Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Habla English?

Today I met with Rudolfo of the Loreto Bay Inn about teaching English classes. I would be teaching the department managers who already know some English but want to improve. I imagine they want to increase their vocabulary and learn American idioms and buzzwords. They might want to know catch-phrases like organizational awareness, and game plan. Consider the influence I could have introducing gringo slang! Wuzzup! Welcome to the Inn. I could really mess with them.

They are not the only people who want to learn more English. When I stopped at the grocery store this afternoon, I had an odd encounter with the man putting away the milk. He noticed Allison in her school uniform and asked me if I she spoke Spanish. I answered in Spanish that she knew very little. So then he assumed I knew Spanish and began asking me if I taught it or knew someone who did. He was so eager, almost desperate to find a teacher. He was so sweet I felt obligated to help him. He said that Loreto is growing and Americans are coming and he needs English. This is true and natives know the better jobs require English.

I went home thinking that something is calling me to be a teacher, yet I have no real desire or skill to instruct anybody about anything. I do know that if I wanted to, I could stay very busy in Loreto teaching my native tongue.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Casa in progress

Robert in charge

Loreto is beautiful. The mimosa trees are blooming bright orange. It's warming up but always breezy and the nights are cool. A lot of progress was made to our casa chica while I was away. All the doors and windows are installed as well as the spiral staircase to the viewing tower. The kitchen is nearly complete. The tub and showers and sinks are in. We have been walking through the house every evening at dusk after the workers leave. We go up to the tower and are overwhelmed by the views. It may become our favorite outdoor spot.

I brought Beau with us. He and his father have many things to discuss regarding business. Yesterday we walked on the beach and they discussed how Beau might put together the wheel and tire portion of business. Robert picked up a stick of driftwood and drew diagrams in the sand of how the shop should be laid out. I thought that was typical of the sophistication of his approach to planning. Never a formal business plan, no projections or graphs. Always the cocktail napkin approach to schemes and dreams. Me, I'd want to pull in consultants and consider every possible pit-fall. Robert just does what he wants and makes it work. A 20 minute conference on the beach with a sand diagram and a pat on the back with a wish of "good luck, you'll figure it out, son"--that's Beau's introduction to his new job.


Meanwhile: Adjusting to Loreto. It is going to be so great! I am so glad to be back. I'm getting reacquainted with friends and trying to make some plans for myself. I may teach English to Mexican employees of the Inn at Loreto Bay. I feel very happy at the moment. Allison is back in school. She said it was hot in the classroom and the teacher hit a disobedient kid on the head with a book. I think tomorrow I will ask if I can donate a fan to the first grade.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Striking similarities

A photo of Allie at 6 1/2

And one of me when I was seven

A photo of my father

I was dusting my bookshelves and came across a box of family photos. Fitting since it is Memorial Day weekend. I saw my father and his parents, all dead now. It made me sad to remember all the others we have lost. They were vibrant and alive once. What were their thoughts? Some told me their stories, some died without me knowing them, like my father. I like to think they are listening to and watching mine.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Don't tell on me

Yeah, I used to work hard and think clearly, but that was last week. Things have changed:

Because I didn't check my confirmation email from the airline, Allison, Beau, and I arrived two days too early for our flight to Loreto and now can't get out till Sunday. And then, because I didn't feel like pushing the luggage cart far enough up the curb, it rolled back into my car denting it.

I've been sleeping till 10 or later the past few mornings. My six-year old too, since I don't make her go to bed till I do which is usually after midnight. And I didn't make her brush her teeth last night because her toothbrush was packed in the suitcase still in the car from our missed flight.

I rarely prepare anything for breakfast or dinner. We eat out constantly. I did make steaks, baked potatoes and broccoli tonight to redeem myself. But I also let the oven go an hour before checking to see I'd forgotten to place the potatoes inside.

My daughter and I made brownies at 11:30 pm and scraped the bowl clean of batter with two large wooden spoons.

I made my son take my car for an oil change because I was too lazy.

I answer the telephone only when I feel like it. And I haven't phoned some of my better friends to tell them I am home--or attended the monthly meeting of the Public Art Commission which I co-founded and until I left for Mexico was a major focus in my life.

I told my younger son that his friend's rap cd was awesome and I admired his ambition and dedication to his craft even though I normally express disgust for that vile genre of music.

Because I was too lazy to go pick them up, I told our accountant to hang onto a couple of small rebate checks till I got back again from Mexico. I'll deposit them then. What? Hello? Money calling!

Last Thursday at the office I filed away about a hundred invoices before checking them with our manager. He had to fish them all out the next day while I was certainly snoozing at home.

Tonight I was reflecting on all this inertia and indulgence and hoping it might only be a temporary condition when I got a little unexpected butt-kick. When I finally put my little waif to bed she uttered this unusual statement: "I'm embarrassed, mama."

"What for," I asked?
"I still drink chocolate milk from a sippy cup."
Oh, that little indulgence.
"Nobody cares, Allison. It's not like you're drinking from a baby bottle. You just like it because it's easy to watch tv without spilling."
"Yeah, but when I was drinking it I could read on the lid--it says Gerber. Like Gerber baby."
"Ummm. Maybe time to give it up, huh?"
She giggled, mocking herself, "I'm washing out my sippy cup in the sink and it says Gerber. I pour my chocolate milk and put on the Gerber lid for babies. I'm like a baby drinking out of my sippy cup." She laughed hard, then winced. "And I sleep with my parents."
Yeaaahh. That.
"You are too big for that."
"Don't tell anybody. It's just that it feels so cuddly and I like it."
Exactly. Don't tell anybody!
"Well, you can sleep in your bed tonight."
"Maybe tomorrow," she said. "It's just so cuddly."

The old tug between what feels good and what feels right. Even kids know it. Time for me to tune-in again.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Sorry about your genes

Ryan's grades are in and they are as dismal as was his older brother's. I sat them both down for a little talk-down. Did you party too much? Do you really put out the effort? Is it the tests or the papers that are hanging you up? Didn't I raise smart boys? What the hell is the matter with you guys?
"It's our gene pool," Beau quipped. "Not too blessed."

Oh, so it's my fault? Jeeze. If Ryan's headed down the same flunk-out path as Beau then I say let's stop the bleeding now. He can follow his brother straight to work. Their dad's in Mexico so not here to join me in the rant. I phone him to listen to my grievances and offer support. But shouldn't I have expected--he'd take their side. "Why don't you just believe them, he suggested? They've never done well in school. I never did well. We're just not that smart, but those boys are going to do very well, you'll see." Jeeze, again. No sense arguing with any of them. Those boys got everything my DNA had to give. I don't know what else to do but to state my dismay and disapproval for the record. I need Ryan to know Mom's hip to any attempt to skate though school unmolested by a little guilt and shame if he is indeed skating.

In the end, I defer to Robert's ironic wisdom about scholastic intelligence. He seemed to navigate through life pretty well even though academically challenged. Maybe he knows something. I know plenty of excellent students who fared no better in the big picture. We all know the millionaire next door was a C student in school. But often, they are also uncultured, narrow-minded bores. There's a lot of them are in the salvage business. I say, what good is a million dollars if you're not interesting to be around? I wanted my sons to be gentlemen and a tad bit cultivated. A little Grey Poupon with that PoorBoy, please?

Oh well. No sense getting in anymore of a fuss about it. Raising kids is one perpetual experiment. I don't know anyone who's developed the best formula for success or for that matter anyone who agrees on what success is.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Welcome to the real world

This is a photo of aunt Sara giving Beau the vote of confidence. He is coming to work in our auto parts business. No graduation ceremony, no summer trip to back-pack through Europe. Beau has basically flunked out of college. Not that we were surprised, he never professed to wanting to be there anyway. He wanted to join the military after high school. No way, we said. We sent you to a wonderful Jesuit college prep school, a 30 minute commute from home. No way. You are going to college. We insisted he put in a few years before making a decision about the military. Eventually, his desire for the service waned, but the interest in higher education stalled as well.

At first he thought he might major in philosophy. Then it was biological science because that's where his grades were best. I talked up architecture or the idea of a degree in international business. He should learn Chinese, I said, and go into importing after-market auto parts. The pull to come into our business was always there, but I tried to paint pictures of other possibilities. After all, we owned a salvage yard, nothing too exciting there. He seemed interested, but school was a struggle just as it always had been. He's never been a good student, his grades were always below average, but his talent for introspection and wry commentary demonstrated a strong intellect which I thought that should translate into good grades. You're just not trying hard enough, I maintained.

He discovered last summer that he had a talent for drawing. I encouraged it. I just wanted him to find his passion. He began taking art classes. His drawings were technical. He was not drawing to express emotion, but rather, drawing to capture exactness. Then he picked up the drums. Again, it wasn't the expression he was after, it was the ability to master the drums as tools. Since a toddler he has had a curiosity for the mechanics of things. He was interested only in how things worked. Anything that had to be assembled, I handed to him along with a screwdriver.

Why then should I be surprised that university was not a good fit for him? He would have excelled in leaning a specific trade or skill. But we were insistent that he attend college. Of course, Robert, more than me, saw college as a "finishing school", a place where bright young people mingle and make connections and lifelong friends while learning enough to widen their horizons a little, and have a lot of fun before the hard reality of earning a living begins. Robert had a lot of difficulty in school, but as it turned out, the knowledge needed to run his business comes from the old school: learn as you go. Plus, Robert has always harbored a desire for his sons to come into the business. If they found another path, if they chose to become doctors or lawyers that would be fine, but the opportunity to build on an existing business is a fortunate one. They would be lucky to have it.

That's how Beau sees it now after a few seasons in college. He's had time to weigh his abilities and interests. Joining the special ops unit or becoming a video game tester (they make lots of money, don't you know?!) seems unrealistic to him now. A stable family business with lots of growing potential looks mighty appealing at his mature age of 21. He is ready to get serious.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Freedom from choice

Two weeks home and I'm back in the groove. Except for Robert, I have a full house again and all the extra work that comes with it. Since my mother left for her home to prepare for her move here, I have slacked off work at the office for work at my house. The spring clean, remember? House and yard are more appealing again making it harder to leave. I've readjusted to home but I will be happy to return to Loreto for one simple reason: It's the only way I'm going to escape my renewed dependence on my car.

I'm with the herd again, dodging and speeding and stopping and turn-signaling and merging and parking and stopping to refuel at $2.60 a gallon. It's not the yardwork that has exhausted me, it's the motoring. There's a lot of ground to cover in the pursuit of errands. How interesting would it be to see an aerial time lapse movie of my movements in my car. It would look like the crazy scribbles of a madwoman. Some days I'm sure I make 20 or more different trips chasing after something.

The drive from Loreto Bay to the town of Loreto takes about 5 minutes. I can park anywhere and be within walking distance to anything. It's that small. Now there's a down-side to this: A small town means less available goods and services. There's just not much available to buy. And forget internet shopping--mail service is rumored to be unreliable or absent altogether (I haven't explored this yet.) Add that to the inconvenience of a two or three hour break in the afternoon when practically every shop and office takes a siesta, and Loreto is down-right backward.

Many people would find this undesirable, but I hope those folks just mosey along because they are seriously missing the point. It's the simplicity, stupid. Here's the secret formula: Less choices, less effort expended. Easy, huh? I know, it's un-American but a little freedom from choice feels good occasionally. It takes energy to make consumer decisions. Have you tried buying toothpaste lately? You could expire before reaching a decision between minty fresh liquid gel plus mouthwash tartar-control whitening flouride anti-cavity; and, luminous enamel strengthening crystal-clean mint with a stay-clean cap.

Of course my hypocrisy in this argument is that I return to Loreto with a suitcase full of provisions. I carry back with me one of the above-mentioned toothpastes along with a dozen other "necessities." Still it's a far cry from having everything at my fingertips, or rather, within my car's reach, in the case for the Metro area my town borders. But it remains that the thing I like most about a car society (ability to get around) is the thing that causes me great stress and disconnect. We're all trying to get around at the same time. If everybody would just get out of my way I could get there faster thus return home quicker to enjoy my life.

It's too hard to keep it simple here. I don't have the discipline. Maybe I'd plan better if I knew I had only one opportunity a day for car-time. No going back later for milk or dry-cleaning. If I want to shop at Sam's Club I should do it on a day I go to work, and might as well plan a trip to the dentist same day too since it's on the way. That would take planning. It seems easier to go 2500 miles back to the small world of Loreto where the choices are fewer.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

No assembly required

Every kid in suburbia seems to have one of these scooters. Allison's aunt Sara bought her one on our return home. They are pretty nifty, really. Lightweight, totally foldable and no helmet required. Just the way I like it.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

If Grandma only knew...

I want to make good use of my sons' labor before they start to work for the summer and I go back to Loreto. Every day I make little lists of chores for them. Yesterday I taped one to the refrigerator, certain it wouldn't go unnoticed. But it did. It was plastered to the most used door in the house, how could they miss it? One answered, "Cuz there's nothing to eat in the refrigerator. When are you going grocery shopping?"
They're probably counting the days till my departure.

There are a lot tasks to be performed. It is our annual spring cleaning. For those us who live in the midwest, spring cleaning extends far beyond freshening up the house. There's left-over fall leaves and debris from snapped winter branches to scoop up. There's old growth to be trimmed, along with a profusion of new growth-- lawn and weeds to be tamed. Last year's mulch has deteriorated and weathered like old carpet. The driveway and patios are gritty and the windows are streaked. The garage is filthy. The basement deep freezer got accidently unplugged to make room for someone's stereo and now there's furry beef and venison down below.

I went from the easy life right back into my role as homefront manager. I've had the plumber out to fix a stopped toilet. I sent our tow man to pick up my sons' disabled SUV. A floor polisher comes Friday after a visit from pest control. The pool liner needs to be replaced. The patio needs a power wash. My car needs tire rotation and oil change. Allison needs new shoes. Everyone needs a trip to the dentist.

I had the bright idea to make the boys haul the ratty furniture out of the basement and dispose of it. We have an assortment of left-over, worn-out furniture that crowds our ancient basement and gives it that creepy spiders-in-the-cellar atmosphere unknown to owners of modern homes. Everybody in suburbia has a walk-out basement with nine foot ceilings and a pool table but we did the "sensible" thing and bought an outdated older home at a bargain price and then poured dollar after dollar into perpetual rehab, but we had a golfcourse lot with a pool and that of course is everything, except that in 13 years it's appreciated less than a couple percent a year not like my Loreto Bay casa which has increased a hundred grand in one year, thank you very much, and what a smart little wife am I for persuading Robert to buy it.

I digress. Back to the basement:

Robert and I tried hard one year to make the basement as appealing as possible to our young sons. We threw down a large piece of remnant carpet, dragged in a television, an impossibly heavy ping-pong table, some orphaned furniture and exercise equipment, and lovingly draped on old sail from Robert's childhood lake sailboat to obscure the low steel beams of the basement ceiling. With Robert's mother's sectional lime green 70's sofa, we thought their little bunker was super-cool. Ryan didn't think so until his friends convinced him otherwise.

Tonight, I returned from a dreaded Wal-Mart run (I needed rubbermaid containers to contain the domestic overspill) to hear drumming coming from the basement. I descended the stairs and found Ryan and his best friend sitting on grandma's 70's sofa in mirror positions; hands folded behind their heads, heads bobbing. It was a silly sight. When I looked for the drummer, I saw that it was my six-year old, Allie, carrying a pretty steady beat. I sat with the boys and listened with a big grin. "So will you two move this stuff out for me tomorrow?" Ryan's friend grimaced. Are you sure? We kinda like this couch. And in the next moment, two other friends came down the steps. Hey, what's happenin'? They took seats in the matching tattered recliners and put their feet up on the coffee table fashioned out of a broken tabletop balanced on a wicker chest. I asked for an opinion. Should it all stay or should it all go? Every face expressed alarm. Hell no. Mess with the basement?!! Turns out all the walk-out boys hold dear memories of our basement. Turns out they prefered it to their own plush, built-in-bar and big screen. How conveniently discreet that it's entry was through the garage unlike a proper house. Friends came and went undetected. We unwilling may have possessed the neighborhood trailer-trash chic crash-pad.

Now I hear the stories. What a great basement hang-out. What a great house, everyone's favorite. What great fun they had. Ping-pong and guitar jams and after hours rap sessions before crashing on the grandma's groovy sectional sofa. Oh yeah, maybe a little beer and a pinch of Skoal in later years. But that part of the story they leave out. Wise they are.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Wax on, wax off, Allie-san

My mother has offered to take over my duties at our business so I can return to Loreto. This past week we have been organizing my office and catching up on months of neglected tasks in preparation for her to take my place. She will live in our home while we are away which means she will be sharing a house with two college-age boys this summer. It will be interesting to see who has the biggest influence on whom. We may come home to find my mother swept away in the fun and meyhem, staying up late, swigging a few beers while the boys set up band practice in the basement, ordering pizzas and sub sandwiches, lounging around the pool and hot tub, sleeping till noon on the weekends. Of course all of that on their off-time. All three of them will be working together keeping the family business running. Summertime is when our family business really looks like a family business.

The boys will return to their jobs cleaning and organizing auto parts for inventory, or moving and crushing cars, (a coveted task because it involves big machinery) or building racks and shelving, block walls, storage sheds, fences. Since they are young and brawny, they get the labor work. When they were rookies they got handed the lowly jobs like brooming and hosing down the warehouse or picking up trash. We'd ignore their grumbling and complaints that their chores didn't relate at all to the true purpose of our business. What did cleaning the warehouse have to do with anything? But each summer as they grew bigger and more trusted we gave them more challenging tasks that they found rewarding or fun. I think they enjoyed work more than they would admit. They got to wear grungy clothes, work various jobs mostly outside, mostly unsupervised, and most definitely gaining what all boys want: muscles.

Allison gets a little taste of work when I bring her to the office as I have had to occasionally in the past. On this trip she had to tag along with her grandmother and me for a long day at work. We tried to keep her busy with little tasks like taking checks to our manager to sign before I landed on a brilliant time-waster: shredding a huge box of discarded files and papers. A half-hour into the project she was sighing and phewing, "I'm tired." Finish the job, we said. She got one break when the paper shredder overheated and the other when lunch arrived. She took her "break" sitting in the chair between Alan and John at the sales counter eating her chicken nuggets among the men who sell auto parts, the top dogs. I remember looking the scene over, smiling at her little person in the captain's chair thinking that she could very well be the child who takes over her daddy's business. "What does shredding have to do with anything?", she might compainingly ask one day.

Well, nothing...and everything.

They're baaaack

Ryan is home from college. He caught a ride in this afternoon. His laundry arrived safely. Beau's is scheduled to arrive tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

America needs you, Teddy Roosevelt

I'm a pretty laid-back mom, but occasionally I'll throw my boys a curve with an outta-nowhere mother's rant; the latest brought on by reports of their poor grades at college. Gee, how tough can it be, the slow track to a BA in "Undecided?" Hard to find time to study between marathon rounds of Mortal Kombat or whatever video game is in vogue, and the time it takes to update their Facebook webpage, or attend Texas Hold 'Em tourneys. Outside of their protected college existence lies a myriad of world problems that begs the attention of the coming-of-agers. Hello? Is anyone on your campus paying attention?, I snapped, recently. Any room for political awareness between kegger parties? Aren't you guys mad as hell and primed to take on the world? Anybody home?

When he was a freshman, my older son claimed he was advancing foreign relations through playing Halo Two online with anonymous foreign gamers, the majority being from Great Britain. He said American kids tended to be quite nasty in their trash-talk to the British players saying things like, "the English are pussies, we whipped your butts," and "America owns you." My son said he tried to present a kinder, more diplomatic image of Americans, admonishing the other hecklers to back-off.

Not that I was any more aware in my young days. Technically, at the tail end of the baby boomers, I was too young for the Vietnam Era, the Kennedys, Martin Luther King, Civil Rights. I was part of the Brady Bunch generation. When I went to college it was to become a journalist. And it wasn't investigative or international news I was interested in; I had hopes to be a talk-show host. I didn't know a thing about world affairs, but I possessed an enormous knowledge of popular culture and entertainment trivia. My generation replaced National Geographic with People magazine. Fame was the goal. I long since dropped those silly notions and got serious. I was hoping my kids would ride the pendulum back to the return of civic duty and participation. But my older son retorted, "Why should we care? We can't do anything about anything. Your generation is the one that screwed everything up. You're the ones making all these decisions that are ruining everything." Funny, I don't remember being responsible, but I guess my silence and lack of participation didn't help.

I know he has a point.
We are the marketers, the sellers, the corrupters in many ways. Our greed has left quite a legacy for them to deal with. Then we want to scold and punish them for their apathy. They have been manipulated through marketing, overexposed to violence and sex in the media and theater, over-scheduled, and micro-managed, or worse latch-keyed and ignored. Still, their time has arrived to take over. They need to be prepared. I tell my sons this. I phoned Beau at 12:30 am to read a quote I'd stumbled on, straight from my hero, Teddy Roosevelt, certain that it was meant for me to pass on to him:

"To each generation comes its allotted task; and no generation is to be excused for failure to perform that task. No generation can claim as an excuse for such failure the fact that it is not guilty of the sins of the preceding generation."

"See. see. Now what's your excuse?," I say.
I'm sure he thinks I'm nuts, but that's my job--to push just a little. And I'm not beyond looking for inspiration wherever it turns up, whatever the hour.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Hope my stuff doesn't find me

Gosh, I have a lot of stuff. That was one of my first impressions returning home. So much stuff. I've gotten used to living on so little in Loreto that the sight of my household overwhelmed me. With fresh eyes I took in all those things that make up my house: the fine furnishings, the artwork, the portraits and photos and personal momentos, the abundant electronics and appliances, the potted plants, the books and magazines, kitchen drawers loaded with every available utensil and gadget, junk drawers full of pens and paperclips and batteries and twist-ties and pliers and unidentified keys, the hall closet stuffed with assorted coats and jackets, winter boots and dozens of orphaned gloves spilling out of a plastic laundry basket. It made me tired to look. Sensory overload.

This wealth of stuff I'd worked for years to acquire. I loved creating a nice, comfortable house. Every little thing I hunted for and brought home had the purpose of improving my domestic environment. It was a work in progress, a life-long hobby. I loved my house. So it was surprising, my reaction, to seeing it again after five months. It felt burdensome and heavy and sent out a message to me that said, "I'm yours, take care of me." I've grown so lazy in Loreto that bringing in the mail (of which we have none, in Loreto) would be taxing to me. Here on my kitchen counter was five months of magazines, and bills and credit card offers, letters and Christmas cards crying out to be attended to.

That first day home required some re-adjustment for sure. But here, three days later, I am back in the saddle. Back to cleaning and arranging and care-taking my stuff. I'm going to be a good girl and give everything it's dose of attention and then I'm gonna sneak back down to the baja again where my things can't find me.

Friday, May 05, 2006

the roses are blooming

My mother, Allison, and I visited Ian's grave today. It was in the month of May we lost him. But every May about this time there's a rose bush in our backyard that blooms. I rarely go to his grave, but when those roses bloom I'm reminded of him. I snip a few and wrap them with a ribbon and take them to him. Memorial Day, birthday, death day, holidays--none seem to touch me as much as the first bloom of that red rosebush. That's my special hello. It's the one ritual I allow myself, the only one that feels worthy.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Long Valley

The year was 1951. My grandmother, her brother Bam (as in Alabama), and her brother-in-law, were in Salinas, California as seasonal farm workers trimming and packing lettuce. This was my grandmother's third season working as a "lettuce tramp" in John Steinbeck's "Long Valley." In mid-April she would pack up her young daughter (my mother) and head up from Arizona for the lettuce season. At a dollar an hour, the wages were enticing to a divorced, struggling mother. It meant she could double up on a few house payments and put a little money aside.

Of course the work was hard and bringing a child along was difficult, but like a lot of Americans of that time, my grandmother was tough. She'd lived through the Great Depression, World War II, a migration from a broken southern state to the promising wild west, and a couple of disasterous marriages. Trimming lettuce in a hot shed for a few extra bucks wasn't beneath her.

I didn't know this photo existed until my mother gave it to me this week. My grandmother is the ninth woman in the row, the one sitting on the lettuce belt. She was probably worn out, but she is smiling. She was doing something to improve her situation back home. The pay brought her to the lettuce fields. If you pay fairly, you will attract workers. In time, growers in California found ways to circumvent this, cry labor shortage , and open the backdoor for illegal Mexican immigrants to dominate the labor force and drive wages down. Eventually U.S. workers exited the fields for non-farm jobs leading to true labor shortages and a further drive for growers to hire illegals.

It's not that U.S. workers are too good to do the backbreaking work of harvesting America's food; it's that growers found ways to undercut fair wages and replace U.S. workers with Mexican cheap labor. Now here we are fifty-plus years later suffering from the fall-out of that handiwork. No one argues that Mexicans work extremely hard and have the same drive to improve their lives. But California has got itself into a mess over illegal immigration with no government policy effective enough to stop the spiraling.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Into focus

The three of us sat together on the flight back home. Three generations of blue-eyed women, the littlest being more than a bit thrilled to be returning home. I looked out the window to catch glimpses of green wet farmland under the heavy clouds. Recent rain had soaked the terrain. Pools of water everywhere--like someone had left the garden hose running too long on the lawn. When I'd left the leaves were dying on the branches. Now, treetops looked like mounds of ripe broccoli florets. The Missouri River was swollen. Carlights reflected off the slick highway. In six months in Baja California I'd not seen any rain. It averages maybe four inches a year in Loreto. In contrast Missouri is the fertile plain, a virtual tropical forest in comparison. When we touched down it began to rain and thunder.

Robert's sister, Sandra, picked us up. She called my name as we entered the terminal. I was expecting her to be waiting in her car outside on the curb. But there she was, every feature of her face as familiar to me as my own sisters'. Her eagerness to see us touched me. And so with my son, Beau. He was waiting at the house. He drove from college this afternoon to be here with my car he'd borrowed.

I walked in my house, the first time in five months and was struck right away by my "first impressions." Scuffed kitchen floor, the mottled pattern of the kitchen granite countertop, a dark spot in the living room from a burned-out light bulb, the deep hue of yellow on the kitchen walls, the purple hues of the floor tile, the stale scent of carpet and upholstery, a crooked picture, a red pillow on the sofa. You have to grab onto them quick before they flee, before your breath and words start altering the atmosphere and the personal items you carried in get scattered on the interior landscape, reclaiming your dominion, making it your house again. You only get a few seconds of being a stranger before everything comes into sharper focus.

By tomorrow my house will feel familiar again. As I spread my new stuff around, the old stuff will come to life again. One by one the features of my house and the things I filled it with will re-enter my consciousness and I'll remember the story.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Doing our part

I have been away in Arizona. We came to attend a benefit for the new hospital in Loreto and to visit my mother and sister who live in Mesa and Tempe. The event was held at El Charro, an old landmark restaurant that has Camelback Mountain for a backdrop. It's old Scottsdale. An endearing place for it's lost-in-time quality. No glitz, no million dollar remodels. The event turned out nicely, something over $100 thousand dollars was raised. More importantly, we all got decked out, something that doesn't happen in Loreto. We spent the afternoon in the Biltmore Fashion Mall on a lunatic hunt for something decent to wear. I hadn't navigated a mall in months. We managed to get hopelessly lost from each other for over two hours. I kept returning to the car to look for Robert. On my last attempt I peered inside the dark tinted windows to make sure I was indeed looking at my mother's car. There was Robert, the seat in total recline, asleep. He'd been waiting inside the whole time. Ahhhggg!

Tomorrow I will leave with my mother and Allison to our home, while Robert heads back to our "other" home in Loreto. We plan to stay just a few days to take care of business and get some visits in with friends and family. I haven't been back since early December. I hate leaving Loreto for even a short break because I fear it will break the nice rhythm we've established there. It is such culture shock to re-enter our old lives in America. I miss a lot of things, but there's much I don't.

"Stop this ride I want to get off" is a phrase that comes to mind on returning to the U.S. We move so fast here. We spend enormous time in our cars. Everyone walks around talking on cell phones. And everybody is buying something. There is so much stuff out there. Then we go home and watch television and catch up on what else there is to buy. In Mesa, you soon discover that all the best stuff to buy is in Scottsdale. But the problem with living in Mesa (my mom's) is that there's no straight route to Scottsdale. A huge chunk of land separates the two areas--a Pima Indian reservation. Relatively barren land with few through roads and dotted with concrete block houses, litter, and trash, it has been encroached and surrounded by Phoenix Valley's uncontainable growth so that it appears like an unnatural land mass, an obstacle to sensible traffic flow. We have to go all the way around. Darn those Indians. What are they holding out for?

Well we did our part to boost the economy while here, buying things we needed for our home in Loreto Bay. We shopped a lot on Monday, May 1st, which was the day designated for immigration reform protest by Hispanics. I don't think the local economy missed a beat. Costco was as packed as any other day. It takes a heck of a lot more than hundreds of thousands of angry Mexicans to stop we, the people from shopping.

I may not post much in the next few days. I have to return to reality and do some "real" work at home.