Christmas Memories

I love Christmas and I always have.  As a child, I could not wait for Santa to arrive.  My family would decorate the house and go to bed early on Christmas Eve.  We would always put out cookies and buttermilk for Santa, because that’s what he liked.  While we were sleeping Santa would put up the tree and decorate it for us!  I really don’t know how my parents did it all.  No wonder my mom was always a bit stressed just before Christmas.  We had traditions as children, we would visit Santa, bake my mom’s delicious butter cookies, go to Christmas mass, decorate our house and have parties with friends and family.  But one of the most meaningful memories I have is my mom always finding the family that had very little and giving them special Christmas gifts.  We would wrap presents and bring them to a family that lived on the edge of town, or to the little boys that were in foster care, or to a young pregnant teen that had been kicked out of her home.  What my mom did was show us all the true meaning of Christmas.  My parents grew up in the middle of the Great Depression.  My mom was one of eight children and her own mother died when she was young.   She never forgot what it was like to be poor and hungry and she never forgot to give back to others.

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Christmas in the 1960’s with my mom, sister and brother (the Native American)

At this time of the year we often stop to reflect and give thanks for all of the riches we have in this world.  I’m grateful for the health, love and presence of my family and friends.  Every year we have continued many of the holiday traditions our family started.  I host a holiday brunch with girlfriends where we enjoy shopping, french toast, mimossas and the company of good friends.  Together, my family hosts a Christmas party for friends from far and wide.  My kids bring their friends and everyone has a blast.  At the end the guests leave with some homemade Irish Cream.

When my kids were small I would often get lost in the hectic pace of Christmas, shopping, baking, decorating and wrapping gifts.  One day when my kids were driving me crazy my neighbor knocked on the door and asked if she could “borrow my children for a few hours.”  “Absolutely!” I replied.  She explained to me that the children were going to go house to house collecting toiletries for gift baskets for the homeless.  What a great reminder to me about what Christmas was all about.

Every year we look for a needy family or group and shop for them.  There is nothing that makes me happier than bringing some Christmas joy to others. I wish you all some Christmas Joy.

 

Beyond Tacos and Tequila How to Make the Most of Mexico

People respond to bad news.  The news media has known this for years.  “If it  bleeds, it leads.”  We want to hear terrible things, things that happen to other people.  Customers write horrible reviews because they are often embolden to write a review when they feel ripped off, slighted, or are generally pissed off.  I know this from personal experience.  Last year we visited Puerto Penasco (Rocky Point) with a large group of friends.  Our trip was spoiled by a very unresponsive resort and some unpleasant experiences. We left with a bitter sense of dissatisfaction.  We complained to management but were not satisfied.  I’m never reluctant to point out to a business when something is wrong, but since we were not listened to  I went home and wrote a scathing review of this very “upscale” resort.  I included a litany of issues we encountered and warned everyone to stay away.  That review has over six thousand readers!  My blogs, which I attempt to carefully craft to be relevant, honest and engaging have a grand total of twenty five subscribers!  What the hell am I doing wrong?

Now I will tell you all how to avoid disaster in Mexico.  I have experienced some disasters in Mexico so I can share what I’ve learned.

 

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Low tide on Sandy Beach
Rules to not ruin your trip to Rocky Point Mexico

  1.  Travel with people you enjoy spending time with.  It is amazing how many people go on trips with relative strangers and end up ruining a budding friendship.  On our most recent trip we traveled with one other couple we have traveled with before.
  2. Have a shared goal for your vacation.  Relaxation? Sure.  Beach  time?  Absolutely.  Sampling local cuisine? Yes.  End up in a Mexican jail?  No thank you.
  3. Remember you are a guest in the country DON’T BREAK THE LAW!
  4. Set realistic expectations.  In Rocky Point you are likely to have great fresh fish, tacos and other local specialities but not likely to find many fine dining places. Accept it and move on.
  5. The most important rule is to go with the flow.
  6. Do your research on your accommodations.

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Sierra Bonita Resort Swim up Bar
Rocky Point Mexico is a four and a half hour drive from Phoenix Arizona.  Locals in Arizona refer to the boarder town as our own beachside community.  Not too many years ago Rocky Point was a place to camp on the beach and enjoy a quiet, fishing community with spectacular beaches and cheap food.

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Enjoying a walk on the beach
Today it is dotted with many condo communities and hotels filled with Americans enjoying the natural beauty of the town.  The town has grown and although there is little camping on the beach there is still a wide variety of accommodations to suit every taste and budget.

We spent three days in a condo community known as Sierra Bonita “Pretty Mountain”.  We rented through VRBO a beautifully appointed two bedroom condo with beach and pool views.  The community included, palapas, sandy beaches, swim up bars and an onsite restaurant.  To put it simply, we loved the place!  Decorator touches, a large patio, entertainment, and good proximity to many restaurants and bars.  Don’t forget to try the street food and drinks too!

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Pina Coladas in town
The town of Rocky Point is filled with bars, taco stands and many shops selling cheap tours items like t-shirts, cowboy hats and blankets.  Haggling for prices is encouraged in the shops.  The shrimp is inexpensive and plentiful.  Be sure to pack the cooler with some to bring home and marvel at the price you get the giant shrimps for.

There are so many activities to take part in Rocky Point Mexico.  Rent a horse or an ATV.  Swim on the beach and walk for miles in the sand.  Get up at sunrise or enjoy the sunset.  Eat like a local.  Go to the chicken taco stand and get chicken, go to the carne asada stand and get steak.  But most of all enjoy what Mexico has to offer and appreciate the beauty of our neighbor to the south.

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Girl Time and the Art of Not Getting Mugged in LA

I love to spend time with my girlfriends.  We don’t try to impress one another, we have long, honest conversations, laugh until we pee, and stay up half the night talking about our hopes and  dreams.

I have recently enjoyed a couple of girl-time weekends without my husband.  First I went with a great friend to Jerome, a quaint, artsy town in Northern Arizona.  We signed up for an art class to make a kaleidoscope, we spent seven hours cutting glass, chipping plastic, and arranging polarized film to create absolutely beautiful works of art.

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The inside of my kaleidoscope

Spending time with my friend is always a pleasure.  We know that we can do something creative together and laugh at ourselves while we do it.  The following day we hiked in Sedona, a magical red rock paradise that I don’t get to visit often enough.  My friend is very fit and hiking together is always a bit of a challlenge for me to try to keep up with her, but I did my best. We hiked about seven miles and I forgot to take water.  That’s never a goood idea in the Arizona desert.  She shared her water with me, because that’s what good friends do.

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Capturing some fall colors in Sedona, Arizona

Another very good friend invited me to come to Los Angeles with her for a long weekend.  The first night we walked around her neighborhood picking up magnolia pods.  These were really interesting shaped pods, we were sure that we could create something beautiful with them.  Our only mistake might have been picking them up at night, in strangers’ yards.  Neighborhood dogs barked uncontrollably as we searched with flashlights for these pods.  Luckily, no one called the police on us and we now have a large bag of pods that will undoubtedly be created into a piece of art.

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The coveted magnolia pod

 

The next day we shopped in the LA fashion district, and Santee Alley.  We would be brutally honest as we tried on clothes.  “No, forget that one it makes your ass look huge.”  We love to bargain shop and took in all the ethnic flavor LA has to offer.  We walked EVERYWHERE.  On my last full day in California we made the decision to go back to the fashion district.  We didn’t care that it was raining, so we headed out to take the train to Union Station.  We didn’t expect the rain to continue, which is probably why didn’t bring an umbrella.  It’s a little over two miles to the area we wanted to visit again.  At one point the rain was coming down in sheets, couldn’t even see in front of ourselves.  Surely a street vendor would be selling umbrellas.  Nope, not on this day.  We walked at a quick pace and were occasionally approached by the homeless.  I would just yell “NO!” And we would keep walking.  As we walked down one unfamiliar street after another we both realized Google Maps was not being helpful.  Finally we found an open store and the shopkeeper sold us an umbrella.  Standing on the street corner, as we looked around it was painfully obvious to us both that we needed to get the hell out.  The streets were basically tent cities filled with homeless men.  We called Uber and waited in the rain.  He was only two minutes away, but we could see that he passed our block and would be a few more minutes.  Perhaps it was the appearance of two lost, middle aged white ladies but yet another homeless man approached us.  He asked for money, I told him we had none, our friends had our money, he said he was homeless and needed money to buy an umbrella.  He was a large and intimidating fellow.  I grabbed the umbrella out of my friend’s hand and said “Here’s an umbrella, go!”  He walked away with our umbrella and the Uber driver pulled up.  I was never so happy to get into an Uber in my life.

We were taken Santee Alley, aka Mecca for the shoppers.  We found more bargains we could not live without and decided it would be best to take Uber back to Union Station. That evening we laughed about our adventure.  When we stopped into a Starbucks for a late night cappuccino my friend noticed someone familiar sitting in the window, he had Dr Dre headphones, two Ipad screens and was noshing on a biscuit and a venti Americano.  Could this be the “homeless guy” who hustled us?  He sure did look like him.  Parked outside the Starbucks was our answer.

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A familiar looking umbrella was found in the back of the bike

Rambling Through My Stuff

For the last few weeks I have been searching for a project which has a tangible sense of accomplishment, an end product.  Finally, I’ve found some projects around my home where I can achieve that.  I don’t consider myself a hoarder but I do hold onto sentimental objects and especially pictures with an inexplicable fanaticism.  I have always loved photographs and even in college took many pictures of friends and displayed them in my dorm rooms.  I loved taking photography classes and relished the time I was able to spend in the dark room developing photographs.  Back in the early eighties we took pictures with actual black and white film, you never were sure you had the shot until you went into the dark room and saw the magic happen on the photo paper.  I remember being assigned to take two to four roll of thirty six pictures a week.  Film was expensive, photo paper was expensive but the process was so exhilarating that I did everything in my power to make some extra cash to buy my supplies.

Over the years I have taken thousand upon thousands of photographs.  Most of them I have saved, including the negatives.  Pictures of my kids, friends, family and events are all documented in these photographs.  Sure I have albums.  I made sure I had an album documenting basic childhood milestones for each of my three children.  Although, I must admit  for my third child I may have substituted some of his baby pictures with those of his brother, my firstborn who has about a million pictures.

Even with these three photo albums there were giant crates of pictures lining the cabinets of my garage.  Every summers when I was teaching I told myself, this year I will organized all of the pictures in those crates.  And each summer I found something else to do. Well now that I am retired and home much more I had no more excuses.

For days I poured over each picture.  Who were all of the people in the picture?   What year was this?   I remembered stories of the college parties, the pet bunnies, the vacations, and so many more sweet memories of my family and friends. The floor of my living room was strewn with piles of pictures.  I’ve saved friends’ Christmas card photos, shots of tee ball practice, holidays and birthdays.  Each photograph had a story to tell of my life.  Many of the pictures were duplicates, because you often took three or four pictures in the hope of getting one good one.  But my mission was to create photo albums chronologically.  I loved every minute of the project. For many hours I would think of the Jim Croce song “Time in a Bottle” where you can “save every day until eternity passes away.”   By honoring the photographs and assigning them a place in my albums I feel as though I am giving that photograph a voice and an opportunity for the story in the picture to be told again and again.  Reluctantly, I threw away pictures that were blurry, duplicate or had heads missing. Unless those pictures were from my childhood, because the majority of the pictures my mom  took included the tallest person being beheaded.

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Childhood memories with my sister

I was able to dwindle down the enormous amount of pictures to just two albums and one small box.  How is it that all the stories can be so succinctly edited to two books?  But they are given the place of honor in my albums.  Hopefully to be seen by many eyes.

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All of my photographs placed in albums

It is interesting to see when the pictures stop in time.  They stop when we started using digital technology to take over the documentation process.  I worry that so many pictures are on jump drives and discs and can so easily be discarded.  But I know in my heart that the memories will last forever.

Jumping Into The Deep End

We recently went to the Grand Canyon.  Its only a few hours from my home in Arizona but as often happens, you sometimes forget to explore what is in your own back yard.  When you consider that the Grand Canyon is one of the seven wonders of the world, it seems a shame that we haven’t been there in over a dozen years. On our way to the Grand Canyon we spent some time shopping and hiking in Sedona.  Sedona is a beautiful, magical place with soaring red rocks that’s only about ninety minutes from our house.  We had breakfast, hiked and took in the spectacular views.  Obviously we need to come hike here more often.

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Sedona’s Fay canyon

Seeing the Grand Canyon again makes you realize how insiginificant you are.  It also made me think about my life and what I want to leave when I am gone.  When I decided to retire one of the things that kept me from fully accepting the idea of retirement was acknowledge that I’m getting older.  I really do not accept my age.  Maybe that is the key to aging slower.  But the idea of being able to set my own schedule each day and make those days count is something that is weighing very heavily on me.

My husband has been retired for over eighteen months and he has figured out how to carve out his day to his satisfaction.  I am still a work in progress.   He is a woodworker who has rekindled his passion and found his inner creativity.  At the end of a week or so he has something tangible and beautiful to show for his work.

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My husband’s project

 

There are some terrific things about retirement.  Travel and time are the two most important ones to me. Time is both my friend and enemy.  Every day I consider a gift, but a gift that has an expectation that i will not waste it.  I have arrived at a time in my life where my value is still uncertain.  When I taught every day, I realized what value and difference I made in my own little corner of the world.  I would get hugs at the end of the day and I knew that I accomplished something important.

I need to look at retirement as a process, and not a destination.  I’m on this train and each desitination I stop at is up to me.  Not since I graduated college have I had so many opportunities open to me, but in reality I need to decide what I’m going to do with the rest of my life.  I’m grateful for the opportunity once again, but I don’t want to squander it.

I enjoy doing crafts, writing and photography but I’m not the artsy fartsy type.  I would much rather buy stuff at a craft fair than make a bunch of it.  I took a cookie decorating class with a friend and after three hours I had a dozen cookies.  It was enjoyable but if I had to make these for a living I would end up charging ten bucks a cookie and gain a hundred pounds. Next,  I thought I might take my dog to hospitals as a therapy dog, but he’s not that well behaved and pees when he’s stressed out, so I think that’s out. I don’t mind subbing in classrooms, but at the end of the day its only temporary.  I love spending time with children, and helping parents advocate for their children’s rights.  I think this is something that I can help others with but I haven’t figured out all of the details.  I love writing, and in some ways writing my blog is my voice, an outlet to the greater world.

Tick Tock the Traveling Clock Continues

The first few days of our road trip to pick up a grandfather clock was filled with the sights and sounds of airboats, the cast of Disney world and the waves hitting the beaches in Florida.

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Now we need to get moving so we can get the clock home.  We traveled from Pensacola  beach, a beautiful beach that we couldn’t swin in due to the rip tides .  We traveled from Pensacola to New Orleans, Lousianna.  The trip took only about four hours.  We were very happy with the two bedroom craftsman Airbnb that we booked in the Garden District with friends.  New Orleans lives up to its big reputation as a party destination, complete with generous drinks and delicious local delicacies.  The Po’boys we devoured were from a local dive bar in the Irish Channel district called Parasols.  The dive bar had all the necessary ingredients, local clientele, no frills atmosphere and  delicious roast beef Poboys served since the 1950’s.  When we walked in and saw all of the regulars lined up at the bar we all knew we were at the right place.

We visited Burbon Street and enjoyed the rowdy atmosphere and activities but by our second day we wanted to enjoy some beignets and listen to some great music further down the French Quarter.  I loved all of the colorful houses and each Uber trip I felt compelled  to name the color of each gingerbread house we passed. “Look, periwinkle, sage, salmon, yellow!”  Once a preschool teacher, always a preschool teacher.

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A “celery” and White House

My friend and I were looking to have Tarot cards read for us, but we kept looking for a really “good one” and unfortunately we were never satisfied.  Not really sure what a “good” tarot card reader is but we both knew it should not involve an iPhone.

I can not say enough about the phenomenal music we were lucky enough to hear all along the French Quarter.  We were in NOLA for Southern Decadence, a gay pride event with music, parades, dancing and more.  Apparently New Orleans hosts hundreds of festivals celebrating the unique food, music and people that make it so fabulous.  We will definitely return to NOLA to spend some more time discovering the treasures of this wonderful city.

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Entertainment everywhere with lots of jazz
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Great times in NOLA with friends

We woke up early the next day to get a head start on the road to San Antonio. This was a  LONG leg of our journey.  Over 600 miles.  We had cappucino at a corner coffee shop and did not stop except for gas and bathroom breaks for the next nine hours.  We happily jumped out of the van, changed and went on to enjoy the River Walk in San Antonio.

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River Walk San Antonio

We were both getting tired of hotel rooms and maybe each other too, but the end was in sight.  The next morning we loaded the car once again and made our last push for home over 590 miles to Las Cruces, New Mexico.

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I may not have done any driving but I’m a pretty good navigator

Greg drove for over 2,800 miles with 48 hours behind the wheel.  Was it worth it?  Hell yeah.  We have this beautiful clock and the memories that travel imprints on you.

The clock is now safely home in our bedroom and it looks beautiful but I would be happy to not have any long road trips for a while.  And I didn’t do any of the driving.

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Greg’s grandfather clock in it’s new home

The Adventure of the Traveling Clock

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Sarasota Beach

We have embarked on a new adventure, a road trip across America. The last time my husband and I traveled on a cross country road trip was thirty two years ago when we were relocating to Arizona from New Jersey. For that trip I drove a total of two hours, he is hoping that I will share a bit more of the driving this time.
We are calling this adventure “The adventure of the traveling clock.” About forty years ago my husband made a grandfather clock in his high school shop class. His aunt and uncle wanted a grandfather clock and paid for the black walnut and the clock mechanism and in a year he had completed the project and gave the clock to his aunt and uncle. I saw the clock once when we were dating and thought it was beautiful. When the opportunity presented itself and the clock was generously offered to us we jumped at the opportunity to pick it up in Florida. Today we fly to Florida. We are hoping that both the clock and the marriage survive.
We were home from Europe for a little over a week when the clock trip seemed to be a possibility. Greg did the planning and set up the rental car and hotels and I found and Airbnb for us to stay at in New Orleans.
We flew into Miami and were able to get our rental van easily. We grabbed a bite to eat in La Rosa Cuban restaurant in Miami before we headed to Port St. Lucie. Once in town we went to Greg’s aunt’s home and picked up the grandfather clock. It looks amazing after over forty years. The moving of the clock was pretty uneventful and we set out for Siesta Key. On the road for a couple of minutes, we started hear chimes banging from the clock. A quick stop at Walmart for bubble wrap silenced the chiming.

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Greg and his clock

 

 

In Siesta Key, known as America’s most beautiful beach we had some beach time and explored the town a bit. It was so quaint and beautiful, with white sand beaches, warm but refreshing water and some great sand sculptures on the beach. This little town has a “free” cab service for the surrounding area. The cabbies are locals who rely on tips. Fantastic idea to allow everybody to enjoy the night life safely.

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Sand sculpture at Siesta Key

We (Greg) drove to Sarasota to our hotel and found the most amazing place for dinner called Owen’s Fish Camp. It’s a charming little house with great vegetation and a sweet screened in front porch. We sat at a mismatched table and ordered scallops, jambalaya. Every bite was delicious. Mine came with succotash. I have hated succotash since I was a kid so when I asked the waitress to leave those off she told me the succotash was made with corn, edamame and dried cranberries. It was so good! After dinner we moved to the back yard to check out the band. Old iron patio chairs, giant trees, an oyster bar and a tire swing fill out the back yard. It was a perfect night!

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Owen’s Fish Camp Restaurant

The next day we headed for Orlando. We arrived early and decided to take an airboat tour in the Everglades. We saw alligators, hawks, egrets and more. The driver was informative and truly loved his job. For almost the entire trip it rained. Even though there was a cover over the boat it made no difference we were SOAKED.

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Not so friendly alligator smile

Finally we were in Disney World.  I have never been to Disney World, nor to Florida before so this is really special for me. Greg is the easy going guy willing to visit Disney World again. His last visit was thirty five years ago. Things have changed a bit. I was worried that we would look out of place at Disney without kids. But we weren’t alone. We arrived early and were on the first ride by 9am. We loved everything! We even got to see Mickey Mouse. While in line, I met a little boy who was so excited to see Mickey. He told his mom he was going to “hug and squeeze Mickey”. His mom told him to remember that Mickey is a boy so maybe you should  just shake his hand. He replied, “No I’m going to hug him because he’s so soft and cuddly ”.  I hugged him too.