Breaking Barriers

Breaking Barriers

Breaking BarriersI wait, listening to the ticking tock of the clock with a feeling of nervousness about what will be. After several weeks of preparation, I hope this will be a smooth and festive moment.

But at the first strike of the hour, the clock seems to signal the impending doom of solitude. I’m greatly disturbed. But then, I have to give time for the “grand entrance” that people enjoy so much, especially here in Mexico (which is perhaps why the term “Mexican time” exists). The first fear is that no one will come. But, after about twenty minutes, people do start to arrive—more than have been invited, in fact. That’s great to me; the more the merrier. What hadn’t occurred to me, however, were the other dreadful questions I neglected to consider and be prepared for.

One of these was brought to my attention by my husband, Will, who is the family chef. He was preparing a meal we call Tacos Durados, named by a gringo friend when we were new here. Since that time, we have learned that Tacos Durados are usually made with a potato mash deep fried in a corn tortilla until crispy. Given that our version was very different, Will was nervous that our Mexican friends would hate it and be disappointed by the name. His version is made with black beans boiled overnight, then blended with salt, rolled into a fresh corn tortilla with the string-type local Mexican cheese, and then deep fried until light brown and crispy. After that, it’s topped with a red sauce made from Roma-type tomatoes, onions, peppers, bell peppers, garlic and salt, then roasted and blended before pouring on.  Sounds delicious, right? It is, and it’s my favorite, but very different from what our friends are probably used to. 

The other issue gave me the “what do I do’s” for the better part of the party. I had never considered it, but as I watched it happening, I wondered at my own naivety. After I greeted the newest guest and served some beverages, I looked around, pleased at the turnout, and was smacked in the face with a realization: everyone had segregated. My guests didn’t all know each other. They sat in little separate colonies of munchers, talking among their own family members. This simply would not do. How could this be fun for them? They could have stayed home for this. Now the question was what to do about it.

My first idea was to bond over food and see if Will’s feast was a hit or not. Surely, people will interact when food is in the picture. So, we pulled the durados out of the oven and served them up hot and fresh like the sign from Krispee Kreme in the states. Everyone was excited to try Will’s delicacy, which went over so well, no one said a word the entire time they were eating because it was too good to stop. Most went back for seconds and thirds. It was so well liked, and yet different, that it has been renamed “Will’s Durados” now, and is a tradition at our parties.

Since my guests were still not communicating, though, I had to come up with something else. I looked around at the kids sitting bored by their parents’ sides. Then I went into my room and pulled out some color sheets from my school author-visit days and all the crayons and colored pencils I could find. I went back out and placed them on a table, and before long, all the kids were talking and coloring together, as old friends instead of new. How, I wondered, can I break the barrier between the adults? I decided it was time for dessert. I thought, surely, some chocolate cake would bring everyone together. A little chocolate cake goes a long way. However, just as before, the treat was so yummy, only silence ensued. I had to come up with something else again.

I got another idea: the ever-happy comedian, clown, and savior, the piñata. I had two of them. Two grown men came over to help.  Apparently, they both had a reputation for being hard to beat as directors of the piñata maneuvers. Of course, the kids came running. But, I was surprised to see that the adults were also very excited. They came ready to either swing the bat at the beautifully decorated star or to collect candies, some even holding their kids back in fun to beat them to the goodies. The piñatas did the trick. By the time the second piñata spit candy out to the pavement, everyone was laughing and having a good time. 

After the party’s end, I could take a deep breath and remember the lessons I learned, which we now call our “list for an exceptional extravaganza.”  1) Don’t watch the clock, or expect anyone before 15 minutes after the party’s start time. 2) Always have crayons and color sheets (which, by the end of the night, even some of the adults enjoy, as well). 3) Make sure Will has durados in the oven. 4) Always, always have a couple of piñatas on hand. We have had several parties now, and the list seems to work wonders. But after going to a few more parties of Mexican families, I know what my next trick will be if the party is slipping by in silence: karaoke.  

 
Feliz Navidad

Feliz Navidad

Arya1I find myself in a dilemma, standing dumbfounded in the middle of Carlos’ shop. I’m going over a mental list of options, which are all pretty much far from what I thought when I unintentionally embarked on this adventure. The big question is, what do I do now?

Something, perhaps, I should have thought of at the beginning. But, to be honest, it was done on instinct, or, perhaps, it was just destiny. It was like when Will asked me if I loved him twelve years ago, and I responded without thought or intent something I would never say, characteristically. It was as if someone else for a mere instant possessed my body and forced my hand…in the most beautiful way. It’s as if an angel knew I wouldn’t do it, myself, and just forced my blurtation, which lead me into the best, longest, most intimate relationship of my life. This situation, although very different, happened in much the same way, without contemplation or hesitation, which is completely against my Virgo character, especially when commitment is involved. I wouldn’t say I am a commitment-phobic, but I would say I learned over many years and wrong choices to become very, very thoughtful about commitments that require more than 6 months. Life can change in an instant, and the universe’s plan may be very different from my own. I think I learned that the hard way when my very healthy dad had a heart attack mowing the lawn and died at 51, but my mom, who had been fighting cancer for years off and on, is still alive and kicking 15 years later. 

So it is that I stand perplexed, with my friend Maria looking at me questioningly. We walk out and stand for a minute, taking inventory together of the situation, and I begin to cry. I think back on the last week, and my frustration on the way into town. In the car, my husband asked me why I was so irritable. I didn’t want to tell him because it was just a bunch of random tiny life things that are all silly when I take account of everything I really have. I was irritated with myself. How could I be irritated when I live a simple but amazing life in one of the most beautiful places in the world, surrounded by great people and beautiful sights everywhere? But, I think a week on the less-than-perfectly-comfortable couch bed without my soul-mate hubby’s snuggling can do that. I was on the couch with our super-hard-headed little Taurus Chihuahua, who would not stop licking his cut from getting fixed the week before, so he had to wear a cone. He has a thick neck, so a regular Chihuahua cone wouldn’t fit him. I was afraid he might hurt himself if he wasn’t watched every minute. I had to go to town to get him more medicine, although I wanted to stay home. We were planning to get our girl dog fixed in January. But she came into heat a little early, and the two boy Chihuahuas were going nuts. So, for Christmas, we decided to fix them both for peace on Earth, or at least in our house, for the holidays, since horny dogs are very annoying. On the way into town, I told my husband that I was now sure I didn’t want any more dogs, to which he laughed and said, “Well maybe one more girl.” Then we both laughed. 

I went to Carlos, our vet, for more medicine, and then chatted for a few minutes with the other guy in there, who had a little fuzzy Australian Cattle Dog or Blue Heeler, super cute. After a nice conversation, I left to go to Maria’s house. After about thirty minutes, we went out together to get a couple things around town. We were walking about a half a block from Carlos’ Veterinary Shop, when I saw the little fuzzy dog that I just met at the vet, looking terrified. I immediately bent to pick it up, and it peed everywhere, terrified, but seemingly relieved to be found. I walk in to Carlos’ place, waited a few minutes, and then finally butted into his conversation because this dog’s predicament seemed urgent. Carlos came over, looked at the dog, and finally said, “No, this is a girl. Juan’s dog is a boy.” That is when it hit me, and I stood dumbfounded. Now what? 

Maria and I looked at the dog, puppy really, and took in the reality of the situation. The dog had been bit viciously, and been hit in at least two places, which has already at this young age (10 weeks) caused scars that will never go away. That was the moment I cried, knowing I would not be sleeping in my bed for at least another week because there was no way, absolutely none, that I could put that little baby back on the street and walk away. We walked through town a bit, thinking someone has just lost her and will see us and want her back. When we finally made it back to Maria’s, she looked at the puppy and me, and said, “She looks different. I think she was meant to be with you. She looks at home in your arms.” When we walked in to my house, my husband turned around and smirked. I say, “Feliz Navidad. It’s a girl.” We both laughed, and he said he couldn’t wait to hear this.

It’s been 2 weeks now, and I have the sweetest little shadow who loves me unconditionally, more than anyone except, perhaps, my own mother. I am sure it was divine intervention. From the moment Arya accepted me and relaxed in my arms, I knew our family commitment of thirty days of 24/7 with a new pet would be totally worth it, and it has been, even with sleeping on the couch. She is wonderful, smart, and so cuddly. She gets along great with our other four dogs: three Chihuahuas and one Italian Mastiff. She loves the ranch, but mostly seems to love following me around. I will never say never again, but I think our house is now sufficiently full of dogs, and love.

 
Destiny

Destiny

Destiny1I lie here thinking to myself, “What is the meaning of this?” There is no bang or knock at the door, no chicken shrieking in the night, no whimpering dogs needing a night-time potty break.

My body is just uncharacteristically ready for the dawning of a new day about 5 hours earlier than usual. Instead of a toss and turn routine, I peer, blinkingly, out the window, wondering if there is some destiny in my earliness. I rack my brain thinking of things I could have forgotten that need to be done, or special occasions, but, alas, I come back to nothing, except for the feeling I remember as a child on the first day of school or Christmas. 

I decide to go ahead and get up, take the dogs out, and watch the night stars fall away. The sun kisses the clouds while the scorpions and cutter ants disappear into their cavernous mystery worlds of daylight. Before long, I notice a shadow moving closer in my peripheral vision.

Juan, who lives on the land here as well, is coming to let the sheep out for the day. Before he leaves, he shows his surprise at seeing me so early, and I laugh. Then, destiny finds me, and I am sure of why I am up. He invites me and the boys to go for pajarete with him in about an hour.   

Pajarete is a tradition here in Mexico. Trips are organized where groups take a bus to a farm out in the country. They take their chocolate, coffee, sugar and Tequilla or Mezcal, waiting in line next to a friendly cow sharing its delicious milk. The cow‘s care-taker squirts it into their filled cup. We never did go to a parajete before moving over here to the South side, but we figured someday maybe we would get around to it. So, when Juan told me he had an aunt who had a cow just around the corner, close enough to walk to, I was excited, to say the least. 

I ran into the house and told the boys to hop up and get dressed because we were going on an adventure with Juan. Before I knew it, we were in the woods walking down a rocky dirt hill toward a healthy, happy group of cows and calves. Destiny2We met his aunt Tere, filled our cups with yummies, and waited our turn. There are times in your life when you know, just know for sure, that you are right where you are supposed to be. Watching my friends fill their bellies with pure goodness, while the sun peeked out just overhead, and rays of light fell on us and the cows, I knew this was one of those precious moments. I took it in and held it, intentionally creating a memory of joy right there. I reminded myself that even when you don’t understand what the world has in store for you, it does. So, I have to remember to go with it. The pajarete was magnificent. Better than any Starbucks I have ever had, and fresher and healthier too. Delicious.

About two days later, destiny found us again. Will, my husband, had taken off to do something in Tizapan. About fifteen minutes later, he came back frustrated and annoyed. I smiled, thinking back to a few days before when I was unintentionally up 5 hours early and not where I wanted to be. I told him that maybe there is a different plan for him today, and before the words finished leaving my mouth, a couple of guys we know walked by on their way to go honey harvesting, something we have been reading about, planning and readying ourselves for, for the last three years. We turned to each other, and just started laughing. 

Destiny3So, Will headed out with them on his destined path toward the honey, and had the adventure of a lifetime. While they were out hunting honey like black bears, the guy who owns about thirty hives that sit here on this land showed up, and had, apparently, an impressive conversation with my son, who speaks very little Spanish. He was so impressed with Sky and their little talk that he brought us one of the trays from his Langstrom hive to gather honey from. I couldn’t help but smile to myself at how generous an adventurous life can be when you are open to go Destiny4with the flow. When Will came home with his pictures and adventure stories, he had a bonus of extra honey. 

Sometimes destiny finds you when you least expect it, and sometimes, if you are paying attention, you realize you are experiencing a perfect moment as it happens. I have more of those every week here in Mexico than I did my whole life in other places, but maybe I’m just more open, or maybe it’s that I don’t know what to expect, so I am open to anything.  

 
Out of My Comfort Zone

Out of My Comfort Zone

IMG 20140923 181526With the mist of water kissing my skin, I sit smiling and exuberant when he asks, “So, you think you were a fish in a previous life? You’re such a water girl.” I think of how much I adore the sound of the water moving, and even hitting the shore, the feel of the moisture in the air, the wind that carries its song of fertility and abundance across the sky. I simply reply, “No, probably a dragonfly.”

Our guide and friend smiled at this in understanding, and continued on. IMG 20140923 144712It’s a completely different feeling, arriving at Ajijic from the south side in a boat. It feels exhilarating, radiant, and blissful. I snap a picture of Eduardo maneuvering us close to our malecon destination, all the while enjoying the irony of it all. When our truck finally gasped its last breath a few months ago, we knew we would have to get out of our comfort zone. I always say the only constant in the universe is change, and if you don’t make the moves, the universe will do it for you, and that’s almost always very uncomfortable. Luckily for us, we like adventure. Not everyone does.

The first time our truck broke down and forced us out of our comfort zone was in our first week on the south side. It wouldn’t have mattered so much then, except that I was still working in Ajijic, and we still had half of our stuff there, as well. But we had a canoe over here, and my boys (my son and husband) decided they were going to have an adventure, and row across. Everyone said it was about 6 miles, so they figured it would take an hour or so. They hopped in the canoe and headed out. I waited here with the dogs, watching them become a tiny fleck in the water. It took about an hour and a half for them to become invisible to me, and I thought, “Wow, we could just canoe over if it’s that fast.” The next day around four o’clock they showed back up with a friend, super sore and tired for days. They said the trip took four and a half hours. When they looked it up on Google maps, we discovered it’s actually about 12 miles because its diagonal. When we tell the story, people can’t believe it. Most fisherman with powered boats don’t even go across. To this day, my son won’t get back in the canoe, but boasts about his water adventure. He has done something few people here have ever done. But it would not have happened if he (we) hadn’t been forced out of our comfort zone.

The next time was just a few months ago. But since then, I have had so many fabulous adventures and met so many neat people. I play Tibetan bowls in Ajijic every month. I carry two big suitcases full of nine bowls of varying sizes and one or two portable tables. For the last year, I have wanted to try taking the bus or a boat. But I’ve worried about the stuff being too much for me, or having to put it in the cargo hold since the bowls are very fragile. So, it just seemed easier to take our truck, and save adventure for another day. Well, no longer. I am out of my comfort zone. I took a bus, which was full of lovely surprises. I met some very sweet ladies and a fabulous bus driver named Juan. Then, while waiting for the next bus, a mini station wagon pulled up with 7 people already in it. They asked where I was headed. It didn’t look like I could fit, but I’m amazed every day at the things that can be accomplished in Mexico with just a little effort. He drove that car like a minibus, stopping every 3-5 kilometers, and dropping off and then taking on more passengers. I met a wonderful woman from Los Angeles, who told me as she got out, “If you are ever here in town and need anything at all, you go to that blue door right there.  My house is yours.” And she meant it. On our 18 kilometer ride, I met 13 new impressive people. 

Now that we have started getting out, we have awakened to possibilities here we never would have if we hadn’t gotten out of our comfort zone. We’re planning a bus trip with one of our new friends to Mexico City. Now that we have taken every mode of transport to Ajijic, even in the back of a truck, which I hadn’t done since childhood (being illegal in the US), and it was still as fun as I remember, we have decided to forget about getting a car or truck, and go for a boat.  It’s been the most inspirational experience. I think in some ways, I may understand the fishermen and their draw to the water, singing its lullabies of comfort and abundance. I hope everyone has a chance to get out of their comfort zone, on their own terms, because so many possibilities await them.          

 
Opening Up the World

Opening Up the World

VistorsThis was exactly what I was afraid of. I stood dumbfounded, listening to my husband talk fast and furiously, as he does in situations like these.

I forced myself to hear beyond his words to the calming of the trees blowing sweetly in the blue sapphire sky, to the small waves touching the sand and rocky beach just down the hill, the crickets, the frogs, the country sounds of the Mexico that I love so much. Then, as I always do, I went down my list of “it could be worse.”

But it did take me back to what I was told two years ago, before embarking on the adventure of Mexico, “I will never visit you there.” Those were the frightened words of my mother when I told her I was moving to Mexico. Now, two years later, she is here, standing with us during this moment. When you finally get someone to leave their comfort zone and fly to a foreign land with a foreign language, all you can think of is that you hope everything goes all right while they are here—as if being in paradise perfection isn’t enough.   

The truth is, it could have been way worse. When my daughter came to visit, she ended up in the wrong country, Guatemala, and the trip was basically horrible after that. Can’t really come back from, “Sorry I sent you to the wrong country, honey.” So, I just hoped and prayed that my mother would get to see Mexico as we see it, and to let the whispers and even yells of negativity that had been perpetrated on her before her departure here ease away with every moment of beauty, kindness, adventure, and family—especially since this was her first trip out of the United States. This little vacation was supposed to set the standard for her, and establish in her heart and mind whether the world was worth a gander.

Step one: Make it to the airport to greet her with big bouquet of flowers from our organic garden.  Step two: She actually gets off the plane arriving safely in Guadalajara after a nice relaxing ride.  Step three: Point out everything we love, and stop for a moment at the first sighting of the lake to see what we saw after our very taxing trip here. Then stop at our favorite restaurant in town for some fairly authentic Mexican goodies. Check, check, check. Everything went great. As a matter of fact, the entire visit was practically a made-for-TV movie, all sunny skies and happy endings. We visited Tizapan, Mismaloya, Tuxcueca, Ajijic, even Mazamitla and Tamazula. We enjoyed family, food, friends, and shopping. She and I even karaoked in Spanish and danced the salsa at the Mirador (our most popular weekend food and fun spot on the South side, with an amazing view, between Puru Aqua and Mismaloya). She did get a little heartburn from the hot salsa at the Mirador, which is the hottest I have had yet in Mexico. But, other than that, it was wonderful. She met some of our friends, we played games, drank tequila and mezcal, walked through the garden, marveling at the fruit on the trees and veggies in our patches, including our 6-foot-tall kale plant.Almost everything on my list of “must sees” was checked off with a big fat happy face, except for the canoe ride. We never did make it out in the canoe.

Her time with us was ending, and it was time to head back to Ajijic for the grand finale, a day of shopping and food on the North side, and my Tibetan crystal bowl concert. We were about at the gate, bags, bowls, tables, dogs, even an extra futon mattress in case we needed more room at the hotel. But I had forgotten the chairs. I was doing the bowl concert at a different plac, and didn’t know how many chairs they had. So, back down the hill we went, only on the way back up, the truck decided it didn’t want to go. My husband backed back down and then up again, one, two, three times a charm. Right? Not today. The truck kicked itself into overdrive, and the pedal under my husband’s foot went clear to the floor without him, and the engine just went crazy. I was hollering at him to put the emergency break on. We were on a road above our house on a very steep hill. So, we would all end up either on our house or in the lake, after a very bumpy and most likely very “breaky” ride with my mom, my son, my husband, myself, and our 3 Chihuahuas, my crystal bowls, and all my mom’s stuff. It was one of those moments that you watch from a far at the same time it’s happening. I was thinking that if everyone could just get out quickly, and if the truck blew up, we could be okay. After the third time I yelled for my husband to put on the emergency break, he did, and I rushed everyone and the dogs out of the truck. We all stood, confused and unsure of what was happening. The truck just kept revving and spewing, shooting fuel or something out from itself until it just quit with a jerk. But the brake was on tight, and we were all out of the truck just standing and staring. 

That was it, exactly what I didn’t want to deal with in the middle of a visit—a very dramatic end to the truck’s life. So, there I was, standing dumbfounded, listening for any comfort, and finding it in Mexico’s country paradise song of creatures and sunshine. I took a deep breath, going down the list of things. It’s better it happened at home and not on the road. It’s better it happened today instead of on the way to the airport at 4am tomorrow. It’s better that the truck didn’t go down backwards with all of us in it, and even better that it didn’t explode, with or without us in it. And so on, until my mom said, “It’s okay, honey. Everything will be fine.” And she was right. It was all very simple. We back the truck down to the driveway in neutral. We take a cab today to Ajijic, we take a cab to the airport, and I ride the bus home tomorrow. Settled. It was very simple. I could tell my husband was concerned, but really, we didn’t need the truck. The bus system in Mexico, or at least in our neck of the lake, is fabulous. The taxis are also good, and most times, reasonable. We even have friends with boats willing to give us a lift across the lake. Unfortunately, there wasn’t room for all of us in the cab, so my mom had to say good bye to her grandson and son-in-law in the driveway, but she and I had a wonderful mother-daughter adventure around the lake and in Ajijic that night. tango sundaesWe visited Tango for their Paloma sundae, and then visited the malecón at 11pm, which was the first chance we got (both things my son made me promise to do). I was happy when several Mexicans asked my mom if she enjoyed it here, and she answered in an excited, “Absolutely. I love it. I will be back.” 

Her visit was a success, even with the dramatic end of the visit and exit from our truck. But I knew her world had grown just a little when she told me the next day that in the Houston airport there was a woman from Africa looking confused and frustrated, while some of her stuff fell on the floor and an airport security guy was yelling at her to pick it up. My mom said she understood now how it felt to be in another world feeling a little uncertain. She went over and helped the woman, and they left each other with a smile. I think my mom’s little adventure has opened her up to the world. I think she will find herself on many new adventures in more places than just Mexico, and there is no better success than that.