Tools of the Trade — thoughts on home ownership (week 1)

As I clamped the pliers down on the disappointingly named decorator hook and it bent into a shape utterly unrecognizable as a hook, I thought, “I should have known better. They’re called “decorator hooks”; OF COURSE they are made of cruddy pot metal that won’t hold up to any serious twist.” I had pre-“drilled” a hole using a hammer and nail, and still, the underside of the MDF cabinet wouldn’t take the pretty little hooks I’d picked for hanging my measuring spoons and cups without mangling the hooks. I sighed, such a waste of elbow grease. Did the math – about two bucks for ten essentially useless, but pretty, hooks. Lesson learned (again): if you can’t handle and examine the product before you buy it (especially when it comes to hardware) there’s a good chance that it is, well, crap. Back to the hardware store, this time for hooks which are less pretty and more functional. Fine.

In the master bedroom, as I set up the somewhat tall, massive, buffet-style table that I built a few years back, with the notion of using it to fold clothes and to hold my jewelry boxes, I’m still rather amazed that the only major flaw is that (just) one leg is about a centimeter shorter than the other three. I cut the lumber for that table with a handsaw. A HANDsaw. I measured everything carefully, but still that one leg got away from me. Though the table is hardly what you might call beautiful, it is exactly what I wanted; I should take the time to plane the other legs down to match the short one. But, I never do. You should see my plane, so antiquated as to be nearly a joke. A plane requiring elbow grease. I use it. But I try to keep it to a minimum. I’m low on elbow grease, and they don’t sell that stuff at the hardware store.

Having purchased a home, I think I might have done well to also invest heavily in a hardware / paint store. I’ve lived here four nights, and already I need a new key for the hot water feed to the washer (that side is drippy at the handle), a decent drill with concrete-capable bit, paint for the façade — not to mention the front entryway — a couple of quarts of hole-filler putty, a good pair of cable cutters to dispose of the tv cable in inconvenient places. I’m sure more such details will occur to me over the weeks and months and years to come. Maybe if I’d invested in a hardware store, I could convince them to stock elbow grease.


PS. Ridiculously happy in my new place in spite of minor details. I’m dreaming and drawing it into the shape I’d like it to take. No doubt, this will be a project of some planning and time. ❤


Sorting — a piece of thought (think piece)

Packing up the things that have helped turn the house I’ve lived in over the last 6 years into a home I’ve found a lot of trash (and tossed it) and a few treasures (and packed them carefully into boxes). Pictures of family now gone, big groups of us together, lost earrings, broken earrings that I can use to fix another broken pair, but mostly a lot of trash. And I’ve listened to music relentlessly. New to me music (Kodaly, Ysaye, Sibelius among others), and old favorites (Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, CCR, Def Leppard, Beatles). The music makes the packing easier, somehow. I’m reluctant to try to explain.

* * *

As the things that make my home my own gather themselves (apparently) into carefully arranged boxes and bags and piles, I find myself in the most curious position of thinking about how odd life is, and that the things that make me most uncomfortable are also sometimes the things that give me the greatest delight.

As much as I hate packing, and moving, I am kind of in love with moving right now. I assume that’s because this particular move is to a house I am buying. I’ve always had a knack for making a house my home regardless of who it belonged to, but this time, for real, the house will be mine (someday, many moons from now when all the payments are made).

I have loved taking down every little detail: fan pulls given to me by a dear friend ages ago, the unicorn doo dads, the remarkable number of art works done for me by former students, tapestries I’ve carted all over creation. Even the sorting of DVDs, clothes, earrings, photos and papers has been interesting and enlightening. What a life!

As I sort, I try to figure out, again, how to explain to those who despair of my ever returning “home”, that this is home. Truthfully, I’m probably closer to “home” now than I might have been had I not ever come to Mexico to work for a year, and finally to make my life. In miles, anyway. I think it’s the international border that causes discomfort. Or maybe it’s the US perception of Mexico as a dangerous place over the last few years.

* * *

There is nothing particularly remarkable about moving. People do it all the time. I have wrapped bottles and treasures of various sorts in newspaper and stashed them in boxes: shells, glass unicorns, bottles of patchouli and lavender oil, the gaming pc and its wireless keyboard and mouse. I’ve stumbled across photos I didn’t even know existed (how does that happen?). I’ve sorted through old medicines and vitamins and thrown out anything that was in doubt. I’ve gone through my closet and tossed or given away anything I’ve not worn in a year. I decided to pack all soft things (clothes, sheets, towels, etc) in plastic bags. I’ve thought about what I might need in my new place, and what I can use and what I can live without.

I despised this house when I first moved in, and was sure I wouldn’t be here more than a year, two at the very most. But now, six years later, I’m grateful for the space this house has given me to grow as a person, to let go of ideas that no longer fit what I want, what I need. As annoying as the daily little league games are every day of summer vacation, I will miss their white noise blending with the mockingbird songs in the morning. I want to pack up the mockingbirds and take them with me. I’ve already told them. I think they are following me. I will need a tree to give them.

In a year or so I will be fully unpacked and know what I really need, what I really don’t. In the meantime, the anticipation of Christmas in July is enough to keep me going. The idea of doing all this alone (buying a house, packing, moving in, unpacking) before I began, was rather overwhelming. But now that I’ve begun, I am starting to see how all this work can come together to build a new, or maybe a continued, version of a life I’ve longed for, even if it looks nothing like the original yearning.

Coming Soon / Proximamente

Over this first week of my spring vacation, I’ve spent an abundant amount of time thinking about writing (and reading). So much time, in fact, that I nearly (but didn’t) signed up for a Writing I (college composition) class. I decided against not because I don’t think it would do me any good (all the contrary), but rather that by the time I found it, it was already 10 days underway, and I didn’t want to have missed a single thing.

That urge got me thinking about what I write, how I write, and my “voice.” I’m not sure it’s really my voice anymore. By which I mean, perhaps, that it’s not my main voice, or even the voice with which I have become most comfortable. Rather, it’s the voice that I know others in my long-standing, regular audience are used to and most comfortable with.

In an effort to get my blog readers to talk back to me (read: “be uncomfortable”), a few nights ago I wrote an annotated list of things I believe and why: right to bear arms, and contradictorily the right not to HAVE to bear arms, the right to marry whomever one pleases without legal hurdles impeding spousal rights in the case of illness or death, among other usually inflammatory topics. What I discovered as I wrote is not what I believe (which I’ve known for a long time), but rather that I don’t write about these topics well. Not even from my own experience (more vast than I care to let on – that may be part of the problem with the writing well, or not writing well). Writing well about those ideas, and all my ideas, is important to me, but I think as long as I’m trying to stay in the good graces of the imaginary people of my long-standing audience, I can only write about certain things well. Please note that the “beliefs” post never made the ether; its electrons remain safely stashed among the thousands of things that have never seen the light of day.

At the beginning of the school year, I started a graphic novel project with the help of the art teacher. The story line was to be based on an essay I wrote years ago about a girl I have been, a bowie knife, and a boy she knew. As the art began to come together, I realized that the original piece, a personal essay, was merely the background story to a larger, fictional, warrior-woman story. And I’ve not been able to get past the first scene of this new piece, in part I’d guess, because I’m terrified of what this unknown woman will do, now that she’s tearing away the fabric of what I thought she was, expected her to be. And in part because I see the faces of dismay in my accustomed audience when I write, and the words of her story come to a full stop. Still, her story needs to play out, and it’s up to me to give her that chance.

And so, I’m giving myself permission to return to my rebellious, free-wheeling twenty-year-old mind and voice, unhindered by the audience (that is, the one in my head) that is known to me, and that has certain expectations for correctness — or whatever it is they expect — that keeps my voice from changing. I need to throw open the theater doors and give the familiar faces with all their familiar reactions a chance to leave, open up the ticket booth, put out a new marquee and see who stays, and who comes in to give the ideas a once over. The shows have definitely changed, though I’m sure that in many ways this new voice will sound familiar, too.

All that’s left to say? Break a leg!

Mexican adventures with Mom

The chanates (grackles or crows, whichever) were making their usual spring ruckus in the tops of the trees while I was making oatmeal muffins, when Mom came in and said, “I thought you were in here frying bacon, then I figured you probably don’t eat bacon.” I registered the racket from the park across the street and laughed, “Of course I eat bacon, but not often, and alas, not today.” Mom and I drank tea and ate hot oatmeal muffins before heading over to the park to take a look around.

While I filled her in on the general agenda for my one and only skip day of her trip to TRC, she identified plants by their names in English for me and (I’m guessing) tried to take in the familiar, the unfamiliar and the long unseen. The morning was leisurely, and eventually, the chanates flew off to scavenge the day.

About midmorning, Mom and I trundled ourselves into Jose’s cab and went downtown to the Museo Arocena with a plan to have an early-ish lunch at the Copa de Leche, an old diner-style restaurant downtown that I’ve been going to ever since I first moved here almost fourteen years ago.

Mom goes to TRC and finds COW.

Mom goes to TRC and finds COW.

Writing about a museum visit leaves something to be desired, but I will say that we talked about Mexican history (Oh, how I wished for Mr. Miranda, our History of Mexico teacher!), were fascinated by the Arocena House with its hand-pieced parquet wood floors and stained glass windows. We oohed and ahhed over the “portable” desks with all the accessories from the early 20th century that make a desktop computer with screen look positively featherweight. Almost as an after-thought (we were getting pretty hungry at this point), we remembered the Jorge Marin sculpture exhibit, where we lost ourselves again in considerations less historic and more spiritual, philosophical and Newtonian [Please go to Marin’s website where you can find a gallery of his work]. We even made a cursory tour of the bookstore with mental notes for a return visit if needed.

We beat the lunch rush to the Copa at around 12:30 or so, but we were both pretty famished (we had missed almuerzo which is usually around 10 or 11 am, and lunch proper isn’t until 2 or 3 in the afternoon). We ate, talked and browsed the pamphlets we’d picked up at the museum. The bolillos [French-style bread rolls] with salsa instead of chips was a hit, and lunch (chile relleno for Mom, and huevos a la Mexicana for me) was delicious.

When we finished, I had the bright idea to walk down to the Mercado Juarez, where I promptly wound up walking us in circles until we ended up back at the museum. We took a stroll around the Plaza de Armas — lately armed at catty corners by big Mexican Marine Hummers full of young men in fatigues carrying big guns – grabbed a cab and headed back to my place.

The Mexican Flag at the Plaza Mayor in Torreón, Coahuila.

The Mexican Flag at the Plaza Mayor in Torreón, Coahuila.

Because a trip to the Comarca Lagunera is incomplete without a trip to Chepo nieve, on Sunday I decided we should head over to the Alameda where there’s an authentic Chepo franchise (for the uninitiated, the “original” Chepo is in Lerdo, a couple towns over) as well as the pulga, a public library, and a 7-11 where the restaurant Chihua’s used to be. We ate our lime, coconut with strawberry chepos on a bench in the square and watched people, listened to a student banda de Guerra (war band – drum and bugle) practice. The morning was exactly perfect, sunny but not hot, with a breeze, but not windy.

We spent another chunk of time in the library. It’s really a pretty little library. Cluttered around the edges, but the stacks are orderly, even if many of the volumes are outdated, threadbare and scant. There is even a media center with five or six (ancient but functional) computers for free Internet use by patrons. The stained glass window in the library designed and produced by a local artisan and a local glass company took our attention for several minutes as we deciphered what the window depicted.

Finally, we decided to head over to a little restaurant a colleague had told me about on the opposite corner of the Alameda. At El Sureño, surrounded by colorful paper maiche, clay and wood masks from all over the world, we enjoyed a lunch inspired by foods common to the southern part of Mexico. But not before our waiter plied us with a long list of various tequilas and mezcal. We demurred, asking for limeade with mineral water. Even I couldn’t fathom tequila on a late Sunday morning. While we considered the menu, we enjoyed black bean dip and a couple of kinds of salsa with our totopos. Once we had asked one hundred and one questions about the menu, we settled on tamales in banana leaf and a kind of empanada stuffed with fried squash flower, all drenched in cream and cheese. I don’t think either of us was especially in love with the empanada (the cream was a little sour and unexpected — it might grow on you with practice), but the tamal was MUAH! Absolutely amazing. Something about the flavor the banana leaf adds to the cornmeal changes the nature of the tamal completely. Our lunch that day was long, slow and delightful and bracketed by the library, a few gift purchases in the pulga, and the waiter who was pushing Sunday, late morning booze, and the intriguing masks all around us.
El Sureño masks
El Sureño wood masks
The rest of the week we spent at school. The first morning, I pointed in the general direction of things of interest on campus, walked Mom over to the elementary office and went about my business. By the end of the day, she’d been “roped into” (I don’t think this was a particularly challenging roping job) substituting for a second grade teacher on Wednesday, and wound up as an emergency substitute on Tuesday, as well. We came home at the end of that first day and Mom told me all about the first graders she had worked (played?) with, trying to remember names and picking out personalities when she couldn’t remember names. All week my seniors and sophomores hassled me, “Where’s your mom?” they asked with a slight whine (a la first grade) in their voice. “We want to meet her.” Naturally, when they finally got to meet her, on Thursday, I think, most didn’t know what on earth to do with her. I had to laugh. One student needed no introduction and hugged her when he saw her in the hallway, intuiting that she’s family by extension.

Finishing up their proof of having actually learned something.  I have the best students. (I only included this photo and not the others because I didn't really want to post recognizable people without permission. Y'all don't be mad.)

Finishing up their proof of having actually learned something. I have the best students. (I only included this photo and not the others because I didn’t really want to post recognizable people without permission. Y’all don’t be mad.)

I see this view everyday; occasionally with less haze.

I see this view everyday; occasionally with less haze.

3rd floor CAT_southwest
In the afternoons after school we mostly crashed and burned and then made dinner, but we also did a few other things, like visit the pottery shop where I’ve been going all these years for super cool, genuine Mexican things (like ceramic, hand-painted house number tiles). Mom got most of her loot there (a ceramic lizard, her house number with frame, a time pig for the youngest grandbaby, a ceramic plaque reading “Casa de la Abuela” – serendipity is everywhere), and I was pleased to see the señor owner who had been absent last year. One afternoon after class Mom had the dubious honor of hearing me rehearse an Art Festival song with the band made up of other faculty members, far more skilled than I. Mom was duly impressed. Luckily, I have pretty decent day job that I actually like.

When I went with Mom to the airport on Saturday morning, I pointed out the places she needed to know and talked her through what came after we checked her in. And then I left her there and made the mad dash back to my house where I made all the calls to all the people who needed to know that she was safely deposited at the airport and would soon be back within reach. And then, I had a little siesta. ~LD

P.S. I am terrible about taking photos; even if I carry the camera around with me, I forget to capture moments. I hope these will give you an idea in spite of me. ~LD

The Foreigner

Allow yourself
to accept
the touch of a stranger
for the compliment
it is.
Let chocolate and whiskey eyes
be reflected in mirrored
grey eyes, shallow
and changeable as a sandbar.
While tidal and endless,
you meet the Other at every turnstile;
travelling the same paths
or utterly different ones.
Allow yourself
to see
the stranger,
who is of the same cloth,
hiking off into the wild
that you have walked already —
known to you,
but unexplored.


[Note: I hadn’t really intended to write this; in fact the plan was to write about making 6-sided paper snowflakes. Maybe I’ll get the snowflakes out in a day or two.]



Oasis or Mirage? (Or, the day I decided to blog)

I have reached these last days of summer vacation ready to let my luxurious days as a lady of leisure slip into the heat mirages rising up from the asphalt.

The “lady of leisure” image isn’t entirely accurate; I’m always busy doing something during vacation: sewing projects that advance a few stitches each year, novel reading, catching up on news reading, organizing and rethinking old writing, “painting” with markers, firing up barbecues, other experiments in cooking, and usually one trip to Texas. Perhaps the time feels leisurely because I’m not “busy” by 21st century standards.  I work hard during vacation not to multitask, even though social media and my cell phone make complete absorption in a single task difficult.

This year while in Texas, I sat by the pool in a lounge chair holding the baby and watched my brothers vacuum the pool bottom so the kiddos could play.  The guys were deeply engrossed in pool care, and I was deeply engrossed in playing with the baby.  We grilled hamburgers and the ten of us (Mom, me, the brothers, their wives and the cousins – it gets to be a big party quickly) ate burgers, chips, dip and peach cobbler and enjoyed being at the same address. The crowd of people, tykes and talls, made me realize that I need to be as thankful for my quiet, simple life as I am for the rowdy, loud, but all too brief occasions when we get to be together.

Somewhere between the pool and burgers and breakfast the next morning, I got to wondering when I had quit writing a colossal (email) letter “home” about the doings in my world and at what point I stopped knowing much about my brothers’ lives other than what might go in the first twenty lines or so of their resumes: name, address, phone number, date of birth, place of employment, marital status, number of children. I exaggerate somewhat, but not by much. Twenty years ago, when they were “just kids” it was easier to keep up with their specific interests. Or maybe I never really knew them at all — a distinct possibility that I don’t like thinking about.  In any case, all that wondering made me decide to start this blog.

I considered returning to the old mass email letter, the kind I sent when I was in graduate school and then when I first came to Mexico, with attached word file and photos. Culturally, though, we’ve gotten to a point where we no longer read email unless they are snippets, and those are usually work-related or organizational in some way.  Even those of us who do read email that resembles the old-fashioned analog paper letter very seldom respond in kind (there are a couple of notable exceptions in my family, and they are, of course, among my very favorite people). So rather than going to all the trouble to attach photos, files, text documents via email, I decided a blog would be both easier and more democratic.  I post its existence with a link in the world of social media, and you, dear reader, can read it or not, comment in a sound byte, or a long letter, or not at all, as you wish and as you have time. Though it’s not quite the same as the thrill of opening a paper envelope reply, I do have the satisfaction of watching my stats and knowing some of you are reading.

Unfortunately, the blog won’t help me get to know my brothers better enough to have a real conversation with them when I see them at Christmas, but maybe they’ll take a cue from their big sis and post a blog of their own. Or maybe I should call more often.  Ya think? Turns out that I’m no lady of leisure at all, and in my “regular life,” I do multitask (albeit badly) and get so busy that pushing old, flesh-and-blood connections to the bottom of the to-do list is remarkably, and sadly simple.

As the weeks have passed, I’ve tested the waters of blog-land a bit, and the original intent for the Inky Highway Oasis has morphed (as virtual ink tends to do when left to its own devices) into something additional that I’m not sure how to name.  Perhaps its name is “opportunity.” I can’t really imagine the exact opportunity(s) that might come along, but I feel them wandering aimlessly out there, and I hope that they will randomly begin merging into the mirages rising up from summer asphalt along with my vacation where I can see them.  ~LD