A Project to Die For

Some days the excitement buoys me up, motivates me, inspires the energy to do things no 73-year-old woman in her right mind would touch. Here I am in the deep freeze of northern Minnesota, working physically harder than I’ve ever worked before, manifesting yet another dream.

I’ve been retired for twelve years. I finished building my house in Bali in 2015.

Wait.

That’s not true.

The skilled Balinese crew, men and women, created a stunning residence while I watched. I may have painted a wall, but other than designing the structure and the space, engaging myself in actual labor was against the law. I was required to pay Balinese workers to do it.

My home there was spacious and light-filled. It looked over a river valley dotted with tiled roofs, rust-red against jungle green. I could hear my neighbors chatting and laughing and I drooled over the scents wafting from their cooking.

Then, of course, Covid happened. I told that story in this post https://wordpress.com/post/writingforselfdiscovery.com/22362. If you care to go there with me, click the link.

Because of the pandemic, I hadn’t seen my children and grandchildren for two years. The pang of missing them sat in my body like wet cement. In September 2021, I was finally, fully vaccinated. I flew to the U.S. and reconnected with family. When it came time to catch the return flight to Bali, I couldn’t. Waves of memories of monkey trauma and loneliness wracked my nervous system.

I haven’t gone back.

Instead, I’ve spent the last 6 months in northern Minnesota on the family farm building another home. This time I’m fully engaged in the physical process. My body is regularly taxed to its limits and beyond. Working with my sister and brother-in-law, I’ve dug trenches for electrical cable, installed insulation, screwed sheetrock to the walls then mudded, taped, and sanded…

…sanding is nasty business!

I’ve foamed gaps, caulked crown and base moldings (up and down, up and down, up and down the ladder) and, with the immense help of my tireless sis and bro-in-law, laid laminate flooring all the while repeating the mantra…My body aches but not my heart.

Some days I used every ounce of willpower to make myself work, dreading the rigors of the task I’d left unfinished. What I judged would take a week, often took three or more.

Each phase of the project melted into the next, but plumbing was an ongoing puzzle. I have no well and my sleek, Separett composting toilet needs no septic system. A 50 gallon tank under the sink is the source of water. My brother-in-law mulled, sketched, erased, and watched one how-to video after another to come up with a workable system. He’s been installing it with the help of my sister while I marvel. I’ve seen lesser works of art in the MoMA and I told them so.

Then my sofa came and changed everything. It was softness in a harsh, backbreaking world of work. It was the beacon of hope, the light at the end of the tunnel, the promise that one day in the not-too-distant future I would live in comfort here.

Each time I set a move-in goal, the date arrived and passed. I’ve quit doing that. It will be when it will be – could I hope for Valentine’s Day???!!!

Building this house has become a project to live for. It’s made my body strong. I know my home from the studs to the electrical face plates and everything in-between – a more intimate relationship than I’ve ever had with anything alive or inanimate.

Now…

The fun begins. I get to shop for things I love that will enhance my 399 sq. ft. home. That will be so much more satisfying than the fortune I’ve spent on lumber, electrical wire, screws, and nails. I couldn’t believe the price of nails! Home Depot has been the go-to destination for all my purchases for months. I’m so ready for a change.

And for those who wonder how I’m faring in the deep freeze of a northern Minnesota winter after tropical Bali?

The experience surprised me. All I knew from living and working in Minneapolis pre-retirement, were endless months of dirty sepia. Here, 200 miles farther north, unbroken white undulates across open fields and meets a frosted black treeline. Soundless. Boundless. Reflecting the sky as it did this morning….

At minus thirty degrees, I dress for the weather and brave the cold.

It’s an adventure in a culture far different than Hindu Bali, a culture of rural farming and Scandinavian roots. It feels distantly familiar but mostly new since the last close contact I had with it was over half a century ago. The people have changed. I’ve changed. But the place has not. This farm was my father’s joy. His sweet energy permeates the land. It’s good to be here. Very, very good.

Is it a Winter Wonderland or has Hell Frozen Over?

Snow came in sticky, wet abundance, frosting the trees and shrouding the world in silent white. It was magical, like sitting in a snow globe as the inches piled up. First three…

Then seven more…

then another eight…

It happened fast and I found myself caught between awe and overwhelm. It was intimidating, an all-encompassing blanket that changed the colorful landscape into a monochromatic composition overnight. On cloudy days it was cozy. On sunny days, every crystalline flake reflected dazzling bursts of light.

Holidays approached. Nostalgic aromas of gingerbread cookies and lefse filled the air. My sister sends dozens of home-baked gifts to relatives every year. When it was time to frost and decorate her creations, W and I pitched in.

Mind you, these are only the gingerbread cookies. She made thumbprints, several varieties of spritz, date pinwheels, bourbon balls, pineapple tartlets, chocolate covered peanut butter balls, turtles, three kinds of biscotti, and I know I’m forgetting some. Years of collected decorations appeared throughout the house. Their giant philodendron, aptly named Phil, sported a string of twinkle lights and transformed into a Christmas tree.

All that happened while I hung insulation, sheetrocked around all those beautiful windows, and mudded, taped, and sanded as though my life depended upon it…because it kind of does.

And then…

This:

Temperatures plunged to minus twenty degrees Fahrenheit. I went out to shovel and start my car. When I finally chipped away enough ice to open the door and get inside, the battery was dead. But it didn’t really matter because the fuel line on W’s snowplow tractor was also frozen. Without plowing the road, none of us was going anywhere.

Suddenly, the reality of WINTER in Minnesota hit me. Sherry, this is your life for at least four more months. Can you do this? Of course, I can do it. I gutted out two years of Covid lockdown in Bali, besieged daily by foraging monkeys. I CAN DO ANYTHING. But can I do it happily?

Every winter?

For the rest of my life?

Whoa! Back up! Let’s stay in the moment!

Last night we, my sister, brother-in-law, and I celebrated winter solstice. I found a guided meditation by Julian Jenkens. We sat in candlelight, listening, musing, contemplating, and, nudged by his wise words, probing our souls. We spent the following two or three hours in deep philosophical conversations, dining on Gwen’s heavenly lasagne, W’s garden salad, and garlic toast, accompanied by a bottle of Josh Cabernet. It was a feast befitting such a night.

Today, blustery winds are blowing the newest, fluffiest snow into drifts. Forty-five-mile-per-hour gusts are predicted to last through tomorrow. My best-laid-plans to visit Jenny’s family in Minneapolis for Christmas may be postponed. But the gifts are wrapped and ready.

Meanwhile, invitations are pouring in. If we can get out of the driveway, there are Christmas Eve festivities at Uncle John’s two miles away. Dinner is on the agenda for Christmas day with old neighbors who became dear friends.

This is how I grew up. This is what I left behind and have now returned to. It hasn’t changed.

But I have. One of the questions posed last night was, What beliefs can you let go that no longer serve you? As the candles burned down, I let go of the, I hate winter story. It’s time to embrace and embody the fullness of who I am, a child of the snow, born in January, a Capricorn.

According to Molly Hall, on Liveabout dot com, I’m the crone, the elder who lives with the specter of death and knows that winter is coming and prepares for it. How perfect is that?!

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.

Moving the House to Granny’s Landing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me: “Oh”

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

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

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

When we arrived, Leighton was already at work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which mine wasn’t. You’ll see why.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Granny’s Landing on Fantasy Bay – The Countdown

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

…will what?

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

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

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

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

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

A red one.

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

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

Or do I?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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