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?!

Season’s Greetings and News from Granny’s Landing

This will be my first holiday season in a country that celebrates Christmas since 2012. That’s not to say Bali didn’t splash out with balloon Santas and glitzy trees. It did. Staff in the grocery stores donned elf hats, and Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer blasted over sound systems. Those dear people did it for us, the ex-pats. Their Hindu beliefs welcomed others with grace and hospitality.

Now, contrary to every impulse I’ve had since fleeing the deep north eleven years ago, I’m back.

It’s a joy having family close, and an adventure as I create a home for myself thirty miles from the nearest Home Depot. A friend asked me how many houses I rehabbed when I was flipping real estate. I tallied them on my fingers, at least ten. I loved it. but I worked with Fred Roth, a brilliant contractor, and all I did was paint when he’d finished everything else. In Bali, I remodeled an old house with the help of a Balinese crew that showed up with their wives and children every day for nearly nine months. I lived in one of the old bedrooms all the while and did none of the work myself.

This is a different story. My brother-in-law, sister, and I are the commander and crew and it’s an awakening. My appreciation for the professional help I’ve had in the past has grown exponentially. I had no idea.

Then along came the tiny house with all of its sullied potential.

This is how it looked when I first saw it in May.

It was on a property adjacent to the family farm. The house had been given to my cousin and the property owners wanted the eyesore gone.

Enterprising sister, Gwen, and persuasive brother-in-law, W, talked to cousin John on my behalf and I was gifted the house. (He said he didn’t have time to move it so if I could get that done it was mine.) I’m still pinching myself to make sure I’m not stuck in episode 99 of a fantasy series.

For several weeks in June, I stayed with Gwen and W and we built a foundation. Then I returned to Mexico to spend a few last weeks with precous new friends, Elaine, Diane, Barbara, and Patricia, and say goodbyes.

In August, I left San Miguel de Allende behind and made the permanent move north. After several companies quoted the job, I hired Leighton Movers to relocate the house to Granny’s Landing. Watching Leighton at work with a benign smile that never left his face and moves as smooth as a dancer’s was a thrill. When the house was loaded and creaked to a start, I stopped breathing.

After the first corner with ditches on both sides, which Leighton executed with flair, https://youtu.be/sxJyeFb6goc I exhaled, stopped sweating bullets, and mentally moved into my new home.

That was then. I was naive. I hired help, waited for weeks and they didn’t show up. Finally, the Lofty and Dante team came and framed my front windows. Glorious light poured in.

For a gasp-worthy fee, electricity was trenched from the closest pole to a pedestal near the house. I won’t have a well or septic system in my semi-off grid tiny house, but electricity was a non-negotiable must. When the electric company left, we still had to bring the cable to the house in a 4-foot deep ditch. It was an endless, grueling day.

That’s when I knew for sure I was no longer seventeen.

I’ve never done such physically demanding work. Ever. A new mantra sustained me: My body hurts but not my heart. It was painfully true.

The piddly stuff seemed endless, and so un-visible. I tried to imagine my after-finished-house life here and drew a blank. But step-by-step, progress happened. Jack-of-all-trades, W, wired for electricity and it passed inspection – a major accomplishment. My expectations for a move-in date fluctuated, ratcheting down, and down, and down again. There were shadowy moments when I almost questioned my decision. But they were fleeting and quickly banished.

In November I took a much-needed break and went to Minneapolis for the twins’ birthday. Haircuts for the boys at Floyds in Uptown was a festive event. Mom and Dad asked them how they wanted their hair cut. Rowan went into great detail describing the front, back, and sides that translated into something suspiciously like a mohawk. Mom and Dad exchanged glances. Remy was quick and to the point: very, very short.

When all was done the boys were happy and I’d developed a severe case of boot envy! On the way home, we stopped for treats at Glam Doll Bakery. A terrible name but I drool remembering the sugar ‘n’ spice of my sweet potato-filled doughnut.

Seeing my east coast granddaughters when the snow is neck-deep in Minnesota is something I’m really looking forward to!

Back at the farm, the house awaited my return and the dreaded sheetrocking process. Young(er) neighbors, Kent and Bruce, came to help with the ceiling – a brutal task but they made it look easy. W used his head. In the three days following, Gwen, W, and I finished the walls.

The putsy job of drywalling the window wells was all mine. I’ve been chipping away at it, measuring, cutting, cussing, and screwing. Suddenly the shabby, tiny-house shell was transformed into something I could imagine inhabiting with great pleasure for the rest of my life.

Now we’re at the place I’ve been waiting for: the fun stuff. Packed solid under my hide-a-bed at Gwen and W’s, are light fixtures, faucets, a tankless electric water heater, the kitchen sink. I kid you not, my new kitchen sink is under my bed. In their garage, a ten-foot countertop, refrigerator, cabinets, the bathroom vanity, and my composting toilet await installation. A couch will be delivered before Christmas and hopefully, there’ll be a finished floor to put it on. So many details. But my vision is manifesting and I’m thrilled.

The gratitude I feel for my sister and her husband overwhelms me. They’ve shared their tools, knowledge, time, energy, food, resources, and their home with me for over three months without a single argument or cross word passing between us. That, in itself, is miraculous. House-speak dominates our happy-hour conversations every evening. And they continue to show up for me. With kindness. Smiling. Going so far above and beyond they could be orbiting the moon.

As I wrap up this tale, fat snowflakes tumble out of a moody, gray sky. Dark trees at the edge of the field scribble a jagged horizon line. An antique clock from the Southern Pacific Train Depot in Santa Barbara, California tick-tocks the minutes and I’m aware of time slipping by. But I’m where I want to be, doing what I want to do, soaking up family vibes. In the weeks between now and the end of the year, there’ll be cookie frosting, tree decorating, lefse baking, and cozy get-togethers. It’s a familiar feeling as I relive memories of growing up Scandinavian. And someday soon, I’ll be welcoming friends to coffee at Granny’s Landing. Won’t you join me?

I wish you big dreams and the courage to manifest them.

Happy holidays!

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…

Progress Report from Granny’s Landing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

had been transformed to this!

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

The Devil Made Me Do It…almost!

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

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

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

In the midst of that: Food.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gone.

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

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

The next moment, laughter.

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

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

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

The joke was on me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heavy.

I unzipped it and caught my breath.

Money. Lots of money.

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

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

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

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

It was hers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

What’s with this Mexican salt!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT???? NO WAY! SALT?

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

And then I laughed,

and laughed,

and laughed!

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

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

Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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