Cocoa Beach

Finding something good to read is a challenge because of the time I have available for searching.  I subscribed to something called BookBub, which sends me recommendations for ebooks, and the New York Times Review, and I am a member of Goodreads, but with short blocks of free time for researching, these are almost useless to me.

I want to know that what I’m buying is going to be worth the time, not to mention the money.

So since my Amazon Prime Reading recommendation for Cocoa Beach came with a free sample, I could check it out on the bus on the way to school.  I downloaded it and it wasn’t terrible, so I paid the $13.99 for the whole book (by a New York Times Bestseller List author, by the way) and I’m on my way to what I hope will be a satisfying reading experience.

(I’m not going to write a book review, just in case you’re wondering; I’m just going to make a couple of comments.)

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First of all: I love Florida. I have loved it since I was eight years old when I went for the first time. I love movies that are filmed in Florida, I love television series about Florida, I love Karl Hiassen’s books. I loved visiting the sister ship to Ernest Hemmingway’s Pilar on Islamorada in the Keys. I loved the mangroves and brought home a mangrove sprout to give to my grandmother. The shrubs that are only houseplants in the rest of the country grow to tree-size there.  The boat rides with my brother through Boca Raton to the Atlantic were idyllic. I love the blue water and white sand vacations with my kids on the Panhandle so much it breaks my heart.

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So a novel about South Florida set in the 1920s? Florida and history! It could be a dream come true!

I’ve read about five chapters of Coco Beach so far, and I am enjoying the way the author switches back and forth between past and present in alternating chapters. I can see the landscapes and settings from her descriptions, some of which are quite fresh. Although her attempts to portray human emotions are more “telling” and less “showing,” I am willing to concede that I understand what is happening in the mind of the protagonist.

But then I begin to see adverbs.

Stephen King (famously) said, in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft: “The road to Hell is paved with adverbs.”

He also said he can be a good sport about them.

I can too, I guess . . .  but then when they start to jump out at me, I think maybe I’m on that road.

“Staring at a photograph while the clock just ticks and ticks, ten o’clock drawing inevitably toward eleven.”

How else can ten o’clock reach eleven, except inevitably?

Am I becoming a more discriminating reader or just a pedantic nit-picker?

I put “literary fiction” into the search bar and returned a Goodreads page with a whole bunch of possibilities. I’ve downloaded a couple of samples to read on the bus.

Changing Directions

All summer, while I was mostly without internet, I was thinking that I wanted to take the blog in a little bit different direction when I got back to Mexico. Then when I got back, I was immersed for the first month in getting settled into school and classes, but the question never left my mind: What direction will the blog take this year?

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I feel a lot more comfortable here in Torreón. My Spanish has improved some, and while I still often find it impossible to understand what people are saying, I feel confident telling the taxi driver what route to take to where I want to go and I can order sotol con tomate at Garcés. I have my regular shopping day on Saturday and cooking and laundry on Sunday. I have help with the house cleaning. I still don’t have much of a social life, but I’ve accepted this as something I can live with for the present.

I’m much more confident in my work. I am improving as a writing teacher, and I’m learning a lot about the craft of writing at the same time. One thing I have remembered is that readers make good writers.

My choices for reading material are limited (unless of course you consider the Kindle option, which I often do, but I need to hold a book in my hands). The school libraries are my only sources for books in English, but I find my favorites are there, and a third reading of Cold Mountain seems to be in order.

Frazier’s book makes me feel a lot of things but the point I want to raise here is simply this: I love to read. I don’t have as much time as I would like to read (or at least I tell myself that I don’t) but reading is very important to me for entertainment as well as for learning.

So now it’s been two months since I got back and I’ve decided what to do here this fall. I’m going to use the blog to talk about books. I’m going to share what I’m reading, good and bad, great or awful. I’m going to talk about the past and the present and maybe the future. I’m going to share my fiction with my readers and the world (or at least a little part of it).

I will continue to share my experiences in Mexico as well (I had my first ever acupuncutre treatment today and I plan to spend a few days in Mexico City over Thanksgiving break). I expect that I still have a lot more to learn while I’m here.

So welcome back, my devoted fans and dedicated readers!  I hope you’ll hang with me for a few posts and let me know what you think of the new direction.

Changing Views

I told myself I had plenty of time to write a post summarizing my year, and here I am on the morning of my flight out of Torreón hurrying to pull some thoughts together.

Here we go.

In work:  During this, my first year teaching a full grade of students two different subjects, planning and teaching and falling on my face and getting up again, I learned how to (sometimes) trust myself instead of (always) looking to others for approval and validation.

In travel: I didn’t travel around in Mexico like I thought I would. I did learn my way around Torreón. I know (thanks to recommendations from coworkers) where to go to get my hair and nails done. I know through my own explorations and help from acquaintances where to go for sushi and pasta and a breakfast of scrambled eggs with dried beef. Thanks to a student, I know where to buy natural skin care products (one of my priorities, along with natural food, which isn’t so easy to find).

In language: I can now order tacos from the taquería around the corner from my house. I know how to tell the UBER or taxi driver how to get to my massage appointments. I can make a pedicure appointment over the phone. I can have a conversation with someone who doesn’t speak English (if they are patient enough) and understand, if not every word, at least the gist of the conversation.

In life: I learned some things about being from the United States (of America) and being from Latin America that do not make me feel good about the current social and political climate—although it’s possible and probable that this is nothing new except to me. I have had the bubble of my innocent illusions painfully punctured by incidents involving and conversations with Latinos.

I’ve laughed and I’ve wept.

Gotta run. It’s time to say “adios” and “hasta luego” to El Norte for the summer.

See you in August.

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Empty Nest

 

I am here at IAH on a Sunday morning, sitting at the departure gate two hours early. I check my Facebook feed for the first time in days and like all the likes. I listen to the pop music coming from the overhead speakers and the clink of glasses and silverware from the restaurant next to the gate.

My youngest child graduated from high school this week.

As I contemplated the approaching event and planned my trip, I felt sure, somewhere in the back of my mind, that, at some point,  I would get emotional.  I even considered the possibility that I might ruin all the graduation fun with tears and maybe some wailing. The week before I left, I did cry quite a lot.

But when I got to Louisiana, and saw the grandson and my children and parents, and spent time eating and talking and swinging on the porch, my grief disappeared. I felt happy and calm.

My mothering journey began forty years ago, almost exactly.  It has involved many ups and downs and many, many twists and turns. It will never end, until I die.

Now, I have officially entered a new phase.

Apparently there is an adjustment period and symptoms associated with this part of parenthood. There is even a name for it: Empty Nest Syndrome.

I don’t think I’m going to have it.

My youngest is independent and self-sufficient. He has already been working for years. He has a plan for his immediate future and he’s taking steps to implement his plan. I am concerned about him and his siblings on many levels, but I am not worrying about them.

I have just started a new career, myself, and I am learning something every single day. I also have plans for my future, and I’m taking steps to implement them.

My nest may be empty, but my life is not.

El Curandero Parte 2

After I had complimented the array of baubles sufficiently, we returned to the dining room to sit.

Thankfully, it was only a few minutes until the doctor came out and said goodbye to the last client.

It was my turn.

I followed her through the short hallway into the treatment room.

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The first thing I saw was a wall of bottles of every size and shape, from olive oil and wine to Jägermeister and Heineken, stacked on shelves with natal charts and books of notes and scrolls containing who knew what.

I knew then that I was in the right place. The anxiety ran out of me like water down a drain.

I said, indicating the shelves,  “Medicina?” and she answered, “Si, todo natural.”

Yep.

She told me to take off my pants and shirt and lie down on the table.

This wasn’t a fancy break-away table like the usual chiropractor’s office has. (I’ve been in a few.) It was a wooden contraption with a thin mattress and a pillow wrapped in a flannel infant receiving blanket.

I didn’t hesitate to do what she asked.

And oh my god she worked me over like I’ve never been done before. She cracked every joint in my body, including my fingers and toes. She told me that most of my problems were on the right side of my body (yes, of course, I already knew that).

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The appointments I’ve had with chiropractors in the past  have lasted an average of ten minutes (excluding the electrical stimulation therapies that were performed by machines). Dr. Martha spent forty minutes with me, exploring, massaging, and folding my body. When she finished, I needed five minutes to recover my equilibrium.

I walked slowly up the street toward El Pereferico. Breakfast was taking place under a tent next to the park. I sat for a few minutes collecting myself  before I opened the UBER app.

Finding what we need to improve our life isn’t fast or easy. There are no quick fixes, even though our consumer-driven culture is continuously telling us the opposite. It takes time and effort and sometimes a few wrong turns to figure it out.

I’ll be seeing the healer again.

El Curandero Parte 1

The witch doctor mixed medicine for me today.

Ok, so she’s not really a witch doctor. She’s only a chiropractor.

She was recommended to me by my yoga instructor, and what with the foot injury and the ear pain, I was really happy to follow up.

The place was a long way from my neighborhood–clear across town, a $90 peso UBER trip, in a neighborhood next to the river. We couldn’t locate the house number from the GPS so I got down and walked around for maybe 15 minutes and called her twice before I finally located the house.

I knocked at the door. Someone opened it and invited me to come in and sit down.

The door opened directly into a room filled with furniture including a huge dining table surrounded by eight imposing chairs. Five or six people sat at the table. There was maybe eighteen inches of space between the chairs and the wall of the adjoining room, and occupying that space were a toddler and a small bicycle.

I considered the invitation to sit.

The elderly man at the table–apparently the grandfather of this abode–beckoned to the child to move, and indicated that I should sit in the chair next to him.

I squeezed past the bicycle and sat.

The women (everyone there was a woman except for el abuelo) chatted. I looked around.

There was a huge side-by-side refrigerator in the corner of the street wall. Against the wall behind the table was a china cabinet filled with knick-knacks and crystal and china, the shelves adorned with crocheted doilies. On top of the china cabinet, matching sets of Tupperware bowls alternated with stacks of covered Pyrex casserole dishes. Cases of juice from Sam’s in boxes and bottles were stacked on a buffet that sat side-by-side with the china cabinet. A contemporary painting of The Last Supper hung on the wall above the sideboard on the third wall above a tiered serving stand loaded with cakes and cookies.

If there had been a clock on the wall (amazingly, amongst all that bric-a-brac, there wasn’t) I would have heard it ticking like the Tell-Tale Heart. Anxiety began to rise from my belly into my chest.

What was I doing? Who had recommended this to me? Had I not thought this through, or what?

I wondered if leaving now would be an unforgivable faux pas.

I remembered my intention to feel all my experiences. Tried to keep my breath even.  A client came out of the back room with the doctor.  The whole group of women except one said their goodbyes and left.

The doctor was a barrel-shaped woman with hair greased and held back with claw clips. She looked at me really strangely, as if she might be thinking, “WTF is this gringa doing in my house?”

She asked who had recommended her. I explained that it was my yoga teacher. She nodded, still staring at me. Then she took the other client with her and left the room.

The child had disappeared. Now it was just me and grandfather.

I looked again at all the stuff. I wondered who cleaned.

After a few moments I said, “Muchas cosas bonitas.”

He said, “You think this is something? Look here!” He got up and pulled aside a curtain, revealing the living room or “el salón.”

He said it in Spanish, but I got it. And holy cow, he was right.

It was a small room, also crammed with furniture and bicycles and a motorized Barbie car. There were figurines and what-nots floor to ceiling with no apparent theme. I saw unicorns and elephants and dolls and photographs in frames. Again I wondered, Who cleans all this?

to be continued 

 

Aesthetics

When I arrived here,  my apartment was so spare; minimal furniture, utensils, and decorations. I felt a bit deprived. I took down all the Catholic iconography except for one in the foyer and I rearranged furniture and changed curtains and brought back posters from Louisiana when I came back from Christmas.

The posters are really cheap specimens but they are prints of Monet’s Water Lilies  and the colors blend beautifully with the walls in my living/guest room.  I used masking tape to stick them to the walls, and wow!  It was such an improvement!

Until the tape let go and the posters slumped onto the furniture.

And so, as I am wont to do, I procrastinated endlessly until I was expecting visitors for spring break, and the decorating situation had become desperate. I found a pretty piece of fabric and cut it to make a cover for the table and bought a flower pot to match. This helped a lot.

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We were all cleaning house one Saturday, and Miss July came upstairs to look at my new curtain and tablecloth. She saw the posters lying on the bed and I told her that I wanted to get frames for them. She said we would go after school this week to a frame shop, and when I asked she said, “No, no!” it wouldn’t be expensive.

So a couple of days later, we went to the frame shop.

It’s in a neighborhood called Lucío Blanco, directly adjoining Torreón Jardin. The shop (tortillería) where Miss July buys tortillas is on the one corner. There’s a gordita stand in the cut-off point of the corner of the building. The street is narrow and shaded with trees. Miss July parked the car in front and we went in.

I was instantly enthralled. The place was open on two sides to the wind and dust. The plaster has fallen from the walls, exposing bricks black with centurial paint. Rock music from the 1970s reached out at me from the boom box.

IMG_4932Frames of every age and shape were stacked and piled everywhere. Layers of dust covered everything.

Including a shadow box labeled  “Texas Pecans.”IMG_4937

Miss July called out “buenas tardes” and the proprietor appeared from the street. He and Miss July haggled a over the options and prices for my frames. I didn’t care that much; I just wanted the posters to stay on the wall. The price ended up being about ten times the original price of the posters.

Whew.

But now, I think it was definitely worth it.

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It’s not fancy. It’s certainly not luxurious. But what I see when I walk into the room now instantly relaxes me. The blue and green and pink colors are soothing. I feel okay about inviting someone in.

It feels like home.

 

 

 

El Gimnasio (the Gym)

The warm weather and thoughts of mornings at Pensacola Beach and evenings on the porch at Landry’s led to the online impulse-buy of a new summer dress. Putting on shorts brought me to the unfortunate realization that my thighs didn’t look so great; in fact, they looked like they should never see the light of day at all. If I was going to actually wear that dress, I needed to do something.

So, while walking around T.J. in the mornings, I decided to do a few sprints to rev up my routine and burn off some of that extra stuff that swimsuits and short skirts reveal, and I pulled that muscle in my foot. You know the one: the one that gives you heel pain.

WebMD says when this happens, you cannot walk or run until it is healed, and that may take 3 months or more.

So I had to find another way to get my cardio. I was thinking I would find a gym and ride a bike for a while, until my foot is better. I hate riding a stationary bike, but what else can I do, if I can’t walk?

So I looked in Facebook (the business directory here) and found a gym near my neighborhood. Their page says you can pay by the week, every two weeks, or by the month. Awesome. I shot them a message and they said, Sure, come on.

When I got there,  I told the young man behind the window who I was and that we had spoken in Facebook.  I said I was going to try it for a week. The young man (let’s call him Ricky) wrote my name down and took my money. The subject of age and health history never came up. I asked if he needed my ID, and he said, No, it was ok; he was going to introduce me to the coach.

The Facebook page had mentioned that with your membership, a trainer came at no extra cost.

So I went in, and Ricky introduced me to Todd.

Good Lord.

Okay, so his name isn’t really Todd, but since all names are being changed to protect the innocent (me), that’s what we’re gonna say it is. He’s a young god over six feet tall with shoulders as big as my refrigerator.

Ricky asked if I speak Spanish, and I answered “un poquito” but I guess he thought that would be enough because, after he told Todd about my foot injury and Todd had asked if my knees are okay, I was turned over to my coach.

Did I mention that I hadn’t been inside a gym for almost a year?

I hadn’t even brought a water bottle.

Todd took me through two upper-body exercises with weights (four sets of twelve reps each) and then started me on the third. I told him that I had not eaten any carbs all day, and I wasn’t up for a whole workout, but he said it didn’t matter because we were working the muscles.

At least, that’s what I thought he said.

He also said that we wouldn’t do the whole-body workout today, only upper body; we would do lower body tomorrow.

I was relieved to hear it.

After the fourth unit of exercise, I went to get some water. The bottle wobbled as I raised it to my mouth. I sat down on a bench.

In a minute, Todd came to find me. He asked if I was dizzy. I said, no, I’m fine. He then led me to the bike. I climbed up and he said, “Thirty minutes.”

He said it in English, so there was no mistaking it.

I said, “I don’t think I can do thirty minutes.”

He asked didn’t I have time, did I need to be somewhere? I said no, I just didn’t think my body had thirty minutes of bike riding in it.

He gave me the lecture about the way cardio burns fat and how it’s necessary to sustain the target heart rate for a minimum amount of time (which I will argue with him about later, but in that moment I had neither the vocabulary nor the strength). I said I could do twenty, with slow/fast intervals. He said, “Twenty-five.”

I just said okay and let him set the timer.

The last stationary bike I was on had a nice big seat. This one had an ordinary little bike seat.

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I did my warm-up at a fair pace.  After that, watching the clock, every two minutes or so I kicked up the speed and gave it all I had for 30-45 seconds.  Soon, jabs from my sciatic nerves had me wiggling around on the pointy little seat. I leaned forward, then straightened up. I gripped the handles to check my heart rate; this took my attention temporarily off the big needles that were stabbing me in the ass. I considered the  possibility that I might not be able to walk out of the place.

After the third interval, I slowed my pace and pedaled until my heart rate was back down below 100.

When twenty minutes had passed, I got off the bike. My glutes felt like something that had been tied into big knots. I looked around for a place to do some stretches but I didn’t see a stretch-friendly spot so I just tottered out onto the street and fell into a taxi.

By the time I got home, I had mostly recovered my breath and the stabbing pains in my butt had subsided.

I wondered what Todd would have for me the next day.

I did want to wear that dress.

 

Sun, Water, and DNA

I love sunshine.  I love water.

The combination of the two equals Heaven to me.

My oldest brother once told me that the Morgan clan originated beside the sea. Our dad was born in Lakeland, Florida. I was born and raised in the piney woods of Louisiana, but wherever I am, I feel the pull of the sea. I go to the Florida Panhandle every chance I get, and I came really close to hopping on a plane for Ft. Lauderdale this week. The thing that stopped me were the three overnights that came with the cheap ticket.

I’m too old for that.

There’s plenty of sun here in El Norte, and last week I found some water.

After that flu in March, it took me a long time to regain my energy. I won’t bore us with details, but recently, I have been feeling like my normal self again. During the break, I have been out in the mornings, walking in Torreón Jardin, after everyone else has gone to work. The jacaranda trees are blooming and the air is fresh and cool early in the morning.

There are other flowers and things blooming, too. Mesquite, and the bougainvillea that blooms constantly here. And cactus.

Torreón Jardin is a big oval, and in the center of the oval are various landscape features. One of these features is an enormous fountain. I stood there, feeling the mist blow over me, soaking the sun and water into me by way of my skin and breath.

Water is water, wherever you find it. All the water on Earth is part of all the rest. Sure, it can be constrained and redirected and mixed with chemicals and bottled and distilled. But it’s still the same water that Earth started with.

Today, I went out onto my little patio and sloshed some water around. Potted up the moss rose and parsley plants I bought yesterday. Swept the mud through the drain pipe. Stretched my legs out to catch some rays.

El Sol felt kind, loving, patient. I relaxed into it.

The sea will wait for me.

Now and Then, Here and There

When I was really young, only a toddler, my dad had this dream of becoming a dairy farmer. So he leased 80 acres of Louisiana piney woods, parked an Airstream trailer on it,  and bought some heifer calves.  Since baby calves take three or four years to grow into milk cows, he needed a job to sustain the place and the family until then, so he drove back and forth to Westlake every day to work and in the evenings and on the weekends he worked clearing the trees and plowing up the ground to uproot the pine knots. He started building a barn out of pine poles and rough lumber and covered it with rolled roofing.

My sister and I were growing fast, and my mom must have been stir-crazy in the trailer, because one day while my dad was gone to work, she moved us and everything else into the barn.

It was a tiny barn. There was a hayloft with wings on either side. The partitions and floor were rough boards that didn’t fit closely.  The area beneath the stairs became the kitchen, with the stove and sink and refrigerator and my great-grandmother’s washstand allowing maybe a square yard of space to walk in. The other side of the bottom floor was our living room. The loft became our sleeping space: my sister and me on one side of the stairs, and my mom and dad on the other side. I slept on the top bunk, and the branches of the pine trees and the clouds and the sky outside the gable window is one of the pictures I see in my earliest memories.

Fast-forward a few years, and I find myself in Mexico, working as a teacher in a private bilingual school. Now and then a group of us foreigners go on tours with a local woman who shares the history of the city with us. On our most recent tour, she took me back home to the barn of my childhood.

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Well, actually, it is the owner-built home and studio of a local artist-architect and it’s in the Mexican desert, but I was stunned by how similar it was to that barn I grew up in.

The street door, or the gate, looked as if it were original to the property. The garden, with citrus trees and beds and pots of desert plants, ran rampant and neglected and delightful, with piles of salvaged tiles sorted by color.  Dogs lounged on the stoop.

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The bare stone walls are against building codes–they’re supposed to be covered with plaster–but this owner/builder likes to see the character and flaws and fossils in the stones. He contested the codes and, after a legal battle, obtained an exception.

The entire upper floor is a studio. Canvases and frames leaned against the walls. Everything was covered with dust. The windows are rectangular openings without screens or glass, some filled in with soda or beer bottles.

The third level is the roof, with more bits of tiles and other building materials waiting to be re-purposed.

In the kitchen under the stairs, a big pan with good-smelling things in it was being tended by our host.

He is a man who can turn his hand to almost anything, apparently; not only does he paint and build houses, he made the quilt on the bed from his old pants, the curtains on the windows downstairs from cotton sacks, and the paella.

I might have been at a relative’s house in Beauregard Parish, or a friend’s house in Lake Charles. The companionship and the food and the hospitality of our host swirled and blended into the kind of refreshment that fills empty spaces in the heart as well as those in the stomach and that is not selective about locale. We stayed at the table for a long time, talking and eating and drinking, and I wasn’t ready to go when the meal ended.

It seems that memories can be evoked by staggeringly unexpected events and places. This artist’s home in this desert town couldn’t be more different architecturally from that rough-sided barn in the Louisiana piney woods, yet it felt profoundly familiar to me. It was as though time and place didn’t exist; as if I were reliving a chapter of my past with a slightly different backdrop.