on the one hand

July 31, 2009

self-sufficient-life-coverThis morning I was standing on the roof  looking out over the countryside.  I heard before I saw them, Eric and Cristobal racing to work on Tequila and Christina, with Tequila’s foal trying to keep up.  In the distance, I could see the staff car, stopped on the road while the shepherd urged his flock of goats and sheep on ahead.  The sky was an incredibly clear blue, without a cloud, and I could see the mountains clearly in the distance.  Can life be better than this?
Yesterday was not a good day. The previous night, we had a torrential rain storm which knocked out the transformer and resulted in both the water pump at my house and the pool pump at Shanti burning out. Clearly, both of them had to be fixed–and immediately. In Mexico, that means cash on the barrel head–it’s as if credit cards had never been invented.

I remember years ago in Chicago when I had to put a new roof on my restaurant and it cost about $6000 (which I charged).  And for weeks I couldn’t sleep wondering how I would pay for it.  And now, years later, I’m worrying about scraping together $600..


mudraA recent article I read suggested that it would be useful to think what you would be doing if you had no financial constraints, and you had already helped your friends and family financially, and established a foundation that gave grants to the causes you believed in.

And I realized that I would be doing exactly what I’m doing now, except that the specter of debtor’s prison wouldn’t be lurking over my head…which would be very liberating–but possibly not quite as adrenaline producing.

It’s said that it’s the journey that matters more than the destination.  I hope I can remember to enjoy the struggle.

employee of the month

July 26, 2009

horsesAlejandro (the handyman) and I were walking along the barbed wire fence that separates my property from the surrounding ranches, when two young boys rode up on their horses, asking if there was any work to be had.

We are in the process of putting in a vegetable garden, and my other employees were helping haul rocks away from the designated area, when Felipe (the cook) went tumbling down the hill when the wheelbarrow overturned, and I decided that possibly this was an unwise use of labor…so the boys showed up at the right time.

And since their horses were going to be hanging out with us while their owners were working, why not put them to use as well by offering rides around the property?  (And they also provide the best possible fertilizer for free!)

This is a picture of Tequila and her month old foal–so if you come to Shanti, we now offer horseback riding–the only caveat is Tequila has never worn a saddle or a bridle…


It has been quite some time since I took pen in hand, dear reader…but I promise to be more faithful henceforward.
One would think that after opening three businesses, I would have learned a thing or two, but inevitably, one would be wrong.

Once again, I have overspent, thrown all my energy and money into building the kind of place that I would like to go to…and as usual, failed to realize that the rest of the world is not on the same page as I am.

My original thought was to build a small hotel out here in the countryside…but I left my life in Chicago to have a better life–I mean, to have a life outside of work…and a hotel requires attention 24/7.

So then I thought, why not an oasis–a place where one could come for the day, relax on a chaise lounge by a turquoise pool, watch the clouds drift by overhead, eat fabulous Indian food, perhaps take a yoga class or a massage…and then, refreshed and invigorated, head into San Miguel and party or whatever the night away (while somebody else–not me–waits for you to come back at 3 a.m.)

Great concept, right? Easy to comprehend, yes? Appealing, yes?


Suggestions that have been made to me:

!. Open at 7 a.m.  so that I can come out and get my exercise by swimming laps–and give me a reduced rate, because I have no intention of using any of your other amenities.  (I would like to introduce this woman to the woman who approached me for a reduced rate on her coffee at my old restaurant in Chicago because she brought her own mug.  I think they would have much in common.)

2. Hire a d.j. and allow smoking and serve real food like burgers so that people can really enjoy themselves.

Hindsight is always 20/20….I also would never have tried to import anything at all into Mexico…I would have done what other people do…smuggle it in!  I have two shipments of  fabulous things that I bought in India–one shipment sitting in Veracruz, one in Manzanillo, accruing fees and whether I will ever see either of them is a mystery unbeknownst to me, a mere mortal.

I think I can safely say that I have recovered from my initial “nostalgie de la boue” about Mexico (I’ve always wanted to use that phrase!)–I think I should write a short Kubler-Rossish piece on the five stages of infatuation with moving to a new country.

But as I told my beloved brother, people pay millions (unfortunately not to me) to live this kind of life–surrounded by open country, hummingbirds sipping nectar from the flowers, sheep and goats crossing the road in front of my car…and really, what would I be doing in Chicago now?

My moods swing between plans to raise chickens, and plans to drown myself in the fabulous (heated at great cost) pool.

country living

December 2, 2008


My brother says my writing is occasionally a bit florid.

That’s why I’ve hesitated to write about what it feels like to live out here in the open country, driving past the shepherd tending his flock of cows and goats, through the harvested fields with their triangular ricks of golden sheaves, to watch the sun set over the mountains from my roof.

I wonder how it will feel when Shanti (or, as that same brother calls it, the Taj) is finished and my home out here will only be a few steps from an active business.

I think I’m reluctant to surrender this sense of tranquility…I can only hope that I can share some of the peace I feel out here with the people that I hope will come to visit.

en casa en San Miguel

August 18, 2008

Saraswati (the Hindu goddess of the arts and education) welcomes me home to my casita in Mexico where I have been living (finally!) for the past three months.

I drove down with my ever-supportive brother–in my brand new Toyota FJ Cruiser (which my architect refers to as the drug dealer car, and which always get admiring looks at the Pemex station).

I live out in the country (el campo) at the end of a dirt road, and without the high undercarriage and 4wheel drive of my trusty vehicle, I’d probably be hiking up the road, past the goats, and the cows and the horses. My brother had his doubts about the wisdom of my living out here, away from the historic center and the scattered developments of San Miguel, but every time I turn off the main road, and have to pull to the side to let the goats charge pass, and then drive through the big iron gates that close off the ranch at night, I look up at the sky and the mountains and wonder why I ever lived in a city.

I’ve been doing a great deal of thinking since I moved here about the kind of business I want to open–and my plans have gone through some changes (it’s different in the field, you know).

I’ve come to the conclusion (and hope that I’m right) that there are others like me, living or visiting San Miguel, who would like to spend the day in the country–by a pool, reading, idling, perhaps taking a yoga class or indulging in some spa services, and enjoying a good meal. So my new plan, rather than an inn, is a day “club”–that one could come to for relaxation. And I’ve signed a contract with the architect and the pool designer, and we’ve begun to break ground…for Shanti San Miguel.

I’m thinking an early spring opening; my problem will be to find support staff for ayurvedic massage and other services that I hope to offer…I would like to model my business on Balispirit (in Bali), which manages to offer yoga and run a great restaurant, and also be very proactive in social causes in Bali…the challenge is to get people out of “el centro” in San Miguel.

sri lanka

March 3, 2008

I started my trip to Sri Lanka by staying a week at a yoga retreat in the jungle.  A yoga retreat with no electricity, no coffee, no hot water and no alcohol; not to mention separate “outhouses”.

And, dear reader, I was the only “guest” not text-messaging their nearest and dearest to tell them that I had arrived in Paradise.  Perhaps it was because I was the only American–and the British women may well have connected with their girl-guide pasts.  But that doesn’t explain the Norwegian spa owner, or the diving instructor from the Soneva Spa in the Maldives.

My only moment of ecstacy was my last day, when I went over to the Ayurvedic center (I had resisted the purging and the leeches) and stood in the stone enclosure and ladled hot water from the steel cauldron on the open fire into a bucket of cold water, and then poured it over my grime-coated body.  I want to remember this moment–and replicate it if I can in Mexico.

There have been some memorable moments–I stayed at a hotel that may just have been perfect–exquisitely designed, lovingly managed, charming in every way.  I find the practice of presenting scented water lilies to the Buddha statues lovely.  And I wonder why I never thought of unisex “tube” sarongs that never come untied.

I also managed to find a wonderful antique store in the middle of nowhere–well, I thought it was in the middle of nowhere, only to find in their guest book, that they had customers from Germany, France, Japan, Korea, Israel….unbelievable.

But the food is beyond awful–and I miss terribly the exquisite sense of artistry and design that have always found to be woven into the very fabric of life in India–the large neighbor across the water.