Sunday, February 8, 2015

Sweet Emily

Oh, a hard post to write.  When you move away from the family and friends that are so important to you, there’s always a thought in your head that you won’t be there when you are needed.  Of course, it’s hard to live your life in fear of the “what ifs”, but there are sometimes you just want to be home.

This is one of them.

Matt’s oldest daughter, Emily, has led a painful life.  Although extremely intelligent, hard working, sensitive and caring, she also battled depression and her own  self esteem.  These battles led her into a life that was both dangerous and heart breaking.  Drugs, alcohol, reckless behavior, volatile relationships – these were a way of life for her for most of the last few years.  Everything seemed to come to a head last July.  She was in an accident that caused a serious brain injury.  She underwent  brain surgery and months of rehabilitation and then was released about four months ago to her own home. 

Emily and her Grandpa

She felt this was a fresh start.  She realized how lucky she was to be alive and she was determined to improve her life.  She joined AA, sought the counseling that she had needed for so long, and worked so hard to mend relationships with her family and friends.  She seemed to be doing all this.  But sometimes your past life just seems to catch up with you.

A few weeks ago Emily slipped into a severe depression.  Then she suffered a seizure one week ago.  I feared she had slipped back into old habits, but Matt felt very sure that this was not a result of abuse, but rather an aftermath of her old injuries.  Matt talked with Emily almost every day since her July injury.  Before that injury, there were many times he’d call and she wouldn’t answer.  But now, she’d answer his calls and they would have long conversations almost every day.  There were a few days that she would be in a funk and not answer.  But he could always follow her activity on Facebook, and know she was ok.

They talked on Thursday and she was still very depressed.  It was a hard conversation for him.   She didn’t answer his calls on Friday and there was no Facebook activity.  Saturday she still didn’t answer his calls and hadn’t checked in with Facebook.  Saturday morning he knew that something was wrong.  He already felt a deep sense of loss.  He called his brother Saturday afternoon and asked him to check on Emily.  When she didn’t answer the door, they called the police to do a welfare check – and found what Matt had feared.  Emily had died; she was all alone except for her two dogs that she loved so much.

My thoughts about the cause of part of the pain Emily dealt with was that she cared too much.  She wanted everything well and right for all she loved, and of course she couldn’t make that happen.  As a result she seemed to withdraw into her own private darkness.

Matt has asked repeatedly since finding out that Emily is gone, “What do I do now.  What do you do when it’s your child?”.  I don’t know what to say.  I do know that despite the miles that have separated him from Emily for the past two and a half years, in some ways he has been closer to Emily than he had been for most of her adult life.  Their long heart to heart talks were a lifeline for them both.  When I would over hear parts of those conversations, I always was amazed at the patience he showed during her bad days.  These were not easy conversations, but he knew how important it was to show her how much he loved and cared for her.

And despite the dangerous life Emily had lived, it seems that her death was of natural causes.  There were no signs of drugs or alcohol in the house; it is likely she suffered another seizure. 

And I know this sounds corny, but in August 2013 a friend and former co-worker of mine was killed in a car accident.  The morning she died, I went to work at my dog Ranch and I saw this incredible butterfly fluttering around.  I had never seen one like it before or since.  It was vibrant yellow with dramatic black markings.  It was just like my friend, loud and striking.  Yesterday while we were tensely waiting for the police to get into Emily’s house, I was looking out at our garden and I saw a butterfly like I had never seen before.  This one was a soft green color, no markings, just simple yet beautiful.  Just like Emily.  That’s when I knew in my heart that she was gone.

So what every parent fears most has hit our little casa here in Mexico.  Matt will go back to Kansas City soon to offer and receive support from his family and friends.  And then he’ll return to Mexico, and we’ll continue our life.  But I know that Emily will always be in his heart.

Two weeks ago, Matt shared this video on Facebook:  

After viewing this, Emily posted this to Matt:   I'm crying my eyes out. I don't know if it was taken the same way by both of us, but the next time you come to Kansas City you'll see that hearing the same advice and being blessed with such an amazing family will have finally changed me in a way that won't hurt you any more. I love you Dad.

See, I told you what a big heart this young woman had!  Well Emily did show her dad how much she had changed; but unfortunately they weren’t able to share that change together. 

Love you Emily, you did make an impact on many lives.  I hope your sweet soul is finally happy and at peace.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Loss of a Buen Amigo

We live in a community that is populated by many retired expats.   As a result, most of our friends are older than us.....some by a few years, some by a few decades.  We make a point of seeking out friends here solely for one reason:  we enjoy their company.  The complainers, the pessimists, the selfish just don't make the cut.  All of our friends are caring and giving....and just fun to be around.

One of our friends we met in the summer of 2013 when we were first here was Dryden.  By far our oldest friend, he was a mere 90 years old then and not in the best of health (which probably goes without saying) but was he ever a joy to spend time with!  We didn't agree at all on our politics so it was important that we tread lightly in that area, but anything else we could talk about.  Dryden was in the Air Force in his early twenties and spent some time in the Kansas City area then.  He still vividly recalled his favorite places in our home town and often talked of the Plaza and the beautiful homes on Meyer Boulevard.  When we were planning to drive from Ajijic to Kansas City at the end of that summer, he recommended the best boarder crossing for us and gave us a detailed overview of what we'd find at that crossing - even though it had been many years since he'd made the trip himself.  But the best part of spending time with Dryden was his stories of the experiences he and Gudrun shared.   It seems Dryden came from a very well established and comfortable east coast family.  His first marriage seemed to be the expected one.  But then he divorced and later met Gudrun, the unconventional and very memorable woman that would be his wife through the end.  Gudrun doesn't care about expensive clothing, and she cuts her own hair.  She doesn't have time to be bothered with trips to the spa for manis and pedis, but she somehow always manages to look beautiful.  She is passionate about her causes and is not above ruffling some feathers if someone gets in her way.  The stories he told of their experiences always entertained us, made us laugh and endeared him to us.  And she and Dryden led a wonderful, adventurous and non-traditional life until he took his last breath on January 14th - one month shy of his 92nd birthday.  When he died, Gudrun found the napkin that she'd given Dryden with her name and phone number on it at their first meeting.  He'd recognized the significance of that encounter, and saved this napkin the rest of his life.

Matt and I were fortunate to have dinner with them a week before he died.  It was difficult for Dryden to go out by then, so we took dinner to them.  Dryden was a joy as always, his appetite was good and he had a couple glasses of his favorite red wine.  He started to broach the subject of the 2016 elections with us, and Matt had to warn him off.  So he just changed the subject and moved on.  We are so glad we had that last evening with him and Gudrun.  Now that he's gone, it seems the women who know him talk about his kindness and gentleness.  The men who knew him say he reminded them of their fathers (or sometimes the fathers they wish they'd had).

Nacho, Syd & Dryden
Dryden & Gudrun
My son Ryan says that our little community here reminds him of the Island of Misfit Toys....for old people.  Well, maybe so.  We all get a bit more eccentric as we age.  We care less about what is expected of us, and more about what is important to us.  And probably the most eccentric of us all, pack up our things and move away to a find a life that fits us just a little better than the one we'd had.  So no apologies there.  And what a privilege to come to a place where we easily meet so many people that help fill our lives with smiles, laughter, a sense of purpose....and sometimes just a little too much wine.  That's what Dryden gave us, rest in peace sweet man.

Monday, December 29, 2014

A Traditional American Passtime in Mexico and a VERY Mexican Tradition

So there's a new baseball team in Guadalajara!  The Charros started playing here in the fall in and old stadium that was used for the Pan-Am games a few years ago.  We rented a van and went to one of the games a few weeks ago!  What fun!

The Charro team is comprised of players who can't make it in the MLB, would like to make it in the MLB and a few MLB players who are honing their skills in the winter.  The stadium is small and feels very intimate.  The refreshment choices are crazy:  beer, micheladas or margaritas to drink.  To eat you can choose from hot dogs, tacos, corn dogs, pizza or tortas.  There's also ice cream and pop corn.  In many ways, it was very much like a baseball game NOB, but with some crazy mascots.  I especially loved the gorilla who salsa danced in the field. And every time the Charros got one of the players on the opposing team out, the crowd yelled "Si Senor".

Matt and his Tecate girl!

Matt watching the game!

So, for our very Mexican experience.  On Christmas Eve we went with Kathleen and Vern to the nearby village of San Antonio to participate in a posada.  I'm sure I don't completely understand this tradition, but I know it plays out in the streets of nearly every village each night for the week before Christmas.  Groups of children are led by a priest and other adults through the village singing songs and seeking a place at an inn, just as Mary and Joseph did.  The priest and few others are dressed as angels, with large feathered wings.  While many in the procession were dressed in traditional biblical costumes, we also noticed several devils in the group.  Since we didn't recall devils being part of the original Christmas, we asked one of the participants.  He said, no, they weren't part of the story depicted in the bible but they were very traditional for Mexican posadas.  They respresent the struggle between good and evil.  Different families in the village participate by setting up a diorama in the front of their home depicting a Christmas scene, mostly manager scenes.  By at each home, the children are turned away.....until the very last home they visit on Christmas eve where they are welcomed.  In many of the manger scenes the families use a live baby.  This was a very sweet experience and a great way to spend Christmas eve.  Each night, at the end of the posada the children are lead to the church where they line up in front of the closed doors of the church.  There they sing another song and then the doors to the church are opened, where the pews are already filled with the adults from the village.  They stay for mass, and then most go to a family or friends home afterwards for a traditional Mexican meal.  

The processing starts to line up, the priest is the one with the wings

Devils, angels and a wise man get organized

A wise man on horseback

The girl with the staff helps keep the children together

The scene at the first house where we stopped

The children participating in the dioramas were frozen and didn't acknowledge the crowd, even these little ones

Three wise men

Finally, the children were welcomed 

Ready to enter the church
For Christmas dinner we went to a friend's home and had a wonderful meal.  It was a beautiful day, and here's the proof.  A picture of the Christmas day sunset over Lake Chapala.

And better late than's some photos from our Thanksgiving dinner at Vickie's and JC's.  I felt very blessed that my sister Sue was here for Thanksgiving, and this year she didn't have to cook dinner for me! The holidays were wonderful here, but ready to get back to normal.

Girl talk
Sue and I with JC
more girl alk
Matt with the guys.  Look, he actually had to wear jeans that day!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Both Sides of Mexico

We love it here.  I think that's obvious from all our post.  So first I'm starting with all the wonderful adventures we've had this past month.

Halloween in Mexico - I guess it really wasn't much of a holiday here until the gringos came.  But these little Mexican kids are smart, so they decided to capitalize on an opportunity to get more candy.  The kids, with their parents, hit the street about 6:00.  Seems that most were dressed as vampires but we had a few little Elsa's in there as well.  I was walking the dogs when they first started their trick or treating.  Every group that saw me would holler out "Happy Halloween!"  Evidently they were well coached in that little bit of English.

For the last few years, the gringos in Ajijic have participated in the world-wide Thriller dance.  From different locations throughout the world, people dress in their best zombie attire and the groups perform at the exact same time.  Seems to be very popular here in Ajijic.  The dancers work for about a month ahead of time practicing their best MJ moves.  But for us non-zombies, it's a great excuse to gather in the Ajijic plaza, have a couple of margaritas and try to pick out which zombies you know.  Weather was beautiful, as usual, and it was a great time.  Here's a aYoutube I found - Matt made a little video but this one is from a better vantage point.

Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) is becoming one of our favorite celebrations.  It's celebrated on November 2nd so right after Halloween.  With the skeletons hanging from every home and business, I always thought it was Mexico's version of Halloween.  But that isn't the case.  To me, it's more like our memorial day except with a bigger connection to honoring and remembering the loved ones who have passed on.  Families create beautiful alters at their homes honoring their departed family members.  The alters always include a photo and the favorite things of the deceased (think tequila, their favorite smokes and sweets).  Marigolds are the flower for this celebration and the alters are decorated thousands of marigold petals.The parking lot of the cemetery just down the street from us began filling up before 8:00 a.m.  I saw families walking toward the cemetery all day caring huge wreaths.  And it's not just a drop off the flowers and go have some barbecue kind of day.  The families spend the entire day together at the cemetery celebrating and remembering.

A group of estudiantinas
terrace on our Guanajuato house
November 6th we left for our long awaited trip to Guanajuato with Vern and Kathleen.  It was a beautiful, and uneventful three-hour drive.  Our house was in the center of the city on a beautiful plaza.  Until we moved to Mexico, I felt the only spots of interest were the beautiful beach towns.  What you miss until you explore the central part of Mexico and the incredible colonial towns!  The home we stayed in was over 200 years old and thoroughly enchanting.  It was on the second level with beautiful views down into the plaza and up into the hills.  We were so fortunate as there was a full moon and we spent some time in the evenings on our plant filled terrace watching the moon rise over the mountains.  Our first full day there we hired our property manager to take us on an all day tour of the city - which was amazing.  Our last full day there we walked the city on our own (15,000 steps on my pedometer!).  The city is known for it's music and there was plenty of it.  From one of the main plazas, you can hook up with a strolling minstrel group.  These estudiantinas work throughout the day to sell tickets to their performance.  For $100 pesos, you join the group as they walk through the narrow streets of Guanajuato singing and entertaining.  The group joins along in singing, although it's all in Spanish so we didn't have much to contribute.  We were the only gringos in the group, but well accepted.  Our group of estudiantinas handed out little pottery jugs to fill with orange juice (although we along with the rest of the group had a little bottle of tequila to use instead).  Matt took a ton of pictures - and sorry but it was hard for me to judge which were the best so I'm posting almost all of them.
Looking up at our house from the plaza

View of the dining area of our house

Looking up through our open courtyard

our beautiful living room

looking down into the plaza

another shot of the plaza

our terrace

Kathleen and I couldn't resist taking a glass of wine down to the courtyard

one of the many churches in town

the alter

a beautiful Guanajuato street dog - Matt did not understand why I wanted this pic

Me and my sweetie!

watching to full moon rise from our terrace

a typical street in Guanajuato
in the cemetery all the plots were still decorated from Dia de Muertos

A large group following the estudiantinas through our courtyard

We also have visitors from home!  My sister Susan, niece Niki and her little boy Gunner came to visit us!  It was a great time to visit as they came during the Revolution Day celebration.  We were able to take Gunner to the parade in Chapala which was lots of fun.  We spent one entire day in Guad at the zoo, which was a big hit.  Gunner loved it and Niki thought it was much better than the KC zoo.  We loved the air tram ride over the entire zoo, but our favorite attraction was the safari ride where we were able to feed the giraffes.

one of the cuties in the parade

Gunner and his new best friend, Uncle Matt

Another highlight of their visit was Mazamitla.  Matt and I had been there last year and loved this little mountain pueblo on the south side of Lake Chapala.  It's known as the Little Switerzerland of Mexico.  This year we were there right after their Revolution Day parade and there were lots of families in the square.  We had a nice lunch and then went to the water fall.  Wow!  It was gorgeous.  The area we drove through to get toward the waterfall looked liked it was directly from a Disney movie!  There were beautiful little cottages perched on hill sides, the lawns were perfectly groomed, and the hydrangeas were in full bloom.  Gorgeous!  And so was the waterfall we hiked to.

So after all these busy days, Niki and Gunner left on Friday.  Matt, Sue and I are ready for a little relaxing, more leisurely mornings and lots of adult beverages.  But we do miss little Gunner waking up every morning yelling for Uncle Matt!  But poor little Buster doesn't miss him much - Gunner thought Buster was a bad boy!  Sue will be with us for another week!

hiking to the waterfall

lunch in Mazamitla

Niki and Gunner hiking to the waterfall

Matt and I at the bottom of the waterfall

Matt reflecting at the bottom of the waterfall

Royals Fans!

Sue and me, ready for a girls night!

So, despite all these wonderful experiences here's the tragedy.  Forty three college students are missing, and presumed dead, from the state of Guerrero.  Evidently they had been involved in protests and the corrupt mayor of the state they were living felt the protests would interfere with a social engagement his wife was involved in.  They were picked up by the police and then handed over the narcos.  Protests have been on-going throughout Mexico protesting this horrific crime.  Some of the protests were violent, but many more are peaceful. The general theme of these protests is to ask for the resignation of the President, as he appointed this Mayor.  I found this Youtube video of a protest this week in Guadalajara.  

This is a heartbreaking event and has deeply affected our Mexican friends and neighbors  Hopefully something good will come from this tragedy, but hard to see what that could possibly be.