Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What we leave behind ...

Some people come into our lives and quickly go.
Some stay for awhile and leave footprints on our hearts.
And we are never ever the same.

As everyone was going through my in-laws' things at Great G's home, she looked at the boxes and piles left behind by her daughter and son-in-law wistfully. Without moving her gaze, she told me "It's amazing, isn't it? The whole of two people's lives, now just a pile of stuff to go through." I think she was really feeling the loss at that time, because of course, we are more than just the stuff we leave behind. So much more.

Sometimes, we don't even know the things we "leave behind" with others we meet in this lifetime. I know I've been surprised on occasion when someone from my past has kindly shared something they remember about me, maybe something I taught them, or something that inspired them. We don't always know the impact we have on those we touch. We may not give the moment a second thought, but we're always touching others in this life.

My ex-husband is known in the family for being an excellent cook. As we were all talking and sorting at Great G's, he told us that people often ask him how he learned how to cook Mexican food so well. "From my ex-wife's mom," he said. I spun round to look at him. Really? Yes, really. Apparently, he still makes handmade tortillas, mixing the dough, letting it rest, rolling, patting and stretching the tortillas ... just like my mom. (As kids, we'd usually take turns getting the last tortilla, which was usually a little smaller than the others.) And from-scratch beans, complete with the bacon fat ... just like my mom. And Mom's tacos, with ground beef, potato and cumin. And tamales at Christmas even! (He's Scotch-Irish, not a drop of Latino in him.) I very rarely make these dishes! Surprised, yes. And also deeply touched, very deeply touched that he thought of my mom whenever he made these things, remembering how she did them, and remembering the times when he and I were young, idealistic, hippie, married kids, barely 20, a different lifetime ago. I had no idea. It was a gift to think that someone is making Mom's dishes ... and a huge surprise that it would be my ex-husband.

One of the big finds as we sorted were Phebe's journals. She kept journals throughout her lifetime. We all giggled as my niece read from her wedding journal, writing about how certain evenings were "very lovely" ... cue the camera to pan to ocean waves crashing on the beach. No details on those evenings (thank goodness!), just the cryptic "very lovely" to leave the rest to the imagination. Other entries were so very dear and so very sweet; a beautiful love story told in those journals.

And then there were the letters. Lots of them, piled, beribboned, bound together, boxed. Do you keep letters? Do you write them, hand-write them? When I was a kid, we wrote letters. I miss them. I miss the excitement of gathering that white envelope (sometimes with a heart or XOXOX on the back) from the mailbox and quickly checking who sent it, the return address neatly written in the upper left corner, not a label. I remember the anticipation when I'd receive a letter from my cousins in El Paso, filled with all the chatty tidbits from a household of four girly daughters. Some years ago, I had a friend who moved to Hawaii; his letters included fun little drawings of him swimming with turtles or palm trees waving in the wind. Another friend used to draw little cartoons.

Mom was a consistent letter writer when we were young. Her handwriting was beautiful, the letters curved just right, her capital R (for my name) open at the top, the straight left leg slightly angled forward and gracefully flowing down to the right leg in a curvy S shape. Each letter flowed gently as it linked to the next in each word. Her writing was the most beautiful I've ever seen. An aunt in New Mexico had writing that was not as neat and took some time to decipher exactly what she wrote, but it was always worth the effort. Mom always wrote on nearly transparent, very light onionskin. The onionskin letter pads came with a lined template that one could slip under the onionskin to guide the writer's hand and keep the lines straight. Mom, with her meticulous writing, never needed it, but if I happened to use onionskin instead of some colorful paper, I always found it helpful.

Now, very few letters arrive in my mailbox. Cards are always welcome, though, and lift my heart with delight when I spy them amongst the junk mail and bills. I keep many of them, with their words of love, encouragement, celebration. I'm lucky to have some with my mom's beautiful handwriting, others with my dad's clear, neat, smaller penmanship, and still others from my brothers with especially meaningful messages. (One says that I'm his "hero.") I've saved letters from my daughter when she was away on a school trip or on a church retreat. She often copied Psalms passages for me, little gifts of encouragement for a single mom struggling each day. I treasure the cards that my granddaughters make for me, with their drawings and things glued on. (There's one from Jas with a plastic turtle - my power animal - on it.) Many of them are bound, beribboned and boxed.

Some day, someone may go through them and think of my life and what I've left behind.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Summer fun and the gates of heaven

Good golly, Miss Molly, but it's been a busy couple of weeks of summertime fun. I've been so focused on searching, researching and applying for jobs, that I was letting this beautiful summer of no work pass me by. I was squandering this precious gift of time that I'd been given. I'd been turning down invitations to meet up with friends so I could spend the entire day at the computer job-hunting. (OK, and on Facebook, too, since I'm already at the computer. I usually work with about 8 different windows open so I can bounce around while pages load.)

Jas and Bri on left

Job hunting takes time; I have job search agents set up on about 7 sites, I check CalJobs every few days, and I'm on several social sites for online marketing. When I find a job that seems a good fit, I apply, prepare a cover letter that hits the requirements for the position so they can see how well-suited I am for the position, fill out the forms necessary to apply, make copies for my files, etc. Then I have follow-up calls, e-mails, etc. You'd think I'd have a job by now. Harumph! I know that I'll land where I'm supposed to land eventually, though.

Jas (red shoes), Bri (checkered shoes)

So ... some of the things I've been doing the last few weeks:
- sold my entertainment center
- bought a new bookcase to replace the two that went with the EC (Good story there; will do another blog post for that)
- had lunch on the pier with my friend Mary
- went to the OC Fair with my friend Ryann before she moved to San Francisco
- attended a friend's wedding shower with my very ultra-cool ex-co-workers (I love those girls!)
- took my grands to the OC Fair. They now love to ride the crazy, spin-ya-round, upside-down, twirl-and-twist rides. Yeeee-haaaaw!
- had the grands over for swimming one day - so fun!
- went with my dear friend Vic to the Sawdust Art Festival in Laguna Beach. There are handcrafted items of all kinds: ceramic, glass, mixed media, paintings, jewelry, textiles, and so much more. Weather was perfect and the smell was awesome with the sawdust covering the grounds. I love to talk with the artisans about their work. A wonderful day!
- got my taillight fixed for free (thanks to good buddy Don who referred me to a mechanic friend of his)
- saw my friend Zuly (and salsa teacher) and her beautiful baby Skyla. We hadn't sat and talked in so long; great afternoon and what a beautiful baby!

Jas and Bri

This last Saturday, I went to Great G's house. Great G is my ex-husband's grandmother, but after the divorce she still remained close, as did my sister-in-law. In recent years, it's been wonderful to reconnect to other family members, too. My father-in-law crossed over last year and my mother-in-law this year. So all the family gathered to go through the things stored at Great G's, giving everyone a chance to take mementos and photos that had special meaning for them.

As everyone went through boxes and photo albums, there was a lot of "Oh, remember this?" and "Do you know who this is?" and "I remember when we ..." I was married at 20, so my 20s were spent as part of the family, formative years doing the growing up and maturing that we do in that timespan of our youth. I was surprised when my ex showed me a photo of me from high school that my MIL had kept; he later told me that she had several others of me, too. We all laughed at some memories, got teary about others. It was good and healing for all, I believe.

Even though the divorce and the years immediately following were very hard, it was such a long time ago, water under the bridge now, baggage that I don't choose to carry forward with me. Grudges and resentments are most damaging to the person carrying them. Better to try to live fully and healthfully in the present.

I read once that the gates of Heaven are very low. One must bow down very deeply to enter ... and we can't fit through if we're carrying excess baggage. I let it all go a long time ago. The good times and the love of those times are what remain. I think those will fit through the gates.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Mexico: Xel-Ha and Tulum!

One day, during our trip, we booked a tour that took us to both Xel-Ha and then Tulum. A nice air-conditioned bus picked us all up right next to the open-air hotel restaurant where we'd just finished breakfast.

In the Mayan language, Xel-Ha is pronounced SHEL-ha and means "where the water is born." And it almost seems like it when you visit this beautiful eco-park. It is called the largest natural aquarium in the world. It's a water paradise! And Xel-Ha's all-inclusive package means you pay one price and receive not just your admission, but all your activities, snorkeling gear, towels, locker storage, deck chairs, hammocks, lifejackets, inner tubes - everything you need to have fun in and out of the water is included.

Oh, and I forgot one more minor thing: all your food, snacks and drinks (even alcoholic) are also included. If I remember correctly, there are about 5 restaurants/bars in the park with a wide variety of foods to savor. The one where I ate had a HUGE buffet, with table after table of pasta dishes, fish, burgers and hot dogs, tacos, salads, fruits - I'm sure I didn't see it all. The outside of the restaurant had spigots so you could pour your own lemonade or beer or other beverages. You could even make your own ice cream cone. Compared to Disneyland, where the price of admission and the cost of the food in the park is astronomical, this was a bargain and a delight!

You can spend the entire day in this biological preserve, exploring the jungle, snorkeling with brightly colored fish – it’s water, water, everywhere, lagoon, cenotes, caves. And everywhere you sense the deep commitment to preserving this beautiful natural wonder where Mayans once lived and thrived.

The family spent most of their day snorkeling and I wandered the park by myself. I stopped and watched a family swimming with the dolphins for a while. Pretty amazing what they've trained the dolphins to do. My favorite was when the dolphins pushed a person like a speedboat across the water: one dolphin would push on each foot, making the person rise up out of the water, arms wide open like a cross and they'd be pushed forward with amazing speed, laughing/screaming with delight.

I visited the nursery, too, with its array of tropical plants. Bonus: I got a nice cool-down standing under the sprinklers in one area. Do you see the big red iguana on the rocks above?

Meandering along one of the many paths, I hiked out to an out-of-the-way finger of land called Lighthouse Point, right on the edge of the Caribbean. Under a loosely thatched roof, there were several hammocks hanging in the gentle breeze. There was absolutely no one else around, so I just laid in my hammock enjoying the waves exploding on the rocks, the sunshine, the breeze. So beautiful, I could have stayed right there the entire rest of the day! I happily laid in my hammock, watching the waves and enjoying the amazing blueness of the Caribbean.

After that delightful respite, I spent a long time exploring along a long narrow jungle path that wound throughout the park. There were a couple of points where I thought I might be lost; I hadn't seen another soul in quite some time, and it seemed the rough jungle trail was endless. There were markers along the way to describe trees and caves and cenotes, along with ancient Mayan tales. A long hike, but so worthwhile. Then it was time to board the bus and head to Tulum!

Tulum - the Walled City - is the site of ancient Mayan ruins located on a high bluff above the ocean. The views of the Caribbean are spectacular here. Standing on the bluff, you get a sense of what it must have been like to be a part of this dynamic area. Because of its location, Tulum was a thriving trading site, with access from land or sea.

We were especially lucky to have an amazing guide for Tulum, Javier Savala, whose mother is Mayan and father is Basque. His first language was Mayan and he is an authority on the history, science and archaelogy of this area. His passion for the Mayan culture and his extensive knowledge of the scientific, mathematical, political, architectural and cultural details were contagious. A brilliant man!

Before heading up to the ruins, we enjoyed a performance by Mayan Flying Pole Dancers. With one Indian at the top beating a drum, four others, wrapped in rope, dropped down from the top of the pole, upside down, unwinding and swirling round and round. Amazing! (I couldn't help but think they must have been incredibly hot in their red velvet pants.)

Javier picked some hibiscus blossoms before we took to the tram to the ruins, promising he'd show us a surprise. At the site, we gathered round as he told us of the symbolism of different buildings, of how they were sited to the sun's path and guided the days for planting and harvesting. He explained mathematical equations that had my head spinning but that the Mayans used in the construction of the site and placement of windows and doors. Vastly interesting!

As in most every place we went, there were iguanas up here, too. With a bright, pink hibiscus blossom in hand, Javier lured an iguana to come over and take the flower from his hand. "Your turn, Princess!" he called out to Brianna, my youngest granddaughter, handing her a flower. Looking both excited and a little nervous, she bent down, and bravely held out the flower to another iguana. Gently he took it from her hand. Another beautiful Mexico moment, another beautiful Mexico memory.

Thank you for letting me share our Mexico trip. Now it's your turn to go and enjoy. I can't wait to return again soon. There's a little casita in Akumal that I'm going to book for my next vacation with a yoga studio nearby. Perfect. Adios!