Being an Amateur Naturalist and Experimental Gardener


The Oxford Dictionary states that a naturalist is someone who studies plants and animals.  I have been doing both since moving to Mexico, but my first love was more on the side of animals. When I was young, we would go to the beach in the summer and catch flounder and dig clams. When we got home, I would go into the basement and scale and gut the fish, but many times I would do little dissections on them. Perhaps that is one of the reasons I became a nurse.

My strong stomach for things that might turn other people green was and continues to be a plus for my career and my continuing interest in these all types of creatures, with a whole new collections of critters to investigate here, south of the border. However, in deference to those with weaker constitutions, I am posting only photos from the plant kingdom here.  I actually think I made a visitor from the U.S. a little sick when I found a half-eaten gecko (courtesy of one of my cats) on my patio and collected it for examination.  I did hide it from him out of courtesy.

The Animal Kingdom

If you get queasy even reading about dissections, you can skip this part.

You have now been warned – continue at your own peril


You can safely skip down to the Plant Kingdom section

     Anyway, first the animal kingdom. As I stated, there are many animals here, as well as birds, that were not to be found in the often frigid climate of New York State. Cane toads that come out during the rainy season, and different types of spiders. Some spin webs, and I have seen at least two types of those, and spiders that do not spin webs (those are larger and with the legs extended are a rounded shape. They sit on the walls and are fast so I guess that is how they catch their prey. They also are skittish, and if you blow on them they scurry away).

There are also iguanas and my favorite – the geckos. I have seen different types of these little guys, some a little more stocky than others and slightly different colors. I used to see a lot of them before I got the cats, but now they are just about hunted to extinction, at least as far as my property goes. I get a little upset each time they kill one, as the geckos eat insects, but the cats are working cats, keeping my property free of pests and I don’t want to diminish their hunting instincts.

So – a few times, I saw dead geckos that my cats – named Durazna (Peach) and Ginger (Jengibre) by the way – had killed. I noticed what looked like little white balloons sticking out of their trunk. I had no idea what they were, and went on You Tube to see videos of dissections of geckos, but still didn’t see anything resembling what I was looking at.  So, of course, I did dissections of two of them on my own. Still no answers, with the white rubbery spheres filling up their entire abdominal/thoracic cavity and when I opened them  a liquid came out which resembled egg yolk.

I had recently visited my sister and brother-in-law in Chicago, and during that visit we went to the Field Museum. I figured that the museum must have a herpetologist on staff. Actually, I had to look up the professional title of a person that studies lizards, and then I searched the museum’s web site for that department.

I sent off an email to the museum describing what I had seen and my attempts to figure out what the facts were about these geckos. The museum connected me to a very nice herpetologist named Alan Resetar. We exchanged several emails, and I was quite pleased when he said I was “an excellent observer and natural historian.”  I’m hoping he wasn’t just being nice to this strange woman who does little autopsies and dissections on little mangled creatures.

Anyway, turns out they were gecko eggs. The eggs are soft and very pliable and can take up almost the whole of their abdomen/thorax. After they are passed, they harden in the air.  Depending on where they live, the geckos might also cover them with sand. According to Alan, “Depending on the species, geckos will lay eggs which can be adhered to walls once the eggs dry or placed in a more natural surrounding and even buried underground.”

If anyone cares to view the laying of the eggs, there are a bunch of videos on YouTube.

The Plant Kingdom

Rated G – Safe for everyone to read

     OK – so now onto the plants and trees, although there is still interaction with the animal kingdom, mainly in the form of ants. My neighbor recently came to my house to gather some basil to make a medicinal tea, and I found that the ants had eaten all the leaves on all my basil plants. Every last one. They left all the other herbs intact, and I noticed they especially avoided the rosemary.  So I bought three more basil plants at the local Green Market – two green and one dark purplish color – and for their health and well-being put them on a shelf at the back of the house. If the ants REALLY want them, they will have to climb up 5 layers of plastic shelving. Just to be safe, I check on them every day.

image_123923953 (10)

The ants also like peach tree leaves, and I also fear for my new cherry trees. Apparently, according to my gardener Angel, they don’t like the estafiate, which is blooming like nobody’s business, including around two of my cherry trees. So I will just let them be and now that it is the rainy season, I am sure my saplings will grow by leaps and bounds.  But just to be safe, I’ve also put the Trompa pellets around them to attract any ants that might be tempted to indulge.

image_123923953 (17)

My sapling cherry tree with healthy leaves poking out from the estafiate.

     Not all my plants were already here, nor purchased from a nursery. A while back I bought a few camotes – kind of like a sweet potato. I didn’t end up cooking them, and before very long, they were sprouting stems and leaves, so I just planted them in large flower pots. I noticed that even though they looked the same when I bought them, the leaves were quite different. I never would have known  just by looking at them in the store, nor by the taste. Very strange, though Angel knew the names of the two varieties.

Both camote amarillo, but with different leaves.

     And now there’s the issue of my banana trees. Heavy with fruit, but still green. So heavy that it now takes one metal rod and two heavy branches propped up against the trunk so the tree doesn’t fall over.

image_123923953 (9)      You can’t see it from this photo, but there are little daughter trees growing at the base. I lived here for over a year before the bananas started to form, and it is taking forever for them to ripen, even after putting lots of rich compost and organic fertilizer into the soil. So, obviously, for whatever reason, this is not a great spot for banana trees. Maybe they need more sunlight, I don’t know.

     Because of this, we will be taking out a tree on another side of the property which is more sunny and planting the daughters there.  Definitely won’t miss the tree that will be uprooted.

Maybe because the climate zone in which I live is great for all types of voracious creatures, many plants seem to protect themselves with a great natural defense – spines of various sizes – from thin, small, almost invisible one on tiny cactuses to the really large ones on this tree. Even when they are green and fresh, they are quite rigid, and when they harden into wood – watch out!

image_123923953 (14)image_123923953 (16)image_123923953 (15)

Hmmm – so what is left? My coffee saplings are doing fine – they should really be starting to grow with the rainy season now upon us.

image_123923953 (11)

image_40037873 (5)

And, my yaca tree..  I have three new fruits growing. I have been told that when the fruit starts to turn brown, it is ready to be picked. According to what I have found on the internet, when it is less ripe, it tastes like fruit, and when it is more ripe, it can be used as a meat substitute. Guess I will have to wait to find out, though from the size of one of them, maybe not much longer. I have to let you know about the taste when I try it.

Hand visible to demonstrate the size of the fruit

   And last but definitely not least, my chayote vines. They are growing like wildfire and the tendrils on the vines are reaching outward as well as upwards looking for anything on which to grab and extend their reach. Angel suggested rope or boards from the current frame to my roof. This will save me from having to wait for the chayotes to drop from the trees when they are too high for me to reach even with a tall ladder and my basket on a pole, which would extend my reach to about 13 or 14 feet in total. It will also provide some more shade and a nice look to the area with a living green roof, so to speak.

image_40037873 (4)

image_40037873 (3)

The frame isn’t finished, but you get the idea of what it will look like

 So that’s all the latest news coming purely from inside my property. Hope I didn’t bore you all too much, but after all the stress of my former profession and the hustle and bustle of living in New York, I am very happy living on my little patch of God’s green Earth, exploring the wonders and variety of life right here.

When I decide to stop procrastinating, I really have to photograph and catalog all my medicinal plants. When that happens, there will be a new post with photos, names and their medicinal use, according to the women here who have the knowledge which has been passed down to them.

Until them, to all my readers, have a great day, wherever you are…. Hasta luego!

Mi Tercer Edad – My Third Age One Chapter Closes, The Final One Begins

Just as I did when my mother died, I am making this post a little more personal than usual. When you live in a foreign country, especially if English is not the official language, certain life events can affect you slightly differently than if you were back home in your own state. This is one of those times, though don’t get me wrong. I am not melting in a puddle of despair, but rather something has given me pause because of my current circumstances.

The title of this post references the three stated ages here in Mexico. The second age is adulthood. The first age refers to those not yet adults. The third age is where I’m at – those over 65. I even have my Tarjeta de Tercer Edad – my I.D. card for the third age, or, as I jokingly refer to it, my “Old Lady’s Card.”

Well, moving on from that explanation…..Yesterday, I made my professional license “inactive.” Registered professional nurses renew their registrations every three years, and mine was due to expire in October this year. The choices were to renew or make it inactive which meant that to reactivate it, I would have to pay a fee, take review courses and I’m not sure exactly what else, but you get the idea.

First, a little background.  I entered nursing school in 1967 and graduated in 1970.


It had been three years of blood, sweat and tears and medicine was quite different from today. No CT scans, MRI’s or PET scans. Bird respirators – not the fancy ventilators we have today. No antibiotic resistant organisms, and the list goes on.

For diabetics, we did not check their blood sugar. Instead, we collected a certain number of drops of urine, added a few drops of Benedict’s Solution, held the test tube over an open flame and when it changed color, compared it to a color chart to determine how much insulin to give. And the choices of insulin were pork or beef, U-40 or U-80 (indicating how many units of insulin per milliliter). And the syringes – glass with metal needles that had to be checked for burrs, and sterilized in an autoclave after each use.

So the changes I’ve seen over time can be compared to the changes my grandmother witnessed in her lifetime, having been born before the Wright brothers invented the airplane and witnessing men walking on the moon before she died.

Over the course of 45 years as a bedside nurse, my specialties were neurosurgery, vascular surgery and finally heart failure, and at the age of 61, finally earning my BSN – Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Also during this time, I became a certified Medical-Surgical nurse as well as a Certified Heart Failure nurse.

As the years wore on, I also volunteered and most of my volunteer work involved nursing. I was also becoming more and more sick and tired of the ice and snow of New York. Perhaps if I had had a job where I had snow days, I might have felt differently, but 45 years of having to travel to work no matter what the weather surely contributed to my desire to leave everything behind and find a place where I would never have to see snow again.  And so, my mind began to focus on moving to Mexico after retirement, a place where I had volunteered for several years. Figuring that it was on the same continent, I spoke a little Spanish, I knew a lot of the people by then and I would NEVER have to see snow again, I took that leap.

To say I was overjoyed when my final shift was over would be an understatement.


My final shift before retirement. My son told me that he had never seen a photo of me where I looked so happy…..

     Retirement was exhilarating, but still felt a little strange. However, it didn’t take much effort to get into the swing of things. I had always been active in volunteering, and people would laugh when I would talk about retirement, saying I wasn’t REALLY retiring. My answer was always, “I am retiring from THIS job, but will still be very active.”

     Well, little by little my Spanish improved and I became very involved in community life, continued to help Project Amigo (the literacy project where I had been volunteering for many years) and through this newfangled concept of eClubs was able to continue to be a member of Rotary International by joining the Rotary eClub of the Southwest USA.

     Still, in the back of my mind, was the nagging desire to continue my life as a nurse, in whatever form could be managed. My friend Magda, a Mexican nurse, had introduced me to the head of the nursing department at the University of Colima years prior to this. While I could not work as a nurse in Mexico unless I took my boards again – in Spanish – I could still teach with a work permit. I became a CPR instructor before retirement, thinking perhaps I could do that.

     As time went on, I decided I did not want an official job again and felt guilty. If I had stayed in the U.S. I could have tried it per diem or part time and if it didn’t work out, it would have at least been a learning experience. However, Spanish which is passable during everyday conversations is not enough for professional duties and truthfully, I was and still am enjoying being in charge of my daily life without the bother of having to punch a time clock.

     However, once a nurse, always a nurse, and I am still active in the field, but not in the usual way. I was going to say traditional, but tradition has several meanings. Traditional can mean the village health worker, or the healer, or the dispenser of herbal medicines. And here I have found myself between those two worlds. A person can go into Colima, or Guadalajara or Mexico City and get first class medical care. Here in my village, you also have people like my friend Lourdes who can tell you the medicinal uses for any plant that you see.

I don’t know how scientifically accurate their beliefs are or if some of it is just a placebo effect, but supposedly my pasiflora fruit from my tree is calming and helps you to sleep when the pulp is mixed with water as a drink. The leaves from my chayote vines supposedly help lower high blood pressure when mixed with hot water as a tea. Just about everything I grow on my property supposedly has medicinal uses.

When you think about it, many of today’s medicines are plant-based My pharmacology textbook from 1967 included pictures of plants, and dried purple foxglove leaves were still chewed for heart conditions. The purple foxglove is the plant from which Digitalis is derived.

Fun fact – I went to a lecture by Dr. Andrew Weil years ago. The topic was medicinal plants and one anecdote was about Digitalis. He said in medical school, instructors would say the first sign of Digitalis toxicity was nausea, but nobody ever became nauseated. He wondered why. Turns out, in the old days, people would chew on the leaf and the first sign of toxicity was nausea. Once the drug companies extracted and concentrated the drug into pills, it became so concentrated that the minor symptoms were often bypassed making the more severe effects the first ones witnessed or experienced.

Anyway, I digress. In village life, I guess my life has become more like the village healer of ancient times in some small way. If someone needs an injection, the doctor gives them a prescription, the patient and their family fill it and then must find someone to give it. I swear the entire village knows I am a nurse, so I have become the Injection Queen of Cofradia.  When someone is not feeling well, they call me and I am not shy about telling them they must go to their doctor.

My heart failure training came in handy with another woman, as I explained to her and her family about low sodium diet, the importance of taking their meds as prescribed and bought them a scale, teaching them about daily weights and when to call the doctor. So while I am not practicing as a nurse, I am doing what any family member would ordinarily be taught to do (such as checking blood pressure) and explaining to them what they do not understand.

On the professional side, I am a member of the International Fellowship of Rotarian Doctors  (a fellowship for healthcare professionals and medical allied professionals worldwide – it is not a requirement that you be a physician).  This has kept me in contact with healthcare professionals around the world to promote education and projects to medically benefit diverse populations. I also continue to read journals and study guides in an attempt to stay as current as possible.

I had seen online a video of a 90 year old nurse who was still working and how her colleagues celebrated her. I felt twinges of guilt for joyously embracing retirement after seeing that and hearing similar stories of nurses who worked well past retirement or after retirement came back to work part time or per diem.  I have the impression that they are being celebrated for their dedication – so what does that make me?

I struggle from time to time with that thought and have come to the conclusion, which sometimes I need to consciously make an effort to remind myself, that this choice that I have made to live in this village is just as worthy as the lives of those who work into their 80’s and 90’s.  I am living in one world and attempting to make a difference in those lives with which I come into contact. At the same time, through the wonders of modern technology, I can interact with the greater world, stay in touch with a host of other healthcare practitioners, and also make a difference there without leaving my new home.

While this post might be overly long and maybe a bit boring, my thought is that there are sure to be many other people, both still in the United States as well as in the ex-pat communities, who have also experienced these feelings. Perhaps they grieve the loss of their professional life. Perhaps they grieve that they are in their own Tercer Edad. These people may have experienced this for quite some time, or have just entered it or are fast approaching this stage of life.

While it will not be exactly the same for everyone,  I just wanted to share my personal experience, my thoughts and actions, to let people know that this is not unusual and they are not alone.  Hopefully this also gives a small indication of what might happen when retired in a different culture or a country where English is not the spoken language.

So, in the meantime, whether you decide to remain in familiar surroundings after retirement or go out to explore the world, please remember to find joy in all the little things in life. That is my motto and my wish for you.  Please feel free to submit any thoughts you have, and questions or sharing of experiences. I would be more than happy to hold a conversation with anyone who wants or needs to talk.