Aside

Cozumel Regular

You wake up at sunrise. This close to the equator, it doesn’t vary much. About 5:30, the sky starts to lighten. You look out the window to the sea. Any cruise ships blocking your view? Not today. You smile. Only a couple of early morning fishing boats out.

You get ready to run. You know you’re not here long enough to fully adjust to the humidity. You set small goals, figuring 2 miles in 80 degrees with 84% humidity is probably equivalent to 4 miles in 50 degrees and 35% humidity. There’s an algorithm there, you’re certain.

Because you’re not from around here and you don’t want to get lost in the city known as San Miguel de Cozumel, you have two choices: run along the sea wall, into downtown (north); or you could run out towards Caleta Harbor, where the boat pulled out for scuba diving, away from town (south). Most days, you choose away from downtown. The pavement poured smooth here, in front of the Cozumel Naval Dock and various resorts. A bike and walking path assures safe passage. As you move away from the ocean, the trees come up thick on both sides. Commuters pass you. Most ride scooters. Sometimes, entire families – father, mother and kid in the middle – surge by. Bicyclists greet you. “Buenos dias!” You manage a strangled greeting as the humidity starts to get to you. You have yet to see any mammals on this island, save dogs. Some walk their owners and some are happy-looking strays. You did smell skunk spray the other morning. You count yourself lucky to have missed that encounter.

The pavement downtown  looks like uneven frosting in some places, broken like mosaic in others. You notice pavement because you used to work in your city’s public works department, and they fixed roads and sidewalks. You also know the taxi drivers congregate on the sea wall. They stand around, shooting the bull, waiting for tourists. You ran that gauntlet once. Cries of “Hola, amiga!” greeted you. Sheepish, you “hola-ed” back. Just being polite. Then on the way back, one older gent told you “good job”. Which was nice but awkward.

Yet this morning, your last time on Cozumel, you want to run by the water again. So you turn left into the city. You figure you’ll just keep running like a crazy gringa past any loitering drivers.

You pass other runners. Runners acknowledge each other, too, even more so here. One thing you like about runners here is nobody runs fast. Everyone is sweating like they failed a lie detector test in a murder trial. You haven’t seen any Olympic runners yet. Groups of walkers pass you. The sun rises slowly to your right, blocked by the office buildings and hotels. You relish the small pocket of shade this provides. To your left, beyond the sea wall, lies the ocean. This side of the island faces the Gulf of Mexico, which yields a gentle surf. The slate-gray water holds a few  yachts and catamarans moored just offshore. They bob up and down in the silence.

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As you turn around, you contemplate what it would take to live here. This is summer, which you heard is their rainy season. You know what a rainy season is. This ain’t it. The appeal of near-constant sunshine draws you. But the hot, damp air and taking 3 showers a day don’t appeal. Cruise ships, up to four a day, dock right offshore. The town swells with tourists every day but Sunday. An educational taxi driver told you that Cozumel contains 70,000 souls in a 3-mile area. This is the low season, he said. It has a negligible crime rate, too.

You know it could be fun living here. Ruby would do well, with all the Spanish she’s learned at her grade school. You could swim whenever you wanted. You could get dive certified here, with some of the best scuba diving in the world. Jonathon telecommutes anyway. He could pick up and go, no problem. Zac leaves for college in 2 months, so he would be alright.

Yet in your heart of hearts, you know this is fantasy. You miss your family and friends, and jeans. You miss roses and Douglas firs and cats. You miss your church. You miss worship, and conversing in your native tongue. You miss seasons. You miss feeling cold. You miss decent chocolate cake. You won’t miss mosquitoes. You can point out your 8 itchy bites right now. You belong at home, in Shelton.

You say goodbye to the turquoise waves and the kind, hospitable people of Cozumel. You hope to return one day, but if not, adios, amigos. Thanks for sharing your beautiful island with the world.

cozumel cruise ship

cozumel sunrise

cozumal punta light house

cozumel punta wetlands

cozumel punta sur crocs

The whole wooden structure (above)was held together entirely with driftwood and dreams.

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Punta Sur, on the Caribbean Ocean side of the island.

 

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Cozumel hibiscus

Cozumel room

Cozumel plaza

cozumel sunset

pete pelican

Pete the Pelican, unofficial El Cid Hotel mascot

 

 

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In Search of Cozumel

We left our hotel in Portland at 4:00 a.m. We stood in line to check our bags for almost an hour. Then we combatted Disneyland-like lines snaking around the TSA checkpoint. That put us at our gate at 5:35 a.m. Our flight was supposed to leave at 5:45. No time for breakfast. I thanked God for the coffee I gulped down at 3:45 a.m.

The captain introduced himself and began to speak.

“Folks, we can’t take off for a while. We were all set to push back from the gate, then we got a message that thunderstorms were grounding planes at DFW. I always tell my kids, if you want love, ask your mother. If you want truth, ask me. I’m gonna give you the truth. And the truth is, we’re going to be sitting here for awhile, at least an hour. So relax. I’m going to come around and greet any veterans we have on board. Thank you for your service. Be sure to raise your hands so I can find you.”

We got our breakfast snack  boxes, once we were airborne, for free due to the delay. So the flight that should have been about 6 hours turned into 8, as we couldn’t land right away.

“It’s your captain again. Turns out it’s still storming, and planes got backed up. And now there’s a dog on the runway. Can you see the police cars down below? You can’t make this stuff up.”

The groundings at DFW pushed our flight to Cozumel out later, too. Originally, we had a 45-minute layover. It stretched into over an  hour.

“We can get some lunch,” Jonathon said, checking the status on his phone.

My stomach rumbled for joy.

We got off the plane at 12:30 p.m. Our new flight time was 1:09. We stopped at McDonald’s to get some real food. We stood off to the side, waiting to pick it up.

The airport’s announcing system crackled to life. “Flight 1256 to Cozumel out of Gate D21, last call.”

Gulp.

We dropped our McDonald’s beeper and ran to gate D21. Okay, true confession: subconsciously, I’d always wanted to do that. You see it in old movies. People start running to the gate to make a flight, or to stop someone from taking off and taking your heart with them.

Yeah. Real life isn’t quite so romantic.

“Where is Gate D21?” Jonathon asked. We were both panting a bit.

Leave it to DFW to start numbering backwards once the D gates diverged. It was another quarter mile down. I started to feel the strain of sprinting in sandals. We reached the gate just behind a family of four. We tumbled into our seats. I looked at my watch. It was 12:48. Why so early?

“Well, the gate clock said 1:05,” Jonathon said.

Mystery solved. Somebody needs to synchronize their watches.

So, no lunch. At our cruising altitude of 33,000 feet, Jonathon gnoshed pretzels and cookie cracker thingies. I ate more nuts and berries. Glad of the book Mom got me, I kept distracted. This time I had the window seat. I looked out over the ocean. Fantastical cloud shapes greeted me. Some resembled castles. Some looked like gigantic turtles, casting shadows on the ocean below. Rainbows appeared and disappeared. Some even chased the plane for a while.

We landed in Cozumel and deplaned out the back, onto the tarmac. A wave of humidity broke over us. I immediately felt 10 lbs. heavier. We headed to customs and filled out our forms. We filled out another form to pick up our bags. Then, we located the shuttle to our hotel. After 13 hours of travelling, we made it!

We collapsed in our room. The a/c didn’t work, but we gave it a chance. We cleaned up and looked for a place to eat. Cozumel is on Central Standard Time in the summer. It was already 7 p.m. by then. We strolled down the block, trying to move as little as possible to avoid sweating. Aha! The Hard Rock Café. Something familiar.

A couple of Hispanic kids, clad in matching black T-shirts and holding musical instruments, lurked in the doorway. One boy held a flute I thought, Oh, field trip. I thought nothing of it as we entered the restaurant.

There was an empty table in the cool room. But no chairs.

“You want chairs?” the host asked.

Why yes. We’re funny like that.

He ran upstairs to get them. We thought we might sit up there instead. Upstairs, another wall of heat hit us. It was open air, and half full. Locals sat, chatting and eating. Bon Jovi pulsed through the speakers. I could see the sky darkening. Why not sit up here, on the roof? We picked a spot away from the band. Yes, a junior high band had a concert later that evening. What are the odds? A couple of kids noodled on their instruments. The drummer and bass player laid down some nice grooves. Generally, junior high bands make our teeth grind. Squeals and squawks abound. It’s a painful experience.

“Hey, the drummer is really good,” I said to Jonathon as the boy pounded on the set, warming up. “Let’s stick around and hear them.”

We ate our (very expensive) but delicious meal as the sun sank into the sea. Birds flitted in the trees around us. Stars came out, one by one. Finally, the band seated itself. Almost every wind instrument family made up their number – flutes, clarinets, French horn, saxes. The trombones numbered 6, two of which were girls. The announcer gave their program in Spanish. I recognized Abba, “All About that Bass”, The Beatles, Coldplay, and some others.

Right from the downbeat, they rocked. We were astounded. None of the kids were older than 15. No tentativeness there, they hit the licks right on for “Dancing Queen” and “Michele”, despite some uninspired arrangements. To quote Jonathon: the drummer sat in the pocket and watched the director like a hawk. The trombones were in tune and together. Hard to stay in tune when it’s 80 degrees and 80 percent humidity. They were tight. To quote me: they even had nuance. You don’t get nuance in younger bands. They generally don’t have it in them.

They didn’t play to an appreciative audience, for the most part. Families videotaped their darlings and clapped. Others, bent on downing their burgers, offered polite applause at appropriate intervals. But for us, it was amazing. Such a gift to listen to kids from another country tear up songs, and have a great time doing it. They loved playing, and it showed.

I thought about what it takes to play well with others. You have to have good communication and time together. You also need a good director. Those kids had played together for a good amount of time, and it showed. They anticipated each other’s moves and worked as a team. Performing music is listening, it’s give and take, it’s doing solos and backing up.

Sometimes you need more concentrated time with the person you’re spending the rest of your life with so you can stay on the same page. You relearn the nuanced notes of things spoken and unspoken. Marriage, like music, constantly evolves as it goes on, because the players are never the same two days in a row. What sounds harmonious today might be cacophony tomorrow. We fine tune as we go.

Jonathon and I sauntered back to our hotel  in the velvet evening, glad to have arrived and thankful for the international language of music. It crosses all borders.

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2016 in Review

Full disclaimer: This has not been my favorite year in any sense. By the end, it felt sort of like this, which once was a cupcake candle.

cupcake-melt

Kind of a melty, disappointing mess, despite only burning for about 20 minutes. Ruby put this candle in my stocking. Yes, she helped play Santa Claus this year. Don’t tell your children.

Between the major changes at work starting in the spring and trying to sell our house, 2016 left me reeling. I know I’m not alone in this feeling. More personally, I got injured before I could run the half marathon planned in October, and I put in just shy of 461 miles this year. Not triumphant. I kept to abstaining from sweets until we went on vacation in June. My mom had major surgery. Donald Trump became president. What in the world?!

Is there nothing good, Susan? I hear you ask, as you shake your head. A few things come to mind. Zac is engaged with school, for the first time in years. He loves his advanced classes. Ruby is gaining confidence in the kitchen. Jonathon continues to impress with his ability to problem-solve at church and at work.

We sold our house, which we thank God for. However, the high point of 2016 would have to be our family vacation, from the end of June to mid July. I ran at least a mile every day of that trip. We traveled around the Midwest and Texas. We spent time with family and friends. It was epic. You can read about it here, here, here, and here. Oh, and here. There are more posts out there, if you search for them.

If you’re into stats, you can see them. I published 30 fewer posts than last year, but had more overall views. Go figure. Thank you, dear friends, for reading.

This year, I learned how little I know. Which I guess can be a good thing. I am teachable. I can grow, even at my advanced age. I think you could call 2016 a building year, which is a term coaches use when their roster is all rookies. I definitely felt like a rookie for most of the year.

This year laid a foundation for good things to come. As of right now, I’m washing the bad aftertaste of 2016 out of my mouth and moving on to 2017. Great adventures await us. Happy New Year!

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Vacation Finale

I started this yesterday, but ran out of time and steam to complete it. Enjoy!

Today, we fly home. We hit SeaTac just after 3:00 p.m. local time.

It’s bittersweet. This was the best vacation we’ve had as a family, not to mention the longest.

I ran 47 miles over 14 days in 3 different states. We got to see most of Jonathon’s immediate family and some of our dearest friends. We cooled off in lakes and at a water park. We ate s’mores around a campfire. We played Apples to Apples.

It was a blast.

Here are some photos that didn’t make the blog.

From Mall of America in Minneapolis:

The above two pictures feature creations made of Legos. The bottom has rollercoasters and the back of Zac’s head.

From Lake Superior:

Spunky wonder dog Pepper and black-eyed Susans, both of Texas.

A rare Zac sighting.

Zac at Cedar Creek

Our friends’ kids, Rebekah and Tabitha. Aren’t they darling?! They cooked a fantastic lasagna, olive cheese balls, garlic-infused green beans and Italian cream cake. Diet? What diet?!

We visited the East Texas Arboretum yesterday morning.

We recommend visiting the arboretum. Admission is a suggested $4 donation.

We ate our last lunch in Texas at a bed and breakfast plus lunch place in Athens called The Geranium House. Oddly enough, not a single geranium graced the property. But we saw several ceramic cats, music boxes, tea pots and flamboyant hats.

The cat (far right) was the only live cat we saw while we visited Texas. Perhaps it ate all the others. (Mis)quote of the day, while the owner and server took our lunch order: “Is that Jonathon with a J?”

We thank God for His traveling mercies. Thanks for all who spent time with us. We look forward to seeing our local family and friends again, but will never forget this trip.

 

 

Scarlett Time

We left Minneapolis at 7:10 a.m. yesterday. While out, I kept hearing what sounded like a revving engine.

“Boy, someone’s up early on a Sunday,” I thought.

It was thunder. Lightning crackled on the horizon, towards the airport. I hoofed it home quick, fast and in a hurry. I managed to get in a one-mile run. But I didn’t want to die.

We flew into Dallas yesterday. First impressions as we drove through on our way to Eustace, TX, to visit friends:

Dallas is…brown. Dry. Full of skyscrapers. Tons of churches, which look like big business and not centers of worship. Cool bridges that could double as public art, like the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridgge.

dallas bridge

(source)

We also saw several private adult clubs, which confused Ruby and intrigued Zac.

“Does somebody have to invite you?” Zac wanted to know.

Anyway.

Getting out of Dallas challenged us. A spaghetti of highways, tangled beyond separation, led us out of downtown and into the eastern part of the state.

We found our friends’ home and collapsed on their couch. We spent some time catching up then went out to dinner. We watched some Olympic team qualifiers for women’s gymnastics and ate homemade cake.

This morning’s run was interesting. I stepped out the back door into air that felt like soup. Instantly, my exposed skin turned sticky. It was 76 degrees, and the sun hadn’t even risen yet. The insects and birds played a near-deafening symphony in honor of a new day. I paid close attention to the roads while my friend gave us a tour last night. I didn’t want a repeat performance of what happened in Wisconsin the other morning.

I also knew I wasn’t used to this heat and 90%+ humidity. Sure, I could soldier through up to a point. Then I knew I wouldn’t be able to do anymore. I turned left and headed down a country road, paved but rutted. I didn’t see anyone. Small houses, guarded by pickups, sat quiet and still. I chased a rabbit away from his thinking spot. A slight breeze blew out of the west, cooling my already-sweaty form.

I paced slowly. I stopped now and then to take in my surroundings and breathe. I got about 2 miles in and decided that was it for the day. I’m not used to the heat and humidity together. I’m learning to pace myself on this vacation as well. It’s good to be here, in a new place with old friends. I don’t want to miss a thing.

As a great lady of the south used to say, “Tomorrow is another day.”

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In the Now

morning lake viewI sit outside. The air is alive with birdsong. Crickets chirp, a faint pedal tone. Chipmunks scurry in the tree next to me. In front of me, the lake awakens. Its surface resembles blue glass, reflecting a darker version of the blue sky above it.

Confession time: I have eaten sweets, starting at our anniversary. I don’t crave them like I used to. And it’s pretty much only been chocolate – no cookies, etc. We made s’mores last night in the fire pit near the dock. The charred jumbo marshmallow squished out all over my face and hands, leaving a ghostly residue. The chocolate added its mellow smoothness to the crunch of the graham cracker. All in all, though we had a great time around the fire, the treat proved too sweet. Took a long time to get to sleep last night. But it was worth it. I say this to let you know sometimes it’s okay to let go of our plans and our ways in order to participate in life.

When we set up the slip-n-slide, all 100 feet of white-tarped goodness, I watched. I felt reluctant to do it. What if I hurt myself? I’m not as young as I used to be. Instead, I took pictures of my husband and brother-in-law and all the kids zipping down the hill. They rolled in puddles of water at the bottom. They laughed and screamed. They slid off the end, seeing who could get the most distance. Brothers never lose that competitive edge.

“Mom, are you going to go down?” Zac asked me. We stood in the shade of a hundred-year-old tree.

“Yes,” I said, scrolling through pictures on my phone. “I need to get my suit on.”

“Well, Mom,” he said. “Put your phone down and live life!” he said. Then he threw himself down the hill.

I laughed. Then, I took his advice. I don’t want to miss a thing.

The yellow smiley face balloon at the end of the dock turns and faces me. It beckons to me to come and sit awhile. Relax. Put your agenda down. It’s okay to not have it all mapped out. You got this.

I’m going right now.

So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free. – John 8:36

 

Seat 45F

We got to the airport at about 9:30 a.m. My brother drove us. We unloaded our luggage to the curb under overcast skies and trundled it all into the building. We hugged goodbye. We were leaving on a jet plane, gone for two weeks to points east.

Then…the waiting. Our flight got delayed, then delayed again. What had been 11:15 became 12:30, then 12:59. Oh, and then 1:09. Because the exact minute makes a difference.

Sigh.

We wandered SeaTac and ate an early lunch at a pizza joint. The kids played on electronics. Ruby huffed a bit, whining about her own lack of patience. Not an auspicious start to our vacation. I people watched. I always like to see what people wear on airplane flights. Mercifully, no pajama pants. I saw maxi skirts and lots of active wear – capri-length spandex and running shoes. Which always makes me wonder if there’s a secret gym at SeaTac.

We waited. Then, around 12:45, boarding started.

“Premium members, Diamond Medallion and First Class can board now,” the flight attendant intoned.

God forbid Diamond Pendant folks should try to board.

Then, Zone 1. Finally, our Zone 2 area got on the plane. We walked behind two young men, one of them with a guitar on his back. The flight attendant asked them to stand aside as we passed, probably because the guitar would need to be shoe-horned in later. Our seats were way in the back in row 45. No worries. I don’t mind being next to the bathroom. I hate climbing over people. I sat down in my aisle seat, Jonathon and the kids in the row across from me.

“This is a full flight. Please put your butts in your seats so we can get out of here on time, slackers!”

Okay, maybe I paraphrased that announcement a bit.

The two young men who had been in front of us, one Latino and one black, filed into my row. We greeted each other and sat down.

I considered getting headphones but realized how exhausted I was. I dozed off and on through the trip. I could see everyone else’s built-in screens, lit up and right on the seat in front of them. One man in the row ahead of me watched a Kevin Hart movie, full of explosions and probably yelling. An older lady up 3 rows watched “Hello My Name is Doris” with Sally Fields. I know because we saw it the other night. Great flick.

“All the Disney movies on here. My kids would love it,” the Latino man on my right said. He wore a trimmed goatee and black-rimmed glasses.

“Oh, how old are your kids?” I asked.

“I have a seven-year-old, a one-and-a-half year old, and a four-day-old baby.”

“What?!” I said, laughing. “What are you doing here?”

“Well,” he chuckled, “I’m making a living. I’m a musician. We missed the 1:00 sound check. We’re going to hit the ground, drive there, plug in and play.”

“I get it, “I said. “My husband and I are musicians, too. Are you the main act or the opening act?”

He looked at me.

“We’re the band for Danny Gokey, you know, from American Idol? This is a one-off concert. We’re based out of Nashville.”

What?! Singer of “Tell Your Heart to Beat Again?”

We chatted about church music for a moment. I told him we were heavily involved in our church’s worship. Funny, they had seemed so courteous and friendly. I had an inkling they might have been Christians. That connection, that Holy Spirit undercurrent, ran through our minor interactions.

What’s even funnier is that we purchased all new tickets to Minneapolis only last week. Jonathon accidentally bought them for July 30, not June 30. So this chance encounter never would have happened were it not for that mistake. Jehovah Sneaky strikes again, making lemonade out of lemons.

We landed and let the guys get out first.

“Break a leg!” I said.

“Thanks!” they smiled and hustled off the aircraft.

Godspeed.