The Best Time

My little one had another birthday party to attend.  It was at a popular place where several other kiddos in her class had held their birthday parties — including my own when she turned five.  But this time I did not want to sit on the bench like a responsible parent.  I found out it was OK for adults to go as long as they wore socks like everyone else.  I tried not to let my age or my weight bother me and I just decided to have fun with my little girl.  Rather than embarrassing her as I’d feared, the other kids started asking if I would go down the slides with them — to the point where my only child got jealous.  I was not elegant or gracious but you know what?  I had a great time!  One husband remarked I was the biggest kid there.  When I was little they didn’t have places like this.  And those slides seem WAY higher than two stories once you’ve climbed up!  I can only imagine how they must feel to littles.  I have found as I age that life is short.  I have spent too much time wondering what others may think of me and/or trying to please someone else.  Now I just don’t give a damn.  The result was that my child told me after it was all over she was so glad I played with her and that a few of the other kids said they wished I was their mom.  The Indian children’s right’s advocate Kailash Satyarthi said, “Childhood means simplicity.  Look at the world with the child’s eye — it is very beautiful.”  I was not the thinnest there and I’m pretty sure I was the oldest.  But I just let go of everything and had fun with my little one.  And I do believe I was the parent who had the best time.


With A Different Eye

When I was little I was always perplexed as to why my parents were so proud of the things I did.  Winning the school Spelling Bee I get.  Playing Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” I get.  Writing and publishing two books I get.  But they would be equally as proud of whatever craft I brought home which, frankly, was not great.  Cut several decades later to my little girl.  My goodness minutes after she was born I was on Facebook so proud that my baby was only one of two in over fifteen years (according to the nurse) to score a perfect ten on her Apgar test!  I did not even know what that was.  But WOW was I ever proud!  I never had the talent for painting like my mother did.  She used to ride the streetcar barefoot as a ten year old and take art lessons at Fair Park in downtown Dallas.  Can you imagine a child doing that today?!  She used models from Audubon books and had a true gift.  I, on the other hand, never really knew how to draw.  A couple of years ago I went to a paint (and drink) class where I attempted my first ever painting — the Dallas skyline.  One building looks distinctly phallic, but nevertheless I tried.  On this day my little one attended her first “paint party” and this was the piece chosen.  I loved it and of course I think it is a masterpiece!  It now proudly hangs in her room, and I had her sign and date it at the bottom for posterity.  I do not know if it is discernible from this picture, but she chose to make all her gumballs pink.  Of course that is the beauty of the class — everyone’s painting is completely unique.  The American clergyman Henry Ward Beecher once said, “Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.”  I thought that was really profound.  I had never thought of art in terms of the artist.  Now I see things with a different eye.


Not Always A Bad Thing

The American writer Andre Norton once said, “Always the cat remains a little beyond the limits we try to set for him in our blind folly.”  Truer words were never spoken.  Our sweet but mischievous half Siamese kitten has inadvertently saved us a little bit of money.  I have always enjoyed getting fresh flowers from the grocery store each week, as I feel it has lent a cheery warmth to our home and our dinner table.  However that has gone out the window (and down the sink) since Mr. Blue arrived.  True to his Siamese roots, the little thing is a veritable hunter.  Nothing is safe from his grasp.  I used to think coming home to find scattered rose petals would be a romantic surprise.  However, coming home to find roses have been “killed” and strewn about in nearly every room of the house as well as on every available surface is NOT my idea of romance.  Add to that huge wolfies inadvertently grinding their giant paws into them and clean up is just miserable.  I have always eschewed artificial flowers, I suppose because I they have no life.  However I am now a reluctant convert.  See these roses?  Fake.  And guess what?  They look like this every day — no broken vases, no spilled water, and no flowers upended staring back at me in some macabre fashion.  They cost the same as the grocery store roses did for one week only these will last forever.  The greatest part is our mischievous cats leave them alone!  I have broken down and purchased some type of trailing (artificial) flowers that NEVER would have survived in our house if they’d been real and the gatos have not even touched them.  It just goes to show your pets can indeed push you beyond the limits, but maybe that is not always a bad thing.


A Lantern For Another

I have noticed a resurgence in the popularity of lanterns over the past couple of years.  Lanterns have been used as the earliest source of light by nearly every culture in the world.  Originating as a protective enclosure for a light source, it was portable and could be placed more practically outdoors or in drafty interiors where they were more likely to be blown out by gusts of air.  When ancient men dwelled in caves they used handfuls of moss soaked with animal fat in hollowed out rocks.  Ancient Africans burned oily nuts in clay saucers for light.  During the Iron Age and days of King David, the Canaanite Oil Lamp was used.  There is documentation of terra-cotta Herodian oil lamps from 50 BC to AD 50 which show it was used during the ministry of Jesus.  Even the many types of wicks show the age of early lanterns, from papyrus, to rush, to linen, and flax.  Ancient Romans filled their lanterns with olive oil.  The Chinese still use paper lanterns which are prevalent during the Lunar New Year.  Lantern festivals are now rising in popularity all over the world.  Until the 1700’s oil lamps, oil lanterns, and candles were the only source of light.  Then petroleum was developed and after that came the kerosene lamp.  It could light up an area better and also lasted longer.  The lantern was developed as an alternative to candles and is considered a historical forerunner to modern day electricity.  Though primarily used to prevent light from being extinguished, lanterns served an equally important function of reducing the risk of fire if a spark should leap or if the light was ever dropped.  This was especially crucial below deck on ships, as gunpowder was a common presence stored in large amounts.  Unguarded lights were taken so seriously that the obligatory use of lanterns below decks were even written into one of the few known remaining examples of pirate code.  Nichiren, a 13th century Japanese Buddhist priest said, “If you light a lantern for another, it will also brighten your own way.”  I have looked for quite some time to find just the right lanterns for our home.  They have been either too big, too small, or too expensive.  Then I found the one pictured here and there were two!  I also found these battery operated “candles” that fit perfectly in them and I do not have to worry about fire.  Plus they’re on timers so they do not stay on all night.  I love them and I think they make the front of our house more inviting.  I want to be like the Buddhist priest said so long ago.  I hope in some way, to someone, somewhere, this blog will serve as a lantern for another.


The Mother Lode

I only had this last morning to look for shells, as we were leaving in the afternoon.  So I grabbed my bucket and shovel and dashed out at first light, leaving my sweet little family still sleeping.  This time I decided to wander as far as I could down one side of the beach to where there was an alcove.  Careful to heed the warning signs about swimming there, I was walking knee-deep in water when the smooth sand suddenly shifted and gave way to hard rock, cutting deep into my feet.  But then the tide receded and I noticed what looked to be the perfectly spiraled top of a conch shell peeking up out of the midst of the white rocks.  I had never seen a conch shell in the water before so I was not entirely sure.  It was as if the ocean had lifted her mysterious veil for a moment, allowing me a glance at some of her secrets.  As I knelt to investigate, a harsh wave of salty sea knocked me over.  Emerging sputtering and fumbling around through stinging eyes, I realized with complete shock that the “rocks” were actually deeply embedded conchs!!!  But the sea was not going to simply relinquish her treasures that easily.  Learning her dance, I worked for hours in time with the rhythmic waves, digging when I could with part of a sharp piece of shell.  Laboriously I freed big, fully intact conchs from their hiding place beneath the sand and sea.  My husband had awakened at some point and came to inform me we would be leaving for the airport in just two hours.  “OK,” I said, not even looking up.  I paused in my quest long enough to go up to the closest beach bar and ask for a “grand bolsa,” hoping they’d gotten my meaning.  Grinning broadly, a man produced an enormous clear, strong bag that would be perfect for hauling back my treasures.  By now I had drawn a small crowd and everyone was digging around in my spot!  Inwardly grinding my teeth and sighing, I tried to remind myself I held no claim over the ocean.  And the sea was gracious enough to reveal her some of her gifts to me after a week of searching.  I figured I was destined to find the ones I did and to just be thankful.  Knowing I had to go anyway, I had been guarding my big trash sack full of conchs like a wolf hovering over a pile of bones.  Hating to leave, I went to lift them but they would not budge — AT ALL.  I saw a strong looking man passing several feet above me and hollered, “Señor?  Señor?  Por favor?” praying he would stop.  He saw what I was trying to do and very gallantly went to lift my bag.  Like a woman whose dress had just been stepped on from behind, he started to walk and was literally halted midstep.  I saw his eyes widen and feared he might relinquish his silent agreement to help.  Instead he tucked his head down and resolutely dragged the huge sack up the cliff.  Once we were on top of level beach again I gave him my best smile mixed with a hopeful, pleading look and pointed at the slightly far off distance to our hotel.  The wonderful Mexican man lugged the incredibly heavy bag all the way back to where the beach boys all stood together staring.  Trailing along beside him, I just kept saying, “GRACIOUS!” over and over, hoping he knew how grateful I was.  As fate would have it, Burk appeared (no doubt to remind me of the time) and the exhausted man slung the sack at my husband’s feet, giving him a look I interpreted to mean, “good luck.”  Looking down at the giant bag in horror, my beloved proclaimed, “Baby Doll you can’t bring all this back and we have to go.”  Realizing I probably looked crazed, I informed him I was NOT leaving without them.  I had seaweed in my hair and smelled sort of fishy.  The hubs tactfully suggested perhaps I should shower before we left.  I sensed he was about to chime the time to me again so I sweetly asked him to just please carefully bring my seashells into our room and I would start the shower.  Then I pulled one out of Mama’s playbook:  I sent my husband on an “errand” to get him out.  One by one I removed my precious treasure and, with a hint of melancholy, rinsed all the sand away that had bound them to the sea.  This is a picture of most of them drying on the shower bench.  Scaring the wits out of me, the hubs reappeared and hollered the time at me through the bathroom door like a deranged cuckoo clock.  Half-heartedly picking the more obvious strands of seaweed out of my straggly, ocean scented hair, I threw my clothes in with my husband’s.  That freed my luggage for packing my priceless pieces from the sea.  The Canadian author and speaker Tom Wujec said:

“The word ‘question’ originates from the Latin root, quaestio, which means ‘to seek.’  Inside the word ‘question’ is the word ‘quest,’ suggesting that within every question is an adventure, a pursuit which can lead us to hidden treasure.”

This trip began with a question when I sought to see if they had any shells on the beach.  Despite assurances to the contrary, I pursued my quest and was lucky enough to have an adventure that would uncover the best hidden treasure of seashells I had ever encountered.  I had hit the mother lode.


Touring Tulum

My husband’s skin tone had returned to normal and on this day we all ventured out to tour the ancient ruins of Tulum.  It was very hot but less humid than Coba’s jungle.  Situated on almost 40 foot tall cliffs overlooking the sea, there was at least some ocean breeze to provide a little relief.  At one time it may have been referred to as the “City of Dawn” because it faces east and the rising sun.  Tulum was one of the last sites inhabited by the Maya and was at its height between the 13th and 15th centuries.  It managed to survive about 70 years after the Spanish began their “conquest” of Mexico.  Old World diseases brought by the Spanish seem to have created high fatalities, disrupting their society to the point that the city became abandoned.  A colorful little train took us out to the site, which had wide, white paths out in the open sun; very different from the shaded jungle of Coba.  The views were breathtaking.  My then 88 year old grandmother-in-law was incredible walking around with us while the baby had the luxury of her stroller.  But her little face became so red and her soft baby head was covered in sweat.  What I remember most was the stark contrast of everything in vivid colors against the whiteness of the ruins and the blue of the sea.  Coconuts waited to be opened to drink in the center of brightly colored tables surrounded by chairs each having their own cheery color.  There were handmade hammocks for sale in every shade under grass thatched roofs.  Even the bowls for feeding the stray cats were in bold colors of yellow and red.  As you can see, my little one made a friend.  She was leaning in to kiss him as I snapped this picture.  He was a sexy thing.  After a long day of sightseeing, we all headed back for a little siesta.  That night the three of us enjoyed a lovely dinner on the beach.  The sea and sky blended into one seamless, infinite darkness and we had the lighted, wrapped palm trees to illumine our table while our feet were tucked into the sand.  The French poet and novelist Victor Hugo once said:

“There is one spectacle grander than the sea, that is the sky; there is one spectacle grander than the sky, that is the interior of the soul.”

This was a day full of exploration — from ancient ruins to ancient cultures; from sun, sky, sand, and sea to kissing a lizard.  We enjoyed it all touring Tulum.


Let Go And Relax

The next morning I left my still sick sleeping husband and my little baby snuggled together as I decided to head out the few short steps down to the beach.  I figured if I was within hollering distance they’d be OK.  Feeling slightly guilty, I tried to let go and just relax.  I took this picture of my delicious smoothie being delivered beachside and then decided to peek in on my babies.  My little one was sucking her thumb asleep next to her daddy.  He was still sleeping but looking the exact same greenish hue as the drink I was going back to enjoy.  I crept back out, reclined under my umbrella, and just breathed.  Now it felt like a vacation!  I was free!!!  I didn’t have to worry and I could simply enjoy!  This is how I always thought a Mexican beach vacation was supposed to be!  Solicitous and with (as previously mentioned in another travel blog of mine) the requisite cute beach “boy” factor.  Ahhhh…  No life guard duty; no sunscreen application on hostile persons … just ME actually RELAXING — for no reason!!  It was heaven!  I eventually switched my drink to a pineapple one with some type of liquor and I decided to go on a quest for seashells.  I searched and searched and was able to find some although they were small.  I noticed a giant Buddha statue with special shells around him and thought it would be horribly wrong if I took those offerings.  The Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh said:

“Each of us is like the waves and also like the water.  Sometimes we’re excited, noisy, and agitated like the waves.  Sometimes we’re tranquil like still water.  When water is calm, it reflects the blue sky, the clouds, and the trees.  Sometimes, whether we’re at home, work, or school, we become tired, agitated, or unhappy and we need to transform into calm water.  We already have calmness in us; we just need to know how to make it manifest.”

I was not sure I had any calmness already in me, but the lull of the ocean waves and the caress of the sun enabled me to actually let go and relax.


Montezuma’s Revenge

The French artist Paul Gauguin said, “Civilization is what makes you sick.”  Montezuma II was Emperor of Mexico from 1502 to 1520 and in power when the Spanish began their “conquest” of the Aztec Empire.  “Montezuma’s Revenge” (traveler’s diarrhea) is a sickness that is usually caused by drinking the local water or eating foods to which visitors are unaccustomed.  The illness is bacterial and can occasionally be serious; mostly it is caused by E. coli.  On this day we set out for Coba, an ancient Mayan city on the Yucatan Peninsula.  The site is the nexus of the largest network of stone causeways in the ancient Mayan world.  Pictured here is another pyramid on the site only this one had steps that were still intact.  As I understood it, Coba had been covered by jungle and not rediscovered until much later.  The main pyramid is still open for the public to climb and to my surprise I learned it is 40 feet taller than the one I had always heard about in Chichen Itza.  As our guide took us into the dense, humid jungle we passed lizards sunbathing and saw a monkey dozing in a tree.  At last we’d made our way to the pyramid and Burk and I decided we would climb it.  I must confess to having a fear of heights and/or at least vertigo.  There was a single rope running down half of the pyramid, tethered by metal rings that had been drilled into the stone.  If someone wished to use it they must bend over double, as the rope could barely be lifted above the stairs.  Those wanting to climb or descend without any aid were left to pick their way over well worn steps that were nerve-wracking at best.  I found the ascent to be OK.  Burk and I had our picture taken on the very top but it is difficult to tell just how high up it really was.  I am so glad I did it and I had a feeling of elation.  Normally, I would say I am always way cooler than my husband.  But in this instance I have to admit he had me beat.  I watched him walk casually down that pyramid like he was descending steps at the mall.  I, on the other hand, was slightly petrified by the perilously steep steps smoothed by time, traverse, and weather.  Many were going down on their rumps, and I could see why.  After our journey we ate at the local restaurant.  It was no hardship drinking Mexican beer and we had quesadillas with guacamole.  Of course the baby had a bottled water.  Later that evening around midnight I was awakened by my husband hollering, “I’M SICK!”  Immediately popping out of bed, I asked what I could do.  I barely got him to the bathroom before he projectile vomited like a spewing volcano absolutely everywhere.  He was so ill he was lying on the marble floor in a pool of his own vomit, too weak to even get up.  I was terrified and a doctor came first thing the next morning.  He said my husband had gotten so dehydrated that he really should be hospitalized.  However, he gave him several injections and proclaimed we should not eat anything outside our hotel “not cooked by the fire.”  With horror I realized it had to have been the guacamole from the day before.  I’m sure the tomatoes had been washed locally.  The irony is no one else in our family got sick — and we all had eaten the EXACT same thing.  I was so incredibly grateful the baby was OK!  She has a cast iron stomach like her Mama.  Maybe Montezuma also knew we have Choctaw blood and so we escaped his wrath.  My poor husband … he had to stay in bed for the next couple of days and mostly slept.  He had fallen victim to Montezuma’s Revenge.


Strolling Along Fifth Avenue

This day would be our first full day and we started it off at the water’s edge.  Seeing all the boats docked reminded me of a telenovela I got hooked on when the baby was first born.  They would cut from a big ranch to a little beach side town filled with small, colored fishing boats like the ones here bobbing gently against their moorings.  I searched and searched for shells but was only able to turn up a handful of tiny ones.  Around noon we ventured out over the little bridge of our hotel’s koi pond to hit the city’s famous Quinta avenida (Fifth avenue.)  We saw people sitting in spas with their feet in neon lit water while little fish came to eat the dead skin off them.  (Yick!)  I saw hundreds of drying tobacco leaves hanging from an outdoor store’s ceiling like bats from a cave and I went over to watch as a man sat outside methodically hand rolling cigars.  Of course I could not resist buying a few.  I love getting pictures of Burk in silly hats or next to different “people.”  It’s a fun tradition we started on our first trip together.  As we walked along the bricked street lined with shops on either side we found a bench with a life-size bronze statue of Pancho Villa sitting on it.  He was wearing crisscrossed strands of bullets around his neck and above him was a sign that read “Viva Mexico!”  As Burk sat next to him and put his arm around him I found myself thinking the live Pancho Villa would probably not have been too pleased.  That night we ate at a really cool outdoor restaurant called La Cueva del Chango.  They had toy monkeys hanging from the trees and the whole thing was set in an enchanting, soothing little grove.  Their food was delicious, as was the Mexican wine.  But the atmosphere really made it.  Old growth vegetation and huge trees mingled with art work for sale, saints next to candles, and turtles in a little “creek” that ran through the restaurant.  It was my favorite place that we would eat on this trip.  We capped off the evening by visiting a high end jewelry store where we got my little one a beautiful tiny sterling silver cuff bracelet with a delicate blue and white floral inlay.  Seeing her wear it brings this trip back to me.  We knew we’d been out a long time when even the gatos were making their way home, disappearing through wrought iron bars into various courtyards.  Our whole family held up, from our three year old to her 88 year old great grandmother.  Maria Grazia Cucinotta, the Italian actress and “Cigar Girl” in the James Bond film “The World Is Not Enough,” said, “I am curious.  I love making discoveries, traveling, speaking with people, go(ing) shopping.”  I am the same way and I got to enjoy all of those things on this day, strolling along Fifth Avenue.


Playa Del Carmen

This would be my first time on the Caribbean Sea; my other beach trips were always on the gulf side.  I had wanted to go to Mexico ever since I was a kid and watched “The Love Boat” on TV each week with my folks.  Playa del Carmen is a coastal resort town located within the Mayan Rivera, which runs south of Cancun to Tulum and the Sian Ka’an biosphere preserve.  We would be staying at a beautiful oceanfront hotel which had condominiums right on the beach.  We arrived toward late afternoon and decided to take it easy and enjoy getting settled in.  The hotel had spacious rooms and suites and my husband, baby, and I were on the first floor just steps away from the ocean.  My mother-in-law and step-father-in-law, who took us, were staying with my grandmother-in-law on the third floor, which was the highest view one could have from one of their two top luxury condos.  This picture is part of the panoramic view we got to enjoy from their two story suite’s rounded balcony.  We all stayed in together the first night and had room service bring us dinner.  I drank in the tranquility of the waves lapping rhythmically at the shore.  Our view below revealed what I always thought Mexico would have … a bar lit with lively lanterns swaying delicately in the breeze and palm trees wrapped cheerfully with strands of white lights.  There were also cool multicolored orbs in the sand that lent their alfresco dining a glowing touch.  I could not WAIT to get out to the ocean (I think I was the only one) to look for shells!  It was the first thing about which I inquired upon our arrival, but I was told there were really none to be found.  I was still thrilled to be exploring some ruins, venturing out to eat, and doing a little shopping.  Something with which I particularly agree after having gotten to spend a little time at the beach is this quote by the English actress Cherie Lunghi:

“I enjoy art, architecture, museums, churches and temples; anything that gives me insight into the history and soul of the place I’m in.  I can also be a beach bum – I like to laze in the shade of a palm tree with a good book or float in a warm sea at sundown.”

I was hoping to get to do some of all of those things during our time in Playa del Carmen.