Up On a Roof

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A family selfie at the best rooftop restaurant around.

Tonight we ate The Last Supper, although there was no water being turned into wine, and no multiplication of the fishes and the loaves. I realize I’m mixing my biblical stories here, but bear with me.

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Night falling from the roof. Stunning skies were the icing on the sunset cake.

It was our last supper on the roof of this house we have lived in for the last year. A giant rental house with way too many antiques and monogrammed linens, but arguably the most stunning view in town. A house with an expansive rooftop where we sat with family members, and with new friends and old, and stared off towards the western horizon at the setting sun sparkling off of the reservoir. We took deep breaths and pointed at multi-colored clusters of houses and church spires and distant traffic lights. Sometimes we said it out loud and sometimes we all just thought it, but no one sat on that roof and didn’t realize how great it is to be alive.

A little over a year ago we crossed the border at Nuevo Laredo and drove directly south for ten hours to set up shop in a town where we knew no one. We formed friendships with people at lightening speed and with unsurpassed ease. The people we met were from different places and different backgrounds. They had widely varying political viewpoints and parenting styles. They were lawyers, musicians, entrepreneurs, chefs, doctors, artists, and farmers. Lots were from Mexico and the U.S. Others were from Canada or France, Ireland, England, Spain, El Salvador, and South Africa. They were like us, but they weren’t. We had never felt so enfolded.

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Wiley and his buddy Dutch brave the icy waters of Los Pozos.

We put our unilingual kid into a bilingual school in which he had no friends, yet he thrived. We joined a gym, we volunteered, we shopped at the markets. We went to the festivals and the art gallery openings and the music and the parades and the parties and we ate at the restaurants and drank with the locals at the cantinas. For months we didn’t leave home because we were so overwhelmed with all there was to do. Then we traveled far and wide, to places with names like Todos Santos and Merida and Xilitla and Patzcuaro and Tequisquiapan.

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It’s OK, I’m a veterinarian.

We saw the monarch butterfly migration. We attended the full-blown Mexican wedding of dear friends. We saw my favorite band play the first shows they’ve ever played in Mexico. We dangled over the edge of the fourth deepest sinkhole in the world, and visited the fourth largest monolith in the world. We swam in hot springs, repelled down cliff sides, and galloped on horseback across the plains.

Perhaps the most amazing product of this year away has been that we have become so much closer as a family. This has been the biggest and most delightful surprise. We spend more time together, and we do more things as a family, than we ever have before.

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Power to the People! In front of the statue of Morelia on the island of Janitzio in Michoacan.

And now school is over, and our timeline says it’s time to go back. Only we can’t. The truth is that we are happier here than any of us ever thought we would be. Whatever expectations we had have been exceeded many times over. I miss my clients and their pets. I miss snow, but only a little. I miss affordable almond butter. I miss my friends and family back home. But with every passing day this place feels more like home to me than any other place I have ever lived.

Lots of you have asked, and I’m sorry that I didn’t make this announcement sooner. We actually made the decision several months ago, and I let the clinic where I used to work in Fort Collins know of our plans back in January, so that they could tell my clients. But they sat on the news for some time, and only made the news public recently, so I felt that I couldn’t say anything until now.

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Gizmo, blissfully happy upon learning the news that the act of peeing will no longer involve traversing 2 microclimates.

So tonight was the last supper, but not because we’re leaving San Miguel. We’re moving out of this house because we knew that we couldn’t leave our cats in Fort Collins for another year, and we can’t have them at this house. We found another place where we can have them, and we’ll be moving there after we return from a trip home to the States in August. It’s not as grand as our current digs, but it’s comfortable, and it also has a roof with a great, although somewhat lower, less commanding view. But losing altitude also means much easier access to the house – no walking up enormous hills three times a day, which the dogs will appreciate as much as we will.

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High above Zihuatenajo Bay.

So look out U.S. of A. – we’re coming for you! We’ll spend a blissful month in the bosom of family and friends, starting at our beach house in Alabama and ending in Colorado, where we’ll collect our cats, and be back here in time for school. And if you didn’t get that visit in last year, you’ve been given a reprieve. The door is always open, so come visit. Who knows – maybe you won’t want to leave either.

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At Least I’m Enjoying the Ride

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St Michael, the archangel, patron saint of San Miguel. Or at least his likeness. Apparently he stepped on the devil and sent him back to hell, right here in San Miguel.

Perhaps I flatter myself that you think of me, but you may have noticed that my postings to this nugget of literary goodness have dwindled as of late. Gone are the weeks when I was able to get at least two blog posts up, and several witty Tweets and Facebook postings to boot. I just covered one eye and peeked at my WordPress dashboard, and egads, my last post was on September 27th.

But whether it shows or not, I put a lot of thought into these posts. In fact, at times I would compare producing them to giving birth. After a while I just want them out, even if potentially paralytic drugs or surgery are required, but I’m also a lot little on the type-A side, and I can’t just spew words and hit “publish”. So I walk around town and I contemplate, and I write a little, and then I come back to what I’ve written and hope to find some meaning there, unfortunately sometimes not for days.

A New York Times article recently made the social media rounds. It told the story of a man who made a video during an emergency on a JetBlue flight in which one of the engines blew and the cabin filled with smoke. He obediently strapped on his oxygen mask and promptly pulled out his iPhone and recorded the entire event for YouTube. I just checked YouTube, and as I write this over a million people have watched this guy’s video.

By the way, I’ve heard more than enough about the airline at this point to convince me to avoid JetBlue at all costs. But I digress.

The ultimate point of the New York Times article was to ponder the question of whether we are all spending our time recording history instead of living it. While more than many people I appreciate the importance of documenting our lives, I agree that we might consider some restraint as we load the cloud with footage of our kid struggling through “Fur Elise” at a piano recital or another moment of a cat doing anything.

I once watched a fellow tourist videotape (yes, this was in the days of actual video recorders with actual, tiny tape cartridges in them) an entire Balinese dance. It was well over 2 hours of subtle head-bobs, foot stomping, and eye movements (Balinese dance is not for adrenaline junkies, I need to point out). Three thoughts kept me from concentrating on the show: 1.) Who is going to have to watch this once this guy gets home? 2.) God, the light from his screen is annoying!, and 3.) Does he get AT ALL the irony of watching what’s happening real-time in front of him on a 2″x3″ screen?

So I’ve been living my life, clearly as opposed to recording it, and it’s gotten quite full, actually. In the years following his retirement, my father-in-law was fond of saying that he did not know how he ever had time for a job, because his retirement activities kept him so busy. At the time we laughed uproariously over the idea that one could actually be busier in retirement than in full-time employment. I am now, however, perhaps seeing his side of things.

I’m sure you’re all getting misty-eyed over the thought of how busy I am while I spend a year not working. It’s doubtful that there are any adults who haven’t fantasized about how they’d like to pull a Johnny Paycheck and tell the boss where to put it. But how would you spend your time, if you weren’t working? Would you volunteer? Would you learn to knit? Feed the homeless? Drink more? Drink less? Write a book? Exercise until your abs resurface?

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The Alborada, one of the most insane things I’ve ever seen. It started at 4 AM and consisted of 2 things: people having fireworks flung at them from the front of the cathedral, and people in motorcycle helmets repeatedly firing rockets into the air. For one. solid. hour. Again, in honor of Michael, the Fun Archangel!

All have their merits, although some are more worthwhile than others. Ultimately you have to decide what is most important to you and prioritize. Because the honest truth is that once you announce to the world that you have free time it won’t be, for long. There are so many things to do here in San Miguel – take art classes, learn Spanish, volunteer, hike, bike, eat, drink, study culture and history, or just sit in Parque Benito Juarez and enjoy the brilliant fall weather.

As a veterinarian I have some unique gifts to share, and it’s never hard to find someone who needs them, and there’s certainly plenty of need in Mexico. I volunteer every Thursday at the local animal shelter. It’s been extremely heart-wrenching but also rewarding. I’ve seen more parvo virus in 2 months than I saw in seven years of practice in Colorado. I have NEVER seen distemper in my life, but I’ve seen several cases here already. Both are preventable with appropriate vaccination. But whether people don’t know or don’t care about vaccinating their animals, many of them don’t in Mexico, and seeing a puppy die a completely avoidable death is terrible, and I’ve seen it much too often. But I’ve also spayed and neutered lots of animals, and treated lots of sick ones.

I got a free pass to go to a big veterinary meeting being held about an hour and a half away in Leon, and Roxanda, the vet from the shelter, and I went together. It was very cool being back with colleagues, walking through the exhibition hall, and hearing a few lectures. In the weirdest case of small-world syndrome I’ve ever seen, one of my own professors from CSU, Howie Seim, was lecturing on surgery, and (bonus!) in English!

I’ve also been able to get a regular workout routine established, which is wonderful. Three days a week Wiley and I work out at a gym just down the street from Wiley IV’s school. We kiss him goodbye, then workout, finishing up just before nine in the morning. Add on the walking I do, usually at least seven or eight miles daily if you believe my FitBit, and I’m probably in the best shape of my life.

circus

Me, doing something I think that’s called a pike, on an iron ring. This was right after I started circus class. I can do many more potentially dangerous things now.

About six weeks ago I began to hear about a woman here in town who teaches circus tricks to adults and kids. Two of my friends harassed me into going with them one morning. It was scary and hard and painful, and I was hooked. The instructor, Ceci Corona, was a ballerina for years, and now she runs a local circus troupe called Gravityworks, and teaches circus to kids and middle-aged moms with a death wish, like me. After the first few classes I felt as though I had been run over, and most decidedly did not look like Cirque du Soleil material on the equipment. But I’m starting to get the hang of things, and it’s amazing how you develop strength in places that even working out with weights doesn’t touch. I doubt that I’ll run away and join the circus anytime soon, but I’m loving learning some cool moves and becoming more flexible.

And there’s lots of other stuff keeping me busy, like twice weekly Spanish tutoring, various school obligations and meetings (I somehow accepted an office in the PTA at Wiley’s school), and shuttling Wiley IV to guitar lessons or art class and to and from school. I also got inducted into a group of women writers who meet monthly to drink wine, eat dinner, and share our writings. Most of us would like to write a book and the group members help each other to coalesce ideas into themes and outlines. Oh yeah, and I decided I need to learn how to knit. In my free time.

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Dancers in the Feast of St. Michael (the Archangel, which is what I believe he prefers to be called) parade. It went on for over two hours and the variety of costumes and dancers was like nothing I’d ever seen.

Add to all of this my on-going obligation to CSU’s vet school admissions committee, for whom I’ll soon be reviewing over 150 applications, and the fact that I agreed to write copy for each of Wiley’s three company newsletters, and maybe you’ll start to see why I’ve been doing more living life and less writing about it. But I’m taking it all in, and keeping my eyes open, and I’m thoroughly enjoying the ride.

Carpe Diem

18459-1023San Miguel de Allende, GTO, MX, August 11, 2014: Today the actor and comedian Robin Williams was found dead of asphyxia in his home.  He was sixty-three years old.  His death is widely believed to be a suicide.  Williams suffered from severe depression and alcoholism.  Some accounts say he was bi-polar, which explains his almost manic-style of stand-up comedy.

Social media is alight with eloquent remembrances of this much-beloved man.  I certainly don’t have anything exceptionally poignant to add, except that I loved much of his work and it makes me sad to know that he is gone.  It’s strange to feel a sense of loss over the death of someone you never knew, but I suppose that is what makes one a “celebrity”.  People feel like they know you, and they often do know many details about your personal life that you might just as well wish had remained personal.

I have known only a two people in my life who committed suicide.  One was a guy I worked with at my first job out of college, managing software implementation projects for EDS.  We were all young but John was probably no more than twenty-five.  He used to come and sit in the office that I shared with another co-worker, talking incessantly about seemingly nothing.  There was a NERF basketball hoop in our office, and John would come in a play, alone.  We were always insanely busy and behind schedule, and I looked at his visits as a nuisance more than anything else.  When he didn’t show up for work one day, and didn’t answer his phone, I knew.  After he was gone it was clear that he was reaching out, begging to connect, wanting *something*, and not getting it from me, or anyone else in his life.

The other was a veterinary client.  He owned an excavation business and most days looked as though he had been excavated from somewhere himself.  He had two cats that were old when I first started seeing them, just a few months after I had graduated from vet school.  The older one was twenty-one, I believe, and I diagnosed him with squamous cell carcinoma, a very aggressive oral cancer, under the tongue.  Typically this disease is not amenable to surgery, but Bob wanted to know every option.  He ended up taking the cat to an oncologist, who did experimental radiation therapy on the lesion.  The cat lived a few more months but ultimately succumbed to the disease.  Bob never looked back and always treasured the extra time he had.

But Bob and I really got to know each other over Biscuit.  Biscuit was a big orange cat that had gotten down to six pounds or so by the time I met him.  He had severe hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid, and pretty much every complication that comes along with it.  We worked to get Biscuit’s problems under control together.  Bob took Biscuit to have radioactive iodine therapy, essentially curing the thyroid disease but leaving him with several life-long complications to manage, including heart and kidney failure.

With Bob it was never a matter of deciding whether to treat Biscuit’s complications.  If there was fluid in his chest because of the heart failure, we didn’t sit around and talk about whether we should pull the fluid off of Biscuit’s chest.  We tapped Biscuit’s chest.  If Biscuit stopped eating or seemed lethargic, we didn’t sit around and talk about whether we should do bloodwork or x-rays.  We did bloodwork and x-rays.  When arthritis started really slowing Biscuit down at age sixteen, he became a weekly acupuncture patient, sauntering out of his carrier and assuming the Sphinx position in preparation for his treatment.

Bob never asked what something was going to cost, and he always pulled a grubby checkbook out of his back pocket and paid.  I think once we held a check for him for a few days.  It was clear he was completely devoted to Biscuit, and even when he took in two feral kittens he found at a job site Biscuit remained his soul mate.

I didn’t know a lot about Bob’s personal life.  I knew vaguely what part of town he lived in, and that he drove a beat-up Honda Accord.  We talked about music and travel and other general things when we saw each other, but mostly we talked about his cats.  I dreaded the day that I knew was coming, but when it came Bob just knew that it was time to let Biscuit go.  There were tears, but there was love and genuine affection, and an acknowledgment of what this cat had meant to this man.

After Biscuit’s passing I didn’t see Bob for a few months, and then he came in and gave me a picture of Biscuit with a poem that he had written for him printed below it.  He seemed like he was doing OK, but I was busy and didn’t have much time to talk with him.  Several months later I was reading the paper on a gorgeous spring Sunday morning and found myself staring at Bob’s obituary.  It was no more than two paragraphs in length, and stated that he had no surviving relatives, and his adoptive parents were deceased.

I knew that Bob still had the two feral cats that I had seen, and if there were no surviving family members I knew I had to find out what had become of the cats.  I drove to his house, which was a tiny, dilapidated shanty, and spoke to a neighbor.  Bob had closed the garage and started the engine of that beat-up Accord.  They found him with a copy of the poem he had given me on his lap.  His cats were taken away by Animal Control and because they were still essentially feral, they failed the Humane Society’s behavior test and were euthanized.

While I suppose suicide brings peace to tormented souls like John, and Bob, and Robin Williams, it leaves the rest of us in the dust, pondering what blame lies at our feet.  Could I have been kinder?  Listened better?  Asked more questions?  Gotten more involved?  How can we recognize these tormented souls before it’s too late?

Robin Williams had it all.  Fame.  Money.  A rewarding career that he loved and was remarkable at.  And he probably had access to the best psychiatric help available.  But in the end it wasn’t enough, and the pressure of keeping on one more day became too great.

In one of his most famous movie roles Robin Williams plays a high school teacher who implores his students to “seize the day”.  It’s easy to write that off as talk of a manic mind; as advice to plunder forward without regard for consequences.  But perhaps the interpretation we should focus on is more to live in the moment, to care for one another, to be present and mindful and more aware of our fellow human beings and less aware of deadlines and appointments and responsibilities.

Ultimately I’m just trying to make some sense of it all.  And maybe get better at being human in the process.