Feb 17

tn_DSCN0238I’m sitting by the pool in my swimming suit.  The sun is bearing down on my back, more welcoming than annoying for sure.  For the last hour I’ve been charring in its heat while I finish a book about an undercover ATF agent that infiltrated the Hells Angels.  Good book.  In the last three years or so I have read maybe five books.  Before that, I can’t even remember when I’d read one.  The girls are taking turns jumping into the pool from the side.  One will float in the shallow end and shout a question, “What’s your favorite food!?”  Then the other one has to jump and shout back their answer before crashing into the water.  “Spaghetti!”  Palm trees are doing lazy dances above me, making rustling noises that can’t quite drown out the sound of the chickens across the road, or the man in the shrimp truck down the hill… “Camarones!”  I decided it was just the right time to crack the day’s first Tecate.  I was right.

tn_DSC09227Rich and Maria are getting ready to leave.  They got here a day later than us and are leaving a day earlier than we will.  I’m going to run them to the airport in a couple of hours.  Then I’ll come back and we’ll do our thing for one more day…which hasn’t been much.  This has been a good trip.  My plans to be clear headed and get some work done have failed miserably.  It is what it is I guess.  No guilt, no sleeplessness over it – the latter being a rarity.  In fact, last night was the best night of sleep I’ve had since coming here.  Ten hours solid…the last one to wake up.

And though I haven’t been clear-headed about work, I am feeling a little more connected to my real life, the one that I live in where work is, in reality, merely an incidental yet obnoxious necessity.  Change is all around me and in that I feel peace.  I’m moving towards calmer waters and just knowing that the directional compass has been set is enough to make me feel better, enough to give me something to look forward to.  It’s these times I wish I could capture, keep and preserve for days when I really need them.  It’s easy to feel balanced in the Mexican sun.  It’s more difficult on a Tuesday morning in Washington DC in the steep of a blistering election year.

tn_yinyangWork is a yin and it is a yang.  I hate having a job that is all encompassing.  I miss the monotony of stamping a time card, heading home and not answering email, not taking calls, not even thinking about my job until its time to be there again.  Repeat.  But then the fallacy of my fantasy…  Whereas I could, in fact, afford that life, the way we live and the childhood of my girls would be seriously changed – things we believe are very good right now.  We travel, we eat well, we save money.  We control our time.  All of that would be in jeopardy.  Furthermore, though my right brain believes it could tolerate a predictable life hanging somewhere between mediocre and low stress…it couldn’t.  My brain needs to be exercised.  Feeling good about myself is directly related to being good at something, knowing I am valued and having skills.  Maybe me needing those things reflected back to me says a lot about my self-esteem and character.  But I do need those things, nonetheless.

tn_IMG_6649So we’re heading back to the real world.  And whereas I am comfortable to leave the sand and shells here, and I am resigned to trying to replicate the food, beer and memories amidst the less than tropical sun that we get three months out of the year, what I really want is to feel clear-headed, like I do now.  What I really want to be able to do is find clarity in the sea of madness that causes me so much stress on a day to day basis.  I want peace.  Hopefully the memory of tranquility as played out through these words will be enough to ground me when I re-enter the storm.  Because that’s all I get.

The girls are above me now, moved from the pool to the kitchen-turned-rec-room, playing on their iPods and screeching.  To me, they are just another set of chirping birds in the jungle’s landscape, raining down on me.

And I love it.

Feb 16

tn_shrimptruckWell, we finally found the ‘Shrimp Truck’.  That would be the elusive fisherman that we’ve heard about, the ones that drive through town with a loudspeaker on the top and coolers full of their fresh catch in the back.  The story told to us is that their seafood comes straight from the water, and that it’s the freshest catch around.  But until yesterday, that was just a rumor.  Lily and I were walking into town when I heard ‘Camarones! Huachinango!’…(shrimp, red snapper). “Bean!  That’s the Shrimp Truck!”  I picked her up and we bolted back to the house to get Rich because I didn’t have enough cash on me.

tn_DSCN0405A few minutes later we were in the town square and bartering with three fisherman in the back of a small, beat up burgundy truck.  It is no exaggeration to say that the shrimp he pulled out of his cooler were the biggest I had ever seen.  Ever.  We definitely wanted some of those.  What else did he have?  There was a lot of back and forth and the scallop guy was different from the shrimp guy and HE was different than the red snapper guy, etc.  So in the end I don’t really know how much we got and what it all cost but we left with quite a load of seafood.

tn_IMG_6652Lily and I had initially been leaving to go pick out a birthday present for Rhonda (from her).  Ava and I had made the trek earlier, and although Ava was very thoughtful about selecting a gift for Lily to give her mom (and Lily had agreed to let her pick it out), Lily changed her mind when she saw what Ava had purchased for herself – two identical necklaces for her and her mom to wear.  I was a little frustrated about having to go out again just because Lily wanted to get something different.  And I guess the truth is that I didn’t have to go out.  Furthermore…I was probably spoiling Lily by catering to her after she’d already made a decision to let Ava pick her gift.  But after thinking about it I simply decided – so what?  We left our compound and sat down on the curb.  “I’m sorry for being frustrated Bean.  You made a decision and I want you to stick to it.  But I understand that its mommy’s birthday and you want to make it special for her.”  She nodded and put her head on my shoulder.  “I can tell when you’re getting stressed out daddy,” she said.  I smiled and said I was sorry.  She hugged me.  It was starting to rain.  Pretty insightful for a five year old.  Pretty expressive.

tn_DSCN0527Bean and I walked into galleries and small trinket shops talking about other trips we’ve been on and looking for the perfect gift.  She finally picked out a penguin ornament (?).  No matter – Bean had picked it out for her mom so it was perfect.  Later on, after it was dark, Bean and I decided to walk into town to look for a woman selling homemade cakes on the street yesterday.  Mommy needed a cake, right?  We first thought we’d all just go out for ice cream but the rain seemed unrelenting.  I thought no way would Bean want to go out in the weather with me – especially because it is absolutely pitch black at night.  But she did and she didn’t stop singing and skipping the entire way.  We found the cake lady and picked out an enormous ‘Tres Leches’ cake, then headed back up the hill, into the blackness of the jungle.  Bean was still singing.  I’m glad she’s not a fearful kid.  Neither of them is, actually.  So we got a good cake, but everyone fell asleep after our feast of fresh shrimp, so we’ll have to have it tomorrow.

tn_DSCN0019Earlier Ava and I had gone on our own shopping excursion.  We did nearly the same trek and Lily and I did and, as I said earlier, Bird opted for matching necklaces for her and her mom.  “That way we can always be together.” I loved it.  We also walked down to the beach looking for some fresh coconuts and remembering how much we loved carving the meat out of them when we were in Kauai last summer.  But alas, the rain was just starting then and the venders were sparse.  Bird just shrugged it off.  “Maybe they’ll be here tomorrow Dad.”

tn_DSC09382When the two girls are separated, they are completely different people.  Those are the times when I can really feel our relationship grow.  I can’t imagine feeling more proud of my two daughters.  It’s been a rush of thoughts since being here, for a variety of reasons.  For one, this is the last vacation I took with my dad before he died.  I’ve been thinking about him.  Two, I’ve been observing Rich’s boy Max, thinking about the decision we made not to have any more kids and the fact that I’ll never have a boy of my own.  Then I look at my girls and I watch how sweet they are to each other, how respectful they are to us, how hungry their brains are, what world travelers they’ve become and what a tight knit unit the four of us have become.  Of course, because I am me, I am constantly worried that it will all come to a screeching halt one day.  But things are good.  Things are very good.

In fact, I was just doing a recount of the last calendar year in my head.  Specifically – all the trips we’ve taken.  Here it is – one year ago to today, as best I can recount:

  • January 2011 – Denver
  • February 2011 – Nashville, Denver, Las Vegas (me)
  • March 2011 – n/a
  • April  2011 – Denver, China (Rhonda)
  • May 2011 – South Carolina
  • June 2011 – Kauai
  • July 2011 – Las Vegas
  • August 2011 – Denver, China (Rhonda)
  • September 2011 – n/a
  • October 2011 – New Mexico
  • November 2011 – n/a
  • December 2011 – Denver
  • January 2012 – n/a
  • February 2012 – Sayulita, MX

Worth mentioning is that I managed to earn elite status on both Delta and US Air WITHOUT any of these trips; that was simply all of my trips to Washington DC and Wisconsin.

Wow.

Feb 15

tn_DSC09222A few lazy days have passed without much more than swimming by the pool (or in the ocean), relaxing with Mexican beer and some homemade tequila refreshments and cooking whatever we’ve been able to rustle up from the local fish markets.  Last night it was 6 red snapper and 2.5 pounds of shrimp…for $12.  Really.  That’s it.  I’ve also been able to keep up with work emails without being devoured by work.  That is to say I am skimming the hundreds of emails I receive each day and generally keeping the pulse of what’s going on and what items I’ll have to deal with when we get back.  But nothing more.

tn_DSC09448Today is Rhonda’s birthday – 41!  That means, among other things, that we have known each other for 16 years now!  That’s crazy!  It also means we’ve officially been together for 11 years.  The girls and I made a quiet plan to hit the town and find some special presents for her.  I think tonight we’ll go out for dinner, too.  I can’t tell if she’s ok with turning 41 or not.  She’s a little quiet…we’ll see.  In the past it has just depended on the year and where her head is at the time.  Things are good right now, so…

tn_DSC09299We’re supposed to go to a hidden beach today called ‘Playa de Los Muertos’, I think because it’s by a cemetery or you have to go through one to get to the beach or something.  There’s a cloud cover this morning, something usual for this time of year.  It may or may not pass, but it’s still warm and I think the girls would opt in for the beach even if there was a hurricane outside.  In writing that I am reminded of the time we went to Chicago in late spring and they were dead-set insistent on going to the beach and flying kites in their bikinis.  Heh heh heh…didn’t last too long.  It was freezing!

tn_DSC09408Being around other parents and their kids is always interesting to me.  I wonder if any two sets of parents discipline the same way, communicate the same way, etc…  It doesn’t seem like it, or at least everyone I come in contact with is a little different.  Rich’s little boy Max is exactly two years younger than Lily, and the difference between them is greater than I would have guessed.  That isn’t to qualify anything, just noting difference.  It seems like every stage a child goes through is so all consuming that as soon as they are on to the next place, I’ve forgotten about the last.  Seeing Max struggling to communicate or being less flexible with what’s going on has reminded me about those times with our girls and how much easier things are when parents and children can share a common language.

tn_DSC09275Bird is always good as a Mother Hen, shepherding around the little ones.  She’s such a good kid and so responsible.  But she’s also only 6 so we always need to make sure she’s doesn’t saddle herself with so much responsibility that she’s not having fun, or at least the experience she should be having at her age.  Monday she was sick and slept all day.  I always get worried when that happens.  I got sick all the time when I was a kid, just like everyone else.  You go through it and then it’s over.  For some reason, I can’t remember those times.  When my girls are sick I assume they’ve caught some rare virus and are on their deathbed.  Horrible.  But she’s ok today.  As I’m writing she’s playing a game on Rhonda’s iPad while the other kids watch.

tn_DSCN0222Lily has been in the water non-stop since we’ve been here.  Her swimming skills have improved so much!  She has reached that point where I don’t worry about her survival anymore.  If she falls in the deep end she can just take a deep breath and swim underwater back to the edge or, as it is, all the way to the shallow end.  Today she had me throwing a small rock in the pool so she could dive and retrieve it.  Dozens and dozens of times I threw that rock and she’d go after it.  Don’t ask me why that is such an appealing activity but I did the same thing when I was a kid…over and over…

tn_gala-09Yesterday Rich and I stopped and talked with a realtor in town.  There are tons of beautiful condos and houses for sale – many of them owned by Americans that got hammered in the recession and now have to sell.  It sounds like a pitch, but the realtor said houses have been going at 30, 40, 50 and even 60% off the asking process.  And even the listings aren’t that expensive, all things considered.  I guess I mean that relatively.  Now that I type that out I think about how my parents would have reacted 30 years ago when we were here about something that costs around half a million dollars.  Yeah, relative.

tn_sayulitasunForeigners can’t buy land here, at least not around the beach.  There are basically three options for people like us – 1) buy and put your house in a bank trust 2) form a Mexican corporation and make the house the asset of the corporation or 3) find a Mexican national to purchase the property and then make you power of attorney.  Option three seems nuts unless it’s a family member.  Option two is basically how we operate in the states with some things and option one seems to be what most people do.  Interesting.  I could tell that some of the conversation piqued his interest – mine too, but we’re looking to move to Colorado right now, so we’re hardly in a place where buying a house in Sayulita makes sense.  Maybe in ten years.  Let’s hope in ten years.

Feb 13

tn_DSCN0269Though we are only on our second day, this trip has been very special to me already.  I am writing this entry in our open air bedroom – the one that is three stories above the ground with no walls allowing me to overlook the Mexican jungle and hillside.  There is a symphony of wildlife playing on the hillside…down below, in the town, I can hear fisherman shouting out that they’ve got a fresh catch for sale.  Lily has been in our pool for hours.  Next to me Bird is still sleeping with shards of sunlight spreading across her face.  She doesn’t feel well this morning.

tn_MC6UD00ZBut let me not start there.  It was such a struggle to actually get to Mexico yesterday that it feels like we’ve been here for weeks. For starters, I had an awful travel schedule last week that put me in nine different airports in four days.  That’s right – nine airports.  In four days.  Tuesday was I was in 15 degree Madison, WI and Thursday and Friday were in Washington DC, also cold.  I flew Back to Ohio via Cincinnati and was supposed to be home by 7pm Friday, but didn’t make it until about 10pm because the entire state was getting snow and the roads were slow moving.  I guess that would be ok, except for the fact that our flight to Mexico was scheduled to depart Columbus at 7am the next morning and I hadn’t packed so much as a t-shirt.

tn_delayedIt was still snowing, too.  So after some quick calculations about our drive-time, the fact that we were flying internationally, etc… we decided we would need to leave the house at 3am.  And that meant getting everything together and waking up at 2:30.  So basically no sleep.  Worse yet, our airplane not only had to be de-iced, but it had a mechanical problem as well.  And, as our pilot informed us, since US Air no longer has its own maintenance crews and instead uses contractors, the fix we needed was going to take awhile…because the contractors don’t work on weekends.  Ugh.  It’s not fun to have your flight delayed, ever.  Its worse when it’s your vacation that’s being delayed.  But knowing that you are exactly the beneficiary of the airline cutbacks and your vacation is suffering is the absolute worst of all.

We easily missed our connection in Phoenix, but with some quick on the ground action, we jumped on another flight and made it to Puerto Vallarta without further delay.  Then customs, then car rental, then a 45 minute drive through the jungle where Rhonda and I each entertained our own quiet thoughts about how we had no clue where we were or where we were going.  It’s true – we didn’t have a map or an address, just a general idea of where we were supposed to go.

tn_Graves-on-the-roadI have a strange affliction – maybe all men do – where I innately think it is shorter to continue on to a destination when I am lost than it is to turn around and head back, or stop.  It really makes no sense, at least not as much sense as just admitting that continuing on is merely a gamble.  Maybe our destination is in front of us, maybe it isn’t.  I’m lost, remember?  As we followed a green truck whose driver was without question hammered off his ass and careening back and forth on an unbelievably dark, narrow and curvy road in the jungle, Rhonda started suggesting that we’d gone too far.  I, of course, insisted that we were on track.  But the truth is that I didn’t know where we were.  I was equal parts convinced that we had at least a 50% chance of reaching our destination and a 50% chance of getting killed by a drug cartel if we stopped in the jungle to turn around.  Either way, not the odds you want.

Luckily right before I conceded defeat we hit a little village with people walking around.  I’m not afraid of anyone and I am certainly not against asking for help.  So I pulled up next to some young kid and asked him in Spanish where we could find Sayulita.  Wouldn’t you know it…it was just the next “pueblo”.  We were almost there.

tn_DSC09212But almost where?  Remember, we’ve never been here before and didn’t have an address or anything more than a pencil drawn map of how to get to the house once we reached the town.  I won’t belabor the experience of us driving in the dark, up and down the lush hills of Sayulita looking for a house that resembled the one we’d seen online.  We did eventually find it, just by recognizing it.  Oh yeah, then when we got inside the compound we found out that no one left the keys to actually get into our house.  Nice.  But we did get in and from that point forward we have been living in a perfectly tranquil tropical dream.

tn_airplane-snacks1One thing worth remembering – for that entire 18 hour endeavor we had nothing to eat except carrot sticks, chips and apple slices.  Nothing.  Parental FAIL.  We usually pack all kinds of things but I think the stress of the pressured timeline made us forget some of our usual key details.  We didn’t have time to get anything in the airports either.   At 8pm (literally 18 hours from when we started) we finally had a fabulous dinner of seafood pasta, carne asada, shrimp fajitas and fresh guacamole….but that was nearly a day after we’d started.

tn_DSC09191But the point worth remembering isn’t the food – it’s how well our girls did.  No sleep, no food and no clear answers about when it would all end is a recipe for aggravation in ANY human being and its exponentially stressful for young kids.  Both our girls were absolute champs.  We had no crying, no fighting – nothing but sweet little girls who are growing increasingly comfortable with the ups and downs of travel.  It was such a long day and by the time we got food in our bellies they were ready to crash.  In fact, Lily fell asleep sitting up in the restaurant and I carried her all the way home.  Bird held hands with her mom and chatted all the way home about her plans for the week and her fear of getting bitten by one of the hundreds of stray dogs running around, but she was asleep within minutes once we got home.  So proud of them both.

tn_showerOur accommodations are pretty interesting.  It’s an enclosed compound with three different casitas built into a hillside.  In the middle is a pool and all of the bathrooms and bedrooms are open air.  Pretty crazy and awesome.  Several architects from Boulder designed the place so even though there aren’t windows and walls in some places when it rains you aren’t going to get wet.  In fact, there are some parts of the house where there is live foliage growing that gets watered by the rain coming through the ceiling.  Here is the view from the shower.

tn_DSC09202The town is pretty spectacular.  Sayulita is a languid little fishing and surfing town about 45 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta.  It’s got narrow, cobblestone roads and they all lead to a sleepy beach at the end of every street.  Dozens of small bakeries, markets and restaurants line the roads and you can probably tour the entire town by foot in less than 45 minutes. The most appealing thing is, unsurprisingly, that it hasn’t (yet) been overrun with American tourism.  I’m sure it won’t be the same in 10 years.

tn_DSCN0466There are definitely a fair amount of Americans here.  I’d say they divide into three groups – surfers, retirees and couples just like us – 40 somethings with young children.  But these are the cool Americans, the ones that aren’t looking to have an experience they could have back home.  They like it the way it is here – quiet, authentic and beautiful. These are people that wouldn’t dream of spending their vacation on the Miami-esque beaches of Cancun, or in Carlos and Charlies – where once you’re inside its impossible to tell whether you’re actually in Mexico or the knock-off franchise in the Baltimore Airport.  (Yes, I included myself in the group of ‘cool Americans’)

tn_DSCN0148Our first day was spent feeling everything out.  I had to run into Puerto Vallarta to pick up Rich, Maria and their little boy Max around noon.  Before I even left the girls and I had been to a restaurant for breakfast, the pool and the beach.  That’s right – we weren’t messing around.  Later in the day after I’d returned with everyone else we walked the town and had fish tacos at a place a friend had recommended.  For dinner Rich and I hit the road to see what we could gather from the locals.  We started at a bakery by the beach, then purchased some more rolls out of the back of a truck.  The fish market was closed, but I spoke to a woman running a vegetable stand across the road and she knew who to talk to in order to get them to get the fishermen to pause their game of pool on the roof and open up their coolers for us.  We bought three pounds of fresh caught mahi mahi for about $10 – which would cost us $60 at Whole Foods back in the states and not be as fresh.  Back to the vegetable stand we went and an hour later we were grilling our catch with frosty tequila drinks in our hand…made from a mix of things we bought at the fruit stand.  Not bad.

tn_scan0105I’ve been very reflective since arriving.  Already this trip reminds me of my childhood trips to Mexico.  Now, more than ever, I see the continuum – how what my parents translated their values and beliefs on to me and they made a concerted effort to ensure that we would have childhood experiences that would shape our character for the rest of our lives.  Now I see the next chapter – how it all plays out on my kids.  And of course, Rhonda and I remind me of my parents and my kids remind me of, well, me.  But I think they’re better than me.  At five and six I think they’ve had more experiences than me and are perhaps more seasoned.

I walk through the little roads of this town with a permanent smile on my face, grateful to my parents, happy about my children.  Things are good.

Jan 18

tn_SCAN0312This is the second night in a week that I’ve dreamed about him.  I don’t know why I’m not writing these things down.  It’s been hard for me to sit down and focus lately.  And I guess some things I just want to avoid.

In the first dream, he was in our basement prepping for his annual Superbowl party.  Food was everywhere, covering the counters, the bar…  It looked as if he was expecting an Army.  I knew that my mom and sister wouldn’t be coming but decided I would be staying.  He seemed happy that I was there and I didn’t want him to be alone.

tn_SCAN0313Last night I passed him while walking with a group of people.  They were friends from high school, but we were all our current age…grown men.  Wherever we were, the feel was as though it was a school campus again, like Northglenn, and there was something going on that gave cause to the crowds walking to and fro in the outside are where we were standing. His presence was dominant and friendly; he was there and in charge; we were on his turf.  I was happy to see him.  He was glad to see me too, all of us.

Then he walked away.

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