Wisdom is not a collection of all that I know, think or believe. It is a collection of knowledge, thoughts, and beliefs translated into actions that make my life better.

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I Stopped Going Shopping

Shopping and trading have been human activities from the earliest civilizations. Going Shopping in the twenty-first century sense of the phrase, however, has been around for fewer than two hundred years. Going Shopping means going out to see what is on display, to be tempted as at a carnival midway, by the many things displayed in department stores, supermarkets, malls, and big box stores.

My parents could never “get ahead,” as Daddy used to say. Mama’s favorite entertainment was going shopping, and it became mine too. Daddy was a blue-collar wage earner, and Mama stayed home cleaning and cooking. We had a comfortable house in a safe neighborhood, but there were much grander houses with a lot of stuff that we didn’t have. My paternal grandma lived in one of those houses, and so did the McCalls, where my mother worked as a baby sitter and maid-of-all work from age nine until she married my father when they were both nineteen. The McCalls’ gave me Neiman-Marcus hand-me-downs.

I was thoroughly and continually prepared for Going Shopping by a barrage of advertising that encouraged me to covet not only my neighbors’ possessions but those of the rich and famous and of models who didn’t even own the things or live the lives that they so artfully tempted me to covet. Coveting is big business. Far from being a sin, coveting is the heart and soul of the American Dream. It is woven tightly into every waking hour and creeps into my dreams. The goal of advertising is to keep everyone dissatisfied with what they already have. The ecstasy of a brand new iPhone or Lexus is cut short by the announcement that the NEW iPhone with MORE features is available and that there is a car still better than the brand new Lexus for showing the world how successful I am. I have legitimate needs, of course, for food, clothing, and shelter, but the truth is I have acquired enormous numbers of things that I don’t really need or even really want. I have spent inordinate amounts of time shuffling those things around, dusting them, storing them, eventually selling them in garage sales or hoarding them in ever larger and more cluttered houses and storage units.

Breaking the habits of constant coveting and Going Shopping has been a long process. Like a recovering alcoholic, I can say only this: “I’m a shopaholic. It’s been three years since my last shopping trip.” I’ve saved time, money, and storage space in those three years. I really enjoy the things I buy because I plan for them and set aside money to pay for them without guilt or doubt. I have a use for them and a place to put them. It’s simple, but it’s not always easy. Ingrained habits die hard, but I no longer Go Shopping, and I think I’ve made some headway in overcoming covetousness.

Ten Reasons to Visit Guadalajara

I had the good fortune to live in Guadalajara, Mexico, for almost twenty years. My three children were born in Guadalajara and went to kindergarten, primary and secondary school there. Its many tourist attractions are not just for tourists. In fact, they are not mainly for tourists. They are historic, artistic, religious, and cultural centers, which are enjoyed by the people who live there even more than by the many tourists who visit every year.

Thanks to Discover Mexico for this video.

Chiles Rellenos

Chiles rellenos are versatile and delicious. I prefer them with cheese, but you can stuff them with ground beef or just about anything that suits you!

  1. MAKE THE SAUCE AND SET IT ASIDE: In the blender, mix thoroughly 1 kg TOMATOES, 1/2 SMALL ONION, 2 GARLIC CLOVES, 3 c CHICKEN BROTH and 1 t SALT. Cook over medium heat until it thickens, about 10 minutes.
  2. PREPARE: Wash 6 POBLANO CHILES and dry them well, then roast them on both sides for a minute or two. You can place them directly on the flame or use a griddle or non-stick dry skillet. Wrap them in a damp dishtowel or put them in a plastic bag for about half an hour until the skin loosens. When they are cool, peel them, remove the stem and set it aside, and using a small, sharp knife remove the veins and the seeds from the inside.
  3. STUFF: Grate 1 LB OAXACA CHEESE and divide into 6 portions (mozzarella will work if you don’t have Oaxaca cheese). Stuff the cheese into the chiles .You can use more cheese if you want to.
  4. BREAD AND FRY: Beat the whites of 5 EGGS until they are almost stiff, then fold in the slightly beaten yolks. Secure the stuffed chiles well with toothpicks, then dip them first in the egg mixture, then in a small amount of FLOUR and fry them in 1 c OIL, remove and drain on paper towels.
  5. SERVE the chiles with the tomato sauce

The Love Story of Alma Reed and Felipe Carrillo Puerto

She was a reporter for the New York Times Magazine on assignment in Mexico. He was the handsome and dynamic beloved Governor of Yucatan. It was Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1923. On that day, Governor Felipe Carrillo Puerto welcomed Alma Reed’s party from the Carnegie Institute to Yucatan to begin extended studies of the recently discovered Mayan ruins. Later that day, he called on her and invited her to go for a walk, see one of his administration’s model socialist villages, and “enjoy the unusually beautiful sunset.”

That was the first of some three hundred fifty days that would be engraved on Alma Reed’s heart, days that inspired and haunted her until the end of her life–three hundred fifty days of intense research and writing, trips, elegant luncheons, dinners, parties, impressive personalities, incredible adventures in the Mayan jungle, vows of undying love, flowers, gifts, passionate letters, and plans for a San Francisco wedding and life as First Lady of Yucatan in Felipe’s Villa Aurora. These days and her plans were cut short when the governor was assassinated on January 3, 1924, just a week and a half before their scheduled wedding.

Documents, letters, newspaper clippings, and her autobiography, Peregrina, Love and Death in Mexico, give testimony of their passionate love, their high ideals, their good deeds, and their plans to be protagonists in a glorious future for Yucatan and for Mexico. The melancholy ballad “Peregrina” had been composed and dedicated to Alma at Felipe’s request, immortalizing their brief, passionate love affair, and Alma’s unforgettable beauty.

There is little doubt that what Alma Reed and Felipe Carrillo Puerto experienced during those three hundred fifty days was profound and real. The force of the attraction between the lovers is not diminished by the fact that the protagonists were not a virginal Juliet and a passionate adolescent Romeo but a well-traveled divorcee of thirty-three and a fifty-year-old womanizer with an estranged wife and four children, including a married daughter. However, that fact does raise questions about the years leading up to February 14, 1923.

Felipe’s story goes back thirty years before that fateful St. Valentine’s Day to his youth in Motul, his participation in the Mexican Revolution that overthrew the dictator Porfirio Diaz, his overwhelming mandate for the governorship, and his leadership for reforms in education, women’s rights, prisons, labor rights. To this day, his accomplishments reverberate in the Yucatan Peninsula and beyond.

Alma had already been honored by Mexican President Alvaro Obregon for her successful intervention in the unjust execution of a sixteen-year-old Mexican who had been unjustly tried and condemned to death in California. Because of a barrage of articles by Alma Reed, not only was the execution stopped, but a law was passed prohibiting the execution of anyone under the age of eighteen. Her story reaches forward more than forty years after Felipe’s death. Contributions to history, art, and culture were recognized by the governments of Mexico and Greece in her lifetime. She was part of a lively movement of artists and writers in New York City. She wrote books and articles. She played a significant role in bringing muralist Jose Clemente Orozco to international attention, sponsoring shows of his work, publishing a book about him, and helping him economically as he struggled to remain true to his vision. Later in life, she returned to Mexico, where she wrote for the English-language Mexico City News. These stories are sometimes overshadowed by their compelling controversial love story.

Isabel Palma and Felipe had been married on February 18, 1898, almost twenty-five years before his legendary encounter with Alma Reed. In her autobiography, Alma recounts how he spoke candidly about his estranged wife, who was living in Cuba at the time, and his children. Alma in turn told him of her brief marriage to businessman Samuel Payne Reed in San Francisco. When Felipe Carrillo Puerto and Alma Reed met, this charming man of “rare physical beauty,” already had a long-standing reputation as a womanizer. He had very likely moved far beyond the limited world of his distinguished but provincial Isabel when he frequented Mexico City night spots with the well-known American writer Katherine Anne Porter, who wrote about “dancing the tango and all the latest dance steps” with Felipe in 1921 and 1922.

A philanderer’s love can be very real. He is addicted to the hormonal high that accompanies “falling in love,” a high that fades with familiarity. Falling hopelessly in love makes a good story, and many of us believe in it when we are watching a movie or reading a novel, but love is not something you fall into. It is something you commit to, and when being there for the beloved calls for more than flowers, poems, and moonlight walks, a philanderer often scrambles to escape from the love-pit that he has fallen into. The person who is loved by a philanderer may eventually find herself forced out of the role of Dearly Beloved and into the role of Wronged Wife.

Alma kept those three hundred fifty fantastic days close to her heart. Felipe’s sudden death freed her to dream forever of an idyllic life at Villa Aurora. She would never know, and we can never know, how her love story might have turned out if Felipe Carrillo Puerto had survived.

Isabel knew.

Isabel Palma de Carrillo, Felipe Carrillo, and their four children, c. 1920.

Dream Variations by Langston Hughes

To fling my arms wide
In some place of the sun,
To whirl and to dance
Till the white day is done.
Then rest at cool evening
Beneath a tall tree
While night comes on gently,
Dark like me-
That is my dream!

To fling my arms wide
In the face of the sun,
Dance! Whirl! Whirl!
Till the quick day is done.
Rest at pale evening…
A tall, slim tree…
Night coming tenderly
Black like me.

Langston Hughes (1901-1967)

My Winding Road to Minimalism

Minimalism has been practiced accidentally for a long time with names like “thrift” and “good housekeeping.” In this age of consumerism, excess, waste, and chaos, it has been revived as “minimalism.” Like many other good ideas, it gained impetus in its extreme and radical forms because extreme and radical get attention. Dave Bruno came up with the idea of limiting his possessions to 100 objects. Marie Kondo thinks 30 books are enough. Tiny house enthusiasts are in a race to see how much tinier their dwellings can be. Extremists like Bruno and Condo challenge our customary ways of thinking. It took some extreme Minimalist thinking to set me on my journey toward a better way to live. I have made progress, but I still have a long way to go. I am not aiming for 100 objects, but Dave Bruno has shown me that I can probably get along with fewer than 100,000. I don’t even want to follow Marie Kondo’s 30-book guideline, but she has convinced me that I don’t have to emulate The Library of Congress. I don’t really want to move into an old school bus, but I have learned a lot of space-saving tricks from people who have, and I have started thinking about what kinds of spaces are inviting and happy-making. I think composting toilets are ecologically a great idea, and I admire the people who have committed to them, but I am not ready to give up the water flush.

  • GRATITUDE. Marie Kondo recommends verbally thanking an item for its service before discarding it. I have to admit, that feels a little awkward, but I like the thought. I am not rejecting the object but dismissing it. When I start to covet some new doo-dad, I look around at the doo-dads I already have, and give thanks for them.
  • MINIMALISM IS A NOT A DESTINATION BUT A WAY TO TRAVEL. My house will probably never look like the dream house in my head. Those houses so carefully staged for magazine photos or for a reveal by Chip and Joanna Gaines of “Fixer-Upper” will never look that good again, and my house will never look like Pinterest pictures because PEOPLE LIVE IN MY HOUSE, and people living life can be messy.
  • GOING SHOPPING. By “shopping,” I mean wandering through stores looking for things to tempt me. As a rule, I buy something only if I have decided to buy it before I leave my house, then I comparison shop for the best value.
  • WHAT TO KEEP MORE THAN WHAT TO THROW AWAY. I ask myself why I am keeping something and answer as honestly as I can. If I think I should discard or donate it but I find it hard, I put it in a box labeled “DONATE” or “DISCARD.” When I’ve lived without those things for awhile and haven’t missed them, it’s easier to take them to appropriate places. If I decide to keep something, I give it a place, and store it so that I know I have it and will be able to find it when I want to use it.
  • SMALL THINGS EVERY DAY. If I can’t spend six hours putting my closet in order, I can spend six minutes, or even one minute, or just take care of one thing that is bothering me.
  • LIFE IS A WORK IN PROGRESS AND I’LL NEVER GET CAUGHT UP. I rid my mind of the fantasy of getting “caught up.” I’m learning to be contented and grateful every day and to do more things that really matter instead of trying to get “caught up.”
  • STOP TELLING MYSELF I HAVE TO DO THINGS AND DECIDE WHICH THINGS I WANT TO DO. I may decide I want to do some things that are not especially fun, like washing dishes, so that I can enjoy other things, like eating a nice meal from clean dishes.

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