Beach photos

I just returned from a relaxing week at the beach. The smell of the salt air and the sound of the waves was so soothing. Swimming in the warm (if you call 70 warm at that time of year) water and body surfing the waves was invigorating. Walking the beach, feeling the sand between my toes and being lulled by the rhythm of the surf was the best way to unwind. The weather was cooperative and the whole family had a wonderful time. Now I am back home, catching up on chores but trying to remember it is summer vacation. Let me just post some of these pictures and take myself back to the beach. I hope you can go there too.

The thrill of the surf and salt water

Pretending I’m a kid again

Sunset over the salt marshes

Feel the power of the ocean!

 
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The Magic of the Beach

  In four more days my kids will be done with school and we will be heading to the Jersey shore. No, not the raunchy version that we see on tv. We stay on a family friendly island where wild nightlife means riding the roller coasters or double shot. And there are no bars to visit in the evening, instead we hit the ice cream parlor for our favorite sundaes. If you want to gamble, you’d have to go to Atlantic City- or pull out the cards and chips for a family game of poker. The days are spent building sand castles or boogie boarding and the evenings are for lacrosse and sunset walks on the beach. Even though there are wi-fi and cable tv, the kids are more likely to pull out a board game or walk to get ice cream. Something about the salty air and the sound of the waves makes us all relax.

The scramble to get packed in a few short days and the long drive to get there, will be worth it once we cross the bridge with our windows rolled down so we can catch our first breath of the ocean. Something in our senses connects that smell with eating cotton candy or salt water taffy, relaxing on the warm sand or floating in the buoyant water.  The memories have compounded over the many years we have gone to the same beach. We have our traditions built in. We already know what activities we will do and where we will eat and sleep. The order or frequency does not matter, as long as they are all covered.

I have my pile of books at the ready. I plan to bring them down to our spot and relax under the umbrella. If the waves don’t put me to sleep, and I have time to read between swimming and walking on the beach,  I hope to finish at least one book by the time we leave.

My husband is preparing his fishing gear. He loves to get up early and throw his line in, hoping to catch dinner. Success is not his goal, though. It is the seduction of the waves, the unexpected tug on the line, the uncertainty of whether it will be a striper, a sand shark or a shoe. Any catch is a good one.

The kids have their lacrosse sticks and boogie boards for some fun beach activities. At some point they will probably decide they are not too old to build sandcastles and will take on the challenge of defending their fortress against the tide. Long ago I passed on the sand castle building techniques which my father had taught me. They know how to look for the biggest clam shell as a shovel and how to dig a trench so they can dribble muddy droplets through their fingers for a more gothic look on the facade.

We will bring our kayak along so we can paddle down to the pier or if a pod of dolphins happens by we can quickly jump in and follow along. In the past we have had the fortune to see them fishing within a few feet of us, diving underneath our kayak and popping up on the other side. It is a more memorable experience than visiting Sea World.

Shell collecting, especially in the ungroomed areas of the beach, almost always results in unusual finds. Horseshoe crabs, seagull feathers, sea glass, and lost trinkets will wash up along the high tide line. There are long strands of seaweed that have little  pockets of air.  They are every kid’s favorite ocean treasure because they are fun to pop!  On our beach walks, there have been two occasions where we came upon a crowd of people assisting a beached whale. Once, a family member helped carry it to the truck bed on which it could be driven to a rehab facility.

Jelly fish and crabs are the only creatures to avoid in the water; but I humourously remember the days of shark sightings when I was a kid, the year that Jaws was released. Most of the evacuations were caused by paranoid adults who were totally spooked by Steven Spielberg. Anything floating in the water or touching their leg was considered to be a shark. After that summer, I decided to never see the movie, lest it spoil my enjoyment of swimming carefree in the surf.

When my kids were young, I spent a lot of time playing on the beach or in the waves with them. Now they are old enough to wander the beach without me. They can come and go between the house, the beach, the roaming ice cream truck and the hoagie shop. No one has to be on a schedule and everyone can relax or have fun in their own way. The beach casts a different spell over everyone; but it provides a type of magical therapy for all.

Guilty Pleasures of Vacation

Over the last few days I have had time to reflect back on the wonderful family vacation we just took in Jamaica. The property was beautiful, right on the Seven Mile Beach. The food was delicious. There were multiple activites and entertainment to enjoy and all of the staff were extremely friendly. We felt so welcomed and relaxed- no worries, mon! It was only the presence of the security guards at each entrance and the ones patrolling the beach, keeping solicitors in check, that reminded us we were in a third world country.

This man must have paid a fee to sell his wares at Beaches.

I decided to support him by buying a few pieces of deco art made out of coconut shells. There were musicians travelling from resort to resort to eek out a living. I enjoyed listening to their music from my balcony.

This marching band performed at the resort, probably to raise funds for their high school.

There were also women offering to braid hair and men peddling cigarettes and ganja or rides on a wave runner. We declined all of those options.

For one day, we hired a driver to take us to some tourist spots. First we rode a pontoon boat in the Black River where we saw crocodiles and egrets. The tour guide threw scraps of meat into the water so we could snap shots of them. Then we visited the YS Falls where a guide escorted us to the rope swing, walked us out on the falls and snapped many photos with our camera. Finally we took a boat out to the Pelican Bar. It was a beat up old motor boat but the captain was still able to use it for the short ride out to the reef.

Everywhere we went, US dollars were the accepted currency. Normally we have to exchange money in foreign countries so this is a sad statement about how much the Jamaican economy is supported by tourists from the US. But even more revealing was what we observed as we drove around the end of the island near Negril. Many of the houses were formed from concrete and scraps of tin. They were smaller than the family room in my house and obviously had no running water. Sometimes there would be a separate outhouse in the backyard. We saw children fetching water in buckets to carry back home and women washing clothing in the creeks. It made me feel guilty using extra water during my shower so I could shave my legs. I began throwing bathing suits in the shower with me to do laundry without wasting extra water.

None of these observations were missed by my kids. While I did not feel the need to emphasize the differences in our lifestyle, my husband did ask them a few questions to confirm that they knew what they were seeing. I think they were most disturbed by the story our driver told us about his deprived childhood, eventually running away from home and trying to create a better life for his own children- especially one that included school. He pointed out a prominent building behind a barbed wire fence which he said was a very expensive school and only select students could attend. Even though it was fancy by local standards, it must have made my kids appreciate the quality of their own public education. When we returned home I heard no complaints from them about attending school the next morning.

I am glad that we were able to take that day to see parts of the island and the people who live there.  I am not going to allow myself to feel guilty for enjoying my vacation, served by people in a very poor country. However, it was a  good reminder to be grateful for what we have as well as to be charitable and help others when we can. On the last night we were there, Beaches held a fundraiser for the Sandals Foundation. They were taking donations to improve schools and hospitals on the island and my kids immediately got in line to purchase a token paper lantern. When we lit ours in the name of some family members, my son added under his breath, “and to world peace” as we watched it soar high into the sky. It seemed like an appropriate ending to our otherwise fun vacation.

Back to Reality

For the last week, I have been out of touch. It is amazing how the lack of WiFi (or at least the unwillingness to pay extraordinary rates for it) can really make you appreciate the meaning of vacation. For a whole week, I was unable to check my email, post on my blog or check updates on the latest news. The only things I needed to think about were which water activity I was going to do next, or where I would choose to eat my next meal. I brought some reading material, but I never seemed to find long enough chunks of time to sit and enjoy them. Instead, the few times I was lounging occurred when my husband and I were enjoying our late afternoon cocktail on the beach. 

   We really slipped into Jamaican mode; never consulting our watches or setting a schedule for the day-so it was a rude awakening on Monday morning when we returned to the reality of our daily life. Getting everyone out of bed was tough enough; then I spent most of the day unpacking, doing laundry, grocery shopping and planning our schedule for the week. After sorting through all the mail (email and USPS), I finally had a chance to do some catching up online.

Apparently, the most newsworthy topics that happened while I was away were the devastating tornadoes in the midwest and some attacks in Pakistan. The buzz really seemed to be more focused on the secret service members who were caught in a prostitution scandal and some more political blunders by Mitt Romney, who seems to be claiming the nomination. The Trayvon Martin story is still stirring up controversy. I had hoped it would have been resolved by now, but I guess it is just too juicy of an issue for the media to ignore. I never heard anything about the summit that Obama attended at the time of the scandal. I guess it wasn’t as important as a political indiscretion.

I was shocked to see that gas has climbed to $4.09/gallon of regular and am not looking forward to filling my tank again. At least I can say I came back with a nice tan, carefully attained by lathering up with 50SPF lotion; and, even though our food and drinks were included, I did not gorge myself on them and returned 2 pounds lighter. It must have been all the water activites that saved me.          Maybe I could paddle back there, off into the sunset, away from this reality…  When is my next vacation? I better schedule it in.

A Fortunate Mistake

In 2006, my family spent April vacation in Utah. We had flown out with our camping gear and met my brother-in-law and his wife for our annual trip. They did not have children and greatly adored their niece and nephew. The kids were 5 and 3 at the time; on the young side for adventurous hiking trails, but very willing to do their best. They happily skipped or ran along, exploring the National Parks we visited. Arches, Canyonlands and Bryce were several of the places we stayed for several days, setting up our tents and enjoying nature. 

We all have fond memories of that trip: spotting whitetail deer on the trail or bald eagles flying overhead. We even saw a bear and her cubs saunter through our campsite, while we safely watched from the car. We attended Ranger talks around the campfire, cooked S’mores after dinner and sipped our morning coffee or hot chocolate in our sleeping bags.

The kids were real troopers on the hikes and rarely complained. When their legs started to tire, their dad or uncle would scoop them up and give them a piggy back ride until they asked to get down. My BIL usually took my son. He would let him sit on his shoulders and bounce him around, while leading us all in song. “If I had a hammer” was one of our favorites and we merrily sang the verses over and over. The kids would join in and the hikes seemed to pass quickly. Before we knew it, we were back at our tent prepping dinner or kicking a ball around. BIL was almost always involved in the games. He loved being silly with the kids and they enjoyed playing with him.

Later, we roasted marshmallows around the fire and the kids would usually snuggle in his lap as we looked at the stars and reflected on the day’s activities. It was a wonderful family bonding time and well worth waiting a whole year to do again. As the end of the trip approached, BIL purchased a gift for each child as a souvenir of the fun times we had. When my son opened his present- a long-sleeved t-shirt with the logo “Moab Utah” on it- we immediately saw the error in BIL’s judgment. It was an adult-sized shirt for a 3-year-old boy. My son thanked his uncle anyway, since it was the thought that counts. We laughingly packed it up and flew home.

Somehow the shirt was transferred to my daughter, since she was slightly bigger, and it ended up buried in her dresser for years.Sadly, since then BIL has passed away. His long  battle with cancer made it too difficult for any further camping trips, so that was the last one we were able to take together. Yesterday my daughter came downstairs in her sweat pants and an orange shirt that said “Moab Utah” on it.

I asked her if she knew where it came from.  “Of course, Uncle BIL got it.” I smiled, starting to get teary-eyed. “What’s up, Mom?”  “It’s funny that when he got it, you were too little for it; but it fits you now after he is gone.” I replied, reflectively. “Well, if you already knew that, why did you ask me?”  I had no acceptable answer to that retort. Instead I walked away and enjoyed my emotional moment alone. I am so thankful that what we once saw as a humourous mistake has evolved into a treasure that will be appreciated for many years to come.

Discovering the Joy of Spontaneity

I am a very orderly, well-organized person, who likes to plan things well ahead of time. This probably is related to my desire for control and is also the root of frustration. This was extremely apparent when I was younger, but as I age I seem to be catching on to the flaws of my ways and am allowing myself room to step back a bit.The balloon ride I recently took was a good example.

I put my trust in someone else- letting him be in charge, even though he had very little control over what direction we would travel or where we would end up. Did it really matter what our destination was as long as we had fun getting there? Gradually I am realizing not everything needs to be planned perfectly. In fact, over the weekend I have let myself be completely spontaneous and do what feels right at the moment.

After last week’s snowfall, we had considered the idea of going skiing. Saturday the weather report predicted rain and wind, so my husband and I went out to do errands while the kids slept in. We were just about to pick up ingredients for the dinner we had planned when our son called us, asking if we would take him and a friend skiing. Just then, the sun came out and it looked like it could be a great afternoon. We rushed home and threw our gear in the car, deciding it would be worth cancelling our dinner plans. By the time we arrived at Jiminy Peak, we were able to buy a Twilight Pass- something I hadn’t done since high school.

The beauty of the snow covered mountains against a glowing red sunset, with all the variant colors of twilight, and the illumination of Venus, Jupiter and the waxing gibbous moon was breathtaking as we wound our way down the trails.Moon and Venus at sunset

It was a spectacular sight I would not have seen if I hadn’t been willing to drop everything and ski- spontaneously! If I had made plans to get up early for a ski trip, we would have been on our way home by sunset. I wish I had brought my camera to capture the picture of the giant wind turbine slowly turning against this brilliant backdrop;

English: Wind Turbine Sunset. View of wind tur...

Image via Wikipedia

but the image in my mind will serve as a reminder to grab opportunities whenever I can. Carpe diem , or as in this case, carpe noctem!

  (If you want to see more pictures, check out the second link below)

Vacation highlights- not what you would expect

The family vacation I spent in Tucson had its share of exciting activities. Hot air ballooning,

visits to the zoo and the Biosphere 2, were at the top of the list; but we also had some fun activities on a daily basis, namely playing tennis and golf, badminton and bocce, which we could do right in mom’s neighborhood. If you asked my kids their favorite one, I am sure they would say the balloon ride.

While I loved it, I would put some more intimate moments at the top.

One of these was the sunny spot where mom and I would sit in the morning, sipping our coffee and admiring the beauty of the mountainous landscape behind her house. She looks out on a hillside of prickly pears and ocotillo,

where we often spotted rabbits, Peregrine Falcons and coyotes.

While we slowly woke up, we would sit together and enjoy the view. During these peaceful moments, we chatted about our plans for the day or reflected on life in general. I looked forward to our conversations every morning.It was a great way to reconnect as if we did not live thousands of miles apart.

Another time of day for bonding was in the late afternoon, sitting around the fire pit with our cocktails.

Sometimes the kids would join us and spark the conversation with observations of  the day’s activity. One example was after the Biosphere 2 visit,

we discussed what it would be like to inhabit as a subject of a scientific study and why it was important to do that experiment. This conversation led us to rent The Truman Show, a movie about a fake world created as a reality tv show. If their grandmother had not been there to get them thinking, I am sure the kids would have blown it off as one of my “teachable moment” activities. Instead, we were able to compare the movie to what we had seen, which made for another memorable discussion.

My mother encouraged me to go out for dinner with my husband. She really wanted to give us a chance to do something nice together; but I actually preferred eating together as a family and participating in a board game, a Wii tournament, a movie or some stargazing and S’mores.

I told her we would go out when we got home as the kids can fend for themselves. It was more unusual to have such a nice block of time, without distractions of homework, friends or after-school activities, during which we could all interact and have fun.

It does make you appreciate how quickly kids grow and become independent. You think you will have them around forever, and then you start seeing adulthood on the horizon. It makes you treasure every moment you have with them. Hopefully when mine are grown, they will want to come back “home” often and keep our family bond strong. I know how appreciative my parents are when I make the time to see them. That is why these moments of either one-on-one or family time are the most important to me and the highlights of my vacation.

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