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.

Summer Vacation Approacheth

Now that June is here, my kids have been ticking off the days left until summer vacation. My daughter’s last full day is next Tuesday. After that she only goes in for exams. School officially ends on June 21st. That is the morning of my son’s moving up ceremony- his final day of middle school. So as the countdown narrows, I am taking a few minutes to reflect on what summer vacation means from different perspectives.

First of all, there is no doubt that kids love summer vacation. I still remember some of the lyrics to the song my friends and I sang on the way home from the last day of school: “No more pencils, no more books…” (I’m sure you can fill in the rest, even if you liked your teachers). I think the carefree attitude of summer is conveyed perfectly in the soothing, lullaby-like melody and lyrics in George Gershwin’s “Summertime” from “Porgy and Bess” :

“summertime and the livin’ is easy

fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high”

[found on http://www/lyrics.com]

Doesn’t that create the picture of kids running through the fields, or casting  a line in the water, like Huckleberry Finn?

Or how about kids splashing in the mud?

Now, obviously, not all parents have that same feeling of ease when it comes to the length of the summer break. In the month before school ended many of my friends, both working and stay-at-home parents, scrambled to patch together a series of day camps for their kids to attend- either out of necessity or because they dreaded having to entertain them all day long. I totally understood how they felt, since I taught little kids for ten months of the year. It is challenging to keep them happy and out of trouble at the same time.

However, I actually looked forward to the summer. I saw my kids’ vacation as my chance to spend more playtime with them. We often went to the playground or pool where we would just hang out for the afternoon. Sometimes we would participate in a family nature program at our local park, or they would take swimming or tennis lessons. We would take trips to the museum on hot days and usually a week or more would be spent at the beach- collecting snail families or building sand castles.

Before we knew it, summer was ending and we were doing our back to school shopping.

When they got older, they became interested in going to day camps with their friends. I would let them choose 2-3 week’s worth of activities, but after that we would mostly invite friends over or travel somewhere. A few times they brought a friend camping

or we would take a group to an amusement or water park.

I tried to keep the fun, unstructured feeling in summer; but coordinating with other families required making a schedule, which eliminated the laid-back spontaneity I wanted. My friends who worked through the summer, however, appreciated my willingness to have their kids over and drive them to activities. I always felt it was the best of both worlds.

All the grandparents also looked forward to summer vacation. To them, summer meant more time with the kids. Whether the whole family was visiting, we were taking a vacation together, or the kids were staying with them alone summer was an opportunity for extended bonding, when no one was rushed or preoccupied with schoolwork.

There have been many ping pong matches, late night movies, shell collecting, baseball throwing and family story-telling. These are the experiences that make memories and reasons why summer can be delightful!

This summer, my kids have a 2-week period when they will be away from home. They have separate plans during the same time. This means that my husband and Iwill have 2 weeks to ourselves for the first time. Maybe that is my summer vacation from being a mom 24/7 and I should see it as a much deserved break. Or maybe it is a hint of what the empty nest will feel like in not so many more years.

That last thought makes me feel more strongly about the importance of family time during the summer months and the determination to keep it fun and filled with good memories, moments we can all look back on and smile, releasing the happy feelings from our hearts, “those were the days”. We can never get too old to enjoy our summer vacations.

That’s me, the second from the right, with my sisters and cousins at a family reunion. It is always fun to get together!

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.

“Me” Time

These days it is rare to get much time to myself, other than working on this blog. The rest of my days are spent attending to my house  (including errands), my dogs or my family. Someone or something always seems to need my attention. But this is not a whinefest, I am happy to do all those things. Instead, this is a reminder to us all to take time for ourselves. As they say, put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. And that is what I did last week…

Let me say, my husband was very supportive and I could never have given myself this break without his help, knowing he would do his best to take care of things in my absence. So with his blessing, I boarded a plane a week ago, to fly from the Northeast US to the Northwest CA. It was a long trip, but I was going out to spend time with my sister. Even though we had been together for the cruise last summer, it was not the same intimate time that we both wanted. This was going to be a special visit for us to really catch up.

At first it was a big adjustment for me… not having to think about what everyone else needed, only being responsible for myself. When we went out, I only had to bring what I needed- not organizing a group.  Often all I went out with was a water bottle and my camera. How enlightening! (mentally and physically)

I actually had time to stroll along the beaches   with Sis and Dog  .

I had time to take some glorious hikes over the hills and through the woods which lined the shore, coming out to rocky overlooks and beautiful panoramic views.

           

I even had time to take photos of the algae or wildlife that caught my eye…

                

Over the weekend, we took a ferry to one of the islands, checking out the cormorants on the way…

We stopped at the local farmers market, where I bought thoughtful gifts to take home. But that was really the last thing on my mind. I was in no rush to return. The wares everyone was selling were so colorful and creative. My sister and brother-in-law bought cheeses and fresh vegetables so they could continue feeding me well. I focused on taking in the sights, such as these chili peppers…

 Then we headed to the Grape Stomp at one of the local wineries. BIL and I took off our shoes, rolled up our pants and gave it a go. The green grapes were cold and slippery. We hung on to each other for balance while we squished the juicy fruit between our toes and under our heels.

                                     

After that excitement, we deserved some wine. We went to the wine tasting bar and sampled several varieties. They were offering oysters to go along with it, but the line was too long so we bought a few bottles to bring home.   

It was liberating  to not have a schedule to follow, these spontaneous activities were so much fun. However, we did have Dog in the car and we all wanted to take a hike, so we headed out to the trailhead. We were able to get a great view from one of the beaches, and Dog had a long swim- her favorite activity, even in the frigid waters!

We returned home on the ferry at sunset and caught the lingering sunlight as it reflected off the snow-capped mountains!

During the week, Sis and I took the time to sit and talk over meals. Time to connect with where we are at in our lives, to share concerns or offer support to each other. We enjoyed our meditations together during our walks or in an evening yoga session on her deck. And most of all, we were able to drop everything and rush down to the point at the end of her street to observe the beautiful sunsets (we were never up early enough to catch the sunrise- but that is a good thing). On the last night I was there, we watched the best sunset of the whole week.

                  

It was a spectacular celebration of our connection to nature, and to each other, and a good reminder that we all need to have a “pause” button on our busy lives. It is important to take some time to free ourselves up from our daily routines and responsibilities. If we don’t refresh our minds and bodies every now and then, we only become clogged with stress and desensitized to the joys of life. I know it is hard to do; I was very fortunate and I don’t expect this to happen again any time soon. But what I will do, is try to carve out an hour or two of “me” time every week- whether it is for a facial or a trip to a local museum or art gallery. I will make time where I can relax or think about something other than what my next task will be. And if I need inspiration, all I have to do is look at these photos to remind me of how great that time with my sister was! Thanks, Sis.

Day 9- A”Maze”ing Mykonos

Today we arrived in Mykonos, a popular Greek island for tourists. Everyone was excited to get out and explore after our previous day at sea. Hillary and Susan wanted to walk through the town together, shopping and sampling the local food. Mike, Amy and myself planned to take the kids to a beach for some swimming in the lovely blue Mediterranean waters.

We had done some research the day before and decided on a beach which was slightly farther away, possibly less crowded. Mike wanted to give David a thrill by renting a scooter for touring around. Amy and I planned to take Megan and Kate on the bus and meet up later.

We had all been informed by the cruise director that Mykonos was originally designed with natural foils- winding streets and alleys which were not laid out in any logical manner- in order to prevent capture by invaders. He promised us that we would get lost. Sure enough, while searching for the bus depot, we seemed to wander in circles, passing points over again until we got lucky enough to spot the buses.

The schedule was complicated to figure out and led us to believe we had just missed the bus to our destination and would have to make other plans. Just then we saw Mike and David filling up their gas tank nearby. We told them our new plan and they said they would meet us there.

When the bus arrived a few minutes later, we saw that it was in fact going to the beach we had preferred to visit. Oh well, so much for meeting the guys. At least they had a scooter and could get around on their own. We were stuck with where the buses went.

We had a comfortable ride up and down the coast of the island and could appreciate the layout of the different beaches. We arrived at our stop about 20 minutes later. The turquoise water was very inviting and the warm sand felt soothing between our toes.

We plunked our towels and backpacks down and went for a swim. Kate and Megan had a great time splashing and diving together. It was nice to see them having so much fun. And that was the point of taking a relaxing beach day where we weren’t focused on seeing the historic attractions. Amy and I lay on our towels, soaking in the smell of the salt air, the rolling sound of the waves and the glow of the sparkling sunshine on the waters.This was close to Paradise…

Unfortunately, our reverie would soon have to end in order to catch a bus back to our cruise ship. We collected our things and headed to the washroom. When we walked into the cafe, lo and behold, Mike and David were sitting at the counter having some sandwiches!  Apparently they had gone to the beach we told them, discovered we had not made it and decided to come here anyway. The funny thing is that they had not even considered looking for us on the beach,because we had stayed close to the moped parking area just in case.

We had to get going though, so we headed to the bus stop and then took the return trip back into town. Now all we had to do was rewind our steps through the maze to locate our loading area. At one point we came to a fork in the road. We were not sure which way to go and Amy suggested walking out to the water to get an idea of where our ship was. We passed through an outdoor cafe to the seaside lookout. We spotted our cruise ship and knew the general direction to head.

As we walked back through the cafe, Megan spotted her Grandma and Nana sitting at the table an arms reach away! They were so surprised when she gave them a hug! We pulled up some chairs to join them and told them about our earlier meeting with Mike and David. Of all the places where the reputation was for getting lost, we had some pretty remarkable encounters!

We spent a half hour or so, sharing our adventures over some Mojitos and lemonades. It was funny to think what the chances of meeting up were, especially if Amy had not insisted on looking for the ship. When we got our bill, we were dismayed to learn that our Mojitos were outrageously expensive (12 Euros each). Fortunately, the ambiance of our gathering- surprise, family, view- made the whole experience “Priceless”.