Margie Hord

Expat by Default

Category: Family

Gone but Still Present

brown wooden rocking chair inside dark room

Photo by Anthony Delanoix (Unsplash)

You’ve lost a loved one: a parent, a spouse, a child. A huge hole seems to have been gouged out in your heart. Their absence is overwhelming at times. The empty spot at the table or in the bed… Special holidays will never be the same again; they tend to bring memories flooding in more than ever, and the hole is bigger than ever.

Yet… those people live on in our memories! Our lives have been enriched by theirs. Reminders pop up unexpectedly, constantly.

Recently I returned to the home where my parents lived for decades. Its new owner, my sister, has left her own imprint on it, and yet there is still so much of Mum and Dad that endears them to me.

person opening photo album displaying grayscale photos

Photo by Laura Fuhrman (Unsplash)

Going over albums of photographs galore is a bittersweet experience. They cover decades of achievements and family times. Pics of Air Force times in Great Britain, others of glowing newlyweds or proud graduates, a bushwhacking biologist, babes in arms, a beaming Mum greeting the President of Peru, and so much more.

On occasions classical music wafts from the kitchen, in homage to my Mum.

As we scrub the window screens before putting them in for the summer, I recall how as kids we used to sing songs we learned from Mum to pass the time away, sometimes while one washed dishes and another dried them. My sister pulls one out from the recesses of her memory–White Coral Bells, which I may not have heard since childhood– and the words come back as I join her!

pile of spinach

Photo: Monika Grabkovska (Unsplash)

In a recipe book, a note in our mother’s handwriting reminds me where I might find an alternative concoction when I decide to bake something with fresh rhubarb.

selective focus photo of shovel on sand

Photo: Markus Spiske (Unsplash)

The gardens are no exception to the rule. We owe the yumminess of rhubarb and berry plants outside to Dad, as well as the rich colors of flowering shrubs and perennials. My sister’s painstaking work on the garden he toiled over for so many hours is a reflection, too, of his labor of love. The special touch of fresh blossoms in some nooks of the old home reminds me that his spirit lives on.

Fine furniture and old clocks tell stories of my father as well; some he designed himself.

person wearing pink crew-neck shirt with hand clasped together

Photo: Ruben Hutabarat (Unsplash)

Memories aren’t always triggered by that which we see, hear, or touch. Occasionally, my family members will use one of “Dad’s prayers” for grace at mealtime, concise and simple. These are imprinted in the mind and heart.

Even away from the old home, there are moments which remind me of my heritage. A woman who has never met me before tells me, “You look like your Mum!”

Not all that comes to mind is warm and fuzzy. There’s the room where Dad suffered for so long, and his spidery signature barely recognizable once his sight failed him.

forest with fogs

Photo: Stanislava Stanci (Unsplash)

The details of our stories will be different, but surely there is a common thread: Gone but still present, are those loved ones we recall. More than a memory, they remain in our physical resemblance, the objects they left, the habits they instilled, the songs and stories, the recipes and prayers, and even the values that set us on our way.

Indeed, they are knit into our DNA.

Learning from the Grandkids

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Folding up the hide-a-bed, I find a Nerf bullet or two,. The other day there was one in my purse. No doubt about it, I’m visiting the grandkids! Evenings, there is likely to be a Nerf-gun battle, sometimes with special masks and all. It’s quite a turnabout from my normal, solitary life. Time to learn…

Living at a distance from both sets of grandkids (after once having them all in the same city as me), I’ve adapted to a “kidless” life It’s all too easy to get wrapped up in my activities, my reading, my writing and social media. A visit to one set of grands has meant exercising a degree of self-control to avoid being overly wrapped up in those habits. Time to set aside the phone, the laptop, the book… and interact with those entertaining little “teachers”.

Just as parenting is a constant learning curve as we adapt to children and seek to be sensitive to their needs and intuition, grandparenting is as well… perhaps relearning some lessons after years of dormancy.

Seize the Moment

I’m constantly needing to learn this one. Yesterday, the rains made me feel like hunkering down in our “cave” for the day. No, I was in charge, and the grandkids needed more stimulation that that. So, time to hit the library! The one nearby is quite small, just one big room, but it has a variety of reading items, even some in other languages. There’s even coloring materials for those who are so inclined. There are computers, some of them marked for kids only, but we needed to get away from screens for a while!

Today, the sky has cleared unexpectedly after a rainy day. California spring is around the corner. A few of the leafless trees are showing signs of new life, one even showing forth red leaves, a gay contrast against the oh-so-blue sky. Not to be wasted spending too much time inside. What’s there to do? Easy… hit the trail to enjoy nature and more!

Sometimes we hike down the trail that runs by our department complex in several directions; today the kids grabbed their scooters for a change. There are several parks within walking distance. It’s always a learning experience as we observe the flora and fauna that cross our path. It’s bonding time too, whether chatting or enjoying a playground together.

A child lying on the ground under a thick layer of autumn leaves

Break the Sameness

Middle-age adults find it especially easy to fall into the rut of habit. Grandchildren motivate us to try something new, or at least break out of “life as usual” for a while.

When I’m with the grandkids, one of them is bound to want to do some baking with me, and I’ve more inspiration to do so than when I’m on my own.

Not much time goes by without someone wanting to play a board game; we even started to learn a new one this week.

Today we “lost an hour” with Daylight Savings Time arriving, so it was harder to get to church on time. That’s okay! I suggested we “do church” at home and everyone participated a bit. My granddaughter even thought of a craft to end with, based on the day’s lesson… which was inspired by last night’s movie, The Prince of Egypt.

Above all, much as we complain about how young ‘uns are overly connected to cell phones, videos and such, I realize it’s often up to us adults to offer options. As long as we’re busy with our stuff, they are likely to get bored. If I suggest an activity, there may be someone who groans, but as a rule they are perfectly willing to break out of the sameness and join me for something different.

Learn Interesting Facts

Children are bombarded with information these days, but it’s not all entertainment. The six-year-old just informed me that wolves have 42 teeth. Asked where he learned that, he replied simply: “Researching!” He goes to a Montessori school where he finds information on his own and writes answers to questions. Another day I was astounded at how much he knew about the location of certain states, more than his older siblings.

Kids (and of course grandkids) are “sponges”, always learning. Their curiosity and discovery of new  facts can spark in us that freshness, too.

A young woman smiling while looking at a smartphone

Learn New Skills

Nowadays, there are so many gadgets that weren’t around when we were growing up. Many of them have to do with technology. I’m certainly not the only grandparent who gets the younger generation to teach her to use apps on the cellphone, or ask “Alexa” for information or even a favorite song. My grandkids have more time than adults to show me something, patiently.

A person holding two donuts outside.


Be Generous

Little kids are famous for being selfish, but even they can surprise us at times. As they grow up, some show more generosity than others. One of my grandsons is good at checking out bargains, and found donuts on sale for 79 cents a box. He bought two boxes and shared with the rest of us, no problem. This is no exception, but happens a lot. A young teen, he even invited me to have something at Starbucks when he got a gift card! I’m sure I’m not the only adult who sometimes hides goodies to keep them from the kids, so that’s one kid who has something to teach me.

Share Good Grief

Being with the grandkids has helped me to grieve in a healthy way, remembering those little details about their granddad, whoe passed away just months ago. One day we were crossing the street and one of them bunched up some of his brother’s sweatshirt to cross the street. “That’s the way Pa used to do it.” When we were in a park, I picked up an empty can of soda to discard later, and was reminded, “Pa used to pick up garbage, too.” Hardly a day goes by without some memory coming up,.

A proper life is one where we are constantly learning, and having grandchildren be among those who teach us is a blessing!

Raising Bilingual Kids as an Expat

Our son was three or so when he entered preschool. After a few days, his “miss”, as they often call female teachers in Mexico, asked, “Do you understand what he says?” Obviously, she didn’t. We had gotten used to his childish language, in which he mixed a bit of English and Spanish. Of course, before long he straightened things out.

When I took a course in bilingualism as part of my M.A. studies, I wondered if it was too late to help my children become as fully bilingual as possible. But looking back, we hadn’t done that badly, even when our actions were not necessarily the result of conscious decisions at all times. Continue reading

Recordando los aniversarios… en el primer aniversario a solas

Woman wearing flannel stands over wooden post with dark lighting

Esta semana, cuando otros andan cursi-románticos por el día de San Valentín, yo ando nostálgica por una historia de amor que culminó hace 37 años.

Casi nunca soñaba llegar a los cincuenta años de casados, pero pensaba que fácilmente llegaríamos a cuarenta y pico. Es que Refugio ya tenía cuarenta años cuando ese simbólico lazo nos unió.

Unos siete años antes, él se había atrevido a pedir mi mano en matrimonio, y recibió un “no” contundente. A fin de cuentas su perseverancia tuvo fruto, pero ¡esa es otra historia!

Técnicamente no planeábamos una boda para el 14 de febrero, pero las vacaciones de un miembro de la familia así lo dictaron. La principal ventaja: ¡era casi imposible olvidar la fecha! La desventaja: los restaurantes siempre estaban llenos al tope, e idealmente había que hacer reservaciones.

Es difícil recordar cómo pasamos los primeros aniversarios, pero normalmente salíamos a cenar a algún lado. A veces preferíamos ir el día después del 14, para evitar restaurantes llenos.

Después de varios años de matrimonio, nuestra amiga Joy decidió que nos faltaba añadirle un poco de sabor. Aunque las finanzas eran limitadas y yo era ama de casa, iba a recibir un ingreso después de ser suplente para unas clases. Ella sugirió que planeara yo una salida sorpresa para nuestro aniversario. Me dio otras ideas también, como empacar una vela, una foto de bodas, algo romántico. Hasta nos dio un juego de tarjetas con preguntas para ponernos a platicar de cosas románticas, por ejemplo “¿Cuando fue tu ocasión favorita…?”


A bearded man beside a lake holds his hands in a triangle, the sun shining through

En los años siguientes, casi siempre fui la encargada de idear nuestro escape de aniversario, y ya no era sorpresa. Una vez hasta llevamos a los niños, porque ¿cómo podían perderse de esa cabaña en una barranca, con una chimenea incluida? A veces íbamos a pueblos que no conocíamos bien o que queríamos explorar más. Disfrutamos viajes a museos y cascadas, comidas típicas y más. Una vez nos quedamos en una cabaña ecológica muy en el campo; al otro día fuimos a la sierra a comer truchas en un local rústico. Muchas veces solo estábamos fuera de casa por una noche, pero aun esos viajes cortos y económicos eran todo un deleite.

Para el aniversario número 30, eso sí, gastamos más. Se pospuso ¡cuando la aerolínea en que íbamos desapareció! Afortunadamente pudimos transferir las reservaciones y salir en otra fecha, para visitar el Cañón del Cobre en el norte de México, que había sido uno de mis sueños por mucho tiempo, y tomar el famoso tren que va por las montañas hasta la costa.

Hubo un par de veces cuando cumplimos treinta y tantos, que añadí unos detalles cursis como cortar corazones de fresas para adornar los hot cakes, o corazones de betabel para la ensalada. Hasta llené el parabrisas de corazones adheribles, color rosa, con mensajes románticos.

Nuestro último viaje de aniversario fue para los 35 años y otra vez se pospuso, esta vez para el funeral de mi cuñada. Yo había hecho reservaciones en un balneario de Hidalgo, con aguas termales. Me habían informado que no se aceptaban cambios ni había reembolsos, pero a la mera hora pedí que reconsideraran; al fin, ¡la muerte era impredecible! No quisieron, y preferimos ir a otras fuentes termales, más cerca de casa, donde disfrutamos unos buffets excelentes. Aunque mi esposo ya tomaba medicamentos para la presión alta, poco imaginábamos que dentro de un mes estaría hospitalizado por varios días.

Así que la vida trajo sus propias sorpresas, con una condición de salud que a la larga significó cambios considerables. Refugio ya no podía dar un paseo corto en nuestra calle, y mucho menos hacer una de esas caminatas largas en el campo que le encantaban. Durante buena parte del día estaba enchufado al oxígeno, así que sospechábamos que ya se habían acabado nuestros viajes.

El año pasado, para nuestro aniversario 36, ni fue posible salir a comer. Refugio estaba débil y tenía poco apetito. Aparecieron corazones adheribles en el espejo del baño. Nuestros hijos hablaron para felicitarnos.

Ahora, han pasado casi seis meses desde que mi compañero decidió que era hora de descansar, y ya va a ser el 14 de febrero. ¿Qué haré? Tal vez me anime a dar una vuelta a un restaurante que no conozco, para celebrar de todas maneras.

¿Cómo ves, podré derrochar y comprar unas flores también?

'14 feb. 1981, hace 35 años.
Feb. 14, 1981, 35 years ago. (The cut-outs are not really from our wedding pics, as Cuco gave me this gift previously)'

Remembering Anniversaries… on My First Anniversary Alone

This week, when others are getting mushy over Valentine’s Day, I’m waxing nostalgic over a love story that culminated 37 years ago. Wherever you are in your journey, I hope you can relate.

I hardly ever dared dream we’d make the big “five-oh”, but thought we could make it to forty or so. You see, Refugio was forty when we tied the knot. Almost literally, because Mexican weddings involve a big lasso that is placed around the shoulders of bride and groom!

Some seven years previously he had dared to ask for my hand in marriage, to receive a resounding no. His perseverance eventually paid off, but that’s another story for me to tell one day.

Technically it wasn’t our plan to get married on February 14th, but a family member’s spring break made it happen. The main advantage: it was virtually impossible to forget the date! The disadvantage: restaurants were sure to be chock-full, reservations only.

It’s hard to remember how we spent those first anniversaries, but usually we went out for a special meal. Sometimes we would go the day afterwards, to beat the crowds.

After we’d been together for a few years, friend Joy decided we needed to spice things up. Though our finances were limited and I was a stay-at-home Mom, I was about to have a little income after a short-term subbing assignment. She suggested I set things up for a surprise get-away, and gave me other ideas too: pack a candle, a wedding picture, something romantic. She even gave us a set of cards with questions to get us talking with one another about “our favorite time when…” and so on. Continue reading

Peanut Butter Cookies



Resultado de imagen para peanut butter cookie

I had almost forgotten them.

Cookie-making is once a year now,

At best.

But little ones (now grands) were bored

And I needing to give them time.

Down to the kitchen: What do we have?

Not much, and hardly any butter,

I mutter

To myself.

A light comes on: peanut butter!

We make do, adapt, shape balls,

Then they learn to dip the fork in flour

And press this way, then that,

Leaving the old crisscrossed patterns

I know from childhood.

Then the wait, the excitement

Only the young know well.

The removing (Don’t touch!)

And the other wait they hate so much.

Why? They’ll burn you.

Let’s have milk!

We invent a party with a candle too.

These are the simple rituals

Passed on again,

Those simple gifts.

Cupcakes and Cash

Homemade chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting and rainbow sprinkles

It’s my granddaughter’s turn to raise money for her sixth grade science camp. Her brother faced that challenge two years ago, and collected gazillions of bottles and cans to exchange for money. He even finished way before the deadline!

Let’s call my girlie “C”. She likes cooking, so has made cupcakes and sometimes jellos to offer the neighbors. The deadline is all too soon, and this time it was my privilege to give her a hand with preparing her goodies. As might be predicted in a kitchen that’s not my own, things didn’t go all that smoothly. I didn’t realize the stove went off when the timer dinged, so the second batch of cupcakes wouldn’t rise and took forever to cook… till I realized my mistake. Those guys were mostly edible, but not winners.

Continue reading

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