The Perfect Storm

Waiting for The Perfect Storm to let up…

This post may be too much information for some; I actually thought it would be a journal entry. But for reasons I can’t explain, I feel the need to share.

At 3:30 a.m., I woke up to the sound of rain. More rain, I thought. For a few moments, I stayed put and tried to sort out my emotions. It didn’t take long for me to identify the one whimpering for my undivided attention … emptiness …

It seems that my world has somehow escaped from my grasp and what has taken its place is scary. I did not want to get up. Better to stay in bed. But by 4 o’clock, I felt sure I’d not be able to sleep any more, so I moved over to the computer. I could see my fingers moving desultorily over the keys, so I knew I was physically present in the room. But my mind was not.

In fact, my mind had decided to go “on strike” and it summoned my stubbornness. That in turn summoned my pride. Then my pride summoned my sense of outrage, and I could feel my anger growing and growing. I feel so much anger towards the chain of events and circumstances … “the perfect storm” that has taken over my life.

The perfect storm is destroying the life I have known up until now. I can’t say what I had was perfect, but it was the life I built for myself. Each time I faced a challenge … each time I forced myself to do the “right thing”… each time I fuelled myself with patience, understanding or empathy … I strengthened my life and my world … I made “me” stronger.

But now, all that energy seems depleted and I feel like a deflated balloon.

I decided to make a coffee and it felt comforting as it slid down my throat, washing away my swampy morning mouth. The slightly metallic aftertaste is not offensive and it is familiar.

I can hear Jorge stirring. He always senses when I’ve given up the idea of sleeping any longer, and lunges out from under the covers to look for me. I bless him for this because I know his first thought every morning is of me. The familiar is my proverbial yardstick, and today it seems to be the glue that is keeping me from falling apart.

Depression. Is this the name of the dark fog that has settled into me? Freudian therapists believe that depression is anger turned inward. I think this is true.  When I feel unable to cope, I tend to blame myself and then try to “whip myself into shape”. But there are times when the honest truth is quite different. There are situations that are more difficult than I can cope with. I did not create the instability we live with constantly in Mexico. I did not bring the Narcos, Corruption, nor the Coronavirus to this country. Nor is the looming financial disaster my doing. I have been avoiding newspapers lately so the torrential rain arrived without much warning at all. None the less, I have to find the resources to deal with the perfect storm …

The anger I try to stamp out cuts my feet like sharp barbs.  None of this is my fault, I wail.

Most of the women I know who came to Mexico several decades ago will say they are glad they have lived here and that they had “different” experiences. I know that as sad as I am,  I am still happy this is my home. Jorge and I raised two great kids, and we built a college that made a difference in many people’s lives. We have acted with responsibility and high standards. We made friends from all over the world. We invested and saved money, and we thought we were sitting pretty for retirement. Well, think again Bubba…

The perfect storm has turned everything upside down. Our two adult children will be living abroad, Like most businesses in Mexico, our college is in a precarious position. We can’t even see our friends, and it looks as though this will go on for a long time. And that money we saved? Well it won’t be providing the easy life style we thought we’d get pleasure from in our “golden years”, it will be used for damage control.

I think I am justified in feeling anger and frustration. BUT, BUT, BUT my negative feelings will not help me. Only my attitude can turn this around for me.

If I bang my head against the wall, it will shatter before the wall breaks.

An attitude of gratitude will make me realise what I do have

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

This mess is not fair. It is not right. And you know what; sometimes we don’t get either fair or right. We just don’t. But Jorge and I agree the time has come for us to accept the things we cannot change. We are facing a challenge that we feel unequipped to deal with. In fact, we are totally daunted by it. This will definitely NOT be… “Magic Made in Mexico”.

However, Jorge and I have no choice but pull together and make the best of this perfect storm. And if we manage to crawl up on the other side, THAT will be called… “A Bloody Battle, Fought As-Well-As Possible, by Joanna and Jorge”.


Yesterday I posted this photo of our latest batch of Limoncello. (thank you Charlie for the encement by way of your miraculous app) Many asked for the recipe, and here it is… along with a little story… of course!

In 2007, Jorge and I took “the grand tour”… a 6 week trip to Europe. Before we knew each other, we had both been on our own, but I had only seen northern countries. Jorge had been to France and Italy, and he assured me, this is where we should go. We had so much fun planning our itinerary, and Florence was to be the “grand finale”, the last stop on our adventure.

Prior to leaving Mexico, I read so much about this splendorous city of the Medici. It seemed to offer everything I love… clear light, sepia-coloured buildings, fashionable people, an abundance of art, the best food in the world, romantic music, and fabulous shopping. And after a harrowing transfer at Termini, Rome’s main train station, we checked into our hotel, in the Santa Croce district of Florence. We looked out of our room’s floor-to-ceiling window and saw Il Duomo. Sigh-igh-igh…

The view from our hotel window

I remember that the hotel staff couldn’t do enough for us… And our accommodation had two additional features we had not planned on. First off, the bathroom was HUGE. The sparkling white tub, shower stall, bidet, toilet and basin were set into blue, white and yellow Florentine tiles… in the afternoon after a long day of sight-seeing, we could soak in the tub and watch the street traffic, 5 floors below. What luxury after the 1 meter-square “water closets” we had encountered in our hotels everywhere else on our trip. I fell totally in love with Florence; Jorge also delighted in everything about the city.

That first night, we eventually tore ourselves away from the hotel, and found a tratoria, located just one block away . Absolutely satiated and totally happy after finishing our first meal in the capital of the Renascence…

Cozze e Vongole

Pasta con Cozze e Vongole… the waiter brought a sunshine yellow digestif to our table. Jorge looked most excited. “Is it Pernod?” I asked. “We are in Italia,” my husband reminded me, “Not France.” He picked up the bottle and poured us both a short glass. “THIS is Limoncello!” His eyes closed as he savoured the first chilled sip and I figured I’d give it a try. Instantly, I became even more of a fan than Jorge and asked for a second sample. “I’d wait until tomorrow,” he said, “it packs a punch, especially after a whole litre of wine.” Good advice! Limoncello can sneak up on you…

I discovered that nearly every restaurant makes its own, as do individual families… I wondered how I could manage to carry back a huge supply of this golden nectar. Out strolling one afternoon, I spotted an apron with the Limoncello recipe embossed on the front – very touristy – but so what! 10 Euros exchanged hands and I hurried back to the hotel with my prize. “Look Jorge, we can now make this at home,” I cried happily.
Well, since then, we have done so MANY times, and today we bottled yet another batch.
Here’s our recipe:

Joanna & Jorge , tasting limoncello after our first meal in Florence, 2007

Peel the rind from 12 yellow lemons (limon italiano – available at Costco) Try not to have any of the pith attached … you want just the thin yellow part.

Put the peelings into a large glass jar and then add 1 – 1750 ml. bottle of Vodka (any brand will do but we also use “Kirkland”, the one available at Costco)

*If you can get your hands on some grappa, that will be even better*
Close the jar tightly, and store it in a dark place for 2 months (we put ours on a shelf in the clothes closet)
When you finally bring the jar into the light, you’ll see that the vodka has turned bright yellow. It is time to bottle…

Boil 1 ½ kilos of sugar with 1 ½ litres of water, until the mixture is about to boil and the sugar is completely dissolved (this is called simple syrup) Allow it to completely cool…

Strain the vodka-lemon peel and set aside the peelings. Add 1.750 (1 3/4 litres) of the cooled syrup to the vodka, stir and then pour the dreamy liquid into 6 sterilized bottles. Cork them and store in the fridge until you wish to use them.
Now what to do with the vodka-infused peel…

Let the peelings dry, and then place them in a large frying pan and sprinkle with ½ cup of sugar. Place the skillet over medium heat and let the sugar caramelize (you need to lift and turn the peel while this is happening or it will burn) When the mixture has a golden brown color and you can smell the cooked sugar, remove the pan from the heat, and using two forks, separate the pieces of peel as best you can (they will be sticky) When they have cooled and dried, store them in a container with a tight lid. You can use this in any recipe that calls for candied citrus peel. This is the “not-at-all-secret” ingredient in my version of Chiles en Nogada.

Many of my friends now make Limoncello from this recipe and no one has felt disappointed… you won’t either.

The Boogeyman

During “voluntary isolation” I’ve been sleeping remarkably well, but this morning I woke up at 3:48 am… absolutely terrified. Of everything.

I opened facebook and read Chris Strickling’s amazing May 1st post. She lives in Izamal and every morning she takes a pre-dawn bike ride. When she gets home, she uploads the photos she took, her thoughts and observations. And this morning, like me, she seems frightened… of many things, but not seeing far-away loved ones, ever again, is the scariest of all.

My 67th birthday is just a few days away, and right now, I am remembering my 6th one. On that day, my parents gave me my own room. It was a surprise to me, but they acted as though I should be thrilled. I was one of those children who always wanted to please the grownups, and so I acted “thrilled”. I thanked my grandmother for sewing the turquoise comforter with little pink roses embroidered along the edge. I insisted on phoning my Godmother (long distance, no less) to thank her for mailing me the fluffy pink throw rug to place beside the bed. My toes would not ever hit a cold floor, thanks to that rug. I could look out my window and see the mini carnations and white daisies that Mom planted in a flower box. I thought it all looked perfect, except the closet… my “very own closet” spooked me from the start. And once the sun set, I got more and more worried about what might be lurking in there at night. Mr. Boogeyman got into my head and would not leave. He let me worry-away, night after night. Of course I told my parents that I was scared (the room was in the unfinished downstairs, and everyone else slept upstairs) They tried to tell me I was a “big girl now” and I had nothing to be anxious about. My mom said she would never put me in an unsafe bedroom… surely I knew that?

My Dad understood me though, and he got cracking on the finishing of my brothers’ space, called thereafter: “The Boys’ Room”. And with two of them in that room around the corner, I felt much more secure. My “very own closet” and the laundry room with its noisy furnace and bumping-banging pipes separated me from my brothers, but if things got dicey, I figured I was a pretty good runner and I’d be able to sprint past the beasts and get to the safety of Peter and Stephen’s bedroom before it did to me, whatever it had planned… Tommy eventually joined my other two brothers, and Anne also became one of “The Downstairs Kids”. Barb and Cathy never moved to the depths; they shared the upstairs room that I originally slept in with my two brothers, before I got my “very own room”. When John, the last of us eight siblings came along, his crib was set up in the 6 X 9 space that had once been a small playroom. I must have believed that my big family kept that boogeyman away. And probably that is how I came to feel most secure with lots of family around me. I am missing them so much.

COVID 19 is the Boogeyman. And after sixty-one years of exile, he is back in my life. I can’t see the virus, or feel its presence. I won’t hear it if it sneaks up on me. It is not like tobacco or “barnyards”; the virus’ proximity is not announced by an evil smell in the air, nor will it leave a scratchy taste in my mouth. No, none of that… This 2020 Boogeyman is the real deal.

We need a re-play, and we can’t do so on our own. We have to learn to get along and stop this infernal bickering. To accomplish this we need a more level playing field. As I learned as a child… all of us are happiest when surrounded by those we love. And … if we aren’t… divided we fall.