“If light is in your heart, you will find your way home.”

–Rumi

Isla Mujeres MX, 2022, Part IV, Final

Gracias por un tiempo maravilloso. Hasta que nos volvamos a encontrar, que estés bien, que estés a salvo y que tengas otra Margarita conmigo.

Swim buoy cut loose from the storm to roam free..

As I start to gather up my stuff, packing to see that all my extra belongings actually do fit to go home, I can’t help but continue living in the last five fabulous weeks. I so needed this time, the space to gather myself to myself, to fully appreciate all that I have and all that I love, cut all the worries loose and embrace the excitement of returning home to the Napa Valley. And yet, there’s always time for a few panic moments, “where’s my passport? I know it’s here somewhere…”

I’ve been using up my sourdough and have just enough for pancakes today and tomorrow morning, finishing up the fresh fruit in the fridge. And just enough pesos as well to get me through.

The thing about being on an island is that you really have the sense of being with yourself, and everyone around you, the end of the streets, the beginning of the ocean to everywhere. For a pisces girl like me, the sea is always calling.

When I go out early in the day, walking into the cool/warm water, a simple and yet overwhelming love grabs my soul. The salty water lifting me up as I float, the quiet sound of waves flapping on the shore, the birdsongs. I could float forever and be happy wherever I land. 

The birds swooping over me in the early morning air, I have not a worry in the world. When I leave the water, my blanket, hat and towel are waiting just where I left them, a calling card to sit and relax before a short walk to a cup of hot tea, breakfast, coffee, and whatever more is on my plate for the day.

Reading, that’s been a fine job for me. The books I finished, one I brought from home, and the others I picked up here at Libros por Raúl, I gave to Raul. Sell them again! I told him. And I’ve still got one on hand to read on the plane tomorow.

Feeling grateful, joyful, sometimes a little lonely (it passes), happiness and gratitude is my touchstone. The grief of the loss of a good friend this past week and the enseless murders elsewhere stay with me. I do my best to remember the best.

My five senses try not to miss any of the beauty, and the challenges here on the island are ever present. I’m one of those people who like absolute quiet for sleep, so here I wear earplugs to drown out the night sounds in the street. I’m looking forward to putting them back in their little pouch Tuesday, until the next trip. I’ve opened my last few packets of herbs and supplements and even started sketching. ‘took me a while…

These are the days I’m grateful I never got covid and lost my sense of taste and smell, because both are on overload here every single day.

I talked a little about my trip to the south end of the island with Carmen. To fill in the blanks, I first met Carmen when I came here couchsurfing, my first trip to the Yucatan 2010, I think. So long ago. I hit Cancun, Tulum, Isla Holbox, Chichen Itza and the sweet Yucatan Mayan Retreat, Ecohotel & Camping in Yokdzonot. So many years ago. A couple years later, I was back with my friend Kelley. We’ve discovered the magic now of the Yucatan and we won’t let go.

2019, the three amigas. I must say, we still look pretty magnificent.

So this time around, Carmen was able to get away from her work at CondoSurfers in Cancun, and we went out for a glorious day. She hadn’t been here to Isla in a while. We greeted each other with a big hug at the ferry and proceeded to laugh through the day after a simple breakfast at Cafe Cito, a brief visit to my airBnB and then off to get a golf cart. Carmen was the driver of the day and we savored all the nooks and crannies of this island.

I think she was quite surprised at all the changes from one end of the island to the other. For me as well, so much is new. We landed at Punta Sur, exploring the sculture garden, absolutely a beautiful day of it.

We watched the storm on the horizon. The wind blew in first and pretty soon the heavens opened up, showering down an amazing rush of rain, drowning us as we stood laughing on the good solid earth. Phone/cameras were stashed from the water’s onslaught and we savored the feel of the cool rain on our hot skin. Then we got back into that golf cart with its little roof to move on to more fun. But not before ice cream.

Carmen is a mural magnet. She’s got pages of them on her social media profiles. And Isla is nothing but its own magnet for beautiful murals; they are everywhere on the island. We found a string of them near the Women’s Beading Collective and spent a few minutes with the murals and with the women weaving their stunning beads. The rain had stopped and we had all the time in the world.

I mentioned in an earlier post about local artist David RLP, who was scheduled to have an art exhibit opening that night. Carmen, like me, was eager for the event.

We had dinner at Coco’s and found our way to David’s opening at Casa Sirena’s Hotel rooftop patio where David’s completed mural now graces the side of the wall and my new t-shirt. If you f’book, you can find him and more of his art here: https://www.facebook.com/search/top?q=davidrlp

The day too soon came to a close and it was time to say goodbye to each other again. Until the next time. I can’t believe we didn’t get a selfie of the two of us together. Hahaha, crazy.

I came across a little history of Isla the other day. You might like to read it.

https://islamujeresmagazine.blogspot.com/p/tourism-comes-to-isla-mujeres.html?m=1

Carmen and I were talking about something or other when she mentioned the continental Isla Mujeres. I knew she was talking about the mainland stretch north of Cancun, but I didn’t understand much else. ‘Turns out it’s the stream of land with giant hotels & resorts, loaded with tall concrete behemoths I can see from here.

Costa Mujeres, it seems it’s called, north of Cancun, seems to be full of things to do with several huge resorts open for your pleasure. The information I found online didn’t beckon to me. I think I’m more of an Isla island girl. The municipal seat of both the mainland and island sections, is here on the island, about 13 kilometres (8.1 mi) northeast of Cancun, over the Bahia de Mujeres (Bay of Women). It’s also the easternmost municipal seat in Mexico, Isla Mujeres island, where the sun first shines on Mexico.

Here starts the rainy season I suppose. The wind came in with a roar around 3 o’clock the other morning, followed by rain. It didn’t last long into the day. The change in weather to cool and breezy, I have to say, is quite nice. The morning sidewalks are fresh and clean. Except this corner, but only for a short time. Nothing unusual according to the locals. It certainly didn’t slow me down or anyone else, after the rising sun.

It did make me hope that the rain would not be falling like that during my ten minute walk to the ferry on my departure day.

I’ve certainly had a good period of reflection, which we all need sometime or other, in a wonderland of beauty and human kindness. Where I think I’m ordering a double shot expresso Americano and get two singles instead. No problemo – it’s caffeine. Where the food and drink is excellent everywhere I go. Where the churches are simple and brilliant. Where you turn around and there’s another beautiful or unique something to take a picture of. Where you walk by scads of tables and chairs skewed on the sand and know that it wasn’t an earthquake – it’s the early morning set-up. Where everone you meet has a smile waiting. And where one day, I stop to check out the little lady’s shop a few steps from my place.

One morning, I walk near a worker digging holes for an umbrella, as he does day after day after day. He and I make a little eye contact, exchange smiles, holas and “buenos dias’s” and I pass on one of my homemade infused lavender oil lip balms to him, just because it’s a nice moment, and why not?

I never do know what I’ll find on the beach here; that’s why I go every day, to find out. Poor fishy, missing parts and all, still a bit pretty to look at. And for the first time that I’ve seen, a soccer pitch set up at the beach.

It was this past Saturday that Liverpool played Real Madrid in the Champions League final. I found an empty chair at a table with four or five fine hombres set in front of a room full of tellys high on the walls of the raucous crowded Snappers Sports Bar. I can now say I’ve hit two different sports bars. Basketball at Jax and Futbol. The amigos shared their nachos, I shared my onion rings and we all shared our laughter and raised a cerveza in salute to Real Madrid on their win. https://www.snappersislamujeres.com I was too busy cheering, drinking and eating to take any pictures. Sorry.

Hurricane season begins on Wednesday. I leave for home on Tuesday, and today, Monday, we’re seeing quite a bit of rain. Do hurricanes really have a datebook on them?

Keeping my fingers crossed that it’s not roaring tomorrow morning when I go get my covid test and walk my luggage to the ferry. Assuming I get a negative test. I begged off a couple of large trash bags from the AirBnB folks, just in case I need a quick cover-up. LOL.

Early morning, pre-rain…

The rain comes later…

A positive covid test would keep me here several days longer. Oh, what to do. Health-wise, I really don’t want to get saddled with that virus. And honestly, I know personally more people now dealing with covid than ever before. Not here.

So, that’s it, for now, a little Santana to close us out. I’ve really got to get to that packing. First, a little sidestep, at least 40 paces, to Los Tacos de Humo for my last awesome tacos of the trip.

Paradise Right This Moment

Isla Mujeres MX, 2022, Part III

One of my favorite things to do here are going on early morning walks, jogging along the beach or along the malacon before the busy-ness of the day begins. It’s a nice long stretch of walkway along the east ocean, always with a good breeze, the walkway lined with new construction, old ruins, hotels, hostels, condos, homesteads, little cafes and such,.

I meander past statues of famous Mexican leaders, colorful murals and incredible sculptures scattered along the walk. A Hyperbaric Chamber – in a place like this, gotta have one of those. The sidewalks and streets throughout Isla are mostly a combination of brick, stone and concrete. The electrical grid reminds me of my visitys to Thailand, even to the plug sneaking out of the ground on one of the public squares which often hosts music and other events.

As you’ve settled into the day to day in Isla, you recognize various sounds coming up behind you – scooters, autos, carts and occasionally a big truck, in the road where we pedestrians often share the little narrow streets.

When I’m home in Napa, I’m a busy sourdough bread baker and so I wanted to bring some of my sourdough starter from home. I knew I wouldn’t be baking, but pancakes always work on a little hotplate. Before coming to Isla, I dried a thin spread of SuzieStarter on parchment paper, broke it into little pieces and stashed it all into a little ziplock baggie. No, neither TSA or customs batted an eye. After a week or so of loving care, that sourdough was up and running, providing me with a sourdough pancake every few days, covered with fruit and jam. Yummm. I really don’t want to eat out every meal all the time. Though I will pretty much spring for coffee and a cerveza every day of the week.

The Aki Market in the square by the church, is where I go for kitchen supplies like green tea, fresh fruit & veggies, chicken soup, cheese, oatmeal and oreos, of course. Coffee I always get somewhere, sometimes to go. I have a few favorite spots like Cafe Isla and Cafe Cito.

One night at Tiny Gecko I met a lady from Dallas who answered a question I had about this naval ship hanging out away from the northeast edge of the island the past few days. ‘Turns out it was there as the finish line of a regatta that had sailed from the mainland several days previously. Regattas have been going on for a long time here. Her husband didn’t place, she admitted, because his crew decided it was vacation and quit the heavy work necessary to win. Hubby wasn’t happy.

One morning last week, two outgoing nice and pleasant guys outside one of those numerous jewelry stores on Av Rueda Medina finally convinced me to come in and look at their store, after days of my telling them no gracias. I wasn’t really interested in jewelry.

It was all a ruse to tag team me into tasting their tequila and getting me to buy a few bottles of their $300 USD stuff. LOL. Thanks, but thanks. But who can turn down shots of Peanut Butter or Cofffe/Vanilla Tequila on an empty stomach?

Out for a swim one day, smelling the patch of sargassum (seaweed) below me and still enjoying the water after sitting in the hot sun reading. The sea and the swimming has been fabulous. And always a joy to people watch here in all kinds of beachwear.

At Abuelo’s one evening, I was upstairs in the breeze, server Janey and I were talking a bit about the nice expanse of jungle adjoining the transformer station, across the road. Janey told me there used to be a lot more trees. I asked if the trees had gone down in a storm, and she told me they’d been cut down to build things on the island. She says the jungle that’s growing over there now grows really, really fast – with weedy looking foliage. I sit and watch the guy in the palm tree across the road shucking coconuts to the ground and wonder at his mastery.

New cafe opened up just about the time I came to town, Sueño do Marfil, not even on the google map when I last checked. Great staff, all around, and tasty food to say the least. The second story balcony is the place to be for a breeze and a cold cerveza on a full moon night. Or anytime at all. Next door to the famous Tiny Gecko! 

When on the beach any time of day, roaming sales-people with bracelets, beads, dresses and more make their way amongst the beach chairs and sunbathers day and evening alike. I picked up a few bracelets from a sweet yourng woman. One day I watched a young man traipsing through the sand, in and out of beach chairs and umbrellas sprinkled with tourists, his little 7 year old son dragging behind. Little or no safety net in Mexico, people work wherever, whenever, they can or they don’t feed their families. 

A big tall looking anglo fellow with a T-shirt logo STOP PUTIN in yellow and blue graphic comes to the table where I’m sitting at Coco’s beach club. He places four little key-chain like things, elephants, turtles and such on the table. He hands me a card which says he’s deaf and he’s asking for me to buy him these good luck charm for his health. 70 pesos ($3 use).

I thought the card was a poor translation and that that he didn’t really mean to say buy them “for him”, that they were actually for me to buy from him. I was wrong. Because he then picked up the 70 pesos ($3 usd) I put on the table, as well as the four good luck charms and went on to another table to ask the same. I chuckled and figured WTH, good for him. That was the same night I considered having rice and plantains for dinner – and opted for cheesecake.

I spent some sweet time exploring more of the island, away from my neighborhood. Isla Mujeres is the smallest island in the Caribbean, gets the most tourists I’ve been told, and even TripAdviser recommends the place. It’s only 5 miles long by about a third of a mile wide, easy to explore via bus, bicycle, taxi cabs (very reasonable set price) and golf cart.

I had two days of golf cart exploring after a couple of bus trips, getting on and off to check out places like the Mango Cafe, the Chedraui Market and Punta Sur (more on that later). One of those days I wandered into Garrafon de Castilla, had a fine day in the shade of an umbrella with a lounge chair, cold beer and easy to walk in fishies to visit.

There are dozens of golf cart companies on the island. I had a recommendation from the folks at Sky Hawk Divers, who also own the AirBnB I’m renting for this stay. I walked over to Ciro’s for my big adventure and was waylaid by the long line, so instead I detoured myself into having breakfast and a coffee at Chaya & Cacao. Good thing I did. When I went to take a picture, I realized my phone was back home. Short walk while my delicious breakfast was readied and then I was set.

No one in line for carts after breakfast. It had been more three weeks since I’d been behind the wheel of a car. At least that many years since since driving a golf cart in Isla. And they still gave me one.

I figured out the two keys. It took me a minute; coffee hadn’t set in quite yet. One to start the cart, one for the bike lock cable to hold my bags onto the seat so they don’t pop out on all the little bumps in the road AND also to lock the steering wheel when I walk away. Sure don’t want someone else to drive off with my cute little green cart.

First off, a successful few feet ahead and then a back-up into a parking place at the Correos de México Avenida Vicente Guerrero Isla MujeresPost Office to send off a few postcards. Very few postcards for sale these days; internet’s influence I suppose. I guess I’m just old fashioned. Then around the blocks a few times to park and bop into the stationary store for some colored pencils and a sketch book for my planned artwork. Then off to the south.

I meandered up and down and crossways around the island. I spotted the lagoon and marina, a part of the island I’d not explored before, and spent some time in Punta Sur. The next day did the same with Carmen, my friend who came over for the day from Cancun. She did the driving that day, and she had no fear!! More of Carmen and my adventures next time.

Also went to the Women’s Beading Cooperative where I made a little investment of my own for some of their gorgeous beadwork. Their work is exquisite and my photos do it no justice. Please go there when you have the opportunity. You can read more here:

https://globalwomenartisans.com/social-venture/isla-mujeres-womens-beading-co-op

Besides all the touristy places, parts of the island are of course, where the locals live, the folks who cater to all the visitors 365 days a year, and the expats who make Isla their home now. (I wish). Small bungalows, clothes-lines full of laundry out for the day, I slowly cruise past dozens of laughing children at lunch-time out on the street corner, grabbing food at the cart, by the senior housing place, several really nice looking houses and casas, a mental health clinic, the Veterinary Clinic and a new University that doesn’t look open quite yet. Very nice. Sweet planter boxes. And Vic’s car.

After getting back to the north part of the island, Carmen and I returned the cart and went to dinner at Coco’s which has become one of my go-to places on the beach. I’ve been a few times and sometimes the servers greet me by name. This time I tried the octopus tacos and they were excellent, octopus oh-so-tender and tasty, and the ice cold cerveza was much welcomed.

We’re not finished yet…

Walking in Sunscreen

Isla Mujeres MX, 2022, Part II

‘Hard to believe I’ve been here two weeks already. I think it took me ten days to fully relax into life away from home. I’m getting into my own groove, it feels good, some days on the beach all day, others a good walk in the morning and/or the evening, spending a while in a cafe or other, or home reading. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone and going many new places I hadn’t checked out in prior visits to Isla.

I joined several Isla Mujeres f’book groups just to see if anything interesting pops up for me. So far, yes, a couple of things. I went to a ‘meet-up’ of folks at the Tiny Gecko bar and grill (great place to hang out – lots of live music and drinks almost too pretty to drink) where I met a bunch of fun folks, including David, a local artist. Several of his canvases will be packed home with me. The local corner shop has a handy duffel I’m going to pick up to accomodate the bits and bobs my pesos are getting for me.

I was out the other night for dinner on a roof top cafe that looked over a small patch of jungle. Surprised to see this burly looking guy shucking coconuts out of a tall palm. Oh, and I finally went to the Burger joint next door (another night). Oh my gosh. yummm.

Back when I arrived in Cancun, after a nice non-stop flight from SFO, I had prebooked my shuttle and ferry ride to the island, which is the only way to go unless one of your friends, like Carmen, is picking you up. Carmen, my couchsurfing friend, who is partly responsible for me falling in love with this part of the world. And Jorge, over near Chichen Itza, in Valladolid, at the Mayan EcoLodge, as well.

Many interesting changes here since I was last here in Isla Mujeres with Kelley (2019), including an abundance of pharmacias and walk-in covid testing sites. Carmen, who lives and manages condos in Cancun, reports the covid testing sites have been a boon to the local economy since so many travelers still need a negative test to return home. Including me soon enough.

I’ve long known you could get drugs over the counter here (my dad used to travel to get his RX meds as a snowbird), cheaper than at home, but I really don’t take any meds. So when I went in for bandaids (elastics), or a bottle of Pepto Bismol or Pedialyte, I was surprised to get the hard sell, “Ativan, anything you want, we have it here. We deliver free.” A few days later, I couldn’t help but overhear a group of young gringos pooling their pesos to get just that thing, complaining of trouble sleeping in the humid heat. Wusses.

I picked up a small coffee cup this morning from the corner market, took it with me to Cafe Isla, had it filled with Cafe Americano and took a nice long walk along the malicon, a concrete walkway along the east side of the island, the breezy, rocky side.

Cafe Isla is a favorite of mine for ‘to-go’ coffee, a shop owned by a young island woman with a dream to bake and sell goods and coffees. Literally a hole in the wall – that I now take myself to on a stroll for coffee or a green smoothie often enough.

I was happy to see the church open when I walked by and took a little sit there. It reminded me a bit of a church I was in with my friend Adrienne, when I visited her in Marseilles, another fishing town. And it seems like I always discover a new mural somewhere.

Coming to a place like Isla is a wakeup call for not having exactly the same thing we have at home. And going to the market, well, the labels are not in English, so I’m really looking at the product or the pictures. With the little kitchen I have, I can still cook up a bowl of oatmeal or chicken noodle soup, etc. My stomach won’t take too much fatty, greasy food, so I am careful. I also brought some of my sourdough starter from home, restarted it and am eating sourdough pancakes a few days a week, piled with local fruits. Green tea in the morning keeps me happy.

It’s all so easy to get lost here, all these narrow streets and avenues, most of which you can’t find a street name to save your soul. And kids and dogs, the same as everywhere.

Street names are sometimes printed on the top of some building on a random street corner. WIFI is a bit sketchy – apple and google maps come and go. I’m lucky to be the kind of wanderer who appreciates getting lost as a new adventure. After two weeks now, I’m actually pretty darn good at remembering my way around town. Mapchicks is a great app to have; lots of good recommendations of restaurants, sights to see, beach clubs.

‘Beach Clubs’ are the thing here. Walk along any beach, find a table/chair, or a beach chair or lounge with umbrella, sit down and soon enough, one of the friendly workers will come along and fill you in on the food/drink menu, the cost of chair/umbrella, etc. You pay and sit the day away. Sneak into the surf a few times and feel like a queen.

One evening I thoroughly enjoyed a swinging hammock at the bar, at sunrise with an ice cold Dos XX and fine live music.

I’ve also had some killer gelato, a speedy gelato, eagerly slurping it up before it melted onto the street. Enjoying all my time out of doors with sunscreen, and I’m still getting some color on my Irish skin. I’ve decided to start swimming laps each morning, I’m up early, why not? I won’t put on sunscreen to do that. The salt water is an easy swim and an easier float.

I switch up my morning, or evening walks, one side of the island or the other and often just walk in the surf from one end of the beach zone to the other. A few folks are out walking and then there are the workers setting up the chairs, lounges, umbrellas, the guys using stake hole diggers to stuff the umbreallas into, and others raking the sand. Yes, raking the bits of flotsam away, carrying it off in a wheelbarrow so the touristas won’t be bothered. And on another day while on a walk along the main west shore road, I was able to check out a squad of diver recruits getting lessons from the boss across the road from the Naval Station.

Just about anywhere, I’ll find cervezas (or rather, they find me), pina coladas, margaritas to soothe my thirst and most of the time I remember to take a bottle of water with me on these excursions.

I finished off a crack-up of a book, Christopher Moore’s “Island of the Sequined Love Nun,” and went successfully hunting down the local bookstore where the owner, Raul, found me another Christopher Moore (A Dirty Job) that I also thoroughly enjoyed. His writing reminds me a bit of Richard Kadrey’s musings. Now I’m on Hemingway’s ‘The Sun Also Rises’, one of his books I hadn’t read yet. Yes, loving it. Enjoy reading through his eyes about places I’ve also been fortunate enough to see.

Above, a meal at Olivia’s one night, the tastiest Spanakopita I’ve ever had.  An authentic Greek bake – layers of phylo pastry and a mixture of spinach and feta cheese served with fresh tomato sauce, hard boiled egg & house marinated olives and a big glass of ice cold mint lemonade. Mmmm. Pesos 280; $12.50. And my own humble sourdough pancake breakfast piled with local fruits one morning.

I almost stepped on the friendly neighborhood Gecko that Kelley and I always greet – still hanging out on the same street we found them before. Next to the garbage on the other side of the fence. I think his name is Bert, or Jorge, I can’t remember. Or maybe Eloise? .

Interesting to see the many private businesses who set their dollar/peso exchange rates as they wish. Banks and public agencies have to stick to the going rate, whatever it is. In some places, the dollar to Peso exchange is 26 pesos to 1, another place it’s 18 to 1, or 20 to 1. Alll new to me.

I use pesos. No need to make the locals have to exchange dollars for pesos, even though most places do take American dollars. Most of the little places don’t take cards. It’s a cost the vendors don’t want, or need, to make a living. As one vendor put it, “when everyone in Mexico has free wifi, we’ll start using cards. Right now, often the cards don’t go through.” Better for me to pay the bank fee to take out a boatload of pesos from the ATM than the locals paying for part of my vacation. Prices above, at Cafe Isla, are in pesos. That $45 Americano (really good and hot) is in pesos. Dollars, #2.00. Can’t go wrong anywhere here.

Best French Toast ever – Chaya & Cacao cafe up the street from me.

A realization swept in on me yesterday just after taking photos with a couple of guys here from Chicago. I’ve met a bunch of people from Chicago. I’m accustomed to traveling solo, always eager to meet new couchsurfers or friends along the way. I think this may be the first time I’m really solo, with no one to catch up with. I miss the comaraderie of good people I know. I’m also chit-chatting with folks here, locals and tourists like me. Good people. Like you. Like me. In Isla, it’s all very safe, the people always friendly and I really do feel like I’m home.

Back to the Beach

Isla Mujeres MX, 2022, Part I

I’ve been on a couple of trips the past year or so, out to see my brother and my wonderful east coast family. Domestic flight California to Florida. Both times were sweet and in so many ways. 

I canceled an international trip I’d planned for spring 2020, before even our former president knew there was a pandemic on the rise. Oh, wait, did he ever figure it out? I can’t remember.

Mollie and family and I planned a trip to Cancun this past January and that, too, was postponed due to covid. We’re hoping to get that one in gear in January 2023. 

In the meantime, I started thinking on my getting up and going on my annual spring breaks, my mostly solo travel and I was looking at the UK and such. So many friends to revisit, new friends to meet, welcoming places to see again and new places on my horizon. But when it came down to it, it’s much too cold for me right now in the UK. Spring break took a sharp dip into Mexico.

So here I sit in Isla Mujeres, at least my third time here, maybe the 4th, can’t really remember. It doesn’t matter. The first few days I was here, masks were still required indoors and on public transit; that seems to have worn away, except in the pharmacias.

Right now it’s 84*, nice and humid and I’m hanging out to day in my fine AirBnb apartment in central Isla. Lots of noise and activity begins the day around 8 am, ends usually around 10-11 pm. The quietest part of day is 4 am. Lovely and cool that time of night as well. The AirBnB folks will come by to refill my giant water dispenser sometime today. Que Barbara 2 on Calle Matamoros 12. Great place if you ever come for a visit. Half off regular price with my longtime stay. Five weeks. Can’t beat that. I could actually live here. But don’t tell anyone.

I have air conditioning and WIFI in the place, and call me crazy, most of the time the a/c is off. I like the heat. The humidity. Today I chose to stay in, take a break from my exploring and see if I could get myself to write. Peggy Hunter, this is for you.

I haven’t done much writing lately. In my journal here and there. In this humidity, my fingers tend to stick a bit to the keys on the keyboard and or the phone screen. Tough life.

The delicious aroma of meat grilling all day long, from the burger joint next door, as well from Olivia’s Mediterranean Restaurant (awesome food!) across the street is in some way, soothing. I’m not really a big meat eater. In Isla, tacos, fish, and everything in between is always the best, including the pina coladas.. The giant glass of cold brew and french toast at Chaya & Cacao was the best I’ve ever had. Grilled fish with beers I had on the beach was yummy. And my longtime favorite, La Cazuela, where breakfast is a special treat.

I left my home in Napa on Wednesday, April 28. I had a dentist appointment in the City, had lunch with my son Russell and dinner that evening with good friends Tony, Bill and Jay, all from Enchanted Hills Blind Camp.

This morning, I’m grateful to be having this time for myself. I think it took me a week being her to realize how much I needed it and to unwind from my daily life.

Most of you don’t know that a little less than a year ago I was diagnosed with metastatic squamous cell cancer of my left axillary lymph nodes. NOT breast cancer. The good news, treatment is going well, and I think I’m out of the woods. I’ll know more for certain soon. Ladies, don’t miss your mammogram appointments.

The swelling was picked up in my regularly scheduled mammogram. Sort of. My first mammogram in January showed swollen lymph nodes and there was some thinking it was related to my recent covid injection. That my antibodies were running around and the lymph nodes were affected as well. I have a long history of skin cancer, but this is the first time it’s ever appeared INSIDE me, not on my skin. My body now seems to be an equal opportunity cancer employer. 

We waited, not worried at all, for a couple months. Another scan in March, the final diagnosis came in June. 

 It was one of those discussions. Take this treatment or you’ll more than like die within the year. After a time of angst, fear and reflection, of course I chose the treatment, which has been very simple. Years ago, after hearing an oncologist at a conference tell the audience that he’d never recommend his family take the chemo and radiation he was giving his patients every day, that’s when I told myself, I wouldn’t do chemo or radiation either. I knew I’d be having a good long talk with myself.

Again, something to be grateful for today. Every six weeks, I present my arm to the Kaiser lab techs to take a few vials of my fine red blood and a couple days later, I drive to Vallejo for an I.V. infusion of those well known monoclonal antibodies. The particular one used to “cure” me is Keytruda, and the list of potential side effects isn’t fun to read. I’ve had none of them. I have an excellent oncology team, excellent insurance, and now, an excellent point of view on life. I also added a slew of nutritional supplements and herbs to my daily diet. I’ve lost weight on purpose, with eating much less meat, fatty and sugary foods and increased my daily exercise. I’ve learned to eat for life, rather than living to eat. And I feel great on any given day.

July 2022 will be twelve months since I started this treatment. After coming home in June, I’ll meet with my oncologist and have some scans to see where we are and what the next step will be. I’m hoping there are no more steps and that I’m done with this part of life.

Sometime in the past few months, I realized that there is an end of life in sight, for all of us. Really. As much as we hate to admit it. Hours of meditation taken in small doses, the love of family and friends, time spent outdoors, a couple of apps (I recommend CALM and I AM) that tell me on a regular basis little tidbits such as this one that just popped up on my phone: ‘I am grateful that I can turn my daydreams into reality’, has given purchase to my incredible happy outlook. I’ve come to terms with death, and am not afraid of it. I don’t look forward to it by any means. I don’t want to not be here. What I look forward to is each and every day with love in my heart. I can’t help it.  

There you have it. My unveiling and intro to this fine trip I’m on.

Mothers Day

We all know moms don’t happen alone. Of course there were men in my life. Loves of my life. Two of them partnered with me to bring five wonderful children into the world. Those men don’t keep me company now. One died too early for the rest of us, the other now hangs on by a thread. Fortunate and grateful to be cared for by his youngest son. This time of their lives is so different than in the beginning.

My children. To say they’re my pride and joy is only the beginning. Each one of them was born into a different world of mine. Working, not working, partying, not partying, following, leading, here, there, everywhere, looking for the good life. To be better. Happier. Content. Realizing now, that I had all that, even when I didn’t recognize that I did.

Rob, Mollie, Tom, Howie, Russell. This photo an oldie and a goody.

Always, I hope, my children and I, we cherish each other. Anger certainly crossed the threshold. Infrequently and never for long. Each one of my five children is an amazing human being, living his or her best life. Whether they are single, unattached, or married with wonderful spouses and children, they are happy and thriving, and they give me incredible joy, causing me only the smallest bit of angst, just because I am Mom. No matter their age, no matter where they are, I’m the worrier. Just because.

My own mom lived a life shorter than mine. She loved her three kids Mike, Fred and me, more than anything. My love for her never leaves, and I know she’s always with us, my brothers and me and our families. Loving us.

My mom, Mollie, and her mom, Grandma Gertrude.

Have a joyous Mother’s Day – hug yourself, hug your mom, if only in your heart. Even as I sit on a beach thousands of miles away from home on a much needed sabbatical, I can feel my kids’ hugs. I’m sure they can feel mine.

May our love and joy sift through the air like a cool breeze on a hot day.

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Two Boys at the Beach

I gratefully spent a few days at the sea this past week. So much to look back on and to write about. First some time with good long-time friends, sharing a place up north of Bodega Bay, off Wright’s Beach. A wonderful quiet time of good cheer.

Then I drove down to Santa Cruz, music blaring, with a short detour through San Francisco, over the Golden Gate bridge and down to the ol’ (now closed) Cliff House. I was excited to see there my favorite SF artist / friend with his wife, his art displayed and all set up to sell. And I got something new for my wall. Eduardo Guzman titles it “And all nights, be nights of passion.”

I headed down the coast on Highway 1, shocked to see the fire devastation north of Santa Cruz, and stopped in for a pedicure next door to Mission Safeway. You know you can never have too much fun.

I met up with the family at the hotel for the next few days. Part of Saturday morning I spent at the Farmer’s Market in Aptos with Dana, my great friend and fellow March 1st birthdayer. Coffee and snacks and once again, we forgot to get a selfie together. Story of our life. Such slackers.

Morning came early on Sunday. The Bagelry bagels for breakfast and out the door as soon as possible, strolling across the parking lot to where the fun was.

The rest of the family inside the Casino Arcade took off to play Lazer Tag. Noah and I hung out together, skipping from one arcade game seat to another. He thought he was playing, but not one token went into those machines. It was so noisy in there and soon enough, I decided it was time to go outside where it was warm and sunny, quiet and peaceful.  For both our sakes.

Noah could run and roam along the concrete walkway, without big crowds of people to blast into. I could keep up with him, while still getting a fine memory-filled glance at Fisherman’s Wharf. 

This is when the real story begins.

We strolled past a little boy, about 2 years old I guess, a few months older than Noah. The boy was doing that 2-year old stopping and sobbing thing, fingers in his mouth and staring at his parents seated patiently waiting on a little picnic bench. The boy was upset about something.Probably being told no.

Noah looked at this short fellow human being, seemingly assessing the situation at hand. He stopped for moment and then walked away from me, back to the boy and stopped to communicate with him. No words, just a look, or a hundred. I watched as he checked out the boy’s parents, 15-20 feet away.

The boys stood there for a while, either looking out at the surf and sand, or at the boy’s parents, or briefly, at each other.

At some point here, I asked the parents if I could take a picture – so cute – and they agreed. I realized later I didn’t keep my camera out near long enough.

After a time, Noah started to walk forward, his arm and hand held out as if to say, come on! The little guy didn’t move, just looked the other way. Noah raised his arm as if to say, “Come on.”

So Noah turned back and slowly moved to grasp hold of the little boy’s hand in his. Giving the other boy some time, Noah waited before slowly beginning to lead the little boy over to his parents.

About that time is when I started tearing up and yelled out, “This is our world!”

After walking over to the picnic bench, hand in hand, the two of them stood there looking at each other.

When I called to Noah, he dropped the boy’s hand and toddled over to me. And then he stopped, turned around to see the little boy still watching him. 

Noah sped back over there and again, they stood appraising eath other. Then they were shaking hands. And then.

They’re high-fiving each other. 

Not a word between them the entire time.

And I’m a blubbery mess.

So quickly they learn our world. Let’s all of us teach them the kind way.

Limbo Land

A few weeks ago, after years of saying no to my dermatologist’s recommendation of a two week efudex treatment on my face and upper chest, I said yes.
It isn’t pretty or fun. And you don’t get a picture here. Look it up – effing efudex.
The fact that I couldn’t go outside made my world even worse. Yes, Dr. May, I know it’s for a good cause, fighing skin cancer and all. After all the skin cancer I’ve had, I’m ready to try something different. All the same, all I could think about was all the things I couldn’t do.
Since I couldn’t go outside anyway, I started on my planned home remodel project. Bathroom first, then bedroom, then the rest of the house. I painted the bathroom in shades of white and lavender, adding new window and shower curtain treatments and finished it off with artsy faceplates of irises and lillies.
Prettiest room in the house now. Here, you can have this picture.
IMG_4549
Next I started on my bedroom/office. You know the first step – clearing everything out. Paintings, books and journals before taking down the desk, bookcases and bed.
After going round and round with myself about whether to really clean out the stuff on my desk, or just procrastinate and put it in the basement to go through later, I decided to tackle now the stacks of journals, letters, and notes, transcribing them into computer files so I can throw out the journals themselves. I figure I won’t be really going anywhere for the next several months, so I’ve got plenty of time and I work on it every day as long as I can focus. When I can’t, I stop and write. Like this. Or I go read some more Moby Dick.
One thing I noticed while reading and transcribing is how much more emotional are the reading of words and lines – and between the lines – in the handwritten version vs type on a page. I actually paused to consider keeping the journals. No, I am not keeping them. Well, maybe bits of one or two of them. We’ll see.
It’s entertaining, discovering things I did years ago, some of which I’d completely forgotten about. Re-reading and transcribing notes written in fits of happiness, anger, love and despair, looking back on good times and terrible ones as well. Life. Nothing too extraordinary, really. Just life.
Sometimes I’ll throw in an addendum, with the current date. I’m thinking I have a few treasures here for various upcoming writing sessions of yarns and tales. That’s for you, Peggy.
Something like this note at the beginning of a month-long train trip across the country with my two boys, Rob and Tom when they were 11 and 8, 1979:
Set-up: We were visiting friends in L.A. (and going to Disneyland!), and while my friends went to work one day, we took a bus out to a little lake in some canyon somewhere or other.
The boys had a great time swimming, rolling down the grassy green hills and watching some guys with their sons running a remote control boat on the lake. Each time the boat would nosedive, one of the kids would paddle out on his little raft, retrieve the boat and they’d do it all over again. Everyone laughing and having a ball.
An ice cream truck came by, exciting the heck out of us. The truck driver, I suppose he thought we lived around there, asked Rob if he wanted a job helping on the ice cream truck. (What? – I ask myself now).
It was time to get back to Bill’s house, and we started our little trek to the bus stop. It was hot and sunny and we felt lucky to stumble upon a little market where we grabbed a couple of beers, crackers and soda pops.
Outside the little shop, we found this.
oldmailbox stamp machine
Now, there’s a little history for you. A stamp machine and a mailbox on the wall of the shop.
Just one of the unexpected and sweet conveniences that made our entire trip so enjoyable. And kept us, for the most part, in good spirits.
Okay, I’ll leave you here.
I’ve got more work to do. A lot more.

I Just Called…

“…To say…I love you…”

There it was again, playing on the radio as I drove my grandkids to school the other morning.

“Have you ever been to a funeral?” my 8-year old grandson asked as we drove past the cemetery. 

I’d just mentioned in passing, covering over the scary cemetary thinking, that I enjoy walking through cemeteries, listening to the quiet ones, reading headstones and sometimes making up my own stories of how some of those now dead people may have lived. 

“Yes, I have.” 

“Have you been to a LOT of funerals?”

“Well, let me see. There was my mom’s funeral, and my dad’s. Your Pop-Pop’s funeral. You were there, too.”

“I was? I don’t remember that at all.”

“You were pretty little then.”

A lot of silence coming from the back seat.

“And then there was your cousin Katie’s funeral.”

“I don’t remember that either.”

“Yeah, you were just a little guy. You wouldn’t remember. She was your mom’s age.

“She was!? How did she die?”

“She had a really bad sickness and she couldn’t get well. My best friend’s dad’s funeral – a long time ago – I was there for that one. That was even before your mom was born. Liz’s mom, and her dad, we were at their funerals. Oh, and your mom’s dad.”

Another long pause from the back. 

Slowly drawing out each word, he asked, “What kind of suicide did he use?”

A sigh and a think, how to say this to a little guy. “He hung himself.”

“Ohhh.”

We were both quiet then, in our own thoughts.

It got me to thinking. I hadn’t actually been to that many funerals in my several decades on earth. I can count them all on two hands. Had I forgotten? 

Few school friends have died that I know of. A few years back, a good school friend was actually dying in the nearby hospital as many of my school buddies and I held another class reunion at the Lake. Now THAT was sad, and felt really weird. Like how could we be having fun when he was dying? 

My brothers are still alive and well, and my Auntie. I thought back on the time I spent with my  favorite Uncle, Dad’s brother Ridgway, when he was dying, holding his warm hand in mine, sitting with him and humming a little “hush little baby” as he passed on. There was no service later.

Whenever Wonder’s song pops up on the radio, one thing comes to mind. A moment, really, more than thirty years ago. At home, taking care of my little guys. Mom had died a few months earlier and I was still processing all of that. Each day unfolded anew. 

Life is for the living. 

Life goes on.

The song, high on the charts then, popped up on the radio station I was listening to at home one day, the station where my husband was the local DeeJay, flipping albums all day long. We were living in Titusville PA then. Old oil town. Our home after New York City and before Richmond VA.

The phone rang. It was Matt.

“This is for you,” he told me. My heart fluttered. It still does, in a much different way now. Happiness mixed with the sad.

This past year has provided so many opportunities to pick up the phone and call someone we care about. Maybe we haven’t actually said those three little words, yet we know that’s why we’re talking. Talking over the sadness of it all, piping up about good things like our gardens, musing over how much we miss seeing each other, how the families are getting by, that beautiful loaf of bread we just baked, or the anger we feel at the injustices of the world. 

I called one of my best friends the other day. Friends since elementary school. We hadn’t connected in a while. Not all that unusual, but I sensed something was wrong. 

Her step-daughter answered. 

She told me her Dad, Lynda’s husband Michael, had just been released from the hospital, terminally ill, with hospice at the bedside. I’d known him over half my life. He was a good man, a loving partner and husband.

I called back the next day and chatted with Lynda. He’d died early that morning, with her and Michelle at his side, calm in his sleep.

She said that she’d started to pick up the phone so many times during the last couple months. 

“I just couldn’t. I knew I’d start crying and blubbering and didn’t want to do that to you.”

“I know…” I, myself, never can pick up the phone and call someone when I’m in the depths of despair.

This past pandemic year of grief and mourning for people I don’t even know, it’s been life changing. Twelve months of being home, being away from crowds and people I care about, has set me back in my socializing. 

I’m just now beginning to make plans, and I admit, they often fall through because some days I’m not really ready to go out.

 

It’s easier to just drive the kids to school, on past the cemetery.

Quiet. In my own thoughts. Wondering and remembering on I-just-called. Some days wondering who I’ll talk to next.

The sun is bright today, it’s warm outside, almost hot, my kayak is ready to go and I’m thinking ahead on good times to come. Time in the sun, in the gardens, at the water. Some days just me, and other times, hanging with friends and family. 

I think I’ll go cue up that sweet song, grab a cup of coffee and get started on that next loaf of sourdough.

Hey, Rob!

Today is my son’s birthday. My first born. We were living in Monterey back then, just up the street from the US Navy Language School. My husband Dave worked at a supermarket and attended junior college. We had a tiny duplex apartment close to the parks, Monterey Peninsula College and the sea.

It was a month after he was born, at Christmas time, that my parents, who’d been divorced several years, each came to visit. One came from his home in Brookings, Oregon, the other from her home in Carson City, Nevada. The weather was beautiful and sunny, just like today and Robbie was being loved over in his little bassinet out in the fresh air under a beautiful blue sky.

My husband Dave and I thought it a bit odd that Mom and Dad would both show up at the same time. We shirked it off. Afterall, Rob was their first grandson, why wouldn’t they show up at Thanksgiving time? We laughed even more when they disappeared overnight and showed up together the next morning. Just one of those funny stories that pops up around Rob’s life.

It was a happy time in life and the joy of my baby boy was over the moon. He was healthy, happy, growing, learning and always curious. We had good friends in our little complex and he had little buddies to keep him occupied, besides his doting mom and dad. He sat on my lap as we watched the moon landing on our great big entertainment console – with a wired remote control – and Walter Cronkite.

23843520_10212379765588324_1019133884274265689_nHis curiosity of the world got the best of me one day when I went into the house for just a few moments and came outside to find my little toddler nowhere to be found. I freaked out. Calling out, racing back and forth to the street and calling the police. I think that was one of the worst ten minutes of my life. Soon enough, a police cruiser pulled up to my house.

The Officer got out, opened the back door of his car and helped little Robbie out of the back seat. “We found him at the park. He was just playing there, all on his own. Now, you keep this little guy closer, huh?”

He’d just walked five blocks, crossing streets, safely it seems, all the way to the playground that we walked to regularly. He was a smarty pants, for sure. Knew how to get around even then.

I’m so proud of the man he’s become. An extraordinary Chef, a published author, a much respected and learned member of management in his career. He started on the ground and is pretty close to the top of that ladder. He’s part of a remarkable loving family that’s seen its share of grief in the past several years. He always gets back on top, bringing the rest of us with him. This day, with so much grief wearing us down, with so much love piling up, he’s a wonderful example of what a 53-year old man can be.

We have so much to be thankful for and sometime later today, I’ll make a brief stop by his house to pass on a little birthday love. This Thanksgiving, our big local family will not be sitting at the same table together. We all gave it a lot of thought, and just decided to be more safe than sorry.

It’ll be Thanksgiving dinner at Rob and Liz’s place (with Sami, Nicole & Ben), at Howie and Heather’s home (with little Vivi), and at Mollie and Matt’s house with Noah, Micah, Peyton, Brooklyn, my son Russ and me.

Tom, Rob’s younger brother, will be fixing Thanksgiving dinner at their dad’s house in Montana. Rob just left there a few days ago after a quick trip. Their stepmom Leona, suddently died (not covid related) and they each got themselves together as quickly as they could and are taking care of Dave now. They’ve really stepped up for their dad. No surprise there.

So even though we won’t all be at the same table tomorrow, or even at the same birthday cake today, we’re all together, grateful for today, for Rob and for the time we have ahead of us.

Happy Birthday to you my son. Looking forward to another meal we make together. Soon.

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No Need to Bow

I opened my email the other day, and courtesy of a meditation group I follow, I was given a task to do: for every letter of the alphabet, write down something that you are grateful for.

 

At first glance, I balked

What the heck my next thought was

Okay, let’s do this.

 

I don’t usually take orders from my email. However, after dealing with the remainder of my inbox and a few other tasks, I returned to make my list. It’s at the very end of this post. Before you read any further, you might want to make your own gratitude list. See what you find.

Not only did my A to Z list lay it all out in black and white, I was blanketed with that early morning peace I crave.

Awareness. First word.

In thinking on it, awareness has always been my road to truth and victory. Sometimes it takes me a while to find it. The awareness, the truth and the victory.

I ended up thinking back several years, just about this time of year, to a conversation with Bobby and Terry, brothers of one of my closest friends. We pretty much grew up with each other. A photograph of them sits on my desk. As usual, like it seems we always did, we were talking about life and different challenges we each were each facing.

We sat in the warm sunshine that poured into Terry’s itty-bitty cottage through the glass slider that opened up to a sparse meadow off the back deck. Bobby was perched near the fireplace and a wall full of long playing albums. Joni Mitchell, or maybe Joan Baez, someone like that, played in the background while we chilled.

Bobby the elder, always the one to keep us real, casually led our conversation with laughter, reminiscing, philosophy and strings of truth telling.

”Kathy Thomas,” he said to me. “You’ll be fine. It doesn’t matter. Every time life lets you down, you get right back up and do something different – and you always make it better. You really are the Queen of Reinvention.”

We all face challenges in life. If we’re lucky, and smart, we learn that it’s what we do about those holes in the road that makes the difference.

The positive spin I’m wishing to sell here is the awareness that there’s more to life than our negative experiences. Abandonment in its many forms, news of the day, covid, the death of a loved one. We cry, we sit, we mourn and we learn something.

With a fresh awareness, we can discover how we’re growing into the people we want to be. We really can get up, dust ourselves off, and make a new start of it. It doesn’t always happen overnight. Generally, it doesn’t. Honestly, who knows what’s around the bend?

One thing I do know, is that what’s next would never amount to planning for another defeat. Who does that? Plans for defeat? No one I know. We plan for victory, hopefully remembering that failing to plan is planning to fail.

Being aware of what’s around us, who’s in our world, and our actions in it can all lead to a better life. If we let it. Leaning on each other to remember that we’re valuable human beings is the gift that keeps on giving. And when we seemingly have no one to lean on, being our own best friend is truly the best gift we can give ourselves.

 

So simple, really. I don’t know what made me think I should write a whole paper on it.

 

With Bobby’s blessing

My crown still rocks on my head

Tilted yet gleaming.

 

Like I said, so much to be grateful for. 

 

 

awareness babies covid destiny elephants fun gardens hijinks islands jetties kids love me nuts oats painting questions roses sandwiches tenderness undoing victory wishes xanax youth zoos

 

You may wonder why covid is on my gratitude list. The past several months have taught me so much, reminded me over and over again of what is important in life. Love, life, and a little laughter, even while longing for a better day.