I Grew Up In A Small Town

“Sucker punch somebody on a sidewalk
Carjack an old lady at a red light
Pull a gun on the owner of a liquor store
Ya think it’s cool, well, act a fool if ya like
Cuss out a cop, spit in his face
Stomp on the flag and light it up
Yeah, ya think you’re tough

Well, try that in a small town
See how far ya make it down the road
‘Round here, we take care of our own
You cross that line, it won’t take long
For you to find out, I recommend you don’t
Try that in a small town.”

— Jason Aldean, “Try That In A Small Town

Yeah, I grew up with the sentiment of that song in a very small town, smaller than the one I live in now is or was at the time of my childhood. It’s an insular way of thinking and one with a very dark side. To the folks espousing it, who are, by the way, always white, it sounds prideful and full of self-determination. But it is really about creating an us-versus-them world. It ripples with threatened violence, this idea of “taking care of our own.” Why else introduce the idea of having a gun? And I don’t believe for a minute that it’s about unity or acceptance because I saw all the evidence a thousand times over in my little town in the middle of Indiana growing up.  I see it here now, in this place that I’ve adopted as home and a place that I love. It’s a small town with a big heart but also with just as much of a troubled past of segregation and bias toward whiteness as any other place across the country, north and south. (The north has always had segregation — it’s just more hidden and subversive.)

Of course Aldean has every right to put his song out there. Maybe it even serves as something good because it sparks a conversation about our troubled country that, while full of freedom and caring for one another, harbors a dark underbelly of prejudice that was there from the beginning when our forefathers owned slaves, a legacy that has not been obliterated with a violent civil war, a Civil Rights movement, or nearly 250 years of independence and supposed freedom. 

Because you have to ask, freedom for who? That commodity is disproportionately unequal among us and always has been. The way of keeping it thus involves a long history of violence, including lynchings, riots, fire bombings, and threats. It also includes a whole host of laws and ordinances meant to keep “those people” from voting, living where they choose, and gaining education. In essence, doing anything to keep them from gaining power. 

We like to think that here in the 21st Century we’ve achieved some sort of color blindness, reached a time where prejudice against our Black brethren is behind us. We prefer to think of it as something in our rear view mirror. However, it is not any more past us than the idea of Fascism, which is very much alive and well in the world despite a world war fought and millions of people killed in the process in order to eradicate it. We need only look at the disproportionate number of Black people harassed while going about their daily lives merely for the fact of being Black. And that there are still active efforts in many parts of the country to curtail their right to vote, to gain a foothold up the economic ladder. No, racism still lives and breathes among us.

Aldean’s song simply makes me sad that we are still, as a people, telling ourselves these self-righteous untruths and foisting them off as a source of pride and brotherly love. His song, while true that it says what many people feel, is the promotion of a sorry myth handed down generation after generation that continues to unbind us and split us into factions of fury and hatred. It promotes a world view that sets one against the other, void of reaching out or any self-examination about the causations of our dysfunction as a society. 

For whatever else is true, one thing is surely obvious. That we are all in this together for the long run, regardless of our skin color, our political beliefs, our circumstances. Telling ourselves a sad story of self-preservation with hidden dogwhistles about race and class only perpetuates our promotion of racism and violence. We are responsible for this path and where we are today. It is not some mysterious Boogieman who has wrought the violence or inequality in our midst. It is us. And we can only overcome these past and present injustices by deep self-reflection and a commitment to a world where violence toward the “other” is anathema to freedom. 

I love the small town where I grew up, but what it did to some of its citizens and the ideas that Aldean’s song promotes sickens me. I long to live in a better, saner, more inclusive and loving place than the world he describes, where my Black neighbors’ lives and prosperity is valued equally with my own.

Remembering Raleigh

Confederate Monument, Raleigh, NC (photo credit: UNC Chapel HIll)

Raleigh, NC was in the news today. About a hundred of their citizens pulled down a couple statues from the Confederate Monument in downtown Raleigh late Saturday night. I watched the video and was amazed that I would ever live to see that. It took me back to 1989 when I moved there for my first permanent job after graduate school and experienced living in the South for the first time.

I remember that group of statues well that held pride of place on the Capital grounds in downtown Raleigh. I used to say that Raleigh lacked a soul, that it was just bits and pieces of a variety of things placed together without cohesion. Its downtown boasted a bank on practically every corner and a church to go along with every one of them. And all those Confederate monuments. At least that’s how I remember it. Before I came to Raleigh I’d never seen Confederate monuments. I certainly came to the right place. They were grouped together around the capital building in a park-like setting, commemorating the Confederate dead and those who worked to preserve the young Confederacy. Or so I thought. I even have a story I’ve told on numerous occasions about those monuments and a friend from Chicago who came to visit me my first summer there. Driving around to show him the city I included the monuments in our tour of downtown. And as we idled in front of one of them, he turned to me with a rather confused look on his face and said, “But we’re not in the South, are we?” I raised my eyebrows and mustered my best shocked Southern accent and told him, “Oh, I wouldn’t let the locals hear you say that, if I were you!”

North Carolina Women of the Confederacy Monument being removed (photo credit: WRAL.com)

But I see today that those monuments have all been taken down, the rest of the job having been accomplished at the order of the North Carolina governor over an abundance of concern for pubic safety, having witnessed the public taking actions in their own hands the night before. Evidently there has been controversy regarding these Confederate monuments in the state’s capitol for years with a growing number of people advocating their removal in light of changing times. For many, they were a blight on their city and state and an all too familiar reminder of the history of slavery and oppression of blacks in North Carolina and throughout the South. However, in 2015, the legislature passed a law protecting the monuments and making it all but impossible to remove them.

Then George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis, and a sea change swept the country from pent-up emotion and centuries of oppression like we have never seen before. Support and outrage not just from African Americans, but also from white people as well. Finally joining in chorus that enough was enough.

On Saturday, law enforcement stood aside as that group of 100 people strung ropes around 2 statues and pulled them from their footing, and dragged them through the streets of downtown, people kicking and shouting at these bronze symbols of the iniquities against them writ large.

Confederate Statue being drug through downtown Raleigh, NC (photo credit: Fairfield Citizen

I used to feel a little smug in knowing that I lived below the Mason-Dickson Line and was well aware of why those statues existed in Raleigh. Yet my knowledge of geography doesn’t excuse my ignorance of the actual particulars of black people’s lives throughout the country and their daily reminder of the racism that still exists in every corner. Nor did it inform me of the real reason those statues were erected in the first place, not only in Raleigh but throughout the country. My life was easy down there and not terribly different than how I grew up in the heartland of Indiana where the few black families in our little town lived on the west side of the railroad tracks in the poorer section of town. Our lives intersected at school and that was about it.

North Carolina Governor’s Mansion (photo credit: free stock photo)

In Raleigh, just east of the palatial governor’s mansion the streets abruptly became residential where a large population of impoverished black people lived in run-down houses, weeds growing up in some yards, and a pall of hopelessness pervaded. It was a strange juxtaposition, to say the least, to experience the grandeur of the governor’s house with the Confederate monuments only blocks away and drive into the heart of a living neighborhood that looked little better than sharecroppers’ shacks.

I still think of that compact neighborhood nestled up against the heart of North Carolina’s capital city. It was such a stark reminder of the nation’s history. People living in the shadows just trying to get by. Where were their monuments, except those that provided a daily reminder of where the country wished to keep them?

Blessing for a Duck

We’ve come a long way here in our country, and the same could probably be said of most of the developed world. It was only a generation ago that our families got most of their meat from the wild or from the domestic animals they raised. Even in my early childhood we raised a few chickens, and I have memories of my grandmother chopping off their heads in preparation of our Sunday dinner. I’m only one generation away from subsistence off the land, which includes butchering your own hogs and chickens for meat, along with shooting the occasional rabbit or squirrel for variety.

Aside from the chickens that were sacrificed in my childhood, I wasn’t raised that way. We went to the grocery, and I learned to buy meat by the way it was marbled and the expiration date on the cellophaned package. My meals arrived neatly, cleanly, magically from the store, and I didn’t have to think about how they got there.

Yes, we are mostly a different society today than what my mother grew up in.

We have new neighbors to our south who have a farm in Livingston County just to the east of here. Brandon loves the openness of their farm there and the wildlife it affords. Wild turkeys and deer spot his fields on a regular basis. He knows their habits and that of the wood ducks and other creatures that abound. He hunts, too. Something of a passion, as I understand it.

Tonight Dave was making dinner and decided to open a bottle of chardonnay to accompany our pork chops. For some reason the cork refused to budge with our little twist-and-pull corkscrew, even with his many attempts. Remembering that I’d loaned our corkscrew to our new neighbors a few weeks previously when they were still without one, having recently moved in, I thought I’d ask for a return favor to use theirs. So I trotted next door and rang the bell. Brandon and Kathleen were both there as was their trusty corkscrew, one of the more powerful types with arms that you press down once it’s inserted.

“Do you guys like duck?” Brandon wanted to know as he popped the cork from my wine bottle. Sure! I said. “Well, I’ve got an extra that I shot today. You can have it if you want.” Without thinking too much I said that would be just dandy, and he headed off out back to retrieve said duck. I kind of expected what he brought back, considering it was a fresh kill from earlier in the day. Upon return he held out an intact — that is, undressed, fully feathered — female mallard duck suspended from her limp neck. She was an adult of fair size and strangely present, is the only way I can describe it. A dangling dead duck seemed unreal, uncongruous from my experiences. Yet, here she was, being offered as an early Christmas gift, all because of my taste for duck.

I reached out and took her in hand. Her neck feathers were soft and luxurious, and her poor head drooped to one side, eyes closed in submission. Her body was cold but still pliant, evidence of her recent loss of life. And I considered her life and what she had given today. I stroked her head, “Poor little duck,” I said. “Thank you for your spirit and for your life.” Kathleen smiled and said she believed that too.

But what to do with her? I mean, I’d never dressed or gutted even a chicken, much less a wild duck. How do you begin? “You’ll have to tell me what to do here, Brandon. After I pluck her, how do I gut her?” All I could think of were her guts and my ineptitude sure to make a mess of things and contaminate the meat. He told me one possibility and then said that I could simply make an incision along the breastbone through her feathers, and then one cross ways at the base and peel back the skin, feathers and all. “Then you just fillet the breast and the tenderloins underneath,” Brandon explained.

To say the least, Dave was nonplussed to see that I’d not only gotten our wine uncorked but had been gifted with a dead wild mallard as well for my efforts. Not wanting to let time take its toll, or lose my resolve, I set to work in our kitchen sink on our little duck. Thinking of Brandon’s instructions, I felt along her breast and found the breastbone running vertically. There I made a cut, with another at its base. My fingers sunk deep into her feathers covering her breast, soft and downy to my touch. They felt more like fur than feathers. I couldn’t help but think how pelt-like they felt, how warm they must have kept her. The skin and feathers peeled away easily and I was able to isolate the breast meat and remove it, not unlike cutting up a whole chicken you buy from a grocery. The difference was that I still had a duck in my sink, and I couldn’t divorce that from the experience. I found my stomach more unruly than I’d have liked. I seemed to be observing what I was doing in a rather detached way. Most assuredly out of necessity.

I had hoped to save a couple of her irridescent teal wing feathers as a reminder and a tribute to her, but they proved too hard to extract. So, I wrapped what was left of her body in a bag and took her out to the trash. I think of my grandmother, my mother, and all my ancestors before who would have found this all an unforgettable part of their day, and more than likely, a reason for celebration of the bounty they were receiving. I haven’t been toughened by their experience, and so I’m left contemplating what I’ve been given and what it means.

It is a bounty still, but I can’t forget the blessing of her life.

The Longest Yard Sale

Can you imagine a continuous yard sale that stretches for 400 miles? That’s a lot of kitsch, to be sure. Kentucky prides itself in this annual event that runs along Route 68 from Paducah in the west to Lebanon on the Ohio River in the northeast. Saturday I decided to see for myself what all the hubbub was about, and so I set off in mid-morning with $70 in my pocket, a bottle of water, and a packed lunch in my cooler. Dave didn’t get to tag along since he was scheduled to work at Lowes during the day shift, much to his disappointment. While it would have been nice to have shared his company on the adventure, I was glad to be out discovering things on my own.

I drove to the start of Route 68 a few miles to the southeast of Paducah and wondered how long I’d have to go before I found the first sale. I hardly had time to get the thought from my head before I saw my first sign and a gaggle of cars perched along the berm. I drove on, thinking it didn’t look that interesting and not wanting to be too eager. Then there was another one before I’d gone a lick down the road, and another. I pulled over to investigate.

Part of the experience, I realized, was determining what your rules of engagement would be. How far did you want to go? What kinds of things were you interested in? Did it matter? Quickly I realized I wasn’t very interested in clothes so I shouldn’t stop at places that had mostly piles and racks of pre-owned faded ware. Ditto for kids’ stuff. Also, I decided that if it wasn’t directly on Route 68 I wasn’t going to bother. So that meant I ignored all yard sale signs directing me down a side road. Only so much time and so much territory to cover, you have to have a battle plan.

I realized I was interested in antique stuff, a broad category. I poked through tables of glassware and decorative items, trying to decide what interested me. Sometimes there wasn’t much to look at, and I wondered why they even bothered to try to sell a lot of what I saw. I’d have simply piled what appeared to me to be the detritus of overflowing households into large garbage bags and set it on the roadside for appropriate disposal. In the castoff Christmas decorations and ghastly faded and crumpled centerpieces I detected determined hope, perhaps misplaced faith, or was it foolishness, that somebody out there would want these pieces of their lives and even maybe need them. I drove on in search of what I might be looking for.

After several stops without much success in finding anything of even mild interest I found a sale in the shaded yard of an old farmhouse with lots of tables filled with interesting glassware, linens, and other fascinating items. There were a variety of antique chairs, desks, and even an old child’s school desk that I briefly considered for use as an interesting lawn seat. Under a tree to the side of the yard was a table with several household items including a small Mexican woven rug for $5 and a hooked rug pillow cover for $8. They were both in good shape and priced incredibly well. The chicken on the pillow cover looked almost identical to the designs the ladies outside of San Miguel make, and I wondered if maybe it was one of theirs that someone was now selling for a song. I felt its charm, and the rug had a good design and neutral enough color to go in Paducah or in our casita in Mexico. I plopped down my $13 for these incredible finds and was back on the hunt for more treasures.

My favorite spots along the way in route to Cadiz where I ended my journey, were large communal sales with several vendors. There were more antiques and more to choose from and usually no clothes or kids’ toys to detour past. At one such place I picked up 8 classic diner coffee cups for $10, reduced from the vendor’s original price of 2 for $10 when she found that I wanted the entire lot. I didn’t even have to break a sweat to get her to cave.

One of the added unexpected pleasures of the day was just getting to experience the people at the yard sales with me. Going from place to place I became privy to bits of conversations among sellers or buyers in the middle of some tale as they poked through the tables of books and broken yard gadgets. “Well, Ah tole him Ah wuddn’t gonna be thar any tahme soon.”?”Ah know’d ” Growing up in central Indiana where the Rs are pressed hard and there’s a harshness to the spoken word, these conversations of Western Kentucky had more twang with the sweet, slow movement of molasses, the vowels rounded and extended. The words became more fluid, more beguiling, more intimate. I found myself leaning into them, enjoying their cadence, savoring their earthiness, and smiled just for getting to listen in on these fleeting conversations even if I wasn’t able to get all the words. You never know what you’ll pick up at a yard sale.


Peace from Central Mexico

A horse at pasture in Alcocer

A horse at pasture in Alcocer

Mexico is a place where the quiet daily routine is practically as old as the mountains behind our house. I watch my neighbor across the rock fence behind us do her laundry by hand and hang it out to dry. The shepherds lead their goats, sheep and cattle every morning to the small lake near our house for a drink before herding them past our front gate to the mountain pastures above. In the evening they return the same way and we get to watch the cooperation between shepherd and dogs as they work the animals, driving them home. Their work is purposeful, yet never hurried. The path is well known by both the animals and the herders so it becomes part of the routine of daily life down here. Watching the comings and goings.

Off to school at dawn

Off to school at dawn

The pigs are a different matter. There aren’t so many, just a handful. Usually a litter born in the spring to a mama sow, who guides her charges up and down the arroyo and parts beyond near our house. They continue to free range until whoever owns them decides they’re ready for market. But until then, we get the pleasure of watching them make their way along, exploring the nooks and crannies for grubs and bugs and whatever pleases them.

I watched a lone horse off and on today make its way around the little lake, grazing grass and weeds. Usually they’re tied somewhere to graze but this one dragged its lead rope around as it meandered from one side of the lake to the other. Part of the time it stood belly deep in the water enjoying the cool, no doubt, and nipping the tender grasses that grow in abundance along the edges of the water. The cattle egrets made their silent way into our valley and swooped out of sight at the far side of the lake. From time to time I was aware of a burro complaining somewhere nearby. A neighbor’s rooster crowed, just because.

A view towards our house across the presita

A view towards our house across the presita

Most of the afternoon I worked on one of the architectural rendering commissions I’m doing right now, listening to “Missouri Sky” by Pat Matheny. Our studio on the second floor is a quiet haven, free of distractions like internet, housework, and television. It looks out on the lake and mountains and all the glorious, peaceful outdoors that tantalizes us, but I guess it’s enough just knowing it’s there that keeps me focused. By 4 o’clock Dave and I were both ready for “tea,” he having worked in our cactus garden and side yard all day, cutting grasses, clearing out weeds, and starting a compost pile. We took our repast up to the roof terrace and settled under the overhanging limbs of the pepper tree at the north end. From there we looked out toward the valley and beyond across which stretch distant fields, the town of La Luz in the mid-distance, and far to the north yet another mountain range, all part of the Sierra Madres that march southward from the border. The sun was bright but the wind made it cool. Soon, the clouds gathered over the mountains just to our south and we were rewarded with a small shower through the sun and a rainbow that stretched from the lake below us to the lower slope of the mountain behind.

Wishing you all peace from Central Mexico.

What of Silence

I can sneeze again. And finally blow my nose. I can pick up something heavier than a gallon of milk. Oh yes, and one more thing. Best of all I can also hear again. This last and best thing is thanks to the wonders of technology by way of a new cochlear implant. All the other things were just nuisances, my restrictions after the surgery. I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ve found you can wait out nuisances but it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s a lot harder to deal with obstacles that threaten your way of life.

I can now say that I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ve experienced hearing loss both gradually and all of a sudden. If I have a choice, quite frankly I prefer the former. It?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s a whole lot more manageable in the long run, allowing you time to prepare and practice and think your way through coping with it. With the failure of my CI last month the loss came on like a gale force, and in fact sounded like one. A huge roaring, screaming wind that threatened to knock my head off if I dared to turn on my processor. There were no hints that something was up, at least not anything to make me believe that my miracle of hearing was about to come to an abrupt halt. I was simply going about my normal day when it suddenly sounded like a motor had been turned on which had no directional clues and kept on so unrelentingly that I silenced it by turning off my processor. When I turned it back on I knew that something was desperately wrong. The noise was no longer a motor but an unbearable screaming rage.

For approximately a week Dave and I mustered forces to deal with this new prospect in our lives. I found that if I weathered the screaming for a few minutes it toned down to a dull roar which I could withstand long enough for some conversation. I even managed to make a few phone calls to arrange an evaluation appointment with an audiologist in Dallas to see what the problem might be. For his part, Dave helped me stay positive with humor, patience and understanding. In the end we made our way to Chicago to meet with my doctor and audiologist as well as a representative from Med El, the manufacturer of my CI, to come to some conclusion about what was happening and what solutions might be available. All three agreed upon seeing me and hearing my descriptions of what was going on with my CI that it had failed and would need to be replaced.

I had always said years ago with my first CI that I would be fine no matter what happened with it. In my new reality of total deafness after receiving my replacement CI that resolution seemed a tad glib. While waiting for activation (that is, getting hooked up to your processor) during my first experience I still had the luxury of some hearing in my non-implanted ear and wore a hearing aid in it. So while my world seemed a little less clear, I still functioned pretty normally. I talked with people, went to work, stayed connected. This time I had no such assistance from my other ear. Its last vestiges of hearing gave way within a year of my first implant. I awaited my activation this time acutely aware of the difference and grieving the loss of my residual hearing as though deserted by a dear friend.

The silence in some ways seemed almost as unbearable as the screaming noise from the failed CI had been. Since Dave and his family, with whom we were staying during my recovery, know little sign language we were forced to communicate through lip reading and writing notes, neither of which prove very satisfactory in following a conversation. I also knew from living with my first CI that when it was turned off I didn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t speak very much. So during that week prior to activation I became not only deaf but also mute, speaking only when asked something or if I had a question. My world turned inward to a terrible degree. My disquiet at this sudden deafness was surprising given my earlier resolve. Evidently things weren?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t so neat and tidy after all. It?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s one thing to say you are fine with deafness but finding your way when thrust into it of a sudden feels like being in a rudderless boat. You are adrift without direction, your connection to the greater world cut from beneath you.

A friend asked if there were something good about the silence. For me there is if the silence is chosen. At night with my processor off I don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t have to endure snoring or dogs barking or other disquieting distractions. In the morning it is nice to go about my routine thinking my own thoughts, free to ease gradually into the noisy world. My week of enforced silence was an endurance test, or perhaps more so, a test of my will. I marveled at my friends who have gone into this silence and accepted it as their life. Most became proficient at sign language, but all have come out the other end as productive, happy people, at peace with where they are. Given time, no doubt that would also be me if I would have to go that route. To get there would require a considerable period of adjustments not only on my part but also that of my family and friends.

Today I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢m experiencing the wonders of sound again. The voice of my husband, friends, family. I talk on the phone and listen to the shrill whistle of a morning bird who frequents our yard. I hear the call and response of lambs and their mothers grazing along the creek just below our casita in Alcocer, the rhythms of jazz on a radio station streamed over our computer. I shop and run errands, managing my transactions in broken Spanish. Life goes back to normal, but it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s with a new perspective. That there are still new twists and turns in my journey of deafness which require adjustments and introspection as to my response to it. I value more the varied choices of my fellow travelers in surmounting the challenges of deafness that threaten to cut off the world. I realize more than ever that my reality is an existence split between silence and sound. And I know the price exacted to achieve a balance between the two. Peace is had not by mourning the loss but by embracing the life that is.

La Vida Dulce

The Instituto Art  Fair - a lively, colorful happening

The Instituto Art Fair – a lively, colorful happening

We’re far from novices anymore at doing art fairs both here in San Miguel and the states. They still take a lot of preparation and forethought in ramping up to the actual event, but we’ve become accustomed to the routine of applying and the inevitable check lists to make sure we have all the aspects of the events under control. There’s a heightened sense of anticipation going into them plus the usual anxiety, but it’s all familiar territory.

I had a different sense, though, in August as we set up our display panels the first day of the Instituto Art Fair. We were in the same spot as the July event so no worries about whether or not we were in the right place. I looked around as we pulled paintings out and began figuring out the best configuration for displaying them. Little by little other artisans began toting their work to their spaces and started the tedious process of getting all in place. The man with the handmade paper wall luminaries was back as our neighbor next to us in the corner along with his wife selling beaded jewelry and embroidered tapestries cattycornered across the aisle. Others, now familiar to us after so many Instituto art fairs, also began arriving – the short, energetic woman from Oaxaca with a single gray braid and crooked smile selling rugs, the two ever-serious young women selling Mexican trinkets, the German lady selling straw hats and Guatemalan scarves, the young man from Veracruz selling his handmade leather-bound notebooks.

The inner courtyard where the fair is held had a sleepy air about it, people quietly going about putting their displays and tables in order. Not a lot of chatter, just some street noise and birds making their morning twitterings as they flitted about looking for their first food of the day. As I made several trips back and forth from the car to fetch things for our set-up I felt the energy of my fellow artists and craftsmen. Less than two years ago I viewed all of these people as part of the exotica that I saw as San Miguel. But with several Instituto fairs under our belt, and becoming part of the routine, I suddenly felt a real connection to the artisan community. Moreover, I felt privileged to be offering my art alongside them.

While a good deal of what is offered by the artisans is produced for the tourist market, there is still real craft evident in much of it. Creativity is part of the fabric of Mexico in general, and so the hand-woven rugs, the beaded bracelets, the sweet, brightly colored paintings on small wooden panels all are reminders of the arts in everyday life here. Some of it is decidedly humble, but nonetheless it offers up the expressions of its people as a small celebration of their lives. Tourists are drawn to the color, the whimsy, the craftsmanship of the items perhaps not in small part because they are made locally by hand. Art of the people which touches us because it is just that, not high or lofty or cerebral. A celebration of the sweets of life.


My day begins usually with my cat, Paintbrush, stepping on my feet and legs to wake me up for her morning ration of canned salmon cat food. I don’t have an alarm clock (or I do, if truth be known, but it doesn’t work. And that’s a whole other blog in itself.). The day begins more slowly than in my work-a-day world past. But there are many things that are missing in my life here in Mexico that I used to take for granted back in the States. Some of those absences have proved a blessing while others, well, I’ve just learned to work around them.

Still it’s amazing when I consider all those things that I used to have that I thought were indispensable and now find were mere conveniences. Such as. There is a TV in our house but it resides in mute fashion in our living room atop the credenza against the one wall without an electrical outlet. It was put there purposely to more conveniently use our electrical sources for our art work tables. We don’t watch TV since we refuse to pay for cable in order to get English-speaking channels. However, I must admit that we’ve belatedly connected the TV to our DVD player (liberated from our storage locker after one of our trips north this year) and strung an extension cord to bring it to life for the occasional DVDs. One must have some sort of enlightened entertainment, after all, if only to carry on up-to-date conversations on the latest releases.

There is no dishwasher in the house. Or at least no mechanical one. Both of us take turns doing the honors by hand after meals. I find it to be contemplative and not that time consuming. Go figure. In cool weather the hot water on my hands is a pleasure, making me feel warm inside.

Walking is a lot easier than trying to drive most places, traffic and the lack of parking spots being what they are in San Miguel. In the time it takes to maneuver through the circuitous routes of one ways streets through Centro in order to find that illusive parking spot, you may as well have walked from home, as your car is likely not to be much closer for the effort.

Voila! I made it! In a Mexican kitchen

Voila! I made it! In a Mexican kitchen

While we do have the use of a washer and a dryer (the latter considered a particular luxury in this land of sunshine) our kitchen is absent many a modern gizmo. There is no blender, food processor, or electric mixer. We slice and dice by hand, and such things as the hefty lime squeezer have been known to be pressed into service as a nutcracker when duty calls.

Which brings me to the lemons. Our gardener, Gabriel, gave us a dozen or more lemons the other week, given to him by a neighbor. Limes are the more common commodity here (we have two trees of different varieties), and so lemons are a real treat. But 12 lemons all at once require that you have some use in mind if you’re not to forfeit them before they shrivel and go bad. Lemonade came to mind, but just as rapidly, that was displaced by visions of lemon pie. Chiffon, to be exact. But having never made one of lemon chiffon I was soon researching wildly on Google for an appropriate recipe. And there I hit a roadblock. No matter the variation, all of the recipes seemed to require either meringue on top or beaten egg whites folded into the filling. I don’t have a mixer, as noted above, in my kitchen. What to do.

A vision, but not lemon

A vision, but not lemon

I do have a stylish black, rather modern-looking whisk, but I dismissed it off-hand as too time-consuming and likely to wear me out before stiff peaks appeared in my egg whites. Still, the idea of a pie would not abate and the lemons were sitting forlornly, if fragrantly, on my counter. What the heck, I decided to give it a go, as the Brits are wont to say, and set about making my lemon chiffon. I creamed the butter and sugar (with fork and knife), added the lemon juice and zest, milk, flour, and egg yolks, and then took up the bowl of whites as my challenge. As I stood with my deep plastic mixing bowl in hand, beating frantically away at the egg whites with my whisk, I suddenly had a long-forgotten memory of my mother doing virtually the same thing in our long-ago kitchen. Except that her whisk was wire, in a shape not unlike a snowshoe, flat like a spoon with loops of wire threaded across the frame. The whisk had belonged to her mother and was the proper tool for beating egg whites in a matter of minutes back in the day. I’d watched my mother work them from their slimy yellowish state to a froth with effortless, efficient strokes, and then magically into white, thick foam, and finally into stiff peaks. This could be done! I’d seen it! How could I have forgotten?

Dove of Peace, Lamb of God  - To Tom

Dove of Peace, Lamb of God – To Tom

Too many conveniences sometimes get in the way of some simple pleasures. We sometimes forget that we don’t need them to have what we want. Like a lemon pie. And doing without can actually give us time to remember many things too long forgotten.

And, yes, the pie (with stiff egg whites!) turned out fine.

Wishes Times Two

Stefanie standing at the threshold...

Stefanie standing at the threshold…

Be careful what you wish for, as they say. That didn’t stop us from wishing for a piece of land in the hopes of building a house here in San Miguel. All came true in due course. And now our wall is going up around the property, looking enough like it belongs on some grand estate to make me wonder who we are. Indeed, that’s probably what our neighbors wonder.

Another part of our dream, another wish really, is to have a home base in Paducah, Kentucky, all the better for staging our art business to parts far and near around the country. We sent our proposal to the Urban Renewal Board last week for their February meeting. If we’ve crossed all our T’s and dotted all our I’s then we’ll have deed in hand for the empty lot we’ve requested. And we’ll have the right to build our second house. The first being our cozy casita down here in San Miguel, scheduled for construction to start within the next month. So what that means is that at some point this year, most likely the midpoint, we’ll have two separate constructions going on simultaneously. The gods must be crazy. Perhaps this is a test of our mettle or maybe it’s meant to be a comparison of the two processes. In San Miguel we’ll be our own contractors, a way of saving money and entirely do-able, we’ve learned, from building the wall. We hope to continue with our crew of five locals from our village of Alcocer when the casita begins. They’re steady, dependable workers and skilled craftsmen to boot. Paducah will be a different story, requiring a builder to do the honors of coordination and running the regulation/inspection gauntlet. We’ve already found our man, an easy-going but businesslike kind of guy who’s not intimidated by long distances and communicating his progress to us via e-mail. This will definitely be the year of the house.

In the meantime, we continue our preparations for art fairs in Florida during the months of February and March. This is our introduction into the Florida art scene and we’re filled with anticipation, though it requires another very long road trip north. Our confirmed schedule to date is as follows:

February 22 … 23, Marco Island Arts & Crafts Fair at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church … Stefanie;
February 25 … 26, The 16th Old Hyde Park Art Festival, Tampa, FL … Dave;
March 11 … 12, Springfest Festival of Fine Arts & Fine Crafts, Holmes Beach, FL … Stefanie

We’re still waiting for confirmation for fairs on the weekends of February 18 … 19 and March 4 … 5. Look for an update of our confirmed schedule on our website homepage.

Both the art business and our home building will require a magnitude of planning in this new year. We’re hoping for smooth sailing but know better than to believe that all will fit so neatly into our plans as scheduled. But we’re crazy enough to give it our best shot and wise enough, we hope, to build a wide margin of flexibility. Stay tuned for more high-flying adventures!

Mixing cement by hand

Mixing cement by hand


Building the rock foundation for the wall

Building the rock foundation for the wall


Dave takes the weekly orders for supplies

Dave takes the weekly orders for supplies

Stefanie enjoys the progress of the project

Stefanie enjoys the progress of the project


The corner castillo being formed

The corner castillo being formed



Buggering On

In a week we will begin our first real exhibition here in Mexico and the third joint show we’ve had together. We’ve busied ourselves over the past month with putting together all the promotional materials … postcards, posters, an article for the Atencion as well as an ad. We found a caterer to pour the wine and refrescas we’ve ordered to be delivered to the gallery from one of the local liquor stores, and we attached labels to our postcards with translations of their copy so that their message is appropriately bilingual. Did I mention we’ve also been painting since we got here in May?

It’s a different story doing the art thing on a full time basis. The show is just one of several balls we have in the air right now. We’re in the midst of applying to about 8 different art fairs in Florida for the months of February and March 2006. That has required us to make slides for most of our new paintings as well as slides and duplicates of our tent and displays of our art. Because we’d never taken slides of the tent with everything displayed, it meant that we had to put up the tent and some of our art work to take slides of both Dave’s and my work separately when we were in McAllen in late August. Texas summer heat made for an early morning start on the task and bucking a not-so-gentle breeze that started up soon after we got things in place. Our to-do lists have expanded and shrunk depending on what next big project has loomed on the horizon.

I don’t mind juggling multiple “balls.” All my past professional life has served me well in that regard. One learns to simultaneously manage a dazzling array of tasks as a nurse, that is if you’re to stay effective. But ferreting out the shows, designing promotional strategies, seeking grant funding all must happen alongside the act of inspiration, the thing that makes and keeps us doing the art in the first place.

I admitted to Dave not so long ago that I had come to realize I hadn’t anticipated that part of being an artist full time. The part that requires that in spite of show rejections, gallery rejections, grant rejections, and low sales I still need to find inspiration. Painting is a breeze when things are coming your way. All that positive feedback by way of sales, acceptance into shows, and other accolades serves as a magical lubricant to the creative juices. I’ve not had the happy experience of this phenomena regularly, but the sporadic sales and elation of getting into a show have always tantalized me with their heady possibilities. But when “no” is the more common phrase one hears it’s easy to get caught up in the questions that buzz around your brain attacking your intensions, your efforts, and finally the work itself. Is it good enough? Will it ever be? Am I up to this? Do I have what it takes?

Being successful as an artist is usually equated with regular sales and consistent acceptance into shows, and most times gallery representation on top of all that. While there may still be rejections from time to time they are fewer and less frequent. For now we’re still struggling to achieve that height. So until then, we keep buggering on, as Churchill and his fellow Englishman are famous for saying. Keeping up the good fight with faith that what we have is more than enough, and that with effort we’ll finally get to that happy place of recognition and all that it entails.