Saturday, December 23, 2006

Adapting to the climate

I'm writing this instead of packing to leave tomorrow. Hard to think in terms of dressing for freezing temperatures far to the north....even if north is only Texas! At this writing, my friend Jeanie's daughter is still stranded in Denver, delayed by that whomping big blizzard. She'll arrive in Puerto Vallarta Christmas Day. Jeanie took this picture of her neighbor in Las Colonias a few mornings back. Who says it doesn't get cold down here?

Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas piñatas around here are shaped like stars. No wonder. It's dark out there. Winter solstice, moonless night....and stars that shine with a brilliance you never see living in a city. Bright lights, big city: I wonder if that's why Herod didn't see the star. He had to ask the three kings when it appeared.

Sometimes it takes a walk -- or a pilgrimage -- in the wilderness, way off the beaten track, to get a glimpse of honest to goodness starshine. In the deepest night of the soul even the dimmest twinkle -- an act of kindness, a brief acknowledgement of someone else's humanity, just a nod of encouragement -- can prophesy a better and brighter reality. Is it any wonder that we celebrate the human appearing of the best example of living Love ever, whose star eclipsed all others, during this darkest time of the year?

May your piñatas be full of promise, and your sky full of meteor showers of blessings, "until the day dawn, and the daystar arise in your hearts."

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

In answer to your question....

I got an e-mail this morning, and as I answered it, I realized I should just post the answer here. This is my entry for the day.....

Dear Susan and Larry, You cannot even imagine how I miss you guys! It's so nice to know that you are settling into your new environment....Susan, I need to know...Is there a healing taking place/has taken place? You went through quite a scary procedure there....

Hi Darling Friend
Thanks so much for your concern. I am "walking and leaping and praising God" -- taking long walks with and without Kody, running up and down stairs, hopping in and out of the Hummercita. I feel great! When I arrived here I could barely fall out of the car, and getting up the five shallow steps to our front door was a major project.

I find the atmosphere very healing down here. There's a freedom to just be human. No role or reputation to uphold, no pressure to "let my light shine," "to spread the word," -- except what I get from some of the most well-intentioned dear loving people up north. That's OK. It honors what I've done in the past.

But I recently finished a book, Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith, by Barbara Brown Taylor. She was an Episcopal minister for twenty years, and now teaches in a college. I kept saying "yes, yes, yes" to the way she expressed what moved her to new ways of worship, praise and practice. If you go into a bookstore and browse it, look particularly at pages 172 and 173.

I just want to be still with God and with Larry for a while. Right now we "do" church in a variety of ways. Service to others is always a constant. That's just in Larry's and my DNA. He was up the other morning taking the Oaxacan rug weaver, Raul and his daughter, to the little town down the highway, where they were set to sell their rugs and do a weaving demonstration. The clutch on Raul's truck had gone out, so Larry packed four Oaxacan Indians and all their rugs in the Infinity surf van and hauled them to the early morning market. Is it any wonder I love him madly?

The praise and worship part is mostly at first light from the roof. I never tire of looking out over the estuary through the palm leaves and towards the mountains and watching the light change the colors on everything. There are so many blues to the ocean. There are so many pinks on the clouds. And how does anyone ever dare to try and paint greens? There are just too many of them! Just when I think it can't get any better, a hummingbird will swoop in to kiss the geraniums, or a line of pelicans will cut across the sky, or an egret will flash skyward. It takes my breath away. Every ripple of my being sings praise.

I love everyone at that dear little church in San Juan Capistrano. Shoot, I just love everyone. Otherwise I wouldn't be maintaining contact through the blog. But I'm SO happy to just be away for this time, get clear about to whom I'm responsible and what my priorities are. I'm grateful for a little distance at this time, but look forward to having friends -- and that means you -- down in small doses. I will lavish them with fresh fruit and affection.

Tiny Tim said it best: "God bless us everyone!"

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Celebrating Barbie!

One of the ways I learned to speak Spanish with ease is by watching telenovelas on Univision back in California. (Ironically I can't get Spanish language channels on the cable system Larry installed's Canadian!) Telenovelas are Spanish language soap operas, and the women on them are hot -- and the heroine is often blonde. That may explain why Barbie is so popular down here.

It's hard to import new ones, but used ones get by customs just fine. So one of the Christmas traditions on our street, I found out, is decorating the Barbie dolls which snow bird women collect at garage sales in the States. Passing out the refurbished, newly-coiffed Barbies in their spiffy new outfits to the local little girls is a big part of the Christmas Eve party (which I'll miss) in the plaza each year. I never had a Barbie, but better late than never, I guess. I really got into this!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Celebrating the Virgin -- and the Mother

It's countdown time till Christmas. I'll be in Lubbock 12/24 -1/2 to spend the holiday mainly with Mom. She's in a skilled nursing unit, after some challenging times recently. I apologize for the length of this post. It's one of those firehose times I had in response to an e-mail I got from my sister Amy. She attached some notes Mom had made thinking about obituaries for her and Dad. Mom's obit had three sentences. Dad's had columns. I received it the morning after I'd spent with our housekeeper and her husband, celebrating the festival of the Virgin of Guadalupe. It washed over me that I'm living in a country which wholeheartedly celebrates motherhood -- not just on a commercially infused Sunday in May, but as a deeply ingrained part of the culture. Here, without editing -- because I just don't have the time right now to do it -- is what I wrote back to Amy and my sibs last Tuesday. P.S. -- Mom is MUCH better and not thinking anymore in terms of obits....

Hello All -- Larry and I are up early this morning, enjoying the quiet. It was NOT quiet all last night, as today is the Fiesta de la Virgin of Guadalupe. Yesterday was "Dia de las Veladas" and began before dawn with skyrockets going off. It was a day of keeping vigil with the Virgin and lasted until dawn today. I suppose as a way of keeping people awake during the vigil, there were fireworks and music throughout the night. I had to let Kody out three times last night. He spent the night panting and drinking vast amounts of water.

Now people sleep, a day of quiet rest and recovery. I'm all for that.

We weren't excluded from the festivities last night. Chano, our maid's husband, showed up at the door early yesterday morning ready to work for us. While we were both painting in the basement -- Chano and I -- that he invited us to a fiesta where he was going to dance. It was to be a traditional folk production with a group of dancers in celebration of the Festival of Guadalupe, just a short distance away. I accepted for myself and for my friend Jeanie. I knew she'd be up for it. Our husbands could keep each other company. Chano gallantly offered to come by for us in the evening.

He did, along with Hilda and twelve year old son Chuy. They came dressed elegantly, Chano in a white guayabira shirt, black trousers and suede cowbody boots. Their attire was spotless, despite the fact they had walked from their home in La Colonia, a distance of about a mile and a half. Jeanie offered to drive us all to the dance site in her SUV.

So exiting gringo gulch, on the inland side of highway 200 -- where only a few of the vast white well-designed homes are lit for Christmas, we plunged into a labyrinth of dirt streets and brilliantly painted square boxes flashing exuberantly with every color imaginable. (We'd met an anglo friend in the market last week. "We're looking for white lights that DON'T flash," she sighed. "There is no such thing here.") There was plenty to look at as we wandered farther and farther from the highway, Chano urging us on with, "cortito mas adelante." -- "only a short distance further."

But there was no dance. The chief musician had fallen ill earlier that night and was taken to the hospital. Panel trucks and taxis had brought people from as far as twenty miles away, but no fiesta. Would we like to go to a mass instead, asked Chano, in a little church, "cortito distancia" away? Why not? We were dressed up with no place to go, and Jeanie and I were up for folklore last night.

Thankfully the church was indeed "cortito distancia." Embedded in the neighborhood, it consisted of a foundation and two concrete block walls supporting a wooden and palm palapa, obviously a work in progress. On one of the solid walls was the altar and the image of the Virgin. Around her there were layers of filmy drapery, strings of blinking, running, and fade in/fade out Christmas lights. And flowers, at least four formal arrangements of carnations, gerberas and tuberose. And bowers of roses and rose and roses.

It was roses in the middle of winter which Juan Diego gathered on the hill outside Mexico City. They were the "sign" to provide the unbelieving bishop who had insisted the virgin would never appear to a common Indian, especially with instructions to build a church. Juan Diego gathered the roses into his mantle and carried them as proof to his eminence. Unfurling his cloak, the roses fell out. But on the cloth was emblazoned the image of the virgin, solid proof that Indians could indeed receive divine direction in their own native language without the mediation of Spanish priests. The Shrine of Guadalupe stands today in Mexico City, Juan Diego's cloak carefully preserved under glass.

There was not the benefit of a priest at this small church either. The congregation were all women except for Chano, Chuy and one old man. We sat on plastic chairs which, like the congregation, were of varied age, condition and color. Jeanie and I were offered nice white new ones. We sat down to hear the end of a homily -- delivered by a woman.

She spoke of how prayer isn't something we just offer in church, it's what we do every moment of every day, in our kitchens, caring for children, walking down the street. That it doesn't require great education to commune with the divine, that the Indian Juan Diego was proof that God spoke to humble, receptive hearts, and that we should look for the sacred in every place we are. Then she introduced the rosary portion of the service she was leading, telling us that as we went through the prayer, every "Santa Maria" was a rose (I wonder if that's the origin of "rosary"??!!) to honor the virgin, and that there couldn't be enough roses to honor her.

Well there were a lot of "roses." That rosary went on and on and on and on, thankfully at lightening speed. I counted at least six repetitions of the Lord's Prayer. Now, I know the words of Padre Nuestro, but there was no way they could come out of my mouth that fast. I just stood there with Jeanie and tried to look respectful. "The mother of my daughter's dad was Catholic," she said under her breath. "This is going to take a while." "Your ex-mother-in-law?" I asked. "Yeah," she replied. "I guess that's one way to put it."

But at last it did come to an end. Some one asked if they couldn't take the children home before the padre arrived and the mass began. We thought that was a good time to exit, and the five of us made our way back to the car.

"Would you like to go to a velada?" asked Chano. "It's only a short distance away." Is it in a church? Oh, no, it was in a house near the house of his cousin. And there would be hot chocolate. Magic words. We hit the road for Chano's cousin's neighbor's house.

Believe it or not, it was hot chocolate weather last night. I would never have dreamed a few weeks ago that I'd be surrounded by people wearing long sleeved black sweaters and jackets and wishing I had one, too. But the shrine set up at the end of the street where Chano's cousin Luisa lives was alive with candle flames and lights. We stopped at a little corner grocer to buy our own "velas," the white candles poured inside jars with the image of the Virgin on the side. (I thought it would be a good souvenir. Then I found it was bad form to take it away with you.)

Giant palm leaves formed an arched corridor along the cobblestone street for about forty yards. People were sitting and talking quietly in family groups as we approached the shrine at the end. It was about twelve feet tall and half again as wide. The banks of flowers were real, every color of rose in the rosy spectrum, and the air was filled with the smell of candles, flowers, chocolate, cinnamon and tamales. People were dressed in their Sunday best, and the children were well-behaved and quiet.

I was handed a styrofoam cup of hot chocolate and a styrofoam plate with two tamales. I sipped the cup and tasted heaven. No ordinary thin hot chocolate this. It was the chocolate version of atole -- made with the same masa de maiz that tamales are made of. It's liquid, but barely, thinned with milk and heavy with chocolate, cinnamon and sugar. The cinnamon remains in your drink in sticks which you suck on as you drink and then lay to one side. The tamales were light and fit nicely on top of the lasagna I'd had for dinner.

My goodness.....I've gone on and on! Larry just asked if I was going to the property owners' meeting this about thirty minutes. Yikes! Yes!

I think what sparked all this was looking at the notes Mom made for her and Dad’s obituaries. Hers is minuscule, and it shouldn't be. It's really pretty wonderful to see a holiday devoted to the MOTHER of Jesus. Mothers so often remain in the background and unmentioned. Let's give that some thought when we start giving honor to ours.

Love to you all. I'm off to meet my neighbors!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The nearness of food

The fishermen left this morning at 3:00. Living directly across from a fishing village gives new meaning to the words, "Time and tide wait for no man." It was Grand Central Station out there, with motors, whistles, songs and advice shouted from boat to boat about the best way out of the estuary. The first image here was taken from the tower of the Casa del Castillo, a neighboring B&B which you can see in the second image. That second and third images were taken from our backyard. It's nice to think we could -- if we wanted to -- just flag down a fisherman, buy a fish and pop it "on the barbie." We haven't done that. I like my fish cleaned and ready, and Larry doesn't like to see their eyes.

But we're kind of getting into being up close and personal with our food. Today I have eggs from Maria who knows her chickens by name and watermelon bought from a truck which came right to our front gate. When I asked if they were ripe, the man gallantly sliced off a huge chunk with a machete and handed it to me.

We buy coffee grown in Nayarit and roasted locally less than a mile away. We buy it from the family who grows and roasts it themselves.

We buy tamales from the man who sells them from the back of his truck, driving up and down the streets crying "Aquí hay tamales. Sabrosos tamales de elote, de puerco y de pollo."

Thursdays are my favorite days. The tianguis in La Peñita -- the village across the estero from us -- has vendors selling fresh shrimp, ceviche, Argentinian sausages, beans, sugar, tamarind, flor de jamaica (red hibiscus flowers which make a wonderful light drink), fruits and vegetables whole and ready to prepare, or cut up in fanciful shapes and packed in clear plastic containers. I bought a kilo (over two pounds) of strawberries for twenty pesos (under two dollars)last week. They went into the blender with the watermelon, mint from our front planters, lime juice, and just a little sugar. That's what I was drinking this morning up on the roof as we watched the sunrise, listened to the roosters crow, and enjoyed the quiet.

I hear cautionary voices in my head. Yes, Aunt Pat, we give those fruits and veggies a nice bath in a Clorox solution before we prepare them, a universal practice here which probably would have averted the national U. S. spinach fiasco this last summer. As I write this, I hear that lettuce is suspected in recent sickness of Taco Bell customers. Hmmm. Which is safer? The U.S. drive thru, or sitting in front of la taquería Gomez, where the señora pats out the masa, presses it between sheets of plastic, and prepares each taco with ingredients from her own kitchen, the omnipresent bottle of Clorox keeping guard by the sink?

First impressions of our villages, with their dirt streets, pot holes, chickens in the road, and dogs running free can be off-putting to tourists looking for a meal. But like the children of Israel in the wilderness, people face to face with the peril each day, are scrupulous in sanitation and prevention practices. They think about what goes into the mouth, honor the process behind the meal, and give thanks to the Provider of all. Not a bad diet plan.

Friday, December 15, 2006

We have an atrium...

We have an atrium at one end of our veranda. Here's a photo. There aren't any plants in it yet, because water is the problem. There's a tap on the outside wall, but when I turn it on, the water blasts in a hard stream straight across to the other wall and splatters everywhere. A steady drip, drip, drip would be a lot more useful. At least I could put a bucket under it and collect it gradually.

That's sort of the way I've felt about my writing these last five months. When I do turn on the words, I gush. Those who received my five-page Thanksgiving message can attest to that, or my tome telling every detail of celebrating the Festival of the Virgin of Guadalupe with our housekeeper and her husband. I haven't dared turn on the tap and write about releasing baby sea turtles; or coming home to find we'd been burglarized; or what it feels like to watch the sunrise over the Sierra Madre Occidental through our bedroom windows. There's so much to get my head around right now....I may drip, drip, drip here for a while, and then gush forth. Stay with me till I get the flow of this thing. I want to share this adventure, but I don't want my readers trying to drink from a fire hose.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

As I was saying....

....before we went on vacation to Mexico, bought a house there (here!), sold our house in California, closed the Safe Harbor Healing office, disposed of most of our worldly goods, and moved 1,500 miles south of the border. A lot has happened since last February when I made a blog start. Two posts, and then we left for two weeks on the Nayarit coast -- a fateful journey if ever there was one.

And now I can't remember the username or password to get back into that first blog and continue the story! Go have a look, though, and see where I'm coming from. Maybe if it gets visitors, Google will let it stay.

Meanwhile, I've set sail from Safe Harbor and I'm far out to sea. It's not been a peaceful voyage, but I have some space for reflection and repair now. I'm ready to come on deck and start writing again. Welcome aboard, if you'd like to join me.