“Winter’s Coming” to Granny’s Landing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then we turned our attention to the floor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I digress.

What’s next?

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

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

Two words…

Winter’s coming.

Progress Report from Granny’s Landing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

had been transformed to this!

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

Moving the House to Granny’s Landing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me: “Oh”

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

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

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

When we arrived, Leighton was already at work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which mine wasn’t. You’ll see why.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Granny’s Landing on Fantasy Bay – The Countdown

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

…will what?

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

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

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

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

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

A red one.

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

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

Or do I?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait (and Wait, and…)

Lady Mary Montgomerie Currie (1843 – 1905) is credited with coining that phrase. For someone as impatient as I am, waiting is an excruciating concept. Maybe in her era, it was easier. But in the past two years of waiting to get vaccinated, waiting to see loved ones, waiting to get boosted, waiting to unmask, waiting, waiting, waiting, the idea has lost its charm.

Many times while I was growing up, Dad cautioned me saying, “Don’t push the river, Sherry.” In other words, slow down and wait. My issue with patience has a long history.

I’m telling you this because, for the past few weeks I’ve been scanning sites like Upwork and Indeed, looking for an opportunity to put my love of writing to work for pay. I knew exactly what I didn’t want and it seemed all of the jobs posted fell into that category. Time passed and I started to think maybe I should forget my preferences and apply for something less than perfect.

But Dad’s words came back to taunt me. Don’t push the river.

And it was a river, a veritable flood of opportunities to ghostwrite blogs, research and write articles for insurance companies, prepare SEO content for websites, and perform other feats that required a technical aptitude I didn’t have and didn’t want to learn. Every day I scrolled through columns of new postings looking for something less soul-crushing than Search Engine Optimization.

So I waited. I did. Impatiently tapping my fingers and twiddling my thumbs, hoping my good thing would come to me.

About two weeks ago, there it was. Featuring Fabulous, a new online magazine for women ages thirty to sixty was looking for writers. I read their mission statement and drooled. The categories for articles they wanted (except perhaps the one labeled Sex and Relationships) were topics I could write about with ease and confidence.

Featuring Fabulous Logo

My heart hammered with that mixture of oh-my-god-this-is-it-don’t-get-your-hopes-up as I filled out the application and hit SEND.

Several days later, an email appeared from the magazine inviting me to pitch an idea for an article. I was elated for about a nanosecond. Then the self-talk kicked in. They probably send this to everybody who applies. It’s a great way to narrow the playing field. I have to be unique, present something out-of-the-box, get their attention.

I wrote the piece first, just to be certain I could put flesh on my thoughts, then pitched it sending a sample paragraph and three potential titles. The response came quickly: Sounds good, please submit. That was followed by a request to fill out their payment info form.

I immediately pitched another story. Again I was invited to submit and encouraged to keep sending my ideas. So I made my third query. Within five minutes I was asked to send that one as well. That’s three out of three in less than a week.

My first story has been published. You can find it here. And if you’re a woman between thirty and sixty, or a man who likes articles written for women, or you’re interested in supporting a new magazine, go ahead and sign up for it. It’s free.

I’m thrilled to have this opportunity and I’m in love with words again. It’s been a long, dry, covid-induced writing coma, but I’m waking up and the future holds a shiny promise of more good things to come.

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.

The Stories We Tell And The Lies We Believe

Did you know there are five brain types? I didn’t. Reading through the list I immediately eliminated the Cautious Brain. Each of the others had segments that fit the way I perceive myself, but none stood alone as the most completely descriptive of me.

How much of that is due to the stories I tell myself about who I am?

While writing my memoir there were times I had to stop and ask, Was that how it really happened? Looking back from the perspective of an older, wiser person, the version I was writing stretched my credibility. Was I that naive? Didn’t I have some responsibility for the breakup? What was going on in my psyche that would have created those circumstances?

I’m a soul-searcher. I dig deep looking for the why’s of my life. What I’ve come to realize is that my stories are a result of my beliefs and my beliefs are based on the stories I tell myself.

That poses an interesting possibility. Since they are just stories if I don’t like them, can I change them? And where did they come from, anyway? As I pondered, it became clear that everything was a story. From the moment I woke up, I began telling myself about the day. I unconsciously had a story about my image in the mirror, about what I would wear, what I’d have for breakfast, and whether I’d make coffee or tea. Whatsapp messages, emails, conversations, the way someone looked at me on the street – there was no aspect of my existence that didn’t have story attached to it.

But the question, Where did the stories come from? was the knottier issue.

Our stories occur in the subconscious. But when I started journaling, asking why I had related in a certain way, why I had taken offense to something said, why I hadn’t enjoyed an event, why I befriended some and avoided others, why I tried so hard to please…

Why? Why? Why?

I discovered toxic, negative beliefs. Some were so old and outdated I knew they had originated when I was very young and were still there at my core, informing my decisions, my actions, my thoughts.

One of the things that mystified me was the fact that I’d repeated a pattern throughout my life. I’d married five times and five times divorced the men I’d vowed to love until death parted us. Why?

I couldn’t have been more surprised when I uncovered a core belief that said, You can’t do it alone.

Was that true? I made a list of the things I had done alone, big things, little things, anything that came to mind. The list was endless. Of course, I could do it alone, had basically always done it alone. That list assured me that I was more than capable of taking care of myself, my children, and whatever life demanded.

That explained the marriages, but what about divorce? If I couldn’t do it alone, why did I leave?

The beliefs I excavated around that were brutal. I was unloveable. If I didn’t leave first, I’d be left, and abandonment, rejection – I couldn’t tolerate that. What destruction and misery those poisonous lies wreaked.

At the same time, I struggled with perfectionism. I felt I wasn’t measuring up to my own expectations. When I started asking why I unearthed a crap-load of low self-esteem contributing to that story:

  • You’re unworthy
  • You’re not enough
  • You don’t fit anywhere
  • You don’t know what to do

It took a lot of lists, but I worked through those negatives until I’d turned them around with enough evidence to convince myself that I was worthy, was enough, knew what to do, and of course, I didn’t fit everywhere but there were Sherry-shaped niches here and there where I felt seen.

An event from Kindergarten haunted me and contributed to my unrealistic perfectionist tendencies.

As we were filing out of the classroom with our Moms or Dads on the last day, the teacher took my arm and said, “Sherry, I expect great things from you.” If she’d known the terrible burden of her words, would she have said them? Her expectation followed me into adulthood and became my own. What great things was I to accomplish? What did that even mean?

I was in my sixties and one day, journaling, I wrote: Half the people in the world are probably smarter than I am. And half the people are probably less intelligent. That makes me average. I’m average. I’d found my answer.

That simple revelation liberated me. I WAS AVERAGE! I didn’t have to do great things. Leave that for the 50% smarter than I. I’ll never forget walking down the sidewalk feeling light-as-dust and oh-so-average!

I’ve become highly attuned to my own stories because I know if life isn’t working for me, I have the power to change my perspective.

But…there’s a fine line!

In 1980, Lee Atwater, a political consultant said, “Perception is reality.” The American Psychological Association defines perceived reality as a person’s subjective experience of reality in contrast to objective, external reality. One of the most blatant and widely publicized examples of this happened on January 22, 2017, during a televised, Meet the Press interview with Kellyann Conway when she defined outright lies about the number of attendees at the inauguration as ‘alternative facts.’ Over the four years that followed that inauguration, the world was subjected to the perceived reality of the then US President which rarely aligned with objective, external reality.

That’s not what I’m suggesting.

Nor am I proposing we create a la-la land of denial. There’s a place where we can acknowledge that our external reality is shitty at the moment, but choose not to let it undermine our happiness. This promotes emotional stability and sound mental health. It requires introspection and asking the Why? questions to understand the beliefs (usually rooted in fear) that are causing our distress. When we know that, we can make the lists, reverse the negatives, and tell ourselves a more hopeful, more uplifting story.

At the beginning of this post, I absolutely denied any part of a Cautious Brain. But right now I’m experiencing a telling indication of that very type: heightened activity in the anxiety centers of the insular cortex. Here I am, putting myself out there again, exposing my warts, my vulnerabilities, turning myself inside-out hoping my experience will resonate. Hoping it might shine a light on someone else’s path of self-discovery.

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.

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