Thursday, November 29, 2007

Sunrise over the Caribbean

Spider Monkey

The last few days have been somewhat more quiet, just what we needed as we wind up the last few days of our trip. On Tuesday John offered to take us all out to the cenote and his jungle house again. I was feeling very tired and not up for a big outing, so Poppy and I stayed home while Erik, Claud, and Peregrine went with John. Poppy and I really had a restful time; she actually slept for a couple hours so I was able to relax and rest too. The boys had a great time on their adventure as well; Claud was able to see some birds he'd never seen before, and John had kindly bought him a local bird book!
John and Renee met us for dinner that evening. After dinner we walked down to an area to talk to Mauricio, who is supposed to be "the man" to see about buying real Mayan hammocks. His shop is located just in front of where the mangrove swamp began and I'm afraid the mosquitoes came out for their evening meal- on me! This whole trip I'd only gotten 7 or 8 bites, and I think I probably have between thirty and forty from that evening. And they got me through my clothes and they itch like crazy! After we got home and put the kids to bed Erik was able to go downstairs and visit with Claud for a while. (He's staying in the apartment just below us- very nice!)
Yesterday morning we walked to the beach and had a nice swim and Claud got to take a long walk and see some birds. After lunch and siesta we caught a ride with John, who was heading to his jungle house, about a mile north to visit the Botanical Gardens. We all enjoyed our time there; we got to see many native species of trees and plants, as well as many beautiful butterflies. One of them was bigger than any I remember seeing before, and we also saw a blue morpho. There was a re-creation of a traditional Mayan house made of palm sticks and thatch. It was surrounded by a medicinal plant garden, which was interesting to see; we recognized some of the plants. There was also a little covered area where they would have kept bees in hollow logs.
In another area they had built a chiclero camp. Chicleros were the men who bled the sap of the chicle trees, which was used for chewing gum. (If you've ever been in Mexico you've probably been approached by little kids selling "chicle, chicle"!) We've seen several of these trees in the jungle, after they were pointed out to us. They are very large and all seem to have diagonal scars where they were cut. Peregrine had gone in the little hut at the chiclero camp and was poking around in the thatch. John had told us that scorpions like to live in the thatch, so I told him to stop and come out. He obeyed quickly and without arguing, something we're really working on right now! A minute later I looked into the shelter and saw a small snake looking out of the thatch. Erik called Peregrine over to see it- at a distance of course- and it was a good lesson for him. I was so thankful that he'd obeyed and that the learning experience was a positive one; he was able to see firsthand why it's always important to obey, even if he doesn't know the reason. I was glad that seeing the snake happened right when we needed to start heading out anyway, because after that I was ready to get out of the jungle! I'm not fond of snakes, especially when they could be deadly. My favorite thing at the gardens was seeing the spider monkeys high above us in the trees. The first one I saw was a Mama with a little baby monkey clinging onto her. Then we saw several others playing, scratching at themselves, jumping from tree to tree, and one who wrapped his tail around a branch and seemed to be swinging just for fun! It was really fun to get to see monkeys in the wild, and of course, the kids were excited about it too. I was reminded of why I call them little monkeys sometimes!
For dinner last night we ate at Hola Asia, a pretty good Asian restaurant on the square. I'm always amazed at how small the world seems sometimes. It made me think of the little Mexican restaurant Gloria and I used to eat at in India! We were all fairly exhausted by the time we got home; well, I'd say some of us were fairly exhausted a while before that even! The kids have done really well on this trip, but the last few days I can tell they are reaching their limit. I guess it's a good time to head home. I remember last year too, about two days before it was time to leave, they started to really fall apart. They had a good sleep last night and have done well today. The last bit of excitement last night was that Claud came up to tell us he's seen a scorpion on his floor! Thankfully he had leather-soled slippers on and made short work of it. Even though I've known there are "such things" around, I'm glad it was almost the end of our time here before any scorpions were spotted!
Today has been relaxing. We finished off our bag of pancake mix and then headed to the beach for a swim and a play in the sand. I had a swim then came back here to start on packing without any small people underfoot. I got one of our two suitcases ready to go, which felt like a good start. Can you believe we packed all our things in only two suitcases? It's not too hard to do when you're coming somewhere warm since not a lot of clothing is needed. We had a simple lunch, using up a few more things we had on hand. After that, a most welcome time of day- siesta! I need it as much as the kids do these days.
When we were all up and about we went for a swim in the pool, then walked downtown for our last evening here. There were a few more things I wanted to buy, and we'd given Peregrine some pesos to buy a few things, so we walked into some shops together. It was fun to see him "spend" his money. Of course he wanted to buy way more things then he could, but in the end he was able to choose several little things, plus a straw sombero. He's quite convinced that he's a real Mexican now! (Not that we've seen any Mexicans actually wearing these, not even the Mariachis. Who, here in the Yucatan, play harps!) He was very thoughtful too, and picked out some little gifts for his friends Cyrus and Arlo, his sister, and even Erik and I! We'd planned to eat dinner at Dona Triny's but alas, they were closed tonight, so we ate somewhere else. John and Renee rode by on their bicycles with a friend from Finland so they all joined us as well. At 6:30 the bells of the Catholic Church rang out and Peregrine has been begging us to go to church, so I walked over with the kids. Of course we couldn't understand what was going on, but we stayed for a while anyway.
And now, the house is quiet, on our last night here in Mexico. Tired children are in bed, and tired parents soon will be. We've had a most wonderful time here, lots of play and being together and exploring some amazing places. I think though, that I'll be glad to get home. It will be fun to get ready for Christmas, and I'm very excited to see our families again. Please pray for our travels home. We don't leave until 5 tomorrow, then have a 6 hour flight into LA, which means it's going to be very late by the time we get there, get through customs, and to the hotel where we'll stay. Then we have to be at the airport again Saturday morning for the final stretch home! So, we'd appreciate your prayers not only for safe travels but for strength, as some, if not all of us, don't function super well when exhausted! Thanks!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Monday, Monday...

....In which we shop until we almost drop, come face to face with the Mexican "justice" system, eat the world's most expensive ice cream, and learn some lessons.
Yesterday turned out to be sort of a strange day. Because Claud (Erik's Dad) was arriving in the afternoon we rented a car for the day and decided to drive south to Playa del Carmen in the morning. Where we're staying is very small and I wanted to do a little shopping, maybe some Christmas gifts and a few souvenir items. We knew Playa was a very touristy town but I guess I just wasn't prepared for what that looks like! There were lots of nice shops and restaurants; there were timeshare touts and cruise ship daytrippers; there was HagenDaaz and Starbucks and Burger King (which is, after all, the flavor of the Carribean!) That was all fine if that's what you want, but what I wanted were dusty little shops filled with "treasures", and curio carts lining narrow streets. We wandered around for a while; it was very hot and Poppy was not having fun. (Well, none of us were, but she, being two, was able to express this with things like tears and plopping down in the middle of the street.) Erik bought us all some cold juice and he sat with the kids while I ducked into a few places that retained some feel of the Mexico I was looking for. The prices, though, were astronomical; I looked at some little embroidered dresses and nearly fell over when I saw they were asking about $50 for one! I'd just bought a similar dress for Poppy in Valladolid (I completed the transaction with a Mayan lady under a piece of plastic during the downpour) for less than $10. Clearly, this was not my kind of place.
We bought some fresh orange juice and slices of pizza, then headed back to the car with just about nothing to show for our big shopping day in Playa del Carmen. (Peregrine had bought some hot pepper sauce as a gift for his Papa. It even came wearing a little Mexican straw hat.) We stopped at one of the big grocery stores, appropriately called Mega, for a few groceries, and then headed back up the highway toward Puerto Morelos.
This is a nice divided highway, with two lanes going each direction. There are countless air-conditioned tour buses and advertisements for time-shares and big all-inclusive resorts. The speed limit is posted at 100 kilometers, and Erik has been careful to stay within that. So, we were driving up the road, feeling a bit disappointed that our big shopping trip had failed so miserably, when we saw two police officers standing by the road beckoning us to pull over. One of them walked up to our car, greeted us with a friendly "Buenos Dias!" and shook both of our hands. He then waved a radar gun at us and informed us in broken English that we were in an 80 kilometer per hour zone and had been going 95! Oops! He was holding Erik's driver's license and explained to us that we would need to go to the big police station in Cancun tomorrow and, upon paying a fine of 1,500 pesos (almost $150) Erik could retrieve his license.
Now, we're "not from around here" and didn't really know if this was the norm or not; it seems a bit uncouth to confiscate a person's license! I mean, doesn't that make it illegal for them to be driving? We tried to explain to him that that we wouldn't have a car tomorrow and that getting to Cancun wouldn't be a simple thing. Knowing how things work in places like this I asked if we couldn't just pay the fine now? He grabbed the bait and said that if we could pay him 500 pesos ($50) now then it would be "okay" and we could go. Well, this sounded a lot better than $150 and half a day in Cancun, so Erik pulled out his wallet and removed the 500 pesos; he didn't have much more than that. He was ready to hand it to the officer, but the man seemed hesitant to take it. Erik said that was "mucho dinero" and the officer seemed surprised. He than said "Okay, you pay 200 pesos and it will be okay." So, Erik traded about $20 for his license and we were free to go!
Lesson learned: Watch the speed signs carefully! Of course we were glad to only pay $20, but I always have mixed feelings about these sorts of transactions. On the one hand, it truly is the way things "work", but I don't like corruption, and I don't like buying into it. We learned later that they really do confiscate people's licenses and sometimes even remove their license plates! We were also told that our "fine" should have only been about $10, but how are we gringos to know what the going rate is!
We returned home for a rest in the afternoon and then all headed to the airport to pick up Claud. We were very happy to have him here safely and after getting him settled into the apartment beneath ours we all headed into town for some dinner. We enjoyed the cooler evening and a wonderful Mexican meal together. Someone had recommended to us the coconut ice cream at Pelicanos, a beachside restaurant, so for a treat we decided to go there. We looked at the menu out front and decided that 30 pesos (about $3) for a serving of ice cream was a bit high, but we'd do it this once. We sat looking out over the beach and listening to the gentle waves hitting the sand. Our coconut ice cream arrived and truly, it was impressive! Each one was served in a half coconut shell and was delicious and we all enjoyed our little splurge. Claud took the kids to walk in the sand and Erik called the waiter over to ask for our bill.
Walter, our friendly waiter, had no check to produce, but told us that our total was 290 pesos, almost $30. I think I nearly fell off my chair, and Erik's face probably registered utter shock! I knew we were splurging, but it should have been less than 150 pesos, and this was double that! Walter quickly explained "Three coconut ice creams, 70 pesos each, one chocolate ice cream, 650 pesos, one flan, 15 pesos; to which we quickly replied "The menu says ice cream is 30 pesos." "Ah" said Walter, that is for the regular ice cream; you ordered the special ice cream off our Maya Coffee Menu. It's a different price." Somehow we'd never seen that particular menu; we'd looked at the one posted out front, and when we told him we wanted ice cream he listed the flavors and we told him what kinds we wanted! We just skipped that whole "special menu" thing. Walter offered to talk to the manager about it, and we thought this was a good idea. When we asked him to though, he said the manager wasn't actually there and we could come the next day to see her! Walter was very, very kind about the whole thing, and very apologetic, but please, who spends nearly $7 on a dish of ice cream? Not I! Erik payed the 290 pesos, and Walter, with many apologies, accepted the money. I like to think the best of people, and I do think it was just a misunderstanding and not a scam, but it was frustrating. I believe Walter really felt bad too, because he returned 100 pesos to Erik, and really wanted us to leave happy. Lesson learned: make sure that if you ever eat ice cream at Pelicanos in Puerto Morelos you ask to see the "special menu."
From there we walked over the grocery store where I needed to buy some eggs. That went smoothly, thankfully. Outside, Claud attempted to make a withdrawal from the ATM machine so he could get some pesos. Erik has used this particular machine during our stay here and had no problems. Claud was going to take out only 200 pesos, and when the machine spit out the first 100 peso bill it began to suck it back in. Claud grabbed in quickly and waited for the second bill to come, but it never did. There's unfortunately not much that can be done about it, and thankfully it was only ten dollars, but still, it was frustrating, especially on top of all the other little "weirdnesses" of the day!
After that we drove back to our casa and called it a night. Today has been relaxing so far, with not much to tell. And what can be told will have to wait until later! Until then! Rebeca

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Next Episode... which we climb pyramids, escape floods, and trek through jungle....

On Thursday morning, when normal Americans were putting turkeys in ovens and baking pies, we were preparing for an overnight journey inland. Our rental car wasn't there when it should have been, so after some delay, we left around 11:30 for the two hour drive west to Valladolid. We arrived in this colonial town and found ourselves on the Square, which was dominated by a huge old Catholic church and convent. The buildings surrounding the parklike square were painted all shades of the rainbow, and along one side of a row of little Mayan women in embroidered cotton dresses selling their wares. Our first task, even though it was only 2PM, was to find somewhere to stay for the night. We chose a place recommended in our guidebook, the Hotel Maria de la Luz, situated right on the square. Our room was basic, one double bed and one single, a bathroom, and most importantly, air conditioning. Without the coastal breezes it was a lot hotter inland. We noticed a pane of glass missing from the window and because of mosquitoes asked if we could move to another room. We transferred our things a couple of doors down and then set out on our next task: lunch.
There were a few restaurants right on the square, but, seeking a more "authentic" experience, we ventured down some streets in search of a little taco stand. We'd passed several on our way into town, but couldn't seem to find one now! We decided to just eat lunch in the restaurant of our hotel. Erik and I tried some traditional Yucatecan food. Erik had seasoned pork cooked in banana leaves and I had chicken in some sort of vinegar-based sauce, both served up with lots of tortillas of course! While we were eating it began to rain, and we hoped it would soon pass. We went back to our room and got ready to walk around the square and do a little shopping, but just as we were about to go out it really began to rain! It let up a bit, but was still coming down pretty hard so I said I'd stay with the kids if Erik wanted to go look around. He returned after about an hour, and, since it wasn't raining much by this time, we all decided to go out. We walked across the street to the Mayan women and looked at the things they were selling. Then the downpour began! Within minutes we were completely drenched! Some kind men let us take shelter under their large umbrella and we waited for several minutes, but the rain didn't let up. We didn't have far to go back to our hotel, and we couldn't get much wetter, so we just decided to make a dash for it!
We got back to our room and started to get dried off and changed, but then we noticed water started seeping under our door and across the tile floor. Erik went to the front desk to see what could be done and by the time he got back the entire floor was covered with water! He came back with yet another room key, this time upstairs. We gathered up kids and bags and walked carefully up the wet stairs to our third room of the day! As we were getting settled- again- we noticed that in this room the air conditioner didn't work. So, once again, Erik had to go ask if we could be moved to a different room. Fourth room checked out okay, windows intact, no flooding, air conditioning working. The bed was sagging and uncomfortable and the pillows could have doubled as sandbags if the water did start seeping in, but hey, we were dry! And cool. And at that point that was enough. By this time it was dinner, and because it was still raining pretty hard (and we could see flashes of lightning) we just went downstairs and ate there. We drank hot cocoa and the kids had pancakes; this was our thanksgiving dinner and we all enjoyed it! Knowing that we needed to be up early the next morning we pretty much called it a day after that.
We all awoke plenty early on Friday morning. The rain had ceased and
the air still had a nice coolness at 6:30! Thankfully, the kids had
slept well. Erik and I, well, we must be getting old or something,
because we just didn't find the saggy old bed and sand-bag pillows very
conducive to a good night's sleep! After gathering up our things we
headed downstairs for breakfast; there was a nice breakfast buffet with
a funny mix of American and Mexican food; lots of fresh fruit, rolls,
pancakes, eggs, tamales, beans, and shredded pork as well as delicious
fresh orange juice. We ate our fill and then loaded up the car and drove
further west to the old Mayan city of Chichen Itza.
We arrived at 8:30; part of the reason we'd spent the night in
Valladolid was so we could get there early, before the tour buses from
Cancun started rolling in, and before it got too hot. We were very glad
we did, because there really weren't many people there at that hour
which meant Erik was able to take lots of pictures of the ruins without
having tons of other tourists in them! Also, we were able to let the
kids run and play a lot since there was lots of open space. Chichen Itza
was one of the largest Mayan cities and was occupied between 500 and
1500AD (roughly). It has been extensively excavated and restored, and
has recently been named one of the "new" seven wonders of the world.
Upon entering the sight the first thing you see is a large pyramid that
was apparently some sort of temple. There are many smaller temples, a
market place, steam baths that were likely used for ritual purification,
a huge ball court, an observatory, and much more. I enjoyed walking
around and seeing all the buildings and learning a bit about this
ancient civilization. It's amazing to think of how they cleared the
thick jungle and built such impressive structures without the modern
tools and machinery we have now! I kept trying to pictures what daily
life may have looked like in this city a thousand years ago, but it's
really impossible to know for sure.
I've never learned a lot about the Mayan culture, but from seeing
the ruins of this great city and doing just a little reading, I'm struck
with sadness. While they excelled in astronomy and great feats of
building and engineering, they were an extremely militant and (in my
opinion) fear-driven people. On many of the buildings remain carved
images of their numerous gods; common images are feathered serpents,
jaguars, and eagles. There is one building with hundreds of carved human
skulls, apparently showing victory over their enemies. On that same
building or a nearby one are images of their gods holding human hearts.
It seems that all aspects of their culture were influenced by their
religion, which over the years was influenced by other tribes and
various conquests. There were gods of wind and water, and of the planet
Venus. Pictures from the time indicate that at the end of the ball game
one of the captains was beheaded; the jury is still out on whether it
was the captain of the winning or losing team. Out in the jungle was
their sacred cenote, a large natural well. It was dredged a little over
one hundred years ago and along with many offerings of precious stones,
gold, silver, and copper, were numerous human skeletons of men, women,
and children. We walked out to see it, and I really felt sad; sad for an
entire civilization who was enslaved by fear to gods who required such
hideous acts of worship. I guess I felt that way somewhat while walking
through the entire thing, but especially there at the very sight where
people were sacrificed to these so-called gods. It brought up some
interesting things with Peregrine; a lot of this went over his head, but
we talked about some of it in an age-appropriate way.
We left Chichen Itza around 11:30 and by that time the parking lot
was full of big fancy tour buses and it was really getting crowded. We
took the back road to Valladolid where we found what we'd been looking
for on Thursday- an authentic eating experience! Feeling refreshed, we
headed north to visit yet another old Mayan city, Ek Balam. This sight
is much smaller and not completely reclaimed from the jungle. That
translated to a lot more shade, fewer people, and the freedom to climb
on the structures and get a real hands-(and feet-)on experience. The
main building at Ek Balam, which isn't quite a classic pyramid, is
actually taller than the one at Chichen Itza, and they still allow
people to climb it. I stayed below while Erik ascended the steep steps
all the way to the top! The kids played in the remains of a very tiny
building, which was likely some sort of miniature temple, and they were
sure it had been built just for kids! I was also able to climb a smaller
building and look out over the flat jungle that stretches as far as the
eye can see. I was glad I did it, but it was enough of a climb for me!
Going up isn't too bad but coming down is a bit dizzying and scary!
Peregrine and Erik climbed up the same one right before we left, and
Peregrine was very, very excited to have conquered his first pyramid!
I was glad we'd visited Chichen Itza but I think we all enjoyed Ek
Balam more. Being able to actually climb on the buildings, and explore
the many small rooms was a pretty amazing experience and made it a lot
more interesting for the kids. From there we drove back to Puerto
Morelos, got some dinner, and headed to bed, all thoroughly exhausted!

Saturday dawned early, as always, and we were all glad to have slept in "our own" beds that night. Still being pretty tired out from the previous days' adventures we planned to have a somewhat restful day. After breakfast we drove into the colonia to buy some fruit at the produce market there, then headed back to our casa. We stopped for a moment by John and Renie's to find out when they wanted to go out to the jungle with us. Renie has gone away overnight but John thought there was no time like the present! Our plans of a quiet day evaporated in the hot morning air and we planned to meet him in one hour. Erik dropped me and the kids off at home while he returned the rental car, then we all made the short walk over to meet up with John. We piled into his old Pathfinder and headed west on a newly paved (well, part of it's paved anyway!) road to Verde Lucero Cenote.
Cenotes are apparently unique to this area of the world and this was something we wanted to experience during our time here. The Yucatan peninsula is a flat bed of limestone covered with thick jungle. Because the ground is so porous rainwater sinks through it and joins one of the many underground rivers that flow out to sea. In many places, over time, sinkholes have formed and there are natural wells, or cenotes, that have been sources of fresh, cool water for the inhabitants of this area. I guess all of them are different; some are right on the surface, others, like the one at Chichen Itza and the one we visited are sunken ten or twenty feet below. Others are partially or mostly underground but have some access from the surface, creating more of a cavern. Verde Lucero is about fifty feet wide and circular; and is open but the water level is about fifteen feet lower than the ground. Trees grow thickly around it and roots and vines wind and grow down over the layers of limestone. We climbed carefully down steep wooden steps and lowered ourselves into the cool water. On one side the water was clear and probably less than ten feet deep but it sloped down and apparently goes down three hundred feet to where it meets up with an underground river! On one side there's a bit of overhang and apparently there used to be bats that lived in there. We did see a few vultures in the trees overlooking the cenote, and several butterflies, including a blue morpho.
Many people dive in cenotes; I was perfectly happy on the surface! We swam for probably an hour. We had both the kids in life jackets (of course) and enjoyed the cool water, the trees, the birds, and just being in such a beautiful place. The owners of this particular cenote had strung thick ropes across for people to hold onto, and also made a zipline about fifteen feet above the water so that people could fly out over it and jump in! Not my cup of tea, but by daring husband took the plunge three of four times, much to the delight of the kids!
After our time at the cenote John drove us back to the tiny village and his little stick house in the jungle. He strung up some hammocks for us- real Mayan hammocks- and showed us how to properly use them. There's actually a technique to it! He'd brought a couple of roast chickens and we sat out back and enjoyed the stillness of the jungle and our "picnic" lunch. The house is made of a type of palm and the roof thatched with the leaves. This allows airflow and it was surprisingly cool inside. While the Mexicans in the village are all building concrete block homes he chose to build a traditional home for his little jungle sanctuary. He does have the added luxuries of little balconies on both the front and the back so he can sit and watch birds, and also had the entire house lined with mosquito netting. He said it helps keep out not only the mosquitos, but also the scorpions and lizards that like to make their homes in the thatch!
After lunch we headed out into the jungle on a little path he worked to clear. It sounds like it's a constant battle to keep the path semi-cleared; the jungle takes over quickly. It's amazing how thick the undergrowth is. Two years ago there was a hurricane that sat over this area for three days and he said it brought down a lot of the bigger, fruiting trees. Prior to that he said there wasn't as much undergrowth. We also learned that many of the jungle birds are no longer seen in this area since the fruit they lived on is gone. We did see a few birds and some beautiful butterflies. John pointed out all sorts of interesting trees and plants. One of the largest trees that grow here is the chicle tree, and all of the big, old trees are scarred where the chicleros gathered the trees' sap which was used to make chewing gum! Apparently they stopped using it about forty years ago. John pointed out one tree whose black sap causes a horrible skin reaction similar to poison oak. But he showed us another tree whose sap will cure it that always grows nearby!
On the way back towards the house John made sure to walk in front of us and had his machete out. He jokingly (I think) said that this was the time of day when the jaguars come out. Then, when we got back to his house he showed us in a book the real reason, a deadly snake, one of the most venemous in the world, who also happens to be aggressive. I'm glad I didn't know that when we were having our lovely stroll through the jungle! We relaxed in the hammocks for a while longer and then headed back into town, had some dinner, and called it a night.
Today we actually did have our relaxing day. It started early for all of us, but we had a leisurely morning with a pancake breakfast and then spent the rest of it playing and swimming in the pool. I made quesadillas and took them down for a "picnic" lunch. We all had a nice rest this afternoon, then walked to the beach for a swim and a little sand play. After that we walked to town for dinner and picked up a rental car for tomorrow. The kids are in bed and Erik is visiting with John, who happened to press too many oranges today and brought us some fresh orange juice. And I'm finally caught up on the last few days of adventures!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Today has been a pretty mellow day. Erik got up again with the kids, and I was able to sleep in again. There are about twelve hours of light and twelve of darkness here, and they seem to like to be up with the sun! When I got up I made some banana pancakes with overripe bananas that needed to be used. We drizzled sweetened condensed milk on them and called it a "very special" breakfast. (And, of course, I thought of Grams!) Erik got a small can of condensed milk in hopes it might be good in his coffee as so far we've been unable to find plain cream. Peregrine has long wanted "a tin of condensed milk" after hearing it on Winnie-the-Pooh, so it really was a special breakfast!
Erik rode the bicycle and bought some fresh tortillas and a roast chicken to eat later for our lunch. A little before noon Jim took us to where we boarded the "Paula Rubi", a glass bottom boat. The sun was shining brightly, and we headed out to the reef with our captian, Fabian. The salty spray felt nice on our sun-warmed skin, and the kids delighted in it. I'd expected Poppy to be apprehensive but she loved it and said to me in a happy voice "I love riding on a boat!" We drifted slowly over the coral, and while it was beautiful I was a bit disappointed not to see many fish. Nevertheless, we had a nice time, and the kids loved being on the boat and sat nicely together on a tiny "bench" up at the front.
Fabian dropped us off at the beach closest to our casa and we walked back home in the hot sun. A new water pump was being installed at our place today, so we didn't have water to take showers, wash hands, flush the toilet, etc. Of course, it was only supposed to take "an hour" and took all day! We ate our chicken lunch and cleaned our hands with baby wipes.I lay on the couch and fell asleep, and Poppy actually slept during rest time too. By the time we were all up and going and had made a smoothie it was too late to go swimming again, so we got ready and walked into town for dinner. We planned to eat at Triny's again but had forgotten that Wednesday is their day off, so we walked around the square to find somewhere else to eat. We found John and Renie sitting out front of a little cafe, and they joined us for dinner at Hola Asia, an Asian place. Once again we enjoyed visiting with them. On Saturday or Sunday they're going to take us out to their jungle home and then for a picnic and swim in a cenote.
When we got back home Erik took Peregrine for a swim while Poppy and I showered and I worked on the pile of dishes that hadn't been done all day due to lack of water. Now, it's just time for settling down. Erik is reading from The Coral Island and the mail character has been captured by pirates so they could hardly stop reading now!
I hope you all have a happy Thanksgiving day! Tomorrow we'll head inland where we'll stay overnight and visit some more Mayan ruins on Friday. Until then! May your hearts all be filled with thanks for all the blessings you've received.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Monday and Tuesday

Yesterday was pretty low-key for the most part. Peregrine's fever had broken in the night and he seemed perfectly fine, thankfully! Poppy was awake way too early, which means I was too. We had a leisurely morning; I made pancakes from a mix and some scrambled eggs. We had bought a jar of Nutella and had that with the pancakes for a treat. It was very overcast and windy again. We had to get the rental car back by nine so we all drove into town to drop it off. After that we meandered around a bit, looking in a few small shops, and stopped in a little place for some fresh orange juice and fish tacos. (We weren't really hungry, but fish tacos seem to be a breakfast thing around here and I wanted to get some to try.) After that we walked down onto the beach where the kids wanted to see the old lighthouse that is leaning to one side. Apparently it ended up that way after a hurricane in the sixties (I think). It's no longer in use, but is sort of a landmark, and even in its leaning state has withstood all the subsequent hurricanes.
After that we walked up the beach, just taking our time and pushing against the wind. We stopped and the kids played in the sand and Peregrine in the waves. It was a nice day to meander a bit and sit and play more since it was so overcast. It rained a little as we were sitting there, but not for too long. After lunch and rest time we walked toward town and stopped to say hi to John and Renie, the couple we'd met in the jungle the day before. They have a nice place here in town, and then their stick house out in the jungle. They invited us in and we must have stayed and visited for at least an hour and a half. They are both retired and spend about half their time down here. After a while we all walked the rest of the way to the town square where we ate at Dona Triny's again. The kids did great, and we stayed and visited until after 9:30, sitting outside and enjoying the evening air and the company. The kids ran around the table and played in the dirt nearby. John and Renie are a very interesting couple, both retired from the educatiojn/psycology field. (I thought it best that I didn't bring up homescholing!) They know a lot about the area and were happy to share their knowledge, and, we found we had a lot of common interests.
By the time we got home and got to bed it was after ten, and the kids, for some unknown reason, were awake at 6:30 this morning! Well, the bright sunlight could be a reason, I suppose. Erik got up with them and I slept until 8. Jim's wife was coming to clean our place at ten, so we left for the beach and had a nice, relaxing time there, swimming and playing in the sand. We made a chocolate cherry vanilla sand cake decorated with seaweed- it was quite lovely I assure you. A culinary masterpiece, although possibly a bit on the gritty side. There were several people out kite-sailing today, a sport I've never seen before but found quite interesting. They ride a board about five feet long and are attached by harness to a huge kite, probably twenty feet long. They have control over the kite and can "steer" it and can go amazingly fast across the water. Some of them even caught air above the water and spun their boards around before landing. It was pretty fun to watch and I can think of a few people I know who would probably enjoy such a sport. (Neil?)
By 11:30 we figured our place should be clean but when we got back Tere was still cleaning, and she said it would be another hour! So, I grabbed a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter and some honey and took it down to the yard where Erik had waited with the kids. We had a nice little picnic lunch and the kids played in the pool while we waited. Erik and I sat on lounge chairs in the shade and relaxed. I think it was after one o'clock before we were able to come back up to our sparkling clean apartment. We all had a nice siesta and a smoothie before walking to town. We went early and let the kids play on the playground in the square, then ate at a place that had Asian food. It was a nice change and we all enjoyed it. We came home early and are calling it a night. More adventures tomorrow!

Monday, November 19, 2007

In the Jungle

Here's an account of yesterday's adventure. You can see more pictures in a web album here.

Sunday What a day this has been! We left "early", at about 8:30 and headed south toward Tulum. The skies were overcast again and not too far down the road it began to rain. We passed by four or five accidents, two of them were cars completely flipped over. We prayed even more for safety as we traveled in our tiny little "econo-box" rental car down the highway. We arrived safely at Tulum and had to walk a way in to the entrance to the remains of this ancient Mayan city. By this time the rain was over and the sun was trying to come out. The path led us along the outside of a thick stone wall, hundreds of years old. We finally came to an opening in the wall, which was about ten feet high at at least as thick. The wall ran around the perimeter of the city on three sides, and on the fourth side the turquoise Carribean Sea. The main building was situated on a cliff overlooking the ocean; the contrast of the grey stones and the green vegetation against the sky and the ocean was really beautiful. The Mayan people certainly picked an amazing spot to build! We wandered around for quite a while, looking at the buildings and learning a bit about what life was like for them. I'll not try to describe it too much; Erik took lots of pictures that can do a much better job!
It was very sunny and humid and we were all quite hot. Thankfully, this little city has its own private beach and we enjoyed a swim before walking back out. I could have spent a lot more time exploring the ruins, but the kids could only take so much and lunchtime was upon us. We walked back out just in time to see several men in traditional Mayan clothing. One was playing a small flute and drum while several others climbed up a tall pole with a small platform on the top. Four of them attached themselves to ropes while the fifth sat atop the platform and played his instrument. The four proceeded to "dive" off the pole and, held upside down by their ropes, the weight of their bodies turned the pole as they "flew" around the pole and slowly descended to the ground. I'd like to learn what significance this had in their culture; I've never seen anything like it. And even though it was a show put on solely for the benefit of us touristas (and our pesos) I'm glad we got to witness it. The kids were quite excited, as you can imagine. Peregrine has been talking about how when he grows up how he's going to paint himself brown and be a Mexican. Well, now he also wants to take part in the Mayan pole flying event. Poppy does too, of course. Kids with high ambitions, wouldn't you say. Who would want to be a fireman or a doctor or a teacher (or whatever normal kids want to be when they grow up) when you could be a Mayan pole flyer?
After getting as much sand off of ourselves as possible we headed out to try to find a place to eat lunch. Not wanting to go to some overpriced place that catered to American palates we headed north to where we'd passed some little roadside taco stands. By the time we came to one we were all quite ready for lunch. It was a humble little place and we seated ourselves at a red Coca-cola table under a weathered coral colored tarp since it was sprinkling again. The place was run by a lovely Mexican couple; a couple of times I saw the woman reach over and give her husband a smile and a kiss. There was no menu, just carnitas tacos with a variety of salsas and other toppings like lime, cilantro, and onions with which to garnish them. The kids aren't big on meat so the woman offered to make them some huevos y jamon (eggs and ham), which they gladly ate along with ketchup and tortillas. The couple had a beautiful little girl, Guadalupe, who helped serve our lunch, clear the dishes, and also played with the kids! The tacos were delicious, and the presentation was unique- before putting food on the pink plates they slipped a thin plastic bag over it. When the meal was over, just remove the bag and no dish to wash!
The woman we rented the car from had told Erik about an unexcavated Mayan city west of where we're staying. We decided, since we still had some daylight, to drive that direction and investigate it with the thought of maybe trying to go see it another day. We saw a sign for a cenote, a freshwater hole in the ground where people swim, and we thought we'd check that out, so we headed off into the thick jungle on a small road. (The Yucatan peninsula is made of limestone and has no above ground rivers; they're all underground, and rain water seeps through the limestone. In places there are these sinkholes, called cenotes, which are a source of fresh water and were sacred to the Mayas. I imagine they're fairly sacred still since many of them have been turned into tourist attractions that offer cave diving, snorkeling and a refreshing swim.) The cenote was already closed but we found ourselves in a small community (small as in probably fewer than ten houses). We struck up a conversation with a Mexican man who spoke about four words of English; we speak only slightly more Spanish than that, but we were managing to communicate a bit. A truck came by and out hopped an American man who has a place there in this little jungle community! We talked with him and his wife for probably half an hour; they were a wealth of information and advice and invited us to come for a visit anytime! It was fun to be off the beaten track, out there in the jungle somewhere. By the time we headed back it was dark but we were very thankful for this "chance" encounter we'd had. He told us about a better cenote to visit, as well as all sorts of other information.
We got some dinner on our way home, came home, and got our very tired kids settled down for the night. Peregrine was very lethargic at dinner and didn't eat much and I thought he was just tired. When we got back he wrapped up in a blanket and said his tummy hurt. He's running a fever of 102 and fell asleep right away. Please pray that he'll be better soon and that we'll have wisdom to do what's best for him. Also, that I won't worry! And while you're praying, will you pray that Poppy will drink? I can hardly get her to drink anything and in this hot weather she really needs to. Thanks!
I think tomorrow we will have a down day, try to rest up and not do much. Of course we will have to see how Peregrine is doing, but taking it easy sounds good!
Update: Peregrine's fever broke in the night and he had a good sleep. He seems to be totally fine today!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Hola from Mexico

We've been in Mexico since Tuesday and I'm finally getting around to posting what we've been up to so far. This is the daily log I've been keeping and sending to our families but I thought I'd post it here as well. Enjoy! I have lots more pictures to go with this, but I need to get to bed, so it will have to wait.

Getting Here. Our flights went really well. Poppy was a bit apprehensive getting on the first plane, but after that she did fine. Peregrine, of course, was pure excitement! I was a bit concerned about making our connection in Seattle but we had plenty of time and even got to see the famed "wall of glass" in the food court area. The flight down here was five hours, and we had three seats together as well as the one across the aisle. Erik and I took turns sitting with the two kids. The lone seat was next to a lovely older couple who are originally from India but have lived in Edmonton for the last twenty-something years. I, of course, enjoyed talking with them. The kids both did as well as could be expected on a flight of that length;our arsenal of snacks, books, aactivities, and movies kept them pretty well occupied, although they did start getting restless the last hour or so. Peregrine took to referring to releasing his seatbelt as "pulling the trigger" and I kept trying to hush him and tell him to stop saying that! And Poppy enjoyed looking at the little safety card and talking about "the broken airplane"!
Our flight arrived on time and we got through customs with no problem. After you collect your luggage here, you put all of your bags through the x-ray machine, then proceed to the customs officer where you have to press a button that randomly gives you either a red or green light. If the light comes up red they will pull you aside and go through your bags. We let Peregrine have the honor of pushing the button and I told him to pray for a green light; he was very excited that God answered that prayer, and so was I. At that point, asking the kids to remain quiet and still for another while would have been hard. Thankfully we were waved through and made our way outside to where Jim, the property manager, was waiting for us. I think this was the first time I've ever been met at the airport by someone holding a sign with my last name on it; quite exciting.
We got loaded into the vehicle and got the kids buckled in- no car seats, but at least there were seat belts! It was about a twenty minute drive to Puerto Morelos, our "hometown" for the next few weeks. Jim gave us a "tour" of the town, which took an extra two minutes or so- Puerto Morelos is a very small and sleepy town. Even though it was only shortly after five it was beginning to get dark, so after getting settled in our little casa we made the fifteen or twenty minute walk back to the town center. We ate at a little taco stand on the zocalo (town square) and enjoyed the evening air, the food, and the feeling of having arrived in Mexico once again. Peregrine completely charmed the two women who were cooking with his dark eyes, big smile, and few words of Spanish. (You can imagine!) Poppy spilled her passionfruit liquado all over our feet, and having been up since before five that morning, we paid twenty pesos for a taxi back "home".
We got our suitcases unpacked and settled in for the night. It took the kids a while to fall asleep. Peregrine is on the "magical couch" (hide-a-bed) in the living room and Poppy in a playpen in our room. I also had a hard time falling asleep, and sometime after 11 came out to check on Peregrine. He was still restless, and asked me eagerly "It is almost morning?" That boy was so excited to get to the beach! Finally we all got to sleep, although Peregrine was awake yesterday morning at 6- that's 4AM Oregon time! Yikes. Erik got up with him and Poppy and I were able to sleep a couple more hours.
Wednesday Yesterday, after a simple breakfast of yogurt and a slathering of sunscreen, we headed, at last, to the beach. It's just a block or two away, and we all enjoyed playing in the sand and in the water. Poppy is taking a while to get used to the water, but is warming up to it. Peregrine, on the other hand, ran right in and is about as fearless as a boy who doesn't quite swim yet can be. The water is nice, not too cold or too warm, and very gentle due to the reef offshore.
We were about to head downtown for some lunch when we ran into the owners of our place, a couple from Minnesota. They were heading across the highway into the "colonia" and offered to let us tag along. The colonia is more like "the real Mexico" and I enjoyed getting to go over there. They took us to the produce market where we bought some pineapple, oranges, bananas, and eggs. Then we stopped by a place where they make delicious roast chicken; for about $6 we got a whole roast chicken, beans, rice, tortillas, and salsa, which we ate for our lunch today. We also stopped down the street at the tortillarilla where we got a kilo of fresh, warm tortillas for just over a dollar. Mmmm, there is nothing like them!
The afternoon entailed another walk downtown for lunch, a siesta, another trek to the beach, and then back to the town square where we explored a bit, got dinner, and let the kids play on the playground. We all got to sleep more quickly last night and slept until 8 this morning, except for Peregrine, who actually slept later!
Thursday So far today we had breakfast of chilaquiles here at our casa followed by a long swim and play at the beach. We all worked hard to build a sand castle complete with a moat and large seawall. Poppy exclaimed over and over (and over) "I've been working!" in her excited little squeal. I guess she was pretty happy to feel like she was an important and productive part of such a building project! We had our roast chicken for lunch today as well as some quesodillas for the kids, and are now enjoying our siesta.
We're very happy with the place we chose; the apartment is one of several overlooking a pool, which we haven't used yet. Ours is on the second floor and we have a large balcony. Like I said before, the town is very small, and everything is walking distance. Wherever there are no buildings there is thick vegetation, and many yards have coconut palms, hibiscus, bananas, and bougainvillea growing. Happily, we've seen a few geckos on our ceiling, and just as happily, we've seen no cockroaches except one down by the beach. Peregrine spotted a small snake on a chain link fence yesterday and was quite excited about that. There are several restaurant options, although only a few that are fairly inexpensive. (By inexpensive I mean less than restaurants at home.) It would be nice to have a few more options, but we didn't want to be in a super busy resort area, and we'll mostly be eating breakfast and lunch here at the house. It's warm and humid, but most of the time there's a nice breeze blowing off the sea that helps to keep us cool. The skies are blue with some clouds that blow by, and last night there was a beautiful sunset. We are looking forward to exploring a little further afield over the next few weeks, taking in some ruins, doing some snorkeling, visiting a few other towns, and maybe going for a swim in a cenote.
After siesta we all got suited up again and walked down to the beach. It was only four when we got there but already the sun was low in the sky and most of the beach was in the shadows. The wind was blowing and I didn't feel warm enough to get in the water, but Erik and Peregrine did. The kids were excited that the sea wall we'd built around our castle earlier in the day had done its job and was intact. There doesn't seem to be much in the way of tides here, and very, very gentle waves. We played in the sand a while, then came back, cleaned up, and applied mosquito repellent before heading downtown for dinner. It gets dark not long after five, and light quite early, so we're trying to adjust our routine accordingly. We ate at a little taco stand named Triny's that is painted in garishly bright shades of orange and green. We sat at a rickety red plastic CocaCola table outside and watched the evening activities in the zocalo while we waited for our food. The kids are eating lots of quesadillas and frijoles, and Erik and I are enjoying trying different dishes. Last night I had something called Nopales Rellenos, which is a cactus leaf stuffed with shredded meat and swimming in some sort of sauce covered with cheese and crema. It was delicious! After dinner Erik treated us all to an ice cream bar and then we caught a taxi home and settled down for the night.
Friday The kids were both up before seven this morning, and Erik brought Poppy out to the living room so I could sleep some more. I could see the bright morning sun shining through our white curtains, and it was after 8:30 before I woke up. So much for an early start, but I guess I needed it, and Erik did a great job keeping the kids quiet. When I got up the skies were overcast and it looked like it would be a cooler day. I made oatmeal for breakfast and then we got ready to go to the beach. It seems to take an unbelievably long time to get the four of us ready; thankfully Peregrine is a lot more independent and it's only Poppy who needs a lot of help. I put sunscreen on the kids in spite of the cloud cover, and finally we were all ready to go. That's when we noticed it was raining! We stepped out on the patio and decided to go anyway. Hey, we're from Oregon, and even though the air was cooler than it has been, it was by no means cold. To be honest, I'd have been happy to stay behind, but we all set out in the rain, probably confirming that we're "loco gringos" as we went! We were wet by the time we got to the beach, and began to build a new seawall as the "ruins" (as Peregrine called them" of yesterday's were just that, ruins. After a few minutes the rain stopped and we played and swam for a while before heading back here.
Erik borrowed a bicycle that belongs here and rode down the street to buy us a chicken lunch and some fresh tortillas. The chicken reminds me of what we used to get at El Pollo Loco; I wonder if this is the sort of meal they based their menu on. It has really nice spices on it and it roasted, then served up with rice, beans, and some salsa. Yummy, easy, inexpensive, and a perfect "to go" lunch for our family. And Peregrine, who will hardly touch chicken at home, ate two wings and a drumstick! I guess I need to find out what that seasoning they use is!
Siesta is drawing to a close. Poppy is looking at books in her bed and yelling out "I'm a clown" and "They're piled on my head" and "Do I look funny Peregrine?" I wonder what she's up to... I've been researching different places to go explore; I think we may rent a car and head south tomorrow, to snorkel in the lagoon at Akumal and stock up on groceries in Playa del Carmen, which boasts some big (American) stores. There is only a small grocery store here, and lots of tiny ones, but we've been told that if we plan to cook much it's worth buying groceries in the bigger cities. So, that's the plan. I have a smoothie to make, so I'd better get going. We haven't taken many pictures yet, but will take, and send some soon.
Our smoothie turned out to be a disaster. I cut up a couple of oranges, but the membranes were so thick they didn't get blended up very well and so the drink was anything but smooth. Where's a Vita-Mix when you need one? We paid a dollar tonight for a little orange juicer, so next time I can juice the orange before putting it into the blender.
After smoothie time we headed to the beach again, a little earlier today. By this time the sun was trying hard to come out in spite of the clouds. We had a nice time in the water. I'm amazed at how fearless Peregrine is; I think next time I'll have him wear his life jacket so he can be a little more independent, as he does like to be!
After rinsing ourselves and our things we walked downtown in search of some dinner. Erik usually carries Poppy in the carrier, as walking with her is very slow, and she seems to like her ride! It was getting dark, and as we walked along the edge of the street an old Volkswagon van drove around the corner with it's sliding door wide open. The driver stopped and we were delighted to see that instead of seats there was a wooden table running the length of the back of the van. The table was laden with pan dulce, Mexican sweet breads, and was brightly illuminated. We picked out several items and paid the seller, who was a boy of about ten or twelve; I assume the van was driven by his dad. We also brought some rolls that we'll make into sandwiches tomorrow. It's the sort of thing you just don't see where we live! A couple of days ago we saw an old pickup filled with oranges driving down the sandy street, it's driver calling out over his loudspeaker "Naranjas, Naranjas". Those things bring a smile to my face.
After our encounter with the bakery-van we walked around the square and negotiated to rent a car for the next two days. After that we walked back to a little hole-in-the-wall we'd seen earlier where we'd planned to eat dinner. But alas, it had already closed so we returned to the happy green and orange place. Tonight I had mushroom enchiladas with mole sauce and it was delicious. Peregrine loves to try out all his new Spanish words on the waiter, Victor, and the women who cook. They all call him "Peregrino" and he refers to their restaurant as "the one where the people really like me".
We returned to our casa, by taxi, and tried out our pan dulce. As can be expected, they're never as good as they look, but hey, how often do you get an experience like that? Tonight we're getting ready for a drive south tomorrow. Erik is reading to Peregrine from The Coral Island, a story of three boys who were shipwrecked on a tropical island in the Pacific. We're all really enjoying the story, and it's fitting as we're seeing some of the same things talked about in the book. Peregrine was very interested in trying a green coconut, and after asking Jim, the property manager where we might find one, we found one waiting for us later in the day! Peregrine was quite excited to try the coconut "lemonade" as the boys in the book called it. We also were able to find a piece of coconut "cloth", the fibrous clothlike stuff that grows around the bottom of the coconut palm fronds. In the book, the boys were very excited to discover this stuff and put it to good use. So we have a nice piece of it to bring home and try to find a good use for.
And with that, I must be off to bed. We're off on an outing tomorrow, so they'll be no sleeping in for me!
Saturday The morning dawned sunny, and, as much as I'd have liked to sleep later, I woke up at six. It was a while before I got up and I could see the sun shining through the curtains. After a quick breakfast Erik walked downtown where he was supposed to pick up our rental car at 8 o'clock. As could be expected, these things don't always go as planned, and the car wasn't yet there. They had to bring it down from Cancun, and after some time he got it and returned here for us. The extra time allowed us to be almost completely ready and have the breakfast dishes done too!
Then we were off, headed south down the highway toward Akumal. It's a very nice divided highway that cuts through thick jungle. On the west side of the road is mostly vegetation and the occasional Pemex station, turn-off, colonia, or shop. On the other side, just a kilometer or two in lies the Carribean Sea, and on this side are the extravagant entrances to luxury resorts that line the coastline. Erik and I were almost in disbelief at the decadence of some of these places- and all we could see of most of them was the entrance! There are also lots of billboards advertising all sorts of things, various resorts, tours, swimming with dolphins, etc. My favorite billboard though, read "El Sabor del Caribe" (The Flavor of the Carribean) and showed a picture of a heavily laden coconut tree. Instead of coconuts, however, this particular palm was bearing Whoppers. Yes, it was an advertisement for Burger King! Another funny sight along the highway was a tour bus pulled over by the road. The underneath baggage compartment was open, but instead of baggage someone had hung there hammock and was having their siesta!
We arrived at Akumal and made our way down a windy little road with way too many speed bumps, and pot holes where there were no speed bumps. Our destination was Laguna Yal-Ku, a saltwater lagoon with turquoise water and lots of fish. We rented some snorkel gear and climbed down into the water. Poppy pretty much instantly freaked out; I'm not sure why as she's fine with being in the ocean, so I got out with her and Erik put on the flippers and let Peregrine ride along around the lagoon. They swam around a mangrove "island" while Poppy and I ate our lunch. When the boys got back Erik stayed with the kids while I got to have a turn snorkeling. Even though it wasn't spectacular I really enjoyed it and was able to see some different kinds of fish before it was time for the boys to go back in again.
After a while Peregrine got out so Erik could actually snorkel and the kids and I explored along the paths around the lagoon. We saw a couple of iguanas and were able to get quite close to them. They were smaller, and duller in color than the ones we saw in Zihuatanejo last year, but it was fun to be only a few feet away from them. Meanwhile, Erik got to see a Moray eel out in the water. After a while Peregrine went back in for a final swim and Erik taught him to use the snorkel mask; he was very excited about this.
After we dried off and got changed we headed north again toward Playa del Carmen where we stopped at a big supermarket to stock up on groceries for the next while. Grocery shopping is never that exciting, although it's a lot more interesting in another country! We filled our cart with most of the things we needed, and a few things we didn't. I think we were all glad to have that experience over with. From there it was only about a half hour back to Puerto Morelos. Since we had a car we decided to get some dinner in the colonia, which is about a mile out from where we are. We ended up at a place called Shangai Pizza y Comida China. Yep, pizza and Chinese food in one place, in Mexico. We ordered pizza along with some orange soda, because, in my mind, it just wouldn't be right to come all the way to Mexico and not drink orange soda. (Flashback to my childhood here, drinking orange pop at La Bufadora!) It wasn't the most pleasant dining experience; we had the highway on one side and a futbol game blaring on the TV in the open air restaurant. To add to the strangeness of the Chinese-Pizza-Mexico experience four people walked out of the alleyway with djembes (West African drums) and a couple of the restaurant workers were decorating a three-tiered cake that appeared to be for a wedding! It was white, with lavender rosettes, quite tasteful, until she got out the red gel and put on the finishing touches. Upon further inspection we saw that it was for a girls' fifteenth birthday, which is a huge deal here in Mexico, probably second only to a wedding celebration. The kids were admiring the cake and I was explaining to them that it was for a girl's birthday party and Poppy, in her most demure voice said "I'm a girl." Yes, my dear, but you're not fifteen and we don't live in Mexico.
And that was our day. The evening at home consisted of putting away groceries, showers, and very, very tired children. We are off on another adventure tomorrow, to see some ruins, and will write more....manana.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Kill Your Computer

You may have seen the bumper stickers that say "Kill Your Television" pasted on cars around town. Well, my children have decided to start a new campaign, this one being called "Kill Your Computer." While making dinner a few evenings ago I looked over to see my delicate little girl beating the computer screen with a wooden spoon. The LCD broke and we're left with an 8 inch viewable square in the corner of the screen. When I asked her what she was doing she told me between sobs that she was "killing the computer." Hmmmm, at those words I knew that her big brother must somehow be behind this, because Alethea doesn't generally go around "killing" things without some influence! Peregrine was sitting at the table coloring a picture, and when I interrogated questioned him about it he admitted to telling her to kill the computer.
Now, if we back up a moment, I'll tell you what was happening prior to the murder of our computer. I'd put a movie on for Alethea to watch while Peregrine finished up his coloring for AWANA. (We watch movies on the computer because we, the parents, have chosen not to have a television. No televisions were harmed in the making of this decision.) Peregrine was getting very distracted by the movie and Alethea wasn't paying any attention to it so I'd turned it off. My theory is that he was upset by this and instigated the computercide. To be fair, I don't think he told her to whack it with all her might with a wooden spoon, and I doubt he thought she really had the stuff of killing computers in her, but there you have it. The death of our computer. (We have a Mac that is computer/monitor all in one so it's not as simple as replacing the monitor.)
Thankfully none of our "stuff" was lost, and you can actually do a lot with just one small corner of your screen. Also, we have an archaic laptop that Erik recently revived to take on our upcoming trip to Mexico, so I'm able to use it for now. It's taking some getting used to, and I don't have my pictures and address book and favorites, but I do have something, and for that I'm thankful. I really want to post some pictures from Peregrine's birthday, but don't know how or when that will be able to happen. And I need to write his birthday letter, but that may have to wait .Right now I'm knee deep in packing and preparing for our departure in a few days.
I've been thinking though, this Kill Your Computer thing could maybe catch on. We could sell a little kit that would come with a bumper sticker and a wooden spoon. Our slogan would be "Kill Your Computer: So simple even a two-year old can do it!"

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Sneak Preview

Yesterday Erik and I were privileged to get a sneak preview of what no one else will get to see until sometime in March. It's been in the works for over four months now, but won't be ready to be unveiled until sometime in March. What is it, you ask? The 2008 model of the G- family baby! That's right, we got to see the little one who has been kicking and squirming around in there, and it appears that all is well. There is a little fluid in one kidney and that's something they want to keep an eye on but otherwise everything looks right on track. And, drum roll please..... we're having another boy!! Now to start thinking of names. That's never easy for us.
We're so thankful for the many of you who are keeping us in your prayers, and are happy to share this good news with you.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Found Moments

    As a busy Mama it's important to me to have some sort of creative outlet and there are many that I enjoy- sewing, quilting, making cards, scrapbooking, writing, beadwork, making dolls, and more. It's easy to lament not having more time to work on these kinds of things, but I remember the words of a high school teacher: "Time is not something you have, it's something you make." I never wanted to hear that when I hadn't had (or made) time to do my homework, but I'm starting to see the truth in it: we make time for things that are important to us. And while being able to craft things is something I enjoy, finding the time for it can be a challenge.

    Jinny Beyer, in her instructive and beautiful book Quiltmaking by Hand talks about how she finds the time to sew large quilts without the use of a machine. "You would be amazed at how much sewing you can get done in found moments throughout the day. I sew in doctor's offices, in the car, on trains, on airplanes, in airport, and in traffic jams.... I always have a little bag of stitching with me wherever I go. I advise you to do to the same, because you never know when you might have a little bit of time to take a few stitches.... you will come to cherish the times when you can quietly stitch- and your final quilt will have so many more memories attached to it because of where you were when you pulled out your little bag of sewing." She goes on to talk about how the key to being productive in your "found moments" is having spent some time in preparation. She has pieces cut out and placed in a small bag along with a needle and thread, pins and a small pair of scissors. She can then pick up her bag and stitch while waiting in line to get gas, talking on the phone or sitting with her husband while he watches a game.

    This idea of found moments inspires me. I think this must be how women of earlier generations were able to accomplish the amazing handiwork and quilts we see in museums now. (Of course, they made such things out of necessity, but I would still prefer to lay my children down under a quilt stitched with love by their mama then one bought at Stuff-Mart.) Peregrine and I are reading Farmer Boy, and I love the description of a winter's evening with the whole family around the woodstove: "Mother knitted and rocked in her high-backed rocking-chair. Father carefully scraped a new axe-handle with a bit of broken glass. Royal carved a chain of tiny links from a smooth stick of pine, and Alice sat on her hassock, doing her woolwork embroidery. And they all ate popcorn and apples, and drank sweet cider, except Eliza Jane. Eliza Jane read aloud the news in the New York weekly paper."

    I've found what Jinny Beyer said to be true; when I have things prepared I can get a lot done in a few moments on the couch or while riding in the van, watching a movie with Erik or talking together in the evening. And the memories attached to something do become more special- I remember stitching on Peregrine's baby quilt on the way to Crater Lake, and working on Alethea's on a road trip to California when I was six months pregnant with her. I also remember somehow managing to take a few stitches here and there while breastfeeding babies as I never seem to quite finish them before they're born! Some crafts lend themselves more readily to found moments than others, but there are many things that can be done in those small snatches of time. It's very satisfying, and almost feels like a necessity to me, to create beautiful things; things to keep or give away, things that will bring joy and beauty and comfort. And while I can't usually find hours to work on these projects, I can quite often find a few moments.

(The quilts pictured were all handmade by me. The first is Peregrine's, the second Poppy's, the the last one now belongs to a wonderful little guy named Zebedee. It's just about time for me to start in on another for our new baby!)