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I spend more than half of my time in San Pancho, Nayarit, Mexico. I also have extended stays in San Jose, California. When I'm not in San Pancho or San Jose, I'm traveling to visit family and friends. So, the best way to get in touch is by email, which I check frequently. 

Ellen Greene
hello@ellengreene.org 

Letters from Readers

I did not become an author of a book until I was past 60. I did not know what to expect, but I have been pleasantly surprised. Some of the greatest joys I receive are the emails and letters from readers who say that my story has inspired them, sometimes given new hope, and sometimes that they are starting their own list of Sweet Things.

I read every letter and email and I try to answer every one. I welcome your thoughts.

Ellen Green
hello@ellengreene.org


I just finished reading your book Remember the Sweet Things. Not in some time has a book moved me so. Actually, it has risen to the top of my favorites. Your writing is phenomenal! I pray for talent like yours. I am not currently in a relationship but I have two wonderful grandchildren ages 3 and 5 who make me laugh daily. Your Sweet Things lists have inspired me to start one for each of them. 

I will be on the lookout for your next project and waiting patiently for a chance to meet you. 

Nancy
 


It really was a gift for me to read your words. I am so sorry to hear about Marsh, he was a very cool guy. Your marriage is such an inspiring and great story, it's really beautiful to read. I want to thank you for sharing your words, you are a true teacher at heart!! 

Best of luck to you!! 

Amy
 


I am in the middle of reading Remember the Sweet Things and it is such an amazing story. Its easy to focus on things that don't matter in life, your book has brought back the simplicity of enjoying each other and the remembering all of the little things. Thanks for sharing your love story, it truly is beautiful.

Jessica
 


I just finished your book and i must say having to go through such a loss has always been a dark spot in the back of my mind. there is some part of me that resists putting everything i am into a relationship with someone else because of that fear of loosing them. what you shared and what you remembered and the positivity you put into your words and the love that you did get to share was very inspiring. Thank you for such a great read and for making me realize that love and memories are worth the loss. 

Katina
 


I just wanted to let you know that I read your book in one day last week and found it very moving; so much so that I have been re inspired to try to get back to the little notebooks I started for my two and three year old which I was filling with precisely the kind of things (though obviously child orientated!) you wrote in your list in the hope of giving them to the children when they are older. 

It also made me think of all the little 'sweet things' my husband does and has done for me since we met — writing them down would be a great way to keep them fresh just as you did.

What a wonderful memoir you write and a fine tribute to an obviously wonderful husband and father. 

Fond regards,

Catherine
 


I listened to your book on CD. I hope my wife doesn't get hold of it (just kidding). I listen to a great many books and generally only ten minutes give to three out of four. Yours got me right away and like life itself I lamented that it was too short. 

My mother once visited me when I lived in New York City. She was 50. Thrice divorced she was well turned out and possibly looking. I came back from work and she told me of her day. She had been at the Museum of Modern Art and a man said he was done with his NY Times and would she like it. I said he was trying to pick her up. She protested but it emerged that they did have a date for later that evening. 

She married him and he was the love of her life. Like you she met her man. What will men in a museum do when print departs? 

I know you hear this a lot but your book made me want to be nicer to my wife of nearly 40 years so she will remember the sweet things. Thanks Ellen 

James
 


Ellen, I imagine you are likely getting comments and praise from many who have read your book. I know I am one of many who has just finished it and felt truly touched and inspired. I have only been married a year and a half and still consider myself a newlywed but your story has shown me that its never too early to start noticing and celebrating the small things that make married life so rewarding. Thanks for such an honest portrayal of marriage and life.

Megan
 


Dear Ellen, 

I just read your book. What a blessing. I was looking for a book called "Remember" on the library website and your book popped up. I choose to believe that it was God. He knew this was something I needed to read. What a beautiful story you have shared. Thank you! I've been married for 6 years and we have two little kids. Needless to say I have many days where I'm worn out, tired and easily snap. I had a tragedy in my life last spring which made me really stop and remember how blessed I am. I try to look for the little things in the day to day stuff to be thankful for. It is still hard but I'm trying. Your book has given me a great way to be more focused on those daily blessing and now I'm going to write them down.

Thank you!

Emily
 


I'm sure you have heard it before, but I would like to thank you for your book. My husband is in the Air Force and we are currently in South Korea and I found your book at the base library and loved every word! I identified with so many things in your book. I am much younger but your book touched me in a way that I could not begin to tell you. Thank you for teaching me to slow down and remember the sweet things.

Stephanie
 


Congratulations on your book and your wonderful life. You were truly blest! I haven't moved far from my home town in Hudson, WI. Your adventures leave me feeling like I missed a lifetime. I'm sure I'm not the only one that envies the wonderful life you had with Marsh. Best of luck! 

Mary Kay
 


I noticed your book in the new nonfiction section and pulled it from the shelf. I hadn't heard anything about it previously. To me, your book was like a box of fine chocolates. I quickly knew I would really enjoy it and hard as I tried to slowly savor it, I just had to keep reading. You know, I was sad when it ended but thankful to have heard about your journey. After I finished it, I thought it sounded like a great movie, like Nicholas Sparks' "The Notebook."

One of the things I marveled about you is your ability to continually move forward through all the different changes that came your way. You probably never figured you'd live in China, then sail the islands of the South Pacific before building homes in Mexico. That is very ambitious and brave! I'm inspired by that. 

You're a beautiful writer. You've delivered a real knock-out with your first book. It really is about what marriage can be if we're paying attention. Your story is a great reminder that life is about recognizing and savoring the simple, everyday treasures that come our way. Thank you for sharing your story and wisdom with the world. Congratulations on a job very well done. 

Kathy
 


With two rambunctious boys and a house full of company yesterday, I still managed to finish your book in just four days — a record for me at this time in my life.

I picked it up at the library last week. I normally read only self-help, allergy, (I have a support website for mothers of food allergic children) and business books.

But something about the title struck me and within a few pages, I was hooked.

From what you shared, it's obvious that Marsh was a very good man. But no one is perfect. And you certainly had your challenges with two teens at home etc.

I wonder if your conscious attention to the good things he did and then your appreciation of them was a factor in your lovely life together?

Marsh certainly seemed like a terrific guy. He had the makings of a great husband. But I think you tended those seeds and watered them well and kept the garden growing. What a beautiful example to share with your children and the rest of us!

Take care, 

Gina
 


I so enjoyed your book and, of course, knew that this was definitely something I would love to do also! So I've started my own book of 'Remembering The Sweet Things'. Two regarding our grandson, Jacob. When his sister Jazmine was born he had trouble pronouncing her name and for the first couple of months she was referred to as Salmon. And last night Jacob phoned Grandpa a I to read us one of his bedtime stories. It was from one of his Spiderman books and he ended with "and the town was safe once again." Thank-you so very much for this gift!

Lori
 


I just finished reading your book and I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed it. My mother and father passed away recently so I am particularly taken with the power of memories and the healing they can do. Your story was amazing and inspiring and so lovingly written. I think most impressive to me was the "carpe diem" spirit in which you and Marsh lived. I'm sure it wasn't always easy, but you knew what was important and you went for it. That's an inspiration to all of us.

Lynn
 


Thank you for this wonderful tribute to your spouse and your marriage! I am getting married to an incredible man in just two months, and reading your book helped me to appreciate the beauty of the everyday and him even more. The obvious depth of your's and Marsh's love for one another felt so very familiar to me, and reminded me how very blessed I am with my relationship as well. We've been together for nearly 4 years, and I wish that I'd kept a Sweet Things list during all the time leading up to now — that's OK, I can re-create what I can and give it to him as a wedding gift. Thank you for sharing your heart and soul with us.

Jennifer
 


I just finished reading your book an hour ago and I was just blown away! What a beautiful Love Story that you and Marsh shared. I will now treasure the Sweet Things that my husband does for me. Thank you for sharing your Love Story with the world!

Maureen

 

Blurbs

 

Praise for

Remember the Sweet Things:
One List, Two Lives, and Twenty Years of Marriage

 By Ellen Greene

 (HarperCollins)


This book is a surreptitious manual for a successful and loving marriage. Ellen Greene loved her husband Marsh deeply, yet was forthright with the reader admitting her own fallibility. This is a real life love story that would surpass any Jude Deveraux novel. Very highly recommended book!
– Deb Fowler, Amazon Top 100 Reviewer
 

Instead of generating a laundry list of complaints about her husband, Greene compiled one of his attributes. (For the record, the late Marsh Greene appears to have been worthy of the praise.) In sweet, straightforward prose, she lovingly recounts the joys of their marriage and the heartbreak that accompanied his death. A debut memoir for the Oprah crowd.
– Lynne Maxwell, Library Journal

Remember the Sweet Things isn’t merely a love story. It is a manual for healthy living, told with searing honesty and profound tenderness, and poignance that touches you on virtually every page … I didn’t just savor Remember the Sweet Things. I am a better person for having read it.
– Wayne Coffey, author of the New York Times bestseller, The Boys of Winter
 

… a gentle and genuine reminder that the smallest things in life are the most precious. This is a heartfelt tribute to what really matters."
– Publishers Weekly Review
 

Remember the Sweet Things is, on its surface, the story of a happy marriage. But it’s much more — a beautiful meditation on love and life, and an affirmation of the power of gratitude. Told in a clear and honest voice, its indelible message — that it’s all the sweet little things that add up to an extraordinary love — is a true gift to the reader.
– Susan Wiggs, New York Times bestselling author
 

Ellen Greene tells us how “happily ever after” works, and she does it with such grace and candor that even the unluckiest and most cynical will take note. This is what marriage could be if we paid attention. This is what life could be if we understood that someday it has to end.
– Marilyn Johnson, author of The Dead Beat 

 

Great video about San Pancho

We all love this video made by local college kids Manolo Mercado and Esteban Marquez and the music by Cafe Tacuba. They really capture the look and feel of our village. This explains why I love living in San Pancho, Nayarit, Mexico.

Ellen Greene

Ellen02 I was born in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, in 1947. The lake in this case is Lake Winnebago, and my grandma had a house on it. Along with my two brothers and many cousins, I whiled away the summers there, spending hours in the shallow water, hopping from sandbar to sandbar. Our grandpa would grill corn and bratwurst for supper and serve them up with his recipe for German potato salad, the same potato salad he served at his tavern on Main Street, the Cozy Inn. We kids were welcome there, too, on Friday nights for the perch plate special that was a family affair and a town favorite, especially with us Catholics.

Fond du Lac, population 35,000, supported five Catholic parishes, each with its own elementary school. I went to "St. Joe's." My cousins went to St. Pat's and St. Mary's, after which we all funneled into St. Mary's Springs Academy for high school. The boys wore ties, the girls white blouses and black skirts, the hem of which had to touch the floor if a nun put you to the test of a kneel-down in the hall.

After eighteen years of Mass every Sunday and twelve years of schooling by the Sisters of St. Agnes, I went secular at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It felt radical and heady. A third of the campus came from the East Coast and spouted ideas I'd never even considered. "I'm not smart enough for college!" I wailed to my parents over the phone, within months of arriving and receiving the first "C" of my life. "I'm going to drop out and become a stewardess." Back in the 60's, being a flight attendant was all glamour and white gloves.

"Don't be ridiculous," my mother said. "They don't take girls over five-seven."

So I buckled down and got the grades, first at Madison and later at the Universidad de Costa Rica in Central America, after a summer fling turned serious during my first venture out of the United States. I married Carlos, a local, had my two children, Jennifer and Michael, and taught at a couple of bilingual schools before we came back to the States together.

First stop was Colorado Springs where I taught adult basic education classes, before divorce and a move to Albuquerque and a job in telecommunications. Then came Denver and a job in Big Oil, and finally Massachusetts where I met Marsh and you pick up my life in Remember the Sweet Things. Jennifer and Michael had lived in seven cities and gone to eight schools at that point. It was time to settle down, and I picked a nice guy to do it with.

The settling down didn't last for long, however. Once the kids finished high school, Marsh and I hit the road. We lived and worked in Shanghai, China, for three years, took a year to sail our boat across the Pacific, then another year to traverse Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and Mexico, where we picked a tiny beach town as our new home base.

I still have a home in San Pancho, Nayarit. But now I spend more time in San Jose, California, with my daughter and granddaughters, and visit kids and grandkids in Austin, Texas. It's a modified version of what Marsh liked to call "our lovely little life."


Email: hello@ellengreene.org

About Ana

Ana Ruiz and Ellen Greene in San Pancho, Nayarit, Mexico

By Ellen Greene

Ana Ruiz, my housekeeper and property manager, is a class act. I’ve written about her before.  About her coming to San Pancho and to me from the agave fields of Jose Cuervo. About her rise from dishwasher to head chef at one of San Pancho’s finer restaurants, Café del Mar.

She continues to amaze. Over the course of the last year and with some trepidation, Ana has learned to use a computer. She emails me, calls me on Skype, sends photos of work projects that she takes with her cell phone, and details expenses on a spreadsheet I receive every month. This from someone who, as recently as two years ago, had to walk over to her sister-in-law’s house to receive a phone call.

She has also learned to be proactive. She now keeps a maintenance calendar and schedules things like cleaning clogged irrigation and shower heads, ordering cartridges for the water purification system, and buying salt for the pool. It’s such a relief to arrive to a home buffed and in working order, as opposed to a long list of projects waiting for me and multiple runs to a hardware store.

But what I most appreciate about Ana is unrelated to the mechanics of house management. It’s her innate optimism, her positive attitude when it comes to problem solving. No obstacle is insurmountable; nothing is a big deal. Ana whips out her cell phone and calls one of her retinue of service providers: Beto the mason, Jose the plumber, Cornelio the electrician; Javier for appliance repairs, Eneas for electronics, Hugo for all things related to water. In her pleasant yet authoritative way, she makes appointments which they keep and negotiates prices if she thinks they’re out of line.

When there is no easy fix, as was the case recently with a wall oven that needed a part and that a year’s worth of badgering did not make appear, Ana expresses no rancor. She matter-of-factly declares, “Ni modo” (roughly translated, “Oh well, what are you gonna do?”) and moves on to something more doable.

I listen and learn. Between Ana and me, learning is a two-way street.

Online Dating V

A comment from a reader of this blog took me aback.

“Please remove my previous complimentary remarks about your book, Remember the Sweet Things,” she wrote. “Your posts about online dating are showing me someone who is different from Marsh Greene’s loving wife, the person I thought you were.”

At first I felt indignant. As did a friend of mine when I told him about her.

“Like this is ancient India and you are expected to throw yourself onto the funeral pyre,”  he said.

But in truth, the former fan landed a punch that hurt. It had crossed my mind that three years would seem too soon for me to be looking for a new mate. That Marsh’s classy sister, Marilyn, also a new widow, would never subject herself to the indignities of an internet manhunt. That Marsh’s daughters might feel it dishonored their father’s memory and cast doubt on his importance in my life.  That my children and grandchildren might be uncomfortable with the idea of sixty-two year old “Grammy” dating other men, never mind sleeping with them.

Was I simply being greedy, I also asked myself? Was I not content with my many years of happiness in a deeply satisfying relationship, now figuring I deserved even more? The feedback I received on Remember the Sweet Things demonstrated that a considerable  number women out there were waiting for their “Marsh Greene” to appear. Cosmically speaking, wouldn’t it be unfair and unlikely for me to get lucky twice?

All this soul-searching came at a bad time.  I was already in a slump. A string of first-time coffee dates had led nowhere. A handful of dates with a brusque psychoanalyst had bruised my ego (What is it with short men? Do they feel compelled to cut us tall women down to their size?).  Most of the “Daily Five” from match.com in my inbox were repeats, so many that after awhile I just clicked delete without even looking.

Time to take a break, I thought, subscription be hanged.

Online Dating IV

Match.com sent my “Daily 5” every morning and I looked forward to finding the profiles in my inbox. This time I had limited the criteria to men aged 63-72 who lived within 100 miles of San Jose. More realistic, I thought, in terms of who would be interested in me and how far we’d be willing to travel to check each other out.

By this time, I realized how superficial this online dating process was.  In fairness to Match.com , they didn’t hide the fact that they weren’t plumbing our emotional depths in search of matches.  “Like you,” a box next to one man’s photo would exclaim, “he’s not a smoker, he’s the middle child, and he digs dining out.”  Or “like you, he enjoys movies, likes to lift weights, and has a graduate degree.”

Then again, no matter how detailed and honest we try to be in describing ourselves, they’re just words. Some wag compared the self-portraits we provide on dating sites to the list of ingredients on a box of food: Reading the list won’t tell us how the food will taste.

At least this dating service was less controlling than eharmony in that I wasn’t expected to explain why I wasn’t interested in its choices for me. And if I were interested, I could  “wink” or go directly to email.

No way would I wink, regardless of the yellow smiley face and message from Match: “He just winked at you! Out of millions of members, he picked you! Flirt right back with a wink, or even better, an intriguing email!”

“Intriguing” sounded like code for coy and wasn’t my style either.  Instead I sent friendly opening gambits similar to ones I had received, in which the writer highlights a few things in the other person’s profile that struck a cord or that we have in common, followed by a suggestion that we meet or at least chat on the phone.

So how did I decide on whom to contact? What got my attention?

For starters, I immediately discounted men who didn’t include a photo and who had never been married. Not having kids made them suspect but still in the running, while being shorter than I automatically eliminated them. A profile full of tired buzz words like “easy going” and “laid back” and “what you see is what you get,” often accompanied by the faintly misogynistic dislike of “drama,” usually ended up in the slush pile.  A snappy opening could make me receptive to whatever else followed (a personal favorite: “ ‘I went to Stanford, and I want to get married.’ This line worked for me thirty years ago so I’m trying it out again now.“)

Of course it was unfair of me to judge someone on such shallow criteria as his height or creative writing skills. Which is the problem with this process. It reminded me of my Human Resources days and reading resumes. I had to whittle down the stack, so looked for reasons to reject rather than accept. It was a process of elimination, just like reading personal profiles, that resulted in perfectly nice strangers being designated as winners and losers.

Online Dating III

In the privacy of my studio apartment in San Jose, I stared at men’s photos, read what they had to say about themselves, and ruthlessly weeded them out. “Fresh meat” like me was matched with scores of men in the first month of online dating and my subscription to eharmony.com.

Maybe even more than for some other newcomers, given how non-discriminatory I declared myself to be. Any race or nationality is fine by me, I had said. Height is unimportant, too, as are location, education level, and age.

That didn’t last long. I “closed” the match with a 5’7″ man of Arab descent the same day I received it. Ditto the 77 year old who reminded me of my Grandpa Ed and the retired salesman with no college. Facing one’s prejudices is humbling, especially for us mouthy political liberals. But not humbling enough to make me consider meeting these guys for a cup of coffee.

It cut both ways. Men my age often closed matches, too, before we’d even begun to communicate. I figured they were holding out for someone younger, per the opinion of my friend, Katie, a sixty-something veteran of online dating.

“Men can find partners who are ten, twenty years younger. We don’t get as much as a wink from a lot of guys our own age,” she said.

Not that any of us is honest about why we’re not interested in the matches appearing in our inbox each morning. From the list of possible rejections provided by eharmony, we pick innocuous ones like “I’m pursuing another relationship” or “I think the distance between us is too great.” Even from a total stranger, it stings to  receive “I’d rather not say” or “Other” as the reason for lack of pursuit.

The first man to follow up on a match was Larry, a 69-year old psychologist. Experienced on eharmony, he considered the next steps in the process  to be a waste of time (a series of questions  to both, e.g. “Your idea of a romantic get-away would be a week (a) in Paris, (b) in a cottage by the sea, (c) white water rafting, or (d) in the mountains.”). I agreed with him. So we went directly to open communication. And man, did he communicate. Weeks of torrential longing, heavy on what he wanted to do if he ever got his hands on me, and psychobabble so intense that it made me scoff before finally scaring me off.

My book scared off the next man after a month of emails(I wrote about him in a 7/24/2009 post). My house in Mexico gave another man pause, after we’d written back and forth for several weeks and met for dinner in San Francisco.

“I’m too embarrassed to invite you to my house after checking out the photos of yours,” he said. Turns out he lived in semi-finished rooms, was about to declare bankruptcy for the second time in his career as an architect, and had suffered a stroke not long before. “Nurse with a purse” flashed through my mind, and I put an end to us. With brutal speed, via email. I’m ashamed of myself for that cowardice.

I learned a valuable lesson from these first encounters: Don’t spend a lot of time with email banter, and do as my friend Priscilla advised.

“Show and tell sooner rather than later,” she said. “Show your  house in Mexico(www.quintaelena.com) and talk about your book. Let these men know who you are. See how they react. If they can’t deal with a house and a happy marriage, they shouldn’t be dealing with you.”

In November, after a handful of coffee and dinner dates, my subscription expired. I was undaunted, however. Trying my wings had been fun. But eharmony was too restrictive, I thought.

“You can shop for yourself on match.com,” said friend Katie. “Plus there are twice as many subscribers.”

Another one hundred fifty dollars and I was ready for round two.

Online Dating II

Online dating II

“Match.com is for dating; eharmony.com is for marriage.” So said my senior pop culture advisor, daughter Jennifer. It was June 2009, and I was ready. Not ready for marriage—why would I ever give up my all-but-free military health insurance and two widow’s pensions (thanks again, Marsh). But definitely ready for a long-term relationship.  I chose eharmony, paid $150 for a six-month subscription, and went to work on my profile.

Stock questions came first: age, height, body type (e.g. slender, regular, stocky, heavy set) eye and hair color, education level, number of children, marital status, income, ethnicity, smoking/drinking habits.  I answered honestly. Why not? Everyone posts under assumed names.

I was naïve and therefore astounded to learn later that men routinely lie about their height and income, women lie about their age and body type, and, according to my nurse practitioner stepdaughter, all of us lie about our smoking and drinking.

“Whatever number of cigarettes and drinks you tell us you have every day, we multiply by three,” she said.

The heart of the profile is a series of incomplete statements. Eharmony offers help to the verbally challenged in the form of checklists to use when filling in some of the blanks. For example, “Ellen’s friends describe her as___________” can be completed with suggestions like creative, perceptive, genuine, thoughtful, intelligent, funny, romantic, and so on. Limit: four. Fair enough; more than that might strain credulity.

“Three of Ellen’s best life skills are ____________,” also includes prompts: “finding pleasure and contentment in simple things; making art and culture an ongoing part of her life; creating romance in a relationship; looking for adventures and unique experiences; achieving personal goals.” This is good news for the computer looking for matches, but bad news for bored profile readers wading through all the self-described culture-seeking,romantic, adventurous high achievers.

For other statements, I was on my own and therefore forced to be more inventive:

–       “The one thing Ellen is most passionate about is _____________”

–       “The three things Ellen is most thankful for are ______________”

–       ‘Other than her parents, the most influential person in Ellen’s life has been                       _____________”

–       “The most important thing Ellen is looking for in a person is _______________”

–       “Ellen typically spends her leisure time _____________”

–       “The things Ellen can’t live without are _____________”

–       “Other than appearance, the first thing you’ll probably notice about Ellen when you meet her is ___________”

–       “The last book Ellen read and enjoyed was _________”

I gave my answers careful thought. Best to choose earnest over clever, I figured; it’s so easy for humor to come up lame. My pop culture advisor agreed.

“Plus truly funny women are a threat,” she added. This from someone who once considered standup comedy as a career. “Men want women to be their audience, not their competition on stage.” She spoke from experience.

After the profile came the highly recommended photos. I put on my best jeans and we headed for the backyard. “Bring Lola,” said Jennifer. “Who can resist an old golden Lab?”

We picked a couple of photos of Lola and me to go with my book jacket “glam shot,” I clicked send, and my package was posted. Ready for perusal by someone I hoped would turn out to be The One. I felt excited, optimistic, and sure of myself. Back in the game, I thought. This will be great.

Online Dating I

My first year of online dating ends next week. What do I have to show for it? you might ask.

For starters, not the long-term relationship I seek. The longest relationship I managed so far lasted three months. It crashed and burned when, over the course of 72 hours, my DoD contractor friend moved from talk of his assets and what his kids should inherit to complaints that we “never laugh until we can’t stop.” This from an angst-ridden engineer with a long history of failed relationships and a face no less dour for the $20,000-worth of plastic surgery he had done. But, hey, I’m not bitter.

Another lasted two months; this time I pulled the plug. My financial analyst friend was the strong, silent type all right, but a non-reader as well. I did the heavy lifting conversationally and it wore me out. “The loneliness of monologues,” I’ve heard it described, and I now know how it feels.

Overall, however, I think I have fared quite well. Of the dozen or so men I dated more than once, all came across as considerate good guys. Which made it all the more poignant whenever I closed the door on them.  Mostly for reasons of attitude, I think. They seemed settled in their routines, not open to change or risk, their taste for adventure  much blander than mine. Silicon Valley/Santa Cruz guys for whom an evening in San Francisco was a big deal and best avoided altogether.

A few men quickly checked me off soon after meeting, too. My book scared at least one of them willing to admit it. “I don’t want and am not capable of that level of commitment,” he said. Two others, not as keen on me as I was on them, just disappeared. Both happened to be lawyers, for whatever that’s worth. Sample humor from one of them:

“As a registered Republican, New York Jew, living in San Francisco, I’m probably eligible for a federal protection program,” he said. Ergo the disappearance?

It’s easy to keep hope alive, however. Prospects continue to pop up almost daily. Recent dinners with articulate, thoughtful men have gone well.  Hikes and sails, even with a sworn bachelor obsessing about his sex life, have really been fun. Bottom line: I’ll renew my subscription and stay the course.

Why Teachers Teach

A few weeks ago, a  Canadian friend of mine stood outside her house in Bucerias, a Mexican beach town half an hour away from my town of San Pancho. She was talking to her neighbor, Miguel. She likes Miguel. He’s a gregarious, good-looking guy in his late twenties who works hard in his uncle’s restaurant in Bucerias. Now Miguel is about to open his own place, and he’s excited.

“I’m starting small,” he tells her. “Five, maybe six tables at the most, so I can guarantee good service.” He’s confident that nobody’s chiles rellenos can rival his, and they’re going to be his signature dish.

“I know how much gringos love rellenos. The tourists will come in droves.” Both of them laugh.

“You have the perfect personality for a restauranteur,” my friend tells him. And his fluent English is a huge plus, she adds.

He owes his fluency to a high school English teacher he had ten years ago, he says.

“Man, she was tough. Every week she forced us to partner up and write a minimum ten-sentence dialog, which we handed in and she corrected and gave back to us. Then we had to memorize it and perform it in front of the class.”

No excuses; do it or receive a failing grade for the week. The students hated it. Speaking in public was hard enough, but in English? Their accents embarrassed them. Classmates sometimes laughed at their mistakes. They had no choice, however. Week after week, for two years, they performed.

“And learned to speak with confidence,” Miguel said. “Now, looking back, I think I owe my new restaurant, at least in part, to that teacher. Her name was Mrs. Greene.”

Good Eats

I love stuffed peppers—sweet bell peppers or spicy poblanos—and here are two new variations I’ve added to my meal rotation: 1. Trader Joe’s bell peppers stuffed with ground turkey and rice, and 2. a Mexican food favorite chile relleno, this time low-cal and baked instead of the traditional deep-fried.

The Trader Joe’s pepper is in the refrigerated section. It’s coated with a tasty tomato and herb blend. If you want some more carbs with that, add a side of TJ’s frozen brown rice, nuke it all for a few minutes, and pat yourself on the back for being so nutritionally virtuous.

The same goes for  my new favorite  chile relleno. With this new recipe, you can cut the calorie count by more than half and take in three major food groups with one simple dish. First roast, peel, and seed the poblano as usual. Stuff it with a mix of low-fat cheddar and cream cheeses, then roll it in whole wheat flour, followed by beaten egg white and panko bread crumbs. Finally, spray the chile with canola oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and bake  for 20 min. at 450 degrees. Top  with a favorite salsa, and it’s delicious enough for company.

Enough with the virtuous. Over on the dark side are two new junk foods I can’t seem to resist. Evil geniuses at the Peter Paul/Hershey Company have come up with Almond Joy Pieces, m&m-shaped candies that taste like the chocolate, coconut, and almond flavored candy bar I love.  And, as a potato chip gourmand, I am so taken with a new chip I just discovered that someone had to pry a bag of Hawaiian Sweet Maui Onion Chips from my hands in order to make me share. Slathered with French onion dip, they were worth the fight.

Ten Things I Learned

Here are ten things I learned this February, at my home in San Pancho, in no order of importance:

1.  Beto Palomera is a prince. He gives honest quotes on masonry jobs, completes work as scheduled with no cost overruns, and has an artist’s eye. My new wall and walkways look fabulous, thanks to his design ideas.

2.  Fish tacos can be improved. Thanks to Baja Takueria, the newest and, in my opinion, best taqueria in town, many of the other street stands have ramped up in order to compete.

3.  Downpours during high season might be bad for tourism and cause locals to complain, but they green up the jungle and do wonders for my garden.

4.  I really don’t mind taking cold-water Navy showers.

5.  My favorite dinner partner in Mexico is son Michael. His banter with waiters makes them and me chuckle. Plus, God bless him, he always picks up the tab.

6.  The hour-and-a-half, early morning hill walk with my buddies never gets old. The exercise is good, the conversation even better.

7.  I sweat the small stuff, no matter how many times I remind myself not to.  I spend too much time worrying about upkeep of my property and too little time savoring its many charms.

8.  It pays to traverse neighboring towns and browse in their small shops. This trip I scored funky, colorful sandals, made from oilcloth, ten bucks a pair.

9.  Cooking dinner for friends does not have to be an all day, labor-intensive extravaganza.  If I make the main course and they bring the side dishes, everyone is happy.

10. I am not ready to walk away from Quinta Elena. The pride of place I feel after having designed and built it is too strong, the memories held within its walls too poignant.

Sleepless in San Jose

On-line dating as a 60-something widow is not for the insecure. It is incredibly hard on the ego to be judged by how you look at a time in your life when earlier generations were allowed to be “done with all that,” as my mother used to say. The new normal is not looking your age.

“Don’t’ be surprised if it drives me to a face lift, or at least an eyelid job,” I tell my daughter. She’s heard this before and waves me off.

It unnerves me as well that I don’t remember how to kiss. My well-intentioned friends get all misty-eyed and say, “It’s like riding a bike; it’ll come back to you.” Not so far—I lurch forward and knock noses, pull back too soon as if to signal “time’s up,” startle when I feel a strange tongue in my mouth and think,  I used to like this, right?

And I’ve been out of the game for so long, I clutch at the thought of me naked in bed with some poor unsuspecting guy. What’ll I do then, other than cry? Which I can almost guarantee.

My instincts are shot, and I can keep myself up at night agonizing over what I said or he did. It’s kind of cute, I suppose—a 63-year old, unsure of herself, waiting with a knot in her stomach for a “boyfriend” to call. Note to self: File these feelings for future reference. They might make me  hip and helpful in a few years when my granddaughters start to date. I can liven up the sleepovers by comparing notes with them as we pop corn, bake cookies, and bitch about boys.

Groucho Marx Eyebrows

Two days ago on my birthday, the Widow Greene did the unthinkable and spent the afternoon at a swanky spa, thanks to a generous gift certificate from my son. In 63 years, I’d never had a pedicure or a facial, and I can count on one hand the number of massages I’ve treated myself to. Now, for four hours, a bevy of young Third World  “aestheticians” would poke at my feet, face, hands, and torso, slathering me with their various potions and lotions.

Arriving at the spa, I looked around at the crowd of other clients, most of them less than half my age, and thought, What the hell are they doing here, with their line-less faces and freckle-free hands? Looking at me, they probably thought,  Note to self: Don’t forget the sunscreen.

First up for me that afternoon, the Anti-Aging Rejuvenation Facial. It was divine, especially the neck and scalp massage that came first. Then on to a green papaya slough to strip away dead skin cells and soften the face.

“You know, I mash papaya and coat tough cuts of beef with it,” I said. “It’s a terrific meat tenderizer.”

“Same,” said the aesthetician, pointing to the goo she rubbed on my face. “You feel cheeks now. They tender like baby bottom.”

Properly softened, my face was ready for her energetic removal of impurities. As she pinched her way across my “T-zone” of forehead, nose, and chin, she described in detail the contents of the pores she unclogged.  I vowed to cleanse more vigorously.

The best was saved for last: eyebrow tinting. I’d given mine up for gone. But no, there they were, just waiting to be resurrected with some vegetable dye. It was a shock to see them again after so many years. I held up a hand mirror and stared at them.

“Do I look like Grouch Marx, though?” I asked.

“No,” she said, then added, “Who  is Groucho Marx?”

My spa experience ended with a simultaneous manicure and pedicure. Regulars might take this drill for granted but for me it was tactile heaven: hands and feet left to soak in warm cucumber water until gently lifted out, one at a time, for brown sugar scrubs, massage, velvety creams. I was so taken with the feel of my new smooth girly feet and hands, I barely cared which color  polish was slapped on their nails.

The pampering felt fabulous but still, I doubt I’ll do it again any time soon. I can’t rationalize spending that much money on myself. An eyebrow tint every other month, however, is definitely in the cards.

In the Spirit of the Season

In April, daughter Jennifer had broken the sad news to my granddaughters Lily, 10, and Anna, 8, that there was no Santa, just as they suspected. The kids, their mother, and their grandmother cried  themselves to sleep that night, lamenting the loss of the childhood icon and the end of an era. Christmas just wouldn’t be as charmed from now on, we all thought.

But we were wrong. A new idea transformed our holiday into something bigger this year and, I think, something better than a mere mound of gifts left under our tree.  The girls’ Uncle Michael gets the credit for introducing gratitude.

The day after he arrived from Mexico to spend Christmas with us in California, Michael handed each of his nieces a crisp hundred dollar bill.

“Have you ever touched a ‘Benjamin’ before?” he kidded. Wide-eyed, they shook their heads.

“Well, here’s what I’d like you to do with the money,” he said. “A lot of people are hurting financially this year. I’d like you to think of ways to spend your one hundred dollars on someone else. To spread the love around and make someone’s Christmas a little more merry. What do you say?”

They liked the idea and started to brainstorm. On TV they’d heard  about a food bank trying to fill holiday baskets. Another place took care of families and said they always needed baby diapers. At the mall they’d seen a Christmas tree blanketed with tags from kids asking for simple gifts like tee shirts and soccer balls. Or they could give some money to the local children’s hospital. Or stuff some in the Salvation Army bucket outside of Target. They were excited about all the options they had.

The following day we headed for Costco, where Lily  selected cans, jars, and cartons of foodstuffs for a local food bank, her cart loaded to overflowing. At the register, she grinned from ear to ear when the clerk told her, “Your total comes to $100.78.”

Anna’s turn came next. At the mall, she chose a handful of gift requests from the tag-covered tree, then rode the escalator up to her favorite stores to pick presents for little girls who asked for a hoodie, a Dora doll, a backpack, and a toy microscope. Back at the tree, a man took the packages from her outstretched arms and thanked her for her generosity.

“That made me feel really good,” said Anna later, from the backseat of our car. “We should do this every year.”

So Lily and Anna didn’t lose Santa after all; they  replaced him, playing Santa themselves with their own acts of generosity. Acts that befitted the true spirit of the season and, I hope, will become a new family tradition. Well played, Uncle Michael.

Sweating the Small Stuff

It was close to midnight by the time Jennifer, Lily, Anna, and I arrived at Quinta Elena on Nov. 23. It was good to be home and to have a houseful of company arriving the next day, Tuesday. Thursday would be one of our best Thanksgivings ever, I just knew.

Up early the next morning, I went into the kitchen to make coffee and saw a note on the refrigerator. “It pains me to tell you, Senora Elena,” wrote my housekeeper, Ana, “but the refrigerator, oven, and telephone aren’t working. I called the repair people but no one has come.”

After twelve years of owning a home in a small beach town in Mexico, I’ve learned not to panic as a first reaction to these re-entry snafus. My heart did sink, however, when I  slid the coffee carafe under the tap, opened the faucet, and heard the familiar gurgle of an empty line. The house was out of water. Again.

A chagrined Ana arrived half an hour later, and we sprang into action. Ana badgered and begged the appliance repair shop to send someone asap. I called a contact at the phone company who had helped me out many times before and pleaded for internet access. No way could my guests, NYC media types, do without. Manuel, my gardener/handyman, moved water from one storage tank to another while I ordered a truckload to be delivered to Quinta Elena, an address the tanker driver knew well.

And it all happened (well, almost all. An oven part  had to come from Guadalajara.). Broadband restored, water running, frig fixed, the last truck headed down my driveway as my guests’ rental cars headed up.

Over and over I am offered the same choice here. I can sit on the porch of my beautiful house (www.quintaelena.com), savoring the exquisite sights inside and out while counting my lucky stars. Or I can allow myself  to see only what needs to be fixed or buffed up, creating self-imposed stress as I turn each visit into an urgent to-do list.

Stuff needs maintenance, to be sure. But, I have to remind myself, not to the exclusion of admiring what’s lovely about the place. How the garden had flourished during the past rainy season, for instance. “Reina exora” blossoms, in multi-hued pastels and big as my fist, ran up the driveway now, on bushes that towered over our car.  Lavender “leticia” cups and golden “copas de oro” hid barbed wire, climbed fence posts, and coated slopes that were bare back in August when I was last in San Pancho.

As for our Thanksgiving, it was grand. Guests loved our little town and the beach at neighboring Sayulita, where Lily and Anna got up on surfboards for the first time.Eateries Baja Takueria, Cafe del Mar, and Ola Rica were huge hits. Everyone joined in the spirit of water conservation, taking “Navy showers” and closing faucets while washing dishes.

And for the record, here’s how you turn out a fine Thanksgiving dinner for twenty without an oven: You bake pumpkin, pecan, apple, and key lime pies, plus a coconut flan for good measure, at someone else’s house; you dry-brine the turkey and slow-grill it on a Weber; and you declare all side dishes as meant to be served at room temperature.

Thanksgiving

A houseful of family and friends will join me this Thanksgiving in San Pancho: daughter Jennifer, son Michael, granddaughters Lily and Anna, brother Jim and sister-in-law Teri, friends Cheryl and Jeff, Judi and John. Their presence means more to me this year than ever. Mostly because of my dust-up with cancer and my need to express my gratitude to them out loud.

As usual, I had downplayed its importance to everyone who tried to rally around in my time of need. What need? There’s no need, I said. I told them how small the tumors were, how easy the treatment was compared to the past, how good I felt both physically and mentally. No, I assured them, I feel little or no pain; no fear or misgivings either.

It’s a tactic I use often, this minimizing of my experience, this pushing away the people who love and want to comfort me. As if I’m so tough. As if they have nothing to offer me. It’s so obviously dishonest. Had they not called to express concern, not sent cards and candy, my feelings would have been hurt and I would have held it against them.

Which is what I intend to confess to those gathered at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Then I’ll thank them for ignoring my shows of false bravado and for being there again for me this year. These people who are so dear to me will hear me express how grateful I feel that they are in my life. I’ll close by lightening up and going for a laugh: Nevertheless, I’ll say, it might always be true that my tombstone should read, “Here lies a fine example of what repression can accomplish.”

Dia de Los Muertos

My Dia de Los Muertos altar , prepared with help from granddaughters Lily, 10, and Anna, 8, is a labor of love. On a small table in the living room, we assemble a foot-high pyramid of boxes and cover it with a hand-painted cloth. We stick to Mexican tradition and adorn the altar with tissue paper cutouts in reds, yellows, and purples, then add bouquets of marigolds and scores of candles, their fragrance and light meant to point the way home to the spirits of our departed.

We add some ritual whimsical touches, too, a la Mexicano—a papier-mache skeleton playing a violin; brightly painted clay skulls the girls made in art class; a bar of soap, a small bowl of water, a towel, and a comb for “tidying up” after the long trip back to the world.

Next we personalize our altar. On it we place reminders from their pasts so our departed family members feel welcome. Photographs: of my grandmother as a child in her high-button shoes; of my aunt and uncles as teenagers in a somber group portrait; of my parents on their wedding day; of Marsh, barefoot on his sailboat with coffee cup in hand. The gold locket my grandmother bought with her first paycheck. The diamond ring my mother wore for 55 years as a wife and widow. The brass sextant Marsh used to practice the ancient art of celestial navigation.

I’ll spend November 1 in the kitchen, fussing over favorite food and drinks our dearly departed used to enjoy with us. After sunset, our family will gather before our altar, light the candles, and share what I prepared. We’ll start with a batch of Marsh’s stuffed mussels, his signature dish, and my oatmeal cookies that he called “health food.” We’ll share a plate of the cheeses my mother brought from Wisconsin every Christmas and a bowl of the popcorn my dad made from scratch most Sunday nights.  We’ll sip the Miller beer, Spanish rioja, and Mexican tequila they loved and tell the old familiar stories again. We’ll acknowledge the continued importance in our lives of those who have left us and feel comforted by this remembrance of them.