Monday, March 30, 2015

2 days, 800 delightful miles

You might be saying:  2 days, 800 delightful miles?  How can that possibly be?  

Actually, I was kind of saying that to myself last night, when I arrived home at 11:00 pm, tired and sore from driving every one of those "delightful" miles.  

But honestly, it's the truth.  As I was taking this marathon trip, driving from nearly one end of my consular district to another, and then back again to Merida, kind of making a triangle, I was thinking that I'm just so lucky to live in an area where I can drive freely without fear of overt danger.  Of course I still need to be careful, and I am.  In fact, I drove a few miles extra on my way home to take a more well traveled road vs. the more convenient, less traveled, no cell phone reception road -- definitely not a road you should take at night.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Let me take you back in time, 2 days ago. 

It's Friday night and nearly time for the consulate to close, and here come the email notifications:  one American in custody in Campeche, and 4 Americans in custody in Chetumal. Having detainees in Chetumal is hard enough to coordinate because that means a 5 hour drive (one way) with our limited resources, but also having a detainee in Campeche, which is on the opposite side of the peninsula, means someone is gonna do a whole lotta driving this weekend.  With one officer on R&R, another on annual leave, and the other on duty, guess who's going driving? yes, that's!

First thing Saturday morning, I drop Oscar at doggie daycare and I'm out the door. In two hours, I'm at the main prison in Campeche, conveniently located right off the federal highway, next to the hammock makers, I'm here to visit someone who perhaps did something perhaps not so good (isn't that always the reason?).  Out of all the prisons I've been to, it was actually one of the "better" ones.  It had automatic cell doors that actually worked.  (I guess it doesn't take much to impress me!).

Despite their "fancy" doors, this is not a place I'd like to stay for long.
After doing all that I needed to do, I'm back in the car, heading to Chetumal, more than 300 miles away.  I travel south through seaside towns, until the road turns inland, and then I'm back on the route that Patrick and I took for our 1500 mile journey (Yes, I promised a blog about that, didn't I? It's coming, it's coming!)  

About 6:30 pm, just when it's getting dark and I'm getting restless, I pull into the town of Xpujil.  As I pass the yummiest restaurant in town (Sazon Veracruzano--in case you are in the neighborhood one day), I recognize the mini van of my colleague Robert (who is on leave), and I remember that he's visiting Calakmul with his family.

I'm such a firm believer that God gives you what you need when you need it, and this was the perfect time to take a little break, have a little snack, and get some little hugs.  As you can tell, we were all kind of wild and crazy.  :-)

Mary, Vivianne, me, Ben, Henry, and Marshall
Then it was back in the car, for the remaining 2 hours drive to Chetumal....only it was worse than that, because as I got into the car, I remembered that the state of Quintana Roo is actually one hour ahead of us, and that really meant a 3 hour drive!!!  Oh no! But all in all, I gratefully arrived safely, and was snuggled into bed by 11 pm.  

Sunday:  Rise and Shine and off to the Mexican Immigration Detention Facility.   Being the "good American consular officer that I am", I arrived punctually at my appointed time, only to wait 45 minutes for someone to come and unlock the door to the area normally used for consular interviews. Oh well...and whoops, by the way, instead of 4 Americans, there are really 6.  Alrighty then....let's get to it.

3 hours later, forms were completed, requests were facilitated, phones calls were organized, and 6 Americans were a bit happier having seen their American consul.  It's honestly a great feeling when you legitimately help someone.

3pm - what to do, what to's a beautiful day.  The sun is shining and the sky is so blue. I don't frequent this part of the peninsula very often, so I decide to drive 40 miles to visit the sleepy fishing village of Mahaual.  We've had some cases from this area recently, and I thought it would be good to check it out. 

They say that Mahaual has two faces....the one it shows when the cruise ships dock and tourists arrive, and the other one it shows when everyone leaves.  I definitely got the "everyone's left" face.

el faro, aka the lighthouse

crepe paper storm and that thing would be off to sea!

"downtown" Mahaual...I use that term  loosely

Time to hop back in the car and make my way back to Merida....5 hours away--sigh.  But for right now, I'm thinking about how the road between Mahaual and the federal highway is very interesting.  40 miles of mangroves and low shrubbery, and I just can't help but feel how healthy and beneficial it must be for all the animals who live here.  It's wonderful to see land preserved in it's natural state.  About 2/3 of the way to the end, I am rewarded with a glorious site.  I see this amazing area of mangroves and grass,where all these beautiful birds are just hanging out.  I pull over to the side of the road and just sit there, listening to them honking and squaking and chattering about their life.

I love how the pink birds have a shovel-like bill.
Birds of many feathers flock together

Just one lone "blue bird", hanging out

You can really see the mangroves here. 

Like I said...800 delightful miles!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Magical Maya - March Equinox 2015

3:50 am - my alarm sounds (ugh!)--admittedly I hit the snooze...only once! Those of you who know me know that I don't like to get up early on the weekends, and I definitely don't like to set my alarm...but today is a special day:  the March Equinox.  I toss my covers off and get my groove on because it's that time of the year, where day and the night are nearly equal lengths, and magical things happen at Maya ruins!!!

4:20 am - coffee in my Merida coffee cup, featuring the very place I will be going: Dzibichalun's Temple of the Seven Dolls.'s DARK outside!  Even Oscar's face is telling me it's very early!

5:00 am - I reach the outskirts of the ruins and encounter a line of vehicles waiting to enter the parking lot...shoot!  Am I going to miss the sunrise?  I begin to mentally make plans to get up earlier next year and I wonder briefly if I should turn around and go home. The answer is no!  In the Maya spirit, I decide to preserve.  After all, building these ruins took patience, and I will channel that attitude. 

***While we are waiting, here's your history lesson:  Dzibilchaltun is situated about 10 miles north of Merida, and means "the place where there is writing on the stones."  It was built over hundreds of years, starting in 300 BC. read that correctly...300 BC!  and it remained a working community until the time the Spanish arrived in the 1500s (Yep!  that's a long time!).  Archaeologists believe there were as many as 200,000 inhabitants (with both Maya and Spanish residents, interesting, right?) and 8,400 buildings.  Today, the highlights include a large plaza, sacbe trails, the Temple of the Seven Dolls (named because they found seven dolls there... original, right?) and the open chapel, which is an unusual amphitheater.  And of course, there's a wonderful cenote too!

5:45 am - It's twilight, and I've hustled some buns, paid my ticket (62 MXP or $4.20 USD), and am now walking along the sacbe (which is a white path built by the Maya to connect temples, city centers, and plazas).  You are not allowed to enter with backpacks, large purses, chairs, tents, and other large objects.  Luckily I left my tent and chair at home, and only brought my small-ish purse.

I slowly make my way with the crowd, closer to the temple.  The path is very rocky and I'm not exactly sure where I should stand to get the best view.  As I get closer, I see there is a low building in front of the temple, so I move to the right to improve my vantage.

The sun peeks over the back of the temple
6:05 am - I start thinking that if the sun is supposed to come through the window, I better situate myself in front of the window (duh, I know...let's blame it on lack of sleep!). So I saunter over to the middle of the sacbe, trying to avoid people taking photos and video, though inevitably I'm sure I'm in many photos and video!

It's crowded here, but not jam packed tight (which is good because I don't like crowds). Overall, people are very quiet, even the kids.  Everyone is just waiting, for that magical Maya moment. 

6:15 am (ish) And here it comes....

I'm glad I moved to the middle!

The sun rises a bit more.

Now it's smack dab in the middle (along with that guy's head!  I'm just glad he's not taller!) :-)

The whole sky is illuminated and it is a beautiful moment.

Right now, I am saying a prayer of thanks that God made such a wonderful world, with smart Maya and warm sun.

And in brief moment, the sun rises and is nearly out of the window. 
Everybody had their different reactions to the magical moment:  

quiet prayer

hands raising in praise



I know it's a million dollar question:  but how did the Maya know how to do this?  It's magical and memorable and wonderful.  I'm so glad that I woke up early to see this. Makes me feel inspired to see the snake shadow at Chichen Itza next year.  

Anyone want to come with me????

Saturday, March 14, 2015

A blustery museo afternoon - Canton Palace

What's a girl to do after lunch at an Irish pub with friends on a blustery Saturday afternoon, but cross the street and go to one of the most "famous" museums in Merida?  I've only been here for a year and a half, and have not been.  I think it's beyond time I check out the Canton Palace.

Located on the main drag in Merida, the elegant Canton Palace houses the Regional Anthropology and History Museum.  Currently it showcases two temporary exhibits: Mexican pottery from the Mexican state of Jalisco and the Puuc Code.  Both were truly lovely.

Canton Palace, Paseo de Montejo, Merida

First floor:  "Tonala y Tlaquepaque", which are two municipalities in the Mexican state of Jalisco utilizing pottery techniques that meld both ancient methods with new trends. There are approximately 180 pieces in the exhibition, which basically provide an overview of the history of clay (I really have to like clay!), and well as featuring different production techniques.  Some of these techniques date back to 400 and 600 AD.

For those of you who know me, you know I really appreciate a museum with a great layout. This exhibition is really done quite nicely. 

Enjoy some of my favorite pieces!

This style is called the bandera style (as in "flag" style) because the colors are red, white, and green, like the colors of the Mexican flag.  

A unique footed piece, in the bandera style
Second floor:  the "Puuc Code", an entire exhibit dedicated to the unique features of the Puuc architectural style (found in the Mayan ruins of Uxmal, Kabah, Xlpak, and Oxkintok)  Between the facades, columns, roof combs, and other intricate details, architects can "read the history" of the Puuc era.
Chaac Mool - the rain god - from Uxmal
Sadly, this was my last photo before my camera battery died.  :-( Such is life.  

I guess that means you'll just have to travel to Merida before May 1 to see the rest of this amazing exhibition.

xoxo for now

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Keeping the faith

As my friend Teresa posted on her FB page: " There's so much going on in the news these days. It's almost scary in comic book epic proportions...."

One week ago, I was taking a walk among the cherry blossoms, getting my arms sunburned, when I received a phone call from my step mom:  my dad was in the hospital with 3 broken ribs and a punctured lung.  
Among the cherry blossoms, pre-phone call.

Respite for talking
As I sat below this tree, on a hard (and small) piece of wood, listening to my step mom describe my dad's condition of withering away and how she was losing her soul mate, I was overwhelmed with emotion for all that my dad and step mom were going through.  They have a love that has endured many struggles and challenges, along with much joy, for 35 years.  It's a true example of what it means to love someone with all your heart and soul, and when one person slowly slips away, it's heart-breaking.

After we finished the call, I sat for a while with the sun on my back and the blue water in front of me, and I couldn't help but feel blessed for all the time I've had with my dad.  From years of no contact in my adolescence to a strong commitment on both of our parts to re-forge a relationship, I am deeply grateful for the connection we have today.  There's nothing left unsaid between us.  We both know how much we mean to the other person.  That can't always be said about relationships.

So...with some reorganization of my life, and lots of help and encouragement from friends and family, I was on a plane Friday night to see my parents.  

The power of love is a miraculous thing.  Almost from the moment I arrived, my dad perked up, his appetite returned, and he's on the slow road to recovery.  He's out of the hospital, his condition is no longer life-threatening, but his life has changed.  I'm not sure that he realizes it entirely, but it has.

And so here I am, in my own stage of mid-life (and yes, with my birthday tomorrow, I suppose I can say--hopefully--that I'm in the middle of my life)...taking care of young adult children AND my aging parents.  It's a strange part of life to be in.  Definitely some un-chartered territory here.  But applying what I've learned thus far from my life, I'm know I need to be truly present in the moment, keep breathing, and remember that all things happen in their right time.

So with a week almost scary in comic book epic proportions (the Boston Marathon bombing, the fertilizer plant explosion, the Senate not passing the bill on background checks), and now...the death of my colleague and friend Paul, I'm having a hard time seeing the "right time" in all this...but I'm in doing my best to keep the faith.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A kaleidoscope for the Big Kids

I used to think that when you had little kids, it was so hard to protect them from the bad occurrences in the world.   But now that I have older kids, I think it was actually easier when they were younger.  

As a parent of young kids, I could always turn off the TV (like I did on 9/11 when we were in Cairo), hide the newspapers, or restrict internet viewing.  Of course, I didn't have any control over what happened at school, what other students said and what adults may have discussed in the hallways, ripe for "overhearing"....but in general, I had some control. 

Now that the kids are older, and (more or less) out of the house, I understand very acutely that I have no control to what they are exposed.  They are free to take in as much information about the world's events as they like, or shield themselves and live with little knowledge.  They have become their own filters of information, which allows them to experience the events of the world, just like "us adults," but with a less experienced frame of reference to process.

Such is the case with the Boston Marathon bombing.    

This terrible tragedy has made me think of many things.   One of which is that as a parent of "young adult children," what's my role in helping them cope?  I'm no longer the "filter of information" or the "shield of protection."  I'm not with them everyday to monitor their stress and responses and to seek appropriate help, if needed.  In a way, I've been themselves.

But realistically speaking, isn't that the eventual goal of "launching" children? Having them take over our parental roles and do for themselves, right?  However, we cannot overlook that they still need us.  

Given that, I've concluded that my role is actually the same as it always has been, only with a different shape.  I'm still here to love them--not by restricting, but by being available--and to reassure them, that no matter what is going on in the world, they always have a safe place full of love to "come home."

It's like a twist of a kaleidoscopic.  All the components are the same, but the design is different.  Still beautiful, but different.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

TLs for the kids

When I got married, my in-laws introduced me to the concept of a "TL."  It stands for trade-last, meaning that if you heard something good about someone, you could go up to that person and say, "I have a TL for you." Then the other person would need to say something nice about you, and then you would "trade" them for the good thing you heard about them.  For me, it was an odd concept, but I was eager to fit in, so I played along.

It never really "took hold" with my own kids, but I've heard it so often, that it frequently pops into my head on certain the other day, when when my brother-in-law emailed me to say that I should be proud of the birthday card Ross sent to his Grandmom. Apparently he picked something with a very good sentiment, wrote some very touching things, and mailed it so that she received it on time (that's the key part, right?), all without being reminded by me. a mother....that's pretty great to hear.

Then, I was shopping in Costco this week and I got a FB message from my friend Eric that simply said, "You got a good kid." 

Like a Rolodex, my mind was scrolling through the whereabouts of my kids, so I could figure out "which kid" he was talking about.  Immediately I thought, "Ah ha!  Patrick must have arrived in Istanbul."  :-)  I then checked FB News Feed and saw that Christy had posted Patrick's arrival and that he was already bonding with their son Austin. Then, I read Patrick's message to me about how he bought some hostess presents for Eric and Christy, (without my prompting I might add), and again I thought, "wow...this is so great to hear!"

While not especially a "TL", writing this reminds me of the phone call I had with Christina recently, where she was telling me how she got up on time, took a train to Providence, taxi to the airport, and flew to Oregon (to see her Manila peeps for Thanksgiving), all the while successfully registering online for her next semester's classes. She just seemed so organized, grown up, and confident.  She had a plan (that seemed pretty good to me) and called me after she executed it.  Again....that's pretty great to hear!

Over the many years of parenting, I have wondered if any of my "parental instructions" would ever take hold. It seemed like the tunnel was so long, and the light very, very dim.  However, with the events of the past week, I can clearly see that they have, each kid manifesting my instructions with their own personal interpretations.

As Thanksgiving approaches this week, I am especially thankful for my kids.  I think of all the struggles I've had over the years, and the challenges we've faced, and I'm just so happy to be in this new chapter of our relationship. They do a wonderful job of showering me with their love and support, and I'm so appreciative of that, every day.

Hey R, P, & C:  I just wanted you to know this....and,by the way, no trade is required. :-)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Big Vegetables for Singles?

I wish I had taken a picture of the big cabbage I bought at the grocery store the other day.  I needed 1/2 C for a recipe, and I walked away with the only cabbage left:  4lbs and built like a bowling ball (come to think of it, that's probably why it was the only cabbage left!).  Then I started taking a look around the store, and ALL the vegetables seemed gi-normous!  Over in the baking potatoes section, could feel a family of 4 with just one potato.  The tomatoes? Same story.  Lettuce anyone?  Let's buy it by the box.  Carrots?  well, we only sell those by the 2lb bag.

And so I'm thinking, this vegetable size is great for a family but what about the single people?  How am I ever going to find portions appropriate for one person?

There's a certain adjustment period when you transition away from buying groceries for a family of 5, to 4 to 3 to 2 and then finally 1.  I remember after the boys left for school, my helper in Manila,  finally had to tell me, "Ma'am, please stop buying all these groceries.  You and Christina simply don't need them."  And, just when I got used to 2 people, now I'm down to 1.

At least the holidays will postpone the adjustment process for awhile.  I mean, you always have to make extra food at the holidays, right? And then the kids will be with me, so I really don't have to think about single portion size until they go back to school, and that's not until 2013.....sounds pretty good to me.

But one thing I do know...we're going to be having cabbage for Thanksgiving!