What An Ash

I am not a spur of the moment person.  I like plans.  I like making plans.  As I get older, despite having this as a lifelong trait, I realize it can sometimes be a detriment.  My mother was awful with spontenaity and I confess my husband is not much better.  We are blessed to have laid-back friends who are the opposite of us in this way.  Thanks to them inviting us over on the spur of the moment, what would have been a regular Sunday night turned into something restorative and fun.  While our little girls colored, snacking on strawberries and Pirates’ Booty, we actually had grown up time.  It was wonderful!  So wonderful in fact we didn’t want to separate them for dinner.  Then I discovered Pizza Hut has gluten free pizza!  And so we all had a little party of sorts.  My friend’s husband and I savored cigars outside while our girls raced around the lawn laughing with abandon.  The American singer Jim Morrison said, “A friend is someone who gives you total freedom to be yourself.”  And that is exactly what our friends allow us to do.  My husband got to have some guy time with someone whom he enjoys; I got some girl time with someone I enjoy, and our kiddos hugged and played.  We realized they have known each other over half of their young lives now.  How blessed we are to have found a little family in our neighborhood that has someone for each of us.  Personally, I think that is an incredible rarity.  The girls did not squabble as children often do and they cheered each other on in true sisterhood.  We all had varying adult beverages of our choosing and I even got to launch into a talk about cigar terminology:  ring gauges, names, brands, lengths, wrappers, fillers, ways to cut or punch them, ways to light them, the different ways they are rolled, etc.  Just when I thought I had exhausted the subject I looked down, snapped this picture, and said with appreciation, “What an ash.”



My little baby had introduced to me to a love I never even realized I had; a love of the sea.  The famous French writer and aristocrat Antoine de Saint-Exupery said, “Each man must look to himself to teach him the meaning of life.  It is not something discovered: it is something molded.”  I watched my seven month old be lulled to sleep by the ocean’s gently rocking waves as my husband and I held her in her little float.  On this, our first solo family vacation, the three of us would be molded together like an inpenetrable castle in the sand.  It was built around special time spent with each other, in nature, with no watch.  We all were blessed to be in the mystery of the Blessed Stella Maris’ domain, the fathomless blue sea.  I collected shells obsessively and realized I could lose myself in that forever.  With each receding of the tide there was the chance of discovering a new treasure offered up in the powder white sand.  I lost all track of time and felt happy and genuinely at peace.  All too soon our precious time had come to an end and it was time to go.  Before the airport we were able to stop at this quirky place called the Shell Factory.  It was huge and contained everything from fossils, to jewelry, a fudge shop, a Christmas room, and a very impressive shell collection.  We all had great fun.  I scored a once costly bracelet made of real shells (on sale for 60% off,) Burk found all sorts of map replicas, and our little one rode her first carousel.  The picture here is blurred because we were actually turning as my husband took it.  Seashells and carousels; nature and delight.  That is what I wish for my precious miracle child.  Hence the meaning behind the name of my blog:  seashells and carousels.



The Austrian born American journalist Henry Grunwald said:

“A beach is not only a sweep of sand, but shells of sea creatures, the sea glass, the seaweed, the incongruous objects washed up by the ocean.”

This was the day I had been waiting for!  We were finally at Sanibel Island and this picture was the very first time my baby set foot on a seashore.  I remember her lifting up her little feet and looking at them, not ever having felt the sensation of the silky shift of sand.  Then when the gentle white foam of the waves tickled her tiny toes she shrieked with delight.  I deliberately chose this place as it was special.  The beach was an embarrassment of riches.  Everything in the foreground was all shells.  It took several feet of walking on them (which I absolutely cringed doing) to get to the sand.  When my husband realized this was a serious shell hunter’s paradise he abandoned his moue of distaste; happily joining in my quest to acquire shells.  Of course we would never take anything living and I discovered it was actually a type of fossil hunting.  I got so immersed I only stopped when I felt my arms start to sting.  That stinging would prove to be a WICKED sunburn.  So we left with our treasures from the sea and went in search of lunch.  We drove on to Captiva Island and ate at the world famous Bubble Room.  The outside was painted with every imaginable color and the inside had even more character.  Each meandering room contained wall to wall toys from the 1930’s and ’40’s, Hollywood memorabilia, trains running on all three floors, an actual Tunnel of Love booth, an old trolley car booth, plus my favorite, a room with fish tanks built in the walls made to look like a submarine.  And of course, there were bubble lamps.  On the way back we stopped at a fun store called “She Sells Sea Shells.”  We had a captivating time on Captiva Island and, just as I’d hoped, on Sanibel we began the creation of lifelong memories at the beach collecting seashells.


The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum

I LOVE museums and I have always found fossils fascinating, so I could not think of a better way to start our fifth wedding anniversary than by visiting the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum.  It is the only shell museum in the United States and people come from all over the world to visit.  Devoted to every aspect of seashells, conchology, and malacology, it includes the paleontological and archeological/anthropological aspects of the study of shells.  Although it is a small museum, it is jam packed with incredible displays and specimens.  It is so well done; I think we must have spent three hours there at least.  Living in a landlocked city my entire life, I really knew nothing of shells.  Of course I knew of starfish (now more properly referred to as sea stars,) scallop shells, sand dollars, clamshells, conch shells, cockle shells, and my beloved chambered nautiluses.  But I had never heard of pen shells, fig shells, junonias, olive shells, slipper shells, nutmegs, limpets, Queen Helmet shells, Giant Tritons, lightening whelks, Banded Tulips, butterfly shells, and Kittens Paw just to name a few.  It was fascinating and the more I learned the more addicted I became.  Pictured here is my favorite part of the museum, although it was very difficult to choose.  The colors were incredible; nature’s palette is amazing.  The Italian architect and engineer Renzo Piano said, “A museum is a place where one should lose one’s head.”  That sums up perfectly how I felt on my first visit to the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum.


The Banyan Tree

The next day we took a short drive up to Fort Myers to visit the winter homes of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.  Situated on the Caloosahatchee River, the adjacent estates contain a 21 acre botanical garden and now a museum.  The site dates back to 1885 when Edison first visited southwest Florida and dubbed his retreat the “Seminole Lodge.”  I had no idea he was good friends with Henry Ford, who purchased the adjoining property and named it “The Mangoes.”  I was also incredibly surprised to learn Edison’s botanical garden boasts more than a thousand varieties of plants from around the world.  I found it extremely humid, and that’s saying something coming from Texas.  So we happily entered the air conditioned museum and were treated to displays of Edison’s work as an inventor including the telegraph, telephone, x-ray machine, and more.  On the walls were reproduced photos chronicling the camping adventures of the two along with friends Harvey Firestone and American naturalist John Burroughs.  They referred to themselves as the “vagabonds.”  But what I remember most about this visit were the enormous, spectacular, exotic, old trees; one in particular — a banyan tree.  It came in 1925 at only four feet and producing white sap that Edison, Henry Ford, and Harvey Firestone hoped to use in making rubber for tires.  The banyan was not the answer but it remained, growing to an astounding acre in diameter!  A part of it is pictured here and, if I am being honest, I found this more interesting than seeing their homes.  The Indian novelist and poet Vikram Seth said, “I think it’s possible to be multi-rooted, rather like a banyan tree, without being deracinated.”  That is how I feel I am and what I wish for our little one to be — multi-rooted like the banyan tree.


Naples, Florida

When our daughter was born I asked my husband if we could always find some way to make it to a beach every year.  Her name in Latin means “of the sea.”  For centuries the Ever Blessed Virgin Mother Mary has been called “Stella Maris,” the Star of the Sea, and I wanted my baby to love the ocean just as my mother, her namesake did.  She used to speak of powder white sand when she visited Florida in her youth.  So I did some researching as I wanted our first family beach trip to be special, and I wanted to start collecting seashells for our little one.  A family member recommended Naples and I am so glad we took her advice!  This was the view from our hotel room.  You can see the ocean in the background and the fresh water estuaries in the foreground.  I found the estuaries absolutely fascinating and started learning as much about them as I could.  They are incredibly vital to that ecosystem and of course development is encroaching upon them.  One thing I loved about this hotel is they did not disturb the natural landscape.  They even had signs warning of crocodiles, so the estuaries were the wildlife’s domain.  My husband was anxious to get out the next day and explore Fort Myers so this was as close to the ocean as we got on our first day.  He has never liked lounging on a beach and the only beach experience I had was competing in the Miss Texas USA pageant in Padre Island.  Based upon my encounter I never considered myself to be a beach person either.  Nevertheless we were glad to be there and we had no idea how it would change our lives.  The Israeli politician and sixth Prime Minister of Israel Menachem Begin said:

“Peace is the beauty of life.  It is sunshine.  It is the smile of a child, the love of a mother, the joy of a father, the togetherness of a family.  It is the advancement of man, the victory of a just cause, the triumph of truth.”

We did not know it yet but peace, sunshine, the smile of our child, the love I felt as a mother, the joy evident on my husband’s face as a father, and the togetherness we shared as a family is exactly what we would find in Naples, Florida.


Sweet Dreams

I never understood taking healthy newborns away from their mothers and placing them in glass boxes behind glass walls in separate rooms.  Thankfully hospitals have realized the antiquated notion does not benefit either baby or mother, and now they stay together unless there is a health concern.  For me, this extended into our lives after we brought our baby home.  I kept her in her bassinet next to me and it made night feedings way more convenient.  As a child, I was terrified of sleeping in the dark.  My parents tried EVERYTHING but just could not get me to sleep alone.  The same has proven true with my daughter.  It amazes me as to why a supposedly open minded family member is so preoccupied with this.  I have a lot of friends from varying cultures whose children sleep with them.  To me sleep is a loving, special time and I know my five year old is not going to stay in our room with us forever.  Thanks to her sleeping with me I have been able to almost instantly monitor when she has had fever, trouble breathing with her asthma, and have even been able to soothe her after bad dreams.  I have also been surprised by how many people secretly have confessed their kids sleep with them, too.  I do not understand the judgemental taboo that seems to wrap itself around this issue.  There is a time and a place for everything, if you understand my meaning.  My little one and I sleep better with each other right now; one day that will not be the case.  Until then, I am going to be there for her and savor her sweet sighs, her little arms wrapped around me, and our impromptu girls’ talks that happen sometimes in the middle of the night.  We giggle because Daddy just sleeps through it all.  The French poet, novelist, and dramatist Victor Hugo said, “A mother’s arms are made of tenderness and children sleep soundly in them.”  And with that, I am telling my little one “sweet dreams.”


Hit The Bottle

I am very big into nice smelling scents.  I realize some people prefer no fragrance at all and I respect that; I try not to wear my perfume too strongly when I go out.  Invariably someone will compliment me on it though and I will be horrified because since I have worn it for so many years I can no longer smell it.  So I worry and ask if it’s too much.  Dear Lord I will NEVER forget the days of women drenching themselves in Giorgio in the ’80s.  I found the scent so overbearing I literally could not stand it and would just hold my breath until the elevator doors opened.  I knew then I never wanted to be that person!  But I’m not going to lie, I love a good scent.  I tend to adore white florals (I realize some of you may be gagging right now.)  In junior high I remember getting Jungle Gardenia from the grocery store and thinking I was quite grown up.  And, I’m not going to throw it under the proverbial bus, I would still like it.  Roses are sacred to me because my Grandmother Maris always smelled delicately of Rose Milk.  Of course everyone’s body chemistry is different and what smells intoxicating on one person may smell horrid on another.  For years I wore Alfred Sung before the original Carolina Herrera came along.  It is becoming harder and harder to find; I’ll bet I’ve worn it for 20 years.  It is my “signature fragrance” and my husband loves it.  I FINALLY got him to start wearing cologne.  But I have gotten off topic.  My mother instilled in me an appreciation for scented soap (which she got from her mother) years before they were so commonplace.  I can remember the fancy bars of soap with something written on them we always had in our soap dish.  I believe bars of soap of any sort are now on the decline.  I confess I prefer the pump soap — mostly because I feel it’s more sanitary — but I no longer get anything with “scrubbers” (microbeads) as they are a detriment to the environment.  However I also prefer different scents in different places around the house.  For instance, a lemon scent might be great for the kitchen but I would enjoy something softer for the bathrooms.  All of which leads me to this:  sometimes it’s the little things.  I discovered this cleverly packaged soap the other day and loved the scent.  I do keep my red wine in the kitchen and often add it to what I’m cooking.  I have tried transferring soap into nicer glass containers but look how cute this is!  Apparently the “bottle” is being discontinued so I decided to stock up.  I will use the extras as spares if one should ever go out.  The Russian born American novelist Vladimir Nabokov once said, “Nothing revives the past so completely as a smell that was once associated with it.”  So go ahead — hit the bottle.


Holy Faith

Last year I wrote several pieces on Santa Fe.  For anyone who missed it but has an interest, you can go to the bottom of my home page and type “Santa Fe” in the search bar to pull up the archives and read it.  In that particular one I wrote about some of my favorite churches in the city proper.  To my surprise and delight I discovered a new church on this trip.  We were not able to go inside and see the Sanctuario, but I did get this beautiful picture of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the twelve-foot statue you see here in front of it.  The original church was a small structure established in 1777 on the banks of the Santa Fe River near the end of the Camino Real.  It was constructed with a Latin cross floor plan, three foot thick adobe walls, a flat roof supported by pine vigas, a dirt packed floor, and a three-tiered bell tower.  There is the historic chapel as well as a new larger church built to accommodate the burgeoning parish.  We got to walk the El Cerro de Tepeyac, a paved path featuring six tile mosaics illustrating the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Juan Diego.  Santa Fe has the oldest standing shrine built in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the United States.  It is a beautiful and enduring landmark and I thought it was so fitting that I had never seen it until I had been graced with my own Marian child.  When the Archbishop dedicated the statue he stated that “if the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis is the heart of Santa Fe then the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe is the soul of Santa Fe.”  Here the Ever Blessed Virgin Mother Mary is always waiting to hear the prayers of her pilgrims, the greatest intercessor for Her Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ.  Maris Grace and I were especially blessed on this, her first trip to Santa Fe; the city of holy faith.


Blue Corn

No trip to Santa Fe would be complete without hitting some of my favorite restaurants.  One of my top loves is pictured here from my preferred lunch spot — the Blue Corn Cafe.  Their corn soup is so rich you only need a cup!  We revisited Tecolote for an incredible breakfast of blue corn pancakes and blue corn grits.  The one thing I can never get enough of is blue corn.  They have it in Texas but generally only in “New Mexican” restaurants.  And even then it’s mostly just the chips with the salsa.  Blue corn (also known as Hopi maize) is a variety of flint maize (or Indian corn) grown in Mexico and the Southwestern United States, particularly in Arizona and New Mexico.  It was originally developed by the Hopi organically and remains an essential part of their dishes.  The 17th century English explorer, naturalist, and writer John Lawson said:

“The Indian Corn, or Maiz, proves the most useful Grain in the World; and had it not been for the Fruitfulness of this Species, it would have proved very difficult to have settled some of the Plantations in America.”

Blue corn is a staple of New Mexican cuisine.  In addition to its sharply different color, blue corn has several nutritional advantages over the standard yellow or white corn varieties; it contains more protein and has a lower glycemic index.  When used to make tortillas, blue corn produces a sweeter, nuttier taste than yellow or white corn.  Blue corn is simply the best!  And of course no trip to Santa Fe would be complete without visiting The Shed, a 17th century house tucked away at the back of a beautiful little patio and surrounded by a number of small shops.  It is famous for its blue corn enchiladas smothered in red or green chilie.  If you cannot decide which one you can simply say “Christmas” and get both.  If I could only have one thing to eat for the rest of my life it would definitely be my beloved blue corn.