dark chocolate. Saliva sprayed into my mouth. That was it, the challenge that made me want to bake again.

I found a shortbread recipe online: butter, flour, sugar, salt, vanilla. What could be easier? The next day I trotted down the mountain to Super Bonanza, a tiny grocery in the middle of the town center, and bought butter and vanilla. The other ingredients had come with the kitchen.

Putting that recipe together took forever. I was so out of practice, so careful…except when it came to the salt. I thoughtlessly unscrewed the cap while holding it over the flour/sugar mix already in the bowl. A shower of granules fell in. I didn’t think it was much, but I lessened the amount I added and slid the pan into the oven, did the calculation that would translate the Celsius numbers on the knob into Fahrenheit, and crossed my fingers.

Soon, a rich vanilla-y scent permeated the house. Ahhh, yes. This is why we bake.

I felt more than a little proud of myself when I pulled out the tray of perfectly browned shortbread. I could hardly wait for it to cool so I could sample the goods. You know how it is when you expect food to taste a certain way? Your mouth prepares. You lean into the bite and…

The spit reflex happened without thought or premeditation. That tiny morsel flew off my tongue way faster than it had gone in.

What in the name of everything unholy is with this salt?

Good thing I live alone. I hadn’t said that quietly.

I checked the recipe again: one-half teaspoon salt. I double-checked the ring of teaspoons. I’d used the correct one. Maybe more had fallen in when I unscrewed the cap than I thought. Or, maybe it had localized in one corner of the dough – the corner I tasted. Maybe the rest was fine. I tested a piece from the opposite corner with the tip of my tongue, shuddered, and dumped the entire contents into the trash. Well, I thought. That was disappointing.

I let a week go by and avoided making eye contact with the judging stare of the abandoned oven. But I’d invited a group of new friends over for brunch and planned to serve fruit, a quiche, and scones. Both the quiche and the scones required baking. It wasn’t the oven’s fault, I told myself. The oven is your friend.

The quiche recipe called for cheese, lots of it. Cheese can be pretty salty I reasoned, so I didn’t add the salt the recipe suggested. But the scones…I hemmed and hawed…should I chance it? I measured oh so carefully and skimped on the 1/2 teaspoon asked for. They came out of the oven looking absolutely gorgeous. Apricot Cream Cheese Scones. I had to try one.

I bit into a corner. NO!!! IT CAN’T BE! SALT! HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE SALT! They, too, were inedible. I was disappointed and so angry. I swore up a storm in that kitchen. I couldn’t believe that such a tiny amount of salt could be so utterly disastrous.

Later, when my friends had gathered around the table I told them the story and asked, “What’s with this Mexican salt?”

They looked at each other confused, shrugging their shoulders and shaking their heads. “I’ve never noticed that it was any different,” one said. The others agreed.

“Well, mine sure is!” I grumbled, then the conversation turned to a more interesting subject.

A day later I whipped up a batch of carrot hummus and left the salt out entirely. By now I’d dumped the contents of both shakers into the trash to make certain I’d never have that problem again.

But I’d put two cloves of garlic in the hummus and it was overpowering. (What’s with this Mexican garlic!) I thought sugar might offset the intensity so I stirred in a couple of tablespoons and tasted.

WHAT???? NO WAY! SALT?

Then it struck me. I stuck my finger into the canister of sugar and licked. SALT. When I’d baked the shortbread and the scones it wasn’t the 1/2 tsp of salt that wreaked havoc…it was the 1/4 cup of sugar that wasn’t sugar at all! Who puts a huge amount of salt in a big glass canister? Who does that?

And then I laughed,

and laughed,

and laughed!

I immediately went to Señora Petra’s little shop next door and bought all her carrots. Then went back home and made a huge quantity of carrot hummus without garlic or salt and stirred the ruined batch in, bit by bit, taste-testing as I went. It was perfect.

I’m glad the problem is solved and I’m friends with my oven again. But talk about a lesson in assumptions! What’s with this Mexican salt, anyway? It’s not sugar, that’s what!

Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

I was making a video – something I don’t do often. I’d propped my phone precariously against a water bottle on an upside-down pot and it was catching too much ceiling and too little face.

Maybe it was because I’d finally gotten the perfect angle for lighting. Or maybe because the phone wasn’t threatening to plunge forward just then. Whatever I was thinking at the time, instead of finding something shorter to use as a base, I grabbed throw pillows from the couch and layered three of them on the slippery wooden seat of the chair determined to raise myself to the right height instead of lowering the camera.

As I hoisted myself to the top of the towering stack, the pillows began to slip.

I clutched at the table and missed. The chair flew in one direction crashing to the floor and I went the other. It would have been a laughable non-event had there not been that concrete pillar directly behind me. As I tumbled, the back of my skull cracked hard against the sharp corner of the square column. YOUCH! I pressed my fingers against the at small mountain that popped up and lay on my side on the floor wondering whether I would pass out, throw up, or have a concussion.

I applied more pressure to the lump and waited for ‘what next?’

When nothing happened, I gently removed my hand from the throbbing mound. It was smeared with blood. I hadn’t counted on that. Okay, time to move. I got up slowly, covering the wound with my palm, pressing, pressing… No dizziness. No nausea. I wondered what the back of my white sweater looked like. A fleeting thought.

In the bathroom, I dabbed at my blood-soaked hair with tissues and doused the gash with alcohol all the while thinking, Dangit! I will NOT let this stop me from recording that video today. I’ve already procrastinated too long.

When the bleeding was under control, I checked my face, the scarf at my neck, the white sweater. All good. Even my hair, from the front, showed no sign of disruption. The pain had localized at the point of my wound but only that was throbbing. I did not have a whole-head ache.

Okay, good from the front. Nobody will know the back of my head is hemorrhaging.

This time I did it right. I put the pillows back on the couch and found a prop that positioned the phone at a lower point. After a few false starts, I recorded a decent video. It wasn’t 100% perfect but certainly good enough under the circumstances.

That done, I unpinned my up-do and examined the damages in detail. It looked like a bad scene in a movie where the killer didn’t quite finish the job. I got in the shower taking care not to touch the golf-ball-sized goose egg, and gingerly rinsed out the matted stickiness until the water ran clear.

As I stood there with hot water streaming over me, I reflected on the fact that I almost never have accidents.

I can’t remember the last time I hurt myself. I’ve learned to be mindful. I only allow daydreams when I’m sitting down. Otherwise, I’m riveted to what I’m doing or where I’m going.

Bali was a veritable gauntlet of potential disasters: pieces of sidewalk wide open to the chasm below, a tree left growing in the middle of the path, or a low branch jutting out just where your head should be. Then, too, there were motorbikes going the wrong way on a one-way street, or zooming on the sidewalk to pass slower-moving traffic. I learned to be constantly on the alert.

San Miguel de Allende with its steep inclines, cobblestone streets, perilous stairways up and down the mountainsides pose equally treacherous circumstances.

But I was at home, fixated on making a video – a very uncustomary activity – and I lost my common sense for a moment. A moment is all it takes. One lapse in judgment, one mindless act…

I woke up alive this morning. I think the back of my head has survived though it’s very, very tender. But let that be a lesson to me! There’s no room for stupidity. Ever! You’re old, Sherry! Be careful. Be mindful. Be present. You were lucky this time…don’t press it!

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.

The end of the line…or…the bus stops here

I’ve been in San Miguel de Allende for twenty-six days and I’m adjusting.

First, and most noticeably, there was the altitude. My home in Bali sat 650 feet above sea level. San Miguel perches at 6000 feet. I knew the climate would be different, but I didn’t realize what an impact it would make having my head in the clouds more literally than usual.

After three weeks, it was getting better. I didn’t feel feeble, huffing and puffing up the near-vertical streets, pausing to pant every third or fourth step. Tired, dizzy, headachy. Trying to fight the dread that I’d never feel strong and confident again. Just an old biddy past her used-by date. That had been in the back of my mind while my body tried to keep up with an insane social calendar. But, as I said, it was getting better.

I’ve made major moves in the past, but never to a place where I already knew people. Before, it was cold turkey, so to speak. I had to learn my way around. Take myself to places where I’d meet people and sift hopefully through the ones that turned up. It was a long process.

Here, the skids were greased for me before I stepped off the plane.

There came a point, though, where I needed to figure a few things out on my own. Like how far does the bus go in the opposite direction? The city buses that cost eight pesos (forty cents) per ride, stop right in front of my house. They come by every four minutes or less. I took this shot of the number eight from my balcony.

This one’s going into Centro, the hub of San Miguel. I usually walk in that direction because it’s downhill all the way. No huff/puffing when I’m working with gravity.

And I have a reason to go there frequently. I’ve grown fond of the Bonanza grocery just a few steps from the manicured trees and wrought iron benches of the jardin, a restful garden park. Bonanza has become a destination and I load up on all kinds of novel items plus a few recognizable ones. I know if I can carry my purchases a quarter of a block, the bus will whisk me back up the hill and dump me at my door.

I do mean dump!

I’m lucky if the driver stops. The door swings open about half a block away and I’d better have my pesos in his hand and my foot out the door when he slows down! Adrenalin rush! My motorbike rides in Bali had nothing on the San Miguel bus!

Señora Petra’s tiny shop is a few steps from my house. It has everything but you may have to dig a bit. The other day I walked in and looked around – you don’t walk around, there isn’t enough space. I wanted a watermelon but I didn’t see one. I know how to say, “Do you have a watermelon,” in Spanish so I asked. Petra bustled around the counter and dug to the bottom of the pineapples. Wallah! A watermelon!

Today was the day after Christmas – always in some ways a relief, and in others an anticlimax. I needed fruits, veggies, and eggs, and Petra’s was tempting, but I also needed a distraction.

It’s a beautiful day for a bus ride, I thought. I wonder how far the bus goes in the opposite direction? What if it goes all the way to that Costco-size grocery-plus-plus store, La Comer? I could wander in there for hours. With pesos in my pocket, I caught the number nine bus heading away from Centro and settled in for the ride.

The farthest I’d been in that direction was Tianguis, the gigantic traditional market.

There are six, or maybe eight, football-field-sized arched metal roofs that house this hodge-podge of delights from lightbulbs to live rabbits, not to mention heaped tables of clothing, shoes, and enough tortillas and enchiladas to feed the entire Mexican army. (Just a guess.) It’s full to exploding with vendors from near and far. Utterly overwhelming!

We circled the complex. A few people got off, a few more got on. Then we were back on the highway, zooming toward my destination. At some point, the driver turned right and we were in an unfamiliar downtown area. That lasted a few minutes. Another right put us on narrow cobblestone streets that became narrower and less welcoming the farther we went. We’d just passed a rusted car covered in vines sitting on cement blocks when the bus pulled to the side and stopped. The driver got out. Bathroom break, I thought. I sat another minute or two then craned my head around to look behind me.

The bus was empty.

The driver reappeared, climbed back in, and stood facing me, hands on his hips. He said something which probably translated, “Where did you think you were going?”

“Is this the end? Are you staying here?” I asked, with appropriate gestures to indicate All she wrote? Curtains? No enchilada?

He gestured back and made me understand this was indeed the end of the line. I must have looked frantic because at that point he stuck his head out the window and motioned wildly. An identical bus rattled to a stop. My driver made a shooing motion at me, “Vamos! Vamos!” I shoved eight pesos at him hollering “Gracias! Muchas gracias!” and dashed to my salvation.

The new driver retraced the jaw-jarring trail back over cobblestone streets, circled the Tianguis Market, and brought me safely home. He even stopped for me to disembark. Mission accomplished. I found the end of the line and I have no need to go there again.

I ducked gratefully into Señora Petra’s shop and found everything I needed, including this beverage.

The idea seemed good at the time. But if you should ever run across it and wonder…unless you’re really keen on beer mixed with lime and, wait for it, way too much Tobasco sauce…don’t even think about it!

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