Forlorn! the very word is like a bell…

7 Mar

I just heard that she died yesterday. Some might say that she died last week, but they only disconnected the life support yesterday. I didn’t even know her; the sister of a friend. And yet, there is that soul pain that grips my heart a little bit. That dull aching hurt for our world to lose one of us.
She was my age. It was some sort of brain aneurysm, the kind of thing that causes you to go from vibrantly healthy to a coffin without warning, without a car accident. Undetectably deadly.
Her daughter is nine years old.

I was only ten when I went to the hospital to say ‘good bye’ to my dad. Looking at ten year olds now, I realize that they’re actually just little kids even though at the time I thought I was pretty much all grown up. And now this precious baby had to do that hard thing of walking away from the hospital bed, knowing yet not really understanding how it’ll never be the same again.
And my heart breaks all over again for this little girl. For the ten year old me. For my own little boys who would not remember me if I were her. For all of us left behind.

And, then there are those of us who are not only left behind but also far away. You know that feeling when those you love are far away, and all you want to do is to be able to hug them again and tell them that you love them, but there is no phone in the hospital room in that far country, and no family member there to carry an iphone in so you can see them one more time. Yeah, that feeling.

The first workshop I took at the conference in San Miguel de Allende was as good as a university lecture from an English Lit class. It brought me back to how much I used to love poetry, and reminded me of the perfection of John Keats’ verses. Speaking of death, and Keats only living until age 25, and dying poor and lonely in Rome, and feeling like your “name was writ in water”… really so much to resonate with and think about. But I also remembered the year after high school, working on the golf course, and I was determined to memorize Keats’ “Ode to a Nightengale.” Yes, weird, I know. But when you feel something so strongly and then find poems that so eloquently express your heart, then those words still linger in your mind more than a decade later.

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
  My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
  One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk…

Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
          And leaden-eyed despairs;
  Where beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
    Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

It is a long poem and I didn’t memorize much of it. But hearing words of someone who has felt that heart ache too is comforting.
If there was some way to tell that little girl who just lost her mamá a few words, I’d tell her this:

querida, mi corazón llora contigo. My heart cries with you.

I’m grateful. I’m grateful for another day of sunshine and light and breath. For giggles with the little ones. For a never ending pile of dishes. For listening to the crickets, and agonizing over a manuscript and business plans. For to-do lists and getting to make a corn on the cob costume for Mateo. For hugs and kisses, cups of coffee, and feeding the hens. For this day, I’m thankful.


the owner of the fleas

1 Mar

Last night the owner of the fleas came by.

Even though he has come by the property at least once a week since we moved here a year and a half ago, I’ve only spoken with him once, and he replied to my greetings only a couple of times. I could paint a picture of the extremes of his oddness, like the time he painted lines for cars to park right through my garden. Or how he went to great lengths to prevent our neighbours from getting water for their house, or how he secretly changed the locks on the storage room so that no one could have access to the chairs and tables which everyone should be allowed to use. Or the way he haunted the property looking for things to complain about and blackballed every suggestion for improvements to the grounds. He never appeared drunk, but it was a well known fact that his fondness for the drink had left behind a lifetime of strife, like the charcoal remains after a fire. But if I only told you about his enormously offensive and unkind nature it would make him seem nearly inhuman. It can’t be so if you saw the way he danced with his wife at the party where the mariachis played for hours. They moved together to the rhythm of the music smoothly and beautifully, and he held her closely which made me think that at some time the love must have been sincere and gentle. Or, the way he sometimes took his grandchildren to the playground, or how he carefully added chlorine to steralize the water for his dog.

But in sum, his character being hard to dicipher from a distance, I can only leave you to make your own assessment. He called his dog “Hitler” and throughout the time that we’ve been living here, he refused to entertain any offers of assistance when we wanted to intervene, for the sake of the dog.Since we had never been introduced, I called the man, “the owner of the dog”, and not wanting to burden an innocent dog with such a name, I referred to it as “the saddest dog in the world.”

The saddest dog in the world must have had a percentage of rottweiler in him: he was large and black, with a wrinkled snout. For well over a year now, he had never left his small cage in the bottom of the property. A massive pine grew in the middle of it, which must have cut the usable size of the cage in half. About once a week, his owner would come and dump a pile of food at the base of the pine and fill up the pail with sterile water. And that was the dog’s extent of interaction with the world.

Due to the fact that the cage was never cleaned for the time that we had been here, and likely not in the previous years either, the saddest dog in the world suffered from serious skin problems. Perhaps you can imagine what years of sleeping in excrement would do to one’s skin, but I assure you that it is probably worse than what you imagine. We asked, vía different family channels if the owner would mind if we took the dog out, or get a vet to come and look at it. The answer was always a definite ‘no.’ There isn’t an SPCA or anything to call here, so we were stuck. And eventually, the dog just became a part of the scenery, and in an effort to stay out of the owner’s warpath (he already dislike us just for living there and asking after his dog), we left it alone.

I can’t help but wonder if the family tragedies which struck like a one-two punch in December had anything to do with his softening attitude by February. We arrived home late one night to find the vet loading up the dog in the back of his truck, but without much hope, as the dog was in a terrible state. The owner had called to ask him to look at the dog, but hadn’t accompanied the vet to pick up the sorry creature. The neighbours had also noticed that recently the dog seemed to have given up on life. It no longer even tried to scratch his back against the side of the cage. It lay quietly, like always, but lately, more hopelessly, its dull fur roiling with bugs.

My neighbour, whose house is quite close to the dog cage, later told me about the morning she discovered the problem. She was always the first to get up and as she sat quietly drinking her coffee, she felt something jumping on her arm. Upon closer inspection, it was a flea. Looking around her living room, she noticed more small black bugs hopping, all over the couches and floor. Apparently with their host gone, the fleas had invaded the world, starting with her house.

Because our house is quite a bit further back, we didn’t have the same problem. But, as we have to walk past the cage to get to the gate of the property, I was walking by with the little ones and we paused for a moment, walking at toddler speed. Remarkably, although I was at least 15 meters from the cage and around the córner from the house, within about 30 seconds, I noticed my legs were covered in fleas. I turned to Mateo and yelled, “RUN!” He ran for the house. I sprinted back to grab Tiago, and raced for the house too. The infestation was more serious than we had thought.

Luis did some research online. Flea eggs can live for months or years, and are stimulated to hatch by vibrations, like people walking. No doubt with the vet in the cage, there was a lot of vibration. Years worth of flea eggs started hatching. We bought a large sack of lime, and started spreading it liberally throughout the patio and the outside of the cage. When the flea situation didn’t die down sufficiently after a few days with the lime treatment, the neighbours decided to burn the patio. We scattered grass and leaves across the patio, sprinkled gasoline across the bottom of the cage and through the leaves. Everything is still rather green, so the fire was slow in starting, and burned gently while we watched. They fumigated their house, and we continued sprinkling lime across the concrete and in the cage. Anytime we had to cross the área, we ran.

Thankfully the dog will not return, as the vet convinced the owner that this life had not been kind to the dog, and he should not have to continue this sort of suffering. When my neighbours asked the owner of the dog to contribute some money to the lime and gasoline fund, he refused, informing them that the fleas came from their own dogs. My neighbour’s dogs  fortunately did not suffer from the fleas as they generally stay on rooftop of their house and the fleas didn’t reach the second floor. Our own dogs were only kept tied up for a couple days– they are used to running about as far as their imagination can carry them, which usually is only as far as another neighbour’s cow field. We also bathed them extensively, and so our own flea population was rather minimal.

The infestation is mostly under control now, but I imagine that it could easily flare up again if the fleas migrated to an área that wasn’t treated.

The owner of the fleas showed up last night. He didn’t seem happy to see us and a huge crowd of kids getting ready to play a game of soccer, and didn’t reply to Luis’ “buenos tardes.”

But I still feel a heaviness around us for the suffering of the dog that happened while we watched.

Government business in Guadalajara

26 Feb

Husband and I were in the centre of Guadalajara yesterday. I like Guadalajara: I like the old stone buildings in the centre, the graffiti, the trees that are starting to blossom with yellow and pink.

But we were in the center on business. I needed some sort of number from the government so they can keep track of me, and as I’m a foreigner, I needed to go in person to get my number. We drove for an hour in the traffic, luckily found a parking spot in a crowded parkade and headed up to the department in a federal building that specializes in line-ups for foreigners to wait in. This time however, I waited approximately two minutes for my turn. The efficient lady at the counter gave me my information in about 30 seconds. Done. We left.

I find that quite often in Mexico, public servants can be shockingly fast. A few years ago, Luis had to get a new passport. He dropped off the paperwork in the morning and by noon he could pick up the document. In Canada? A new passport takes weeks at a mínimum. Luis’ Canadian residency papers took a year and half. My Mexican residency papers? Two weeks. That could segue into a conversation about how developed country governments treat immigrants from developing countries and vice versa, but we’ll leave it at the efficiency department. And now, my number-getting event which took me less than 5 minutes. Even adding in the múltiple times one has to line up to get government papers dealt with, including the line up for getting your photos taken at some random small shop and the line up to use a photocopier, there still is an interesting efficiency here.

We had to make one other stop at another government building. We were looking for a parking spot when we were spotted by one of the ubiquitous car-watchers that haunt all of down town. They generally flag you into a parking spot, sometimes offer to wash your car, and then helpfully babysit the car for a tip. This guy was a unique case though.

Bouncing over, he smiled helpfully and waved us into a parking spot. “Welcome!” he shouted,  helpfully directing Luis into a parallel park. “Good morning! Welcome! I hope you’re doing well today sir! Where are you heading to today?”

“Ah yes, that office is close by. Go around the córner there, past the pine tree and there is the entrance. Can I help you with anything else today sir?”

“May your efforts be speedily achieved sir!” he called out as we started for government offices.

At our return, he greeted us just as cheerfully as before. He gave Luis precise directions for heading back to the highway, praising Luis’ driving prowness as he backed out: “Excellent sir! More, more, more! Go with enthusiasm sir! Turn, turn! Excellent!”

We couldn’t help feel cheered by his good natured chatter. Possibly the first car watcher that I’ve seen that has actually seemed to do a huge service for society. He filled us with smiles at his kindly good nature. It was beautiful. I’d almost hope that we’d have to do business at that government office again just to see him.

Between the civil servants in the offices and the man who watches cars for a living, it is an interesting lesson in vocation. Do little things with great love (was it Mother Teresa who said that?), and you just might impact someone’s life in beautiful ways.

mama stays up past 9:30 pm (A visit to San Miguel de Allende)

19 Feb

I spent the last several days in the gorgeous town of San Miguel de Allende in Guanajuato state. As a side note, it can be quite entertaining listening to foreigners pronounce “Guanajuato” as the syllables and letters scatter on their tongues in most fascinating ways. Since San Miguel is quite overrun with foreigners (I’m going to lump us all in one category and refer to us as “gringos” regardless of country of origin). Because that is what it is. Gringo-ville. Completely doused in US culture and language. The gringo influence has not been all bad, as the town is gloriously maintained in the traditional style, the streets are tidy, and the community is vibrant with artists and writers, workshops and yoga classes, gourmet food and lively music.
San Miguel de Allende has had a long, glorious past in Mexican history books as well, with its involvement in the independence movement and in governmental affairs. These famous sites have been maintained, and if I had had more time, a more in-depth tour and study of this aspect of the town would have been interesting.
However, I was busy dodging gringos and drooling over the goat cheeses, non-Mexican themed restaurants and organic produce. It actually felt like I was visiting a foreign country while I was there. In the town where I live, I basically comprise the ex-pat community all by myself, the only kind of cheeses we can get are fresh Mexican cheese (very good in its own right, but they sure aren’t brie or goat cheese with herbs or aged gouda), and the only restaurants are usually based around the tortilla. Again, I love my life here in small town Mexico, but a visit to San Miguel meant having access to all the flavours I’m used to Canada and it was delightful.DSC_0055 1
One of the first nights in town, I was out with two friends and while we were looking for a restaurant (“anything but Mexican” I asked, happy to soak up all the aforementioned flavours that I have been missing). We found a German restaurant, where I had a stuffed portobello on a bed of greens with balsamic vinaigrette, accompanied by a (Mexican) beer. Amazing.
The following night, my friend Wanda offered to take me out to an Italian restaurant that we had spotted the previous night. It was cute and very Italian looking: red checked tablecloths, paintings of Venice and Cinque Terre adorning the walls, and olive oil on the table. Che bello!
I ate the daily special: salmon in white wine sauce with capers, steamed vegetables and an ice cold (Mexican) beer. A.Mazing.
After we headed out, we decided to swing by a hotel to visit an old colleague who I had bumped into on the street earlier that day. He and I had worked together in Puerto Vallarta several years ago, but he told me he had recently started working at this hotel in San Miguel. Wanda, who does have a soft spot for latino men, should meet him I thought.
The hotel was actually quite close by, and the patio at the entrance was stunning. There was a small pool with a fountain, a subtle bar in the corner, and it was all illuminated by lanterns hanging in the branches of the large trees. Luis (my ex-colleague, not husband Luis!) was inside, and we interrupted his conversation with a very charming and egregious group of men from Montreal. We bonded with them over our Canadian heritage and they invited us to join them while they waited for their other friends to finish getting ready for a night on the town.
Luis took us up to the rooftop patio of the boutique hotel, which only had six rooms, despite its massive hacienda-style size. The rooftop view was stunning with the lights of the city all around and the cathedral glowing opposite us.
DSC_0044 1
As we’re breathing in the delightful evening air, the mariachi band showed up. The surrounded a couple (turns out, newly engaged couple) and sang love songs. The magical atmosphere, awash in song and love, against the backdrop of the city made our hearts sing and our feet dance.
One of the Montreal businessmen was on the patio with us, and whisky glass in hand, confessing it was his first visit to Mexico, he howled, “Mexico, stop! You’re too much! Just stop!” We were suitably dumbfounded and impressed as he told us about their stops in Cancún and Querétero (or “Ker-rey-ter-o” as they liked to refer to it) as part of their delegation’s business selling screws for washing machines. I’m not even kidding. Screw salesmen.
We rejoined Luis downstairs and arranged to meet him for hot chocolate after his shift finished. The Montreal screw delegation was still on the patio waiting for their friends, and they flirted madly and laughed loudly, while they drained the rest of their fancy bottle of spirits.
This kind of moment hasn’t happened to me in awhile. I wear my mama-shoes and stay-at-home wife-hat most of the time. I don’t stay awake past 9:30, and I’m usually not outside of the house after 7. I don’t usually wear a skirt and heels like I was that night. It has been a long time since strange men smile at me and lament the fact that I’m already married. It was no temptation to be anything but ‘already married’ yet the idea that strangers might think I am attractive or interesting was a balm to my old woman lifestyle. Culture shock in all sorts of aspects here in San Miguel!
They were ready to go out partying right about the time that Luis got off work. We happily departes, the businessmen heading off in another direction, and Luis giving us tips and pointing out details about places along our walk. We strolled past ancient wooden doors, the marvellous, cheery sort of gothic cathedral, the postal office street, and finally arrived at what appeared to be a Parisian cafe. Their speciality was hot chocolate with churros (a long donut sort of thing). Conversation that never slowed, pure chocolate heaven and an atmosphere filled with light and art and late nights.
We closed out the cafe at 1 am.
A truly extraordinary evening.1964914_800756489952520_499161893_n

Helpful Household Hints

6 Feb

The other day Mateo’s homework was to make a dinosaur out any material that he liked. Preschoolers get homework here. But, this was homework that I liked, so I thought we should do it.

After a short discussion, we decided that the spray bottle sort of looked like a dinosaur, so we’d start with that as a base. Since the spray bottle holds a mixture of water and alcohol, and I wasn’t keen to send a 4 year old boy to school with a dinosaur that spits, I emptied the water/alcohol mix into a carafe and we started our project.

Helpful household hint #1: To clean glass tabletops, use a mixture of alcohol and water in a spray bottle. 

HHH#2: Preschoolers love to help clean tables after lunch if it involves a spray bottle.

But, back to our dinosaur. We cut out eyes, hands, legs, a tail, teeth, spots, and those spikes the run down the back of the dino with paper and taped them on. It was pretty cool. The next day, Mateo informed us that his dinosaur was the only one made out of a spray bottle. Everyone else used Play-doh. But his was also the biggest and had moving parts so in the world of 3-5 year olds, it was a win. 

Next morning, Luis made the coffee.

HHH#3: Use a water/alcohol (preferably the potable kind) mixture to make a really amazing cup of coffee. 

You’re welcome. 

Meditation 1

30 Jan

There are two dogs and a toddler on my yoga mat with me.
Around us, there are various piles of sand which have been transported from the sand box to my kitchen floor via a small dump truck, and scattered pieces of railroad track and matchbox cars and duplo.
Toddler boy bounces up, disappears around the corner and the dogs follow him, and I focus on my breath.
The sun warms me. The birds are singing in the trees that surround the property.
He comes toddling back, a baseball cap on backwards, dirt across across his face, and eyes a-sparkle, no doubt cooking up some more trouble.
He kisses me and plops back down into my lap. Focus broken. Beautifully, delightfully broken.
I breath.
The sun smiles on us.
He bounces off again,turning back to grin mischieviously at me. It is one of those moments that freezes in time: those green-grey eyes that are just like mine, the sun slanting in across the patio, that untameable blond hair.
The garden hose is broken in two places, dishes from the last meals are still in the sink, the dogs killed another hen, and the surface of the kitchen table hasn’t been seen since yesterday. And those piles of sand that keep coming back even though I seem to sweep them all the time.
And I sit there, surrounded in blessing. Indeed, like Glennon writes, the beautiful and brutal go hand in hand—like always here. One with the other. They can’t even be separated.
Beautiful. Brutal.
The kisses and the tantrums.
You know what? I wouldn’t even want them separated. Give me the brutal to remind me again just how beautiful it all is. The blessings are found in both.
This is so hard. This is so amazing.

Watch out world

3 Dec

Sept. 19, 2013 I posted about a washing machine.
Sept. 23, 2013 I posted about migrants
Sept. 24, 2013 I posted about a truck
by Sept. 29, 2013:


Look out world. My manifesting powers are pretty amazing. Just waiting for a resolution for the economic, security and political issues facing migrants in their home countries, transit countries and destination countries.