Month: March 2012

A visit to the funeraria…

I am busy getting myself ready to decamp for the States for a couple of weeks, and inevitably we are faced with the reality of my poor mother’s ever-so-slowly deteriorating condition. It is awful to see her lying in bed, blind, incontinent, unable to speak, and with just enough dementia so that she is pretty confused about what is going on when she briefly emerges from her fog. The rest of the time – which is the majority now – she just sleeps. She has the world’s best care and when she is able to speak – just a tiny little whisper – she reassures us that she is not in any pain. So we just wait, and watch, and try to keep her comfortable.

If “something happens” to her (what a weird euphemism for “death”) Arnold will be left having to deal with the arrangements, at least till my sister and I can get back here. So I got in touch with the funeral home that handled the arrangements for my father a year ago. I said “I’m leaving town, what documents will you need from us in case “something happens” to my mother.  The owner of the funeral home reminded me of what I needed to bring (passport, some other items) and I said I’d run them over to her today, so I gathered it all up, stuck it in an envelope with a cover letter, and off I went into town.

I parked and walked a few blocks to the funeraria and when I went in, there was an entire family – maybe eight people – clustered around the various coffins on display – the kids running everywhere and playing. They were picking out a coffin and making arrangements about someone – but they were either very happy this person had finally croaked or they were just – well – evincing the Mexican attitude toward death, which is so different from our own. It’s destino, when it’s your time, it’s your time, and that’s kind of IT. In any event, there was much laughter, much chattering back and forth, much tsk-tsking of the little kids for being too irreverent darting around the stacked coffins. After I walked in and waited for a few seconds, the owner stopped her conversation with the bereaved family, and ran over to greet me when she saw me, throwing her arms around me and welcoming me into the shop. No black suits and white boutonnieres here; the funeral director herself was clad in skin tight white short shorts (it WAS a bit warm out today!) a hoodie, a baseball cap with her long ponytail sticking out the back, and pink sneakers. Her niños were hanging out in there too, running around with the bereaved family’s kids.

I handed her all the documents and she said “This is all fine, this will make the whole process very simple when the time comes. Don’t worry, Señora Jillian, we’ll take care of everything.” Which I know she will; while everything was definitely “a la Mexicana”, they were a model of efficiency when my dad died. He would have howled with laughter at the slightly bashed-up white hearse (with angels painted on the back) that took him off to the crematorium in Guadalajara. And the two older sons – in jeans and t-shirts – that loaded him –with as much solemnity as two teenagers could muster – onto the stretcher and into the back of the hearse. Mexico is a never-ending “take your child to work day” sort of place. But they were indeed prompt and efficient and respectful. It is a family business and those boys will be the directors themselves one day, I’m sure. Unless they go the way of much of the Mexican middle class and become doctors or lawyers. But maybe not. After all, the family owns a completely recession-proof business, which is probably a good thing in these crazy times.

A Little Breather….

It’s been pretty quiet narco-wise and crime-wise for the last few days, ever since the narcobloqueo in Guadalajara where all the streets were blockaded and buses burned as a sort of commentary and communiqué from the cartel guys on the capture of one of their big capos a few days ago. They even left apology letters around town, sorry for the horrific traffic mess and the burned buses and all, we just wanted you folks out there to know how we felt about this whole arrest-of-our-leader thing. One could just laugh except that two people died, including one of the drivers of the municipal buses they burned. It’s pretty surreal.

But after staying close to home for a couple of days “just in case” something weird happened in our neck of the woods, an hour away from the city, I poked my head out of my paranoid shell long enough to realize that it is breathtakingly beautiful here now, our garden is resplendent and Carlos, the gardener, has planted a bunch of new seedlings that have “taken” which of course they never would have back in our old life in Santa Fe. I had thrown some tomato peels into our compost pile – I guess there were stray seeds in them – because now we have two or three strapping, healthy tomato plants growing! In fact reports are that Santa Fe is still very windy and cold. Our biggest debate here is whether or not we should sleep with both bedroom windows open or just one of them. Rosa and I folded up the winter blanket and stored it in its box till the fall. Happy equinox!

Arnold has survived his skin cancer surgery – the biopsies came back negative gracias a dios – and it looks like his forehead is going to heal up very nicely; America is back in her ballet classes again after a short break; Sofia got over the awful flu she had and is back in school.  I reorganized my bathroom drawers so all my makeup is easier to find, put the winter clothes in the back of the closet and found the box where the bathing suits are. Somehow life is going on despite the two big elephants in the room; the ongoing drug wars and the ever-closer presence of the narcos to our little paradise here; and the steady decline of my poor mother, who just fails ever-so-slightly every week with no end in sight. We are taking turns traveling now because one of us probably needs to be here in case we get “the call” – so I am heading up to Los Angeles next week for a bit of a break, to be with my sister and have some retail therapy and other fun with the family and friends. Arnold will stay here and hold down the fort with Reina and the kitties till I get back.

A big tradition here for is “Primavera” – Spring – where the schools all put on festivals and the little kids all dress up as animals, bugs, flowers, bees. Just adorable. Carlos’ pre-school is putting on their festival this Friday and he is going to be a sheep. How cute will that be? The little girls are all going to be cows, or so we have been told, and the older kids will be farmers. They are all busy working on their costumes. As part of the festivities each child was asked by the teacher to give a report on what his/her favorite animal was. Gaby (Rosa’s middle daughter and Carlos’ mom) asked him which animal he was going to pick – Kitten?  Doggie? No, said Carlos, “la girafa” – the giraffe. Where he got that idea no one knows but he is looking for pictures of giraffes and is working on his report. We think we should make a plan to take him to the Guadalajara zoo so he can see a REAL giraffe, one of these days.

We went out tonight with friends and the restaurant fixed a bathtub-sized margarita which I could barely lift, let alone drink! And I was REALLY BAD and ate a tortilla, on top of the margarita. Oh well! You can’t be perfect all the time. Can a margarita and one tortilla make you regain seventy pounds?

Not So Aerobic…

Today was a “domestic duty” day; spent the day waiting for various repair people which is a common thing everywhere, I suppose, but the WAITING part is especially big here in Mexico. First the alarm people were supposed to come and they actually – mirabile dictu– did what they said they were going to do and showed up mas-o-menos on time to service our alarm. Then my next job was to wait for the stove repair guys to fix my oven which has been AWOL for six weeks. It’s good that I am on a low carb diet because ain’t nothin’ gonna get baked in THAT oven. It went nuts without any prodding from me; decided it wanted to clean itself but after it locked its door it blew its internal circuitry up completely so it is not only completely locked but dead as a doornail. Parts had to be specially ordered for it. I spent the whole day hanging around waiting for the repair crew who kept saying they were on their way; but when they finally did show up, around 5, they said they just wanted to drop the parts OFF but they would be back tomorrow to actually do the work. The logic escapes me but they did come all the way from Guadalajara so maybe they just wanted to get back before the traffic got too insane. So I get to wait for them again mañana.

It’s okay, I don’t really mind. It is gorgeous in our garden and it’s warming up, and one is retired, after all. It’s not like I took time off work to wait for them. And it gave me time to do one little task I thought might help me with the workout routine – I gather from my exercise book that I am supposed to go through all these weightlifting exercises in a circuit, racing like mad from one to the other to keep my heart rate up. That would be fine except I really do forget where I am in the whole process and by the time I sort out which exercise, how many reps, check my “form” in the mirror and put something back down on the book so it doesn’t flop around and lose my place as I pick up where I left off, my heart rate has most assuredly gone back down. Not so aerobic. So I made lists and copied the pictures of the impossibly thin and fit smiling young gym rats doing these exercises and I can keep them in front of me, in order, while I’m doing the workout so I don’t leave anything out. Hopefully it will help.

Meanwhile I have been going through some old family photos – listening to Mahler’s 2nd on the radio, which is always perfect but especially so for gazing at photos of deceased-and-nearly deceased parents who were complicated and difficult at times but whom you still loved. Seeing the pictures of my parents (and us!) on one of our trips to Europe – Bayreuth, actually, to see the opera – all dressed up in our fancy duds and having a great time – is hard. There are wonderful pictures of all of us eating all sorts of pasta in Italy, my parents sitting together on a bench under a tree at Wahnfried, Wagner’s house, and pictures of Arnold and me – much younger too, obviously.  The twisted thing in my mind is that I get it that my parents look young and in their prime, Arnold looks young and in HIS prime, resplendent in his tuxedo, and I look, well,…..WORSE than I do how. Huh? As they say, I hate it when that happens.

And who could have predicted, back then, how all this would come to an end – or at least how my parents’ lives would end. In my most financial-planner-who-catastrophizes-everything mode, we’re gonna go broke, we’ll be homeless unless we fund those IRA’s, etc. etc., even I never imagined that my dad would suffer whatever dementia finally killed him after years of mystifying decline, and my mother now blind, bedridden, incontinent, unable to speak. Honestly, it is beyond horrible to live with the reality of it every day and there is nothing, absolutely nothing, we could or would have done differently. With my father’s death last year and my mother for all intents and purposes a vegetable now (albeit a superbly tended vegetable – she has the best care in the world), the outcome, at least thus far, makes you wonder what the point of all of it is. Of course listening to Mahler may or may not help this mood I’m in. But there you have it.

On a more practical level, though, in the simplest terms, watching both of them decline has made me feel more strongly than ever that whatever you can do to fight “senectud” and decay off, you really ought to do. Or at least give it the old college try. So I got up early and did my workout and now I will have my little homemade guide to the exercises before me to make sure I don’t mess up. One thing about those old photos is that they included a bunch of the “old” me and while I know I must have weighed that much, from my vantage point now, decades later, it doesn’t seem quite possible. But I guess as they say, photos don’t lie. In more recent photos I look much better, except that now I’ve got wrinkles everywhere, including, of course, where the weight has come off. I’m dying my hair now (have done the gray thing and I just don’t feel like MYSELF with gray hair, at least not yet!) and my eyesight isn’t what it used to be; I’m not thrilled about night driving any more, either.  I bet every woman who loses a lot of weight in her fifties or sixties feels like she somehow was robbed of some part of her youth, when she could have felt prettier, sparklier, sexier, whatever, but she was in a place where for whatever reason, she wasn’t ready or able to deal with the whole thing, so time goes by and before you know it you are in your 60’s or your 70’s and the reasons for losing weight are much more about keeping yourself alive and hopefully pain-free than fitting into those Calvins. I missed the whole Calvins thing big-time. Rats.

What a colossal waste.

Adios Thirty Kilos

Me and Mom in Venice 1993

The good news about this photo: I’m in a gondola in Venice with my mother. The bad news:  At that point I weighed close to 200 lbs.

I’ve had a “weight problem” ever since I can remember. Growing up in Los Angeles in the ‘fifties and ‘sixties, with a dad who worked in television, meant that no matter how thin I got (and I tried Weight Watchers, fasting, amphetamines, and everything in between), I was never thin enough. I was never going to be long-limbed and blond; I could go down to Malibu beach and watch the surfer girls ride the waves and listen to the Beach Boys all I wanted, but I could not turn myself into one of those mysterious creatures.  Of course I knew that on many levels, I didn’t actually WANT to be one of them, but I envied their ease with their bodies, their strength, their tiny bikinis, their tans, how easily they fit into the prevailing ideal for California Girl Beauty. The fact that even at fifteen, I was an intellectual whose most physical activity was pawing through the classical music bins at our local record store, never stopped me from wishing I could be like “them”.  Ongoing pressure from my parents about my weight didn’t help. They were sure no one would marry me (someone did) and that I’d be crippled in my attempts to find a good career (I wasn’t). They had my best interests at heart, but their “concern” about every morsel I put into my mouth and my size made my teenage and college years not-so-much fun, a struggle dominated by endless diets and pills and self-hatred.

By the time I hit my fifties, I, who am five feet tall on a good day, found myself weighing nearly 200 pounds. My grandmother and aunt died of complications from diabetes, my mother developed it too. But still I was blocked about what I could do that might actually work and not destroy my health, and became hopelessly stuck after a scary ride on fen-phen. But somehow, a few years ago, I was able to approach the massive project of taking it off with some strength and commitment. Bit by bit I have slogged away at it, with  several “vacations” from the journey caused by horrific stresses in my personal and professional life. Despite the “time-outs”, with perseverance and a lot of experimentation, I have managed to drop close to 70 pounds by now. I still have a way to go but the worst of it is over. Of course people want to know how I have done it, but there hasn’t been any specific formula or program; it’s been my own weird variations on Dr. Atkins, Paleo, the Primal Blueprint, and being patient with many plateaus and stops and starts along the way.  Thus far, I have managed to bash my way from size 20 pants down to 10 petites, and there is no denying how much fun I have had – pobrecita! – HAVING to replace every single item in my closet – down to the underwear – with stuff I can fit into now. And normal sizes! Shopping in the regular sizes – what a blast!

But now I am in the “you’d better add exercise” phase because my skin is hanging off me in places, and at age 65 I was starting to have some of the aches and pains that plague so many people “our” age. It’s great that we can get a 50% discount on bus tickets with our “senectud/Third Age” old age cards from the Mexican government, but it IS sort of a memento mori to have been able to apply for them. Climbing up stairs was starting to hurt, my back was starting to hurt, all that stuff. Arnold also said he wanted to do something so we began working out with a personal trainer three times a week. But our trainer loves to travel, so I figured that I’d better just bash myself over the head (counts as exercise!) and put together a routine I can do by myself if/when he nips off for a week or two. My sister treated me to some dumbbells while she was here last week and I bought some ankle weights and a barbell and now I’m trying to decipher the worldview of the person who actually USES this stuff and works out a few times a week.

It’s all trial and error. If you read books (of course I have an intellectual’s approach to all this, spending weeks READING about it before I would actually do anything, god help us, physical) some of them say “a 65 year old can do just about anything a 35 year old can do” but there are also books and websites that say “over 65 you have to be really careful” and everything in between. Who knows? I guess you have to be your own lab rat. So far I have indeed been cautious, as I’ve gotten injured on these physical fitness forays in the past and I do have any aging person’s share of leftover weird stuff from having been rear-ended a few times, bad feet and a wrecked ankle, bouts with sciatica, and so forth.

But our trainer got us going with very light weights and neither of us got injured or horribly stiff as we edged sideways, sort of crablike, into our little beginner’s fitness regimens. But now I’m ready for more.  My original “fitness goal” of being able to lift my heavy Kitchenaid stand mixer out of its lower cabinet up onto the counter with ease has been met. Where do I go from here? Ironically, pretty much the only thing I used the Kitchenaid for was baking or making mashed potatoes with its cool balloon whip attachment, and that’s been long thrown out the window on a low carb diet, so I may as well replace THAT object-to-lift with something else. Enter the barbell.

So I spent last evening working on an exercise chart, how many reps and sets of which exercise (here is where the “senectud” comes in, I lose count along the way).  I am going to try for four or five circuit workouts a week using a tattered old Gold’s Gym weightlifting book from the 70’s (have had it for years) as my guide. I figure they ought to know about this stuff and that book seems as good as any.

Wish me luck!


Hunkering down, I guess

After a busy day running all my domestic errands came home, and checked the news…. turns out there were narcoblockades today all over Guadalajara’s main roads, blocking traffic in and out of the city with burning vehicles, even some sort of incident on the carretera to Chapala not too far from where we live.  Supposedly the federales just arrested two guys who worked — fairly high up in the structure, one gathers — for Chapo and this madness today was the cartels’ revenge. They blockaded every artery going into or out of the city. The folks who analyze these things say “this is their way of waving a red flag in front of a bull, saying to the government, “See, we can shut down the second largest city in Mexico in a matter of hours, don’t mess with us…” Glad I wasn’t in town today! I feel sorry for the people who did go in for some reason or another. No expat hurt or assaulted or anything like that, but it’s so stressful having to deal with it when these things happen; the expat webboards are lit up with what’s going on and rumors are flying. We’re an hour away from Guadalajara and we don’t go often (Costco runs mostly), but when we do, we have to take one of the main highways in, and both the roads we customarily take had various incidents this afternoon. It IS getting worse here, but as Arnold says “okay, great, but what are we supposed to do?” Our lives are here now, at least for the moment, and mostly it’s beautiful, warm and tranquil. But not today.

We are supposed to go to a cocktail party tomorrow night, but at right now I’m thinking maybe I don’t want to be out on the main drag into the village after dark till things settle down.  Fortunately I did all my shopping today and we have enough in the house so I can enjoy the garden and the gorgeous weather, which has suddenly turned warm after a couple of cold spells. As part of my ongoing battle to manage my weight and attain some degree of physical fitness, I recently bought some weights and took out some dog-eared “weight training for senior women” books from the local English-language library. With our personal trainer gone on a three-week cruise with his partner, I’m bound and determined not to lose ground while he is away. So perhaps I will spend the weekend flailing around with an exercise book in one hand and a dumbbell in the other trying to figure out what I’m supposed to do. It’s so much easier when someone says “go to this machine and do so many sets and so many reps” — and you go into this mindless place where you just obey and get your hour workout over with. When you are trying to figure it out for yourself, you have to figure out which limbs you’ve moved and which you haven’t and all that. No wonder I never could get the exercise thing happening until I saw my mother go blind and become permanently bedridden from diabetes. That has made it crystal clear that I may flail around and maybe do some things not-quite-correctly, but flail, in some form or fashion, I must. Maybe this will occupy my attention till the news from the outside world is a little less disturbing, if it ever will be again in my lifetime.

It’s March, when it always starts to warm up around here. We have oranges on our tree, tons of bananas, limones, and we even have a mango tree too – usually the worms and the tlacuaches (opossums) get them before we do, but now I am wondering if I should go out to the garden and see if ours are ready….

A Week of Sun ‘n’ Surf…

Back home after a sunny, warm week in Puerto Vallarta – a five and a half hour bus ride for us, first through the scuzzy, graffiti’d outskirts of Guadalajara, then on through the agave fields of Jalisco (with a nod to Puccini and Fanciulla del West, Tequila per Tutti!) and then descending through the jungles of Nayarit to the coast. A lot of people say they get a bit of motion sickness on the bus and I can see why! The last (or first) part of it as you go through the mountains is pretty intense. But Aeromexico wanted eight hundred bucks for Arnold and me to fly (a lot of dough for a forty-minute flight!) and with our Mexican “senior discount” cards the bus price was about twenty bucks each way! We said we’d take the bus and save our money for playing once we got there. The tickets have a place on them where it says what class of passenger you are (adult, child, etc) and ours said “Senectud” since we’d purchased them with our “third age” cards – I thought the implication of senility about described it.

Anyway it was a lot of fun spending time with my sister Wendy, who met us there after a couple of grueling weeks’ work back in the States. We all were ready to decompress from various and sundry stressful things in our lives, most notably the ongoing and agonizingly slow decline of our mother, who is now blind, incontinent, and permanently bedridden. More on all that in another post I am sure, but the big news of the day in Puerto Vallarta was that 22 tourists on a bus tour  had been robbed at gunpoint and all of a sudden now even Puerto Vallarta is on the list of places it’s not safe for Americans to visit. So the poor Mexican economy will take it on the chin again, we are afraid. We feel perfectly safe there, as do lots of other people. Everyone says tourism is down but we sure saw a lot of people wandering along the malecon by the sea, shopping bags in hand. And at the resort where we stayed (we go every year), admittedly we didn’t see the numbers of folks that we have seen before all the cartel stuff started, but there were enough people in town so that one wanted reservations for dinner at the favorite places. Interestingly, this year we saw many more Mexicans vacationing there with their families than before. They say that’s who’s buying up real estate here around Lake Chapala, too….not retiring expats as everyone had expected a few years ago, but Mexicans. Some of them escaping the horrific stress of the northern cities, but some of them just wanting a nice “casa de campo” by the water in our pretty village.

The three of us enjoyed the beautiful weather and the warm pool and being waited on hand and fist and then came back here to discover that spring is springing here, too. No horrid crimes in any of the newspapers (except even our local weekly reported on the robbery in Puerto Vallarta, of course) so a bit of reprieve from the ongoing tension there. The jacaranda trees along the carretera are coming out in brilliant purple and this evening Arnold invited me to sit out with him on our terrace for awhile – the first time it’s been warm enough in the evenings to do that since – well, last fall. The white roses in our garden look stunning, almost illuminated from within, in the twilight, and the hummingbirds are definitely coming back already. The kitties and Reina the Purebred Mexican Street Dog were happy to have us home and there was much purring, licking and tail-wagging and such.

Now, back to reality, alas!  We can remind ourselves of how terrible PV was by watching the attached video of the view from our balcony. Can’t wait till we get to go back!