Door to the Future

The wooden sign hung on the wall in the bathroom hallway and ingrained its message into the fiber of my being from the time I could read until I left home at eighteen.

Standing with legs crossed and butt cheeks clenched, waiting for a sibling to flush and unlock the door, I committed its words to memory:

On every visit home over the years the little plaque was still there to remind me. 

When had that message been more pertinent?

My seventieth birthday brought with it a paradigm shift of proportions not seen before in many lifetimes – perhaps ever. Foundations were rattled. Belief systems challenged. Trust in the order of things was upended.

For me, it felt like being stuck in the center of a bowl of lime jello. I could move a little and see fuzzy shapes through the green haze. But my hands had nothing to grasp. I couldn’t get out. I was forced to be with myself.

In the pressure cooker of Covid, the flames intensified under anything left on the back burner to deal with later. Later, was at hand. Emotions, the closeted things I hadn’t wanted to look at, were storming the gates.

Grant me the serenity…

Stoic Capricorn knows how to stuff it, move on, and don’t look back. That can work for a long time and it did. It took me on a glorious Bali adventure. It allowed me to compartmentalize the trade-offs – seeing family perhaps only once a year for a few weeks and living the dream in paradise the rest of the time.

 But plague ravaged the earth and everything changed. All at once, I was restricted. I couldn’t just hop a plane back to the States. Vaccinations wouldn’t be available to ex-pats for many months and to fly I needed proof that I’d had them.

Life, as I’d known it in the village of Ubud, disappeared overnight. Locked down without the distractions of friends and fun, the walls of defense cracked. Feelings tumbled out, messy, tangled, unruly, demanding attention.

Accept the things I cannot change…

Weeks and months dragged on. I wrote, meditated, did yoga, journaled. “What’s next?” I asked the Universe and the All-Knowing said, Take time to reflect. Having nothing but time, I did as directed. Slowly, like waiting for a Minnesota winter to end, I dug through my psyche, dusted shadows off neglected data, deleted old stuff, and upgraded the system.

I Zoomed with family. As soon as we finished and the screen went dark, so did I. I’d cook something. Take a solitary walk. Bury my nose in a book. And sob.

I learned a long time ago that nothing changes until I know what I want. It was easier to know what I didn’t want. I didn’t want the coronavirus. I didn’t want isolation. I didn’t want to live with fear. I didn’t want to miss my family. But the Universe doesn’t respond to negatives so I remained stuck in the jello.

What I needed was a want big enough to dream about, to energize me, to propel me toward a goal.  

Courage to change the things I can…

What could I change? What did my heart long for? I sank onto my meditation pillow, raised my hands to offer gratitude for the many blessings I still had in my life when a voice resounded in my ear so loud and clear it made me jump. What are you doing here?

In Minneapolis, 2009, bored and miserable, I’d asked myself that same question. My answer had been immediate and shocking: “Just marking time waiting to die.”

I’d come full circle. If I was honest with myself, I’d felt the rumblings of impending transition for the past two years. But a new dream hadn’t taken shape and there was nothing to do but wait for it. There is no forcing the door to the future.

The shift in energy, however, was undeniable, and the tug toward children and grandchildren grew to an overwhelming ache.

The vaccine was eventually offered to foreigners. I got my first dose and was given a date for the second. There was, as yet, no big dream, but I knew I had to connect with my family and I hoped if I took that step forward, light would shine on the path ahead.

I made the circuit from California, to Minnesota, to Pennsylvania, basking, wallowing, and delighting in joyous reunions. I’d booked a round-trip ticket when I left Bali. Now it was time to catch my return flight. I’d left everything there, a beautiful home, dear friends, a life. But the closer the time came to leave, dread filled my heart. I couldn’t go back. At the last minute, I detoured to Mexico.

It had been forty-six years since I’d been in that country, but I knew people there. I quickly acclimated and yet the big dream, the overarching want eluded me. Until I realized…

…and wisdom to know…

Family was the force tugging at me. Roots. Familiarity. A foundation that wasn’t continuously shifting. I wanted accessibility to loved ones without crossing an ocean or needing a passport. Mexico was still too far away. There was only one place that checked all the boxes: the family farm.

I arrived in northern Minnesota in late August to begin the rest of my life. It was an idyllic autumn. The weather was perfect. Leaves changed and held their colors as tamaracks turned golden. Work on my 400-square-foot tiny house progressed.

And then…

It snowed.

As I stare out the window at a landscape gone white and gray, I’m once again flooded with emotions hooked into memories that sent me fleeing the north country years ago. Tangled up with those feelings are others that speak to my soul. I am winter’s child grown old. I’ve come home to embrace what I rejected in my youth, peace, stillness, mortality, and the cold, dark nights between November and June. Unwritten stories whirl in my head. Plots twist through my dreams. I’m excited about the future. I’m excited about the present. My heart and mind are primed to plug into the resilience of my Norse ancestors. My body will adjust!

Meanwhile, I want to paint a plaque to hang outside my bathroom door. It will go something like this: Grant me the serenity…

Reality Check

It was inevitable, the rude lurch into winter. Overnight, rich-scented fall days brilliant with color turned ashen gray. Cold blew in. Icey snow fell. The honeymoon ended.

I’d been floating on a magic carpet of dreamy-eyed familial love, deluding myself into thinking the splendid sun-filled days and warm moony nights were the way it would be forever-and-ever-amen. I was enmeshed in the rigors of remodeling, gardening, and harvesting. I basked in the company of my sunny-side-up sister and brother-in-law.

Yesterday, they left for Texas. They’ll be gone a week.

I’ve never known quiet as deep as the soundlessness that descended with their leaving. This morning I tried to meditate. I’d neglected the practice for the past two months. As I settled into position, the roaring in my head drowned out the silence. It was unreal. I thought I’d hear a deep, profound, nothing. But the clamor in my brain was worse than the traffic on the corner of Cjon. Valle del Maiz and Salida a Queretaro where I lived in San Miguel. I learned to tune out the cars and buses there, but getting past the mental babble that had taken the place of real noise proved to be a thousand times tougher.

So I sat. And waited. And focused on no thought, empty mind.

Quiet eventually came, then a dawning realization of the very different world I’ve landed in.

Ubud, Bali, Indonesia, and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, were coveted tourist destinations. Both had thriving communities of ex-pats. Entertainment, fine food, and friendly people spilled out of every doorway. The hustle-bustle of shops and markets, the parades, the fireworks, there was always something happening. Distractions of every nature awaited discovery. Whatever I needed or wanted was a quick walk from my door.

At Granny’s Landing, I’m surrounded by thousands of acres of hayfields and forests. There are zero ex-pats. The friendly people are my sister and brother-in-law and I’m staying with them until my house next door is finished. A walk to the mailbox is a mile round trip. The food is superb but we cook it. A deer leaping across the meadow is a distraction. So is Freya, the six-month-old German Shepherd that owns us. Shops and markets are a half-hour drive to Grand Rapids, a small town that boasts a Target, a Walmart, and a Home Depot. What more could anyone want?

Hard work is also a distraction and there has been plenty of that over the past couple of months.

Two days ago, winter blew in from the north bringing snow and freezing temperatures. I went into hibernation mode. Yesterday, all day, the wind howled. Tiny shards of ice ticked against the windows and I remembered why I left Minnesota.

I chose to return even though for years I swore I’d never live in the north again. There is no doubt in my mind that it was the right decision for me at this juncture in my life. But in meditation this morning, I was faced with questions: Who am I here? How do I want to spend my time? What will occupy me through endless months of winter?

One thing that is crystal clear is the necessity of a wardrobe adjustment. In Bali and San Miguel, I pretty much dressed up every time I left the house. It wasn’t unusual to see tourists in Ubud decked out to the nines. Young women paraded the perilous sidewalks in spike heels and frothy gowns. And there will never be anything as spectacular as a Balinese woman in full traditional regalia. The see-through lace kebaya over a tight-cinched Mona Lisa corset with the colorful silk batik sarong hugging every curve and sashed at the waist is a hard act to upstage in any culture.

In Mexico, the locals’ love of costume, whether white-painted skeleton faces or feathers and leather, made everyone else look tame.

That was then.

I’ve put away all but my simplest earrings. I feel overdressed wearing even those. I haven’t touched my lacey tops and flowy skirts – I may not ever again. To go outside today, I donned a vintage jacket W’s brother had when he worked in Denver for Continental Airlines. I added a blaze-orange stocking cap (a safety measure since bird hunting season has begun) over the scarf wrapped around my neck, head, and face for warmth. Ski mittens and felt-lined rubber boots completed the outfit. It wouldn’t matter if I wore this getup on the streets of Grand Rapids. I’d fit right in.

Then I stepped into the whipping wind in this 30-degree Fahrenheit world to walk the dog.

If I’m honest, I have to admit it’s a relief. I’m tired of noise, congestion, buildings, and traffic. My nervous system needs a rest. I like the androgynous anonymity of winter clothing. It allows me to go anywhere incognito. It’s bulky and forgiving if my stomach pooches out.

I’m being pared down to my core. What’s left will be the genuine essence of someone I tried very hard not to be. But now I can embrace her. I’ve lived fully. I’ve loved wholeheartedly. I’ve earned this peace.

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.

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.”

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.

Taking Out The Trash In The Valley Of The Corn

I have three options for garbage disposal, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. On any of those days, if I get up before 7:00, put on my mask and jacket, grab the bag of trash, wobble downstairs, unlock the massive metal door, step outside, re-lock the door, turn the corner and cross the street, bags are piling up. Shadowy figures in the half-light of morning lugging their own refuse approach from every direction.

If I wait until I hear the clanging bell of the running man as he races down the street slightly ahead of the garbage truck, I’m too late.

I live on Valle del Maiz, a name that translates as Valley of the Corn and I’m usually awake long before 7 a.m. However, right now in San Miguel de Allende mornings are cold – 35 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit cold – and it takes a generous helping of stern self-talk to motivate.

But today I did.

I’ve established a ritual to reward the pre-dawn effort. Once back inside the house, energized by the brisk journey, I pour a steaming mug of coffee and climb the stairs to my rooftop. Sunset in SMA is glorious, but so is sunrise and the after-trash timing is perfect.

As I emerged onto the terrace this morning, four hot-air balloons floated silently against a pink-purple sky laced with gold.

I marveled, mesmerized, at this other-worldly visitation. If I didn’t look up, I’d never know they were there. Soundless, carried on breezes, they drifted directly overhead, a special gift just for me. I felt it like a bubble in my chest, a burst of joy, a message without words.

By the time they’d passed, I’d taken dozens of photos and my fingers, and coffee, were cold.

I shivered in my jacket and headed downstairs for the warmth of the kitchen. Coffee refreshed, I grabbed my journal and resumed the routine that carries me through the other six days of the week. So far, every rooftop, garbage-day dawn has been graced with balloon sitings. What a touch of magic for simply taking out the trash.

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!

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