Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Circle of Life

An old high school friend of mine recently lost her father. She is an avid blogger, and in part, inspired me to write this blog. During her father's illness, and in her grief - she took a break from blogging. Understandable. I realized I too had taken a break from blogging, but don't really have a decent excuse like she does.

Anyway, I have a lot going on - more than I can probably express today. My energy has been very low lately. I've been having some annoying pain under my left rib cage. I'm constantly bloated. My hip bones and rib bones are tender to the touch. I just don't feel "right". I finally, after avoiding it for too long, I went to my doctor. She is in the process of running tests. My blood work is "normal". I'm grateful that nothing major showed up, but now I'm back to not knowing a darn thing. I'm being sent for a CT scan later this week, as well as seeing a gastroenterologist tomorrow. (I think I spelled that correctly, Lord knows I can't say it) It's a weird place to be. Not knowing what might be wrong. Your mind plays tricks on you. God FORBID you Google your symptoms! I'm sure I'm slowly dying. On one hand, you want them to say "nothing is wrong, you'll be okay". On the other, you want a diagnosis and treatment to make you feel better. Hopefully it's only constipation or something silly like that, but the not knowing stage is pretty darn frustrating. My "gut" tells me it's probably all in my gut. I hope it's an easy fix.

Other than that, I am potentially looking at another job lay-off. My job as an Infant/Toddler specialist is state funded, and the cuts are pretty deep here in NC, as in most states. I'm only part time, so therefore, the first to go. I'll know more in the next few weeks. Two job lay-offs in one year is a pretty big shot to one's ego - let me tell you. I am trying to stay opitimistic. Sadly, losing the Infant/Toddler program means more than just losing my job. It means losing services to child care providers and families with infants and toddlers in child care. The program does good things, and a lot of people depend on it. It's sad to see how all the "little people" are still being SHAT on!

One big door that opened for me since my other job lay-off earlier in the year, is that I took a big step and started working toward my Doula certification. If you don't know what a Doula is check out my (work in progress) website. I don't have the energy to explain it all right now. I was trained in both Birth & Postpartum Doula work. The entire certification process is lengthly, so I'm not officially "certified" yet, but have started working some both privately and with a great non-profit agency called "4th Trimester". More on that another time.

I toured a new birthing facililty today at one of the local hospitals. It's called The Baby Place. Pretty neat. They have valet service, massage therapy, spa rooms, cozy birthing rooms where baby's nest in with mom, NO formula allowed (alleluia), breastfeeding friendly.... It looks like I was in the right place at the right time when I asked if they needed volunteers (networking, baby!) b/c the coordinator over the unit called me later at home and wants to see if I can volunteer at the "boutique" assisting mom's with breast pumps, baby wraps and that sort of thing. She is open and willing to me using the opportunity to get Doula clients. It's a good "in". I think good things are on the horizon.

One other good thing about the Doula work is it's a great way for me to tie in my photography - as I'm able to offer great "packages" to my Doula families. I leave you with some from one of my first Postpartum families. Looking back to why I was re-inspired to blog again today...the Circle of Life continues...

Sweet little Etta.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

My Dream Job

So, here I am. Still pretty much unemployed. Too much time on my hands. So, I'm back to blogging. This time, I'm making up my own job. Today, I draw from two of my favorite inspirations - ironically, both named Tony.

The first Tony, is of international Travel Channel "No Reservations" fame - Anthony Bourdain. Something about this guy is really sexy. He's tall, for one. He's sarcastic. He's laid back. He likes to drink. He likes to eat. He likes to travel. (and gratefully, he's also quit smoking!) What a great freakin' job! In my fantasy job, I am the female alter-ego of Tony. I'm (sort of) tall, sarcastic, laid back, drinkin' eatin' mommy machine. Minus the fact that I have no money, I'd also love to get in on that traveling part!

Like Tony, I have worked many jobs in the restaurant business. I love to cook, and think I cook pretty damn good. I often tell my husband, that I'd love to be a food critic. Even if it's just locally, I love to write and I love to eat. Enough said. Perfect job.
The second Tony, is local entertainment writer, Tony Kiss - also affectionately known as "the Beer Guy". I, for purposes of this blog, will refer to myself as "the Beer Goddess". This Tony has a weekly column in our local paper's weekly entertainment magazine. As you can imagine, he writes about all things beer.

In Asheville, that's not a hard thing to do. Home to six and counting local breweries, Tony has the luxury of commenting on all the latest to hit the Asheville beer scene. Seasonal brews, new brewmasters, beer festivals, art and beer, beer and food, craft beer, Papa beer, Mama beer and Baby beer too...

Any one who knows me, Chrissy (aka Beer Goddess) knows I love beer too. Granted, I can't always afford the good stuff, but I sure try. Whether it's tracking down the latest 22 oz. Imperial, or taking my growlers in for a refill - I do enjoy taking advantage of all the delicious local spirits.

Green Man beer served at Jack of the Wood
~~~ Highland Brew is one of my favs!

Okay, so food- Check. Beer- Check. Travel- working on that. Blog-check.
Sling my camera over my shoulder and I'm ready.
Who's hiring??

Beer Goddess drinking in Hoboken

Eating and drinking in Playa del Carmen

some food pictures for good measure

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Faces of Asheville

So, once again, my gal Nikki is looking out for me...she invited me to tag along to this fundraising event at the Orange Peel downtown...called Faces of Asheville. Jenny is this local photographer who is documenting the "faces" of Asheville in an attempt to raise awareness for concerns surrounding Asheville's growth and future. It's not hard to find interesting and unique characters in this town, that's one thing for sure! Check out the link above to learn more.

Anyway, it's an interesting story -- and one that really inspires me as a photographer. I mean, if SHE can pull this large of a project off, why can't I (me, little 'ol me) make more of this photography thing?!?! This event was the last of a handful of fundraising events, and a nice crowd gathered on a Monday night to support her. It, interesting to say the least. Everyone from the local street urchin, to the mayor was there. Many of her subjects were there, speaking to the whys and what's of their love and frustrations of living in Asheville. Much of the spoken word really resonated with me...the beauty, the art, the people, the energy, the individuality of this town...there was even a little controversy and political rhetoric! This town, and it's people, is never boring!!

But, of course, my main interest in the night was the music - Nikki's and otherwise - and my hope to capture a few good shots...if for nothing, to fullfull my Project 365 goals!! My only annoyance was that they cut Nikki's performance short -- right in front of everyone, which rightfully pissed Nikki off, and many of the audience who was enjoying her performance.

So, I share a few of those pics with you now...everything from Nikki's rockin' and rantin' to acrobatics to hoola hoopin' to hammering on a dulcimer and amazing goofy slam grass jams...

In these photos: Mary Sparks & Space Medicine, Nikki Talley, The Libravado Sisters and Snake Oil Medicine Show.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Confessions of a paranoid mother

What is it about sick kids and 3:00 am?? Mine never seems to spike a fever in the middle of the day...only at night, and usually on a Friday. Fortunately, Gracie is usually a VERY healthy kid. When and if she does get sick, it's usually only once or twice a year. It seems like a lot of other kids are sick once a month. Fevers are usually like clockwork for her, come and go within 24 hours. I'd like to credit her strong immunity to dedicated breastfeeding and all that homemade organic baby food I slaved over. She is still a great eater, not picky at all (this is a kid who hates french fries and chooses a side salad instead). But, mostly, I contribute it to luck. Of the luckiest kind.

So, now I pose this question. Are all mothers as paranoid and preoccupied with thoughts of something terrible happening to their children?? I'm almost afraid to admit this publicly, for fear I might be losing my mind. But, these thoughts are pretty vivid and VERY scary.

I'm not just talking about at 3:00 am when I am trying to comfort a feverish child with a cool washcloth. I'm talking about curling up next to her after she's finally fallen asleep and hoping her brain doesn't boil over. Or that her labored breathing means her lungs might be collapsing.

That's just the start of it! Of course, when she was an infant, I imagine it's what all new mother's fear. Watching closely over this little, vulnerable baby - making sure her chest moves up and down as it should, or that the covers haven't slipped over her head, or that there is proper ventilation in the nursery to avoid death by SIDS.

I'm talking about this parental (really, is it just mother's though??) paranoia. The one where I start to have delusions. Serious, detailed, scary visions of her demise or severe injury. We can be in the car, and all of the sudden, I imagine us being broad-sided (for some reason, it's always a big UPS truck), on her side, of course. Does the car seat do it's job? Can EMS workers work quickly enough to cut her out of the car? What if I'm pinned and can't reach her?? Or the haunting thought that while she's at school, some maniac is going to come through with an oozie and shoot up the Kindergarten hall (they have already started "lock down" practice at school, after all). Or she'll choke to death on a grape? Do I remember CPR? Never mind the obsessive thoughts of molesters, kidnappers and creepy old men. Then, after flipping through and catching that Saint Jude Hospital commercial, my mind races around brain tumors, leukemia and some incurable blood disorder. These thoughts scare me enough to put me into a severe anxiety.

How will I ever let this girl get her drivers license?


When Gracie was born, within the first 12 hours, one of the nurses noticed she seemed a bit jaundiced. After running the proper tests, we were told that her bilirubin levels were very high, possibly high enough to warrant a blood transfusion!!! Yikes! With careful consideration, the doctors decided to try the less invasive treatment and she would need to be placed under special lights (phototherapy) to help break down the bilirubin levels.

Gracie, day 1 (of 7) of phototherapy. We could only hold her 1-2 hours a day. The nurses tried to convince me to start her on formula, since breast milk can actually slow the breakdown of bilirubin levels, but I refused. I pumped for seven straight days before I could actually put her to the breast full time.

Gracie after she came home. She had to continue to be treated with a "bili-blanket" - The whole setup consists of a light generator, termed the light box, the fibre-optic cable (see picture) through which the light is carried and the light pad, which rests on her belly or back. She lit up like an alien! Luckily, we could also place her in a sunlit window for treatment.

Turns out she and I had what is referred to as an ABO Blood incompatibility . It's pretty rare (15-20% of births). It is different than the Rh factor, which I knew I already had, and was treated for. In the case of the ABO, my blood essentially was attacking her blood as a foreign body as it crossed the placenta and cord during birth.

Ironically, I had wished to wait to cut the cord, after hearing that this was a great way to get more of the precious cord blood into her after birth. But, she aspirated on meconium during delivery and they had to quickly cut the cord. Turns out, had that not have happened, I would have SEVERELY poisoned her with more and more of my blood.

I tell this story because it was a very scary moment. I was considered a high risk pregnancy, due to a family history of defects. My sister, Theresa, who died when she was 9 and I was 3, was hydrocephalic and severely retarded (the not so PC term they used 40 years ago). My mom tells me the story of how they automatically institutionalized Theresa. It took her two visits seeing her baby in a metal cage of a crib before she took her home to try to raise. She scooped her up and ran out of the place, something she's sure she would have been arrested for today. How my mother did what she did for my sister's complicated care, mostly as a single mom, still amazes and humbles me. I had two cousins that died from similar issues. And, there is my incredible niece, Raquel, who is so aptly nicknamed "ROCKY" because she is one hell of a fighter.

My sister, Anna, and Rocky. Rocky has a rare genetic chromosomal defect called Williams Syndrome. It can cause severe medical and developmental problems. It's much more complicated than that, but bless Anna's heart...she was only 19, and had to treat this little baby with feeding tubes and heart monitors for many months. Just like my mother forty years ago, Anna is a true testament to motherhood.
I'm glad to report, that despite the hurdles, Rocky is a fun, affectionate, happy little eight year old girl today!

Gracie and Rocky, last Christmas!

We had one other little scare when Gracie was 3 months old. She quickly became very sick with what turned out to be a virus. This, after a horrific spinal tap to rule out meningitis, and three days in the pediatric unit.

As I reflect on all of this, I feel so silly to create these paranoid delusions of illness and death upon my beautiful daughter. We are truly, truly blessed with a happy, healthy (and sometimes sassy) five year old little girl. I don't know if these paranoid thoughts are normal or not, but maybe they exist in my head to simply remind me of what "could" be. It forces me to reflect, treasure, honor and love Gracie every single moment of the day.

Speaking of Gracie, I think I might just go slip under the covers next to my sweaty, little, puffy-eyed, belly-aching little girl and hold her tight. Right now.

POSTNOTE: After Gracie's fever spiked 104.2, we headed to the doctor and turns out she has a mild case of the flu. UGH.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A day with Nikki

Well, I didn't technically blog yesterday, but did keep to my promise to take photographs. It was a beautiful, warm, breezy day here in the hills and I spent the day downtown.

My first order of business (after I spent an hour volunteering in Gracie's class) was to get my unemployment in order. I can tell this whole experience will be more trouble than it's worth. I've heard it said that it takes more work to stay on unemployment than it does to actually WORK! They require you to apply for two jobs a week, something I do anyway. But, now, I'm wondering - do I apply for five or six this week, only to have none to apply for next week?! all seems so backassward.

I then headed to my friend and fellow moon goddess, Nikki's house. For any of you who know Nikki, you know I did NOT have a dull day! This girl has boundless energy. It's both contagious and exhausting. I honestly have a hard time photographing her sometimes because she cannot sit still!! :) Up for the challenge, I followed her around for (another) "photo shoot" -- she is this incredible and amazing singer/songwriter/musician and she's always looking to update her promo shots and whatnot. I had done some shots of her last year, that were used on her new cd cover, as well as for a bunch of press releases around town. I was very proud.
us being us

She took me to a friends' house - this really cool, old (like 110 years old old) house and we managed to finish a bottle of red, and I took over 400 pictures. Mind you, she's a goof, so half of those photos were of her being silly - some so blurry b/c I was laughing so hard! But, I spent the morning editing them, and think there are a few keepers.

sorry Nik, had to show one of your goofy shots!
Of course, she's more critical of herself than I am - and she proved her point by (once again) turning the camera on me! UGH!

NOT my comfort zone...can you tell?!

So, today I had plans to meet up with some girls to hike, but of course, the weather is crap and I'm still in my jammies. I think I'll take some salmon out of the freezer and make a nice dinner tonight. I've been wanting to try this salmon, brie and mango dish.
I know, I know - doesn't sound like a poor man's meal, but I promise you we got all the ingredients on sale!! One must still enjoy the finer things in life!!
Until next time.....

Monday, February 9, 2009

With nothing better to do...

So, I was recently laid off from my job. It was part time, working at this great little organic "fast food" joint. I worked with the most eclectic, beautiful, fun people. The owner was great and the management amiable. I even enjoyed the customers (for the most part). As a sign of the times, the owner had to close the doors. It was a pretty new business, and the timing was very bad. She opened late last summer, when things didn't look quite as bleak. But then it hit. First, the "gas crisis" in WNC. Bullshit, if you ask me. Then, the cold weather. Really cold weather. Then this crappy economy wrapped itself around like a bow. A big, red, bloody bow.

More like a bloody BLOW! I've never been laid off before. Or even fired for that matter! As much as I try to not take it personally, it's a real kick to the gut. I'm now navigating unemployment benefits, and trying to figure out what to do with my time. I've been searching for full time work for almost two years now. I probably send out at least 2-3 applications per week as it is. So, even though I seem to manage a pretty fluid part time work arrangement, the pressure is pretty high.

We've lived paycheck to paycheck as it is, slowly accumulating debt as we go. My beloved minivan has over 120,000 miles on it and the heat is broken and the windows don't go down (or if they go down, they don't go back up again). We live a simple life. We are good people. I love my friends and family. I have a comfortable home. So, I hesitate to complain or whine or feel all "whoa is me". It sucks to feel like our financial stability is completely out of control, so the way I see it, the only thing I have control over is how I react to all of this change.
i like this kind of change better

So far, it's week two. Luckily, I work 10 hours a week, managing a grant in Hendersonville for infant care providers. It's a menial paycheck, but it makes me feel important. I don't really have to even go into the office, but I do to get out of the house. And yet, here I sit. In my house.

I've done two loads of laundry, dishes and revised my resume. I've piddled around on Facebook, spoke to the unemployment office twice, eaten leftovers for lunch, and applied for three jobs. Hum. Ho. Later this week, I plan to do our taxes (yawn), pillage through Gracie's clothes to pull out what no longer fits so I can sell it at the consignment store, and hopefully catch up with some girlfriends (also newly unemployed) to go for a nice hike. I got two new books for Christmas. I want to start a garden. I also recently acquired a copy of Photoshop, so I can also take some time to teach myself to use this unfamiliar program.

Speaking of photographs, some Facebook cronies of mine have started this thing called Project 365. They will either take photos or write and blog every day. Practice makes perfect, I think is appropriate here. Since I'd love to just take photographs for a living some day, I think I might challenge myself to something similar. I may not make it all 365 days, although I do pick up my camera a couple of times a week, at least. But, I think it will be fun and force me to leave the HOUSE! to go out and try to mix up my repertoire.

So, I would love it if you would join me on this mission. Enjoy the photos. Encourage me. Fill my head with some confidence. Or don't. Either way, I think I'll try to pull this off just long enough to start really enjoying it...then, maybe I'll land that job and won't have all this free time anymore!

I've included some I took this week. It's a start!

all photographs on this site are ©2008-2009ChristineCraftPhotography

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Mexico 2008

For our 10 year wedding anniversary, Jeff and I decided to take the Honeymoon we never had, and headed South of the Boarder to a lovely resort in Puerto Morelos - in the Riviera Maya region of Mexico, near Playa del Carmen. We found a fabulous all-inclusive resort called the El Dorado Royale Spa & Resort. We chose this particular area after seeing a photo in a travel magazine of a cenote, a hauntingly beautiful natural phenomenon that can be found in this region. More on cenotes later, but I will say, they did not disappoint!

Friday 3/28/08 arrival day:

Seemed to take forever to finally get here. The flight was around 3 1/2 hours long. It's been ages since I've flown, so I was both nervous and excited. We landed with no problems, and the humidity hit us immediately. We both love the humid air, after living on the coast of NC for so many years, it felt like home. The line in customs was almost an hour long, but it felt good to not be sitting, so we didn't mind. We got our tourist stamp (of many, we hope) in our passports and moved on. While we were waiting at the luggage carousel, two policia and their trusty pooch found their way right to me! The dog jumped and scratched at my backpack. No contraband there, but apparently, he was after the banana that I had carried the whole flight and ate just before we got off the plane. Ha!

After a short drive, we turned down the long and winding road through the jungle towards the El Dorado Royale. We were greeted by a bellboy, who took our luggage and led us to the check-in office. We were given the promised champagne upon arrival and told we'd have to wait for the 3 o'clock check in. No problem, and they directed us to Jo-Jo's beach side restaurant to kill time. We enjoyed lunch and a few cold cervazas y limon while the warm breezes tickled our senses and the bright blue ocean sparkled in the distance. The service here will take me a little getting used to as they pull out my chair and place a crisp linen napkin on my lap every time!
pictures of lobby and view from lobby

I had read reviews about how slow the food service was, which was true, but I came to the conclusion that sometimes it was done in timed service and/or it's just not done the same way we are used to in the US. Besides, I sorta liked eating slow and letting my food settle in between each course. One girl later in the trip said there was a difference between eating out and fine dining...and this was fine dining. Besides, I'm on friggin' vacation, so what's the rush?!

I really miss the salty sea air & the crystalline azul ocean is so breathtaking. I still don't understand what makes it so blue! The beaches here are rocky, at least near our resort, and they have these huge sandbags everywhere - "whales" they called them. Much of it has to do with Hurricane (Wilma) as we would learn later... 2 1/2 years ago, I believe, that devastated the area. Interesting to note, it was pointed out to us later, where the jungle that surrounds the resort was killed by the salt water's storm surge.

this is a phot
o of the dead jungle behind the resort

Okay, so back to our arrival. The rest of the day was sort of a blur, rightfully so. We figure a conservative tally for the day would have been one full bottle of champagne (plus one glass each in the lobby), one shot of tequila each, wine with dinner and TOO many cervezas to count! Our last memory was making the move to get in bed, and then both waking up around 2:30 a.m. fully clothed, lights all on and very confused!! :)

Jeff opening our welcome

bottle of champagne ....
. .....Me on first day

Day Two

The next morning we woke up to the sunrise, which confused us both a little more as it rose at 5:30 a.m. Jeff even had me check the cell phone to make sure this was the correct time. My mom would have been proud of me, as I bounced out of bed to start my day. (Feeling quite good considering our night before!). We poured ourselves some coffee, which we enjoyed on our deck and then meandered down to breakfast. Most of the restaurant choices around here offer both a buffet and a menu to choose from for breakfast. Every option, it seems, comes with the most delicious refried beans. A couple of mimosa's... and then we claimed a poolside cabana & waited patiently for the poolside bar to open.

Time certainly has a way of standing still here in paradise! It was almost surreal. We'd been drinking cerveza's y limon and even had a shot of tequila wi
th some guy from North Dakota... only to find out it was barely 11:00 a.m. yet!! Another drunkin' day in the sun!

We are pretty impressed with the all-inclusive set up. We've never vacationed this way before, and will probably only do all-inclusive from here on out for these big vacations. This resort has six or seven restaurants (one was closed for renovations) to chose from. The food in all of them was very good, nicely presented and boasts them as all being 5 star quality. So far, I've enjoyed every meal. Lunch & dinner take on a different ambiance in each restaurant, so each meal seems unique even in the same place. Or at least it seemed after 8 hours of drinking.

Admittedly, our first few days, we probably over did it on the "binge" drinking! We even ended one night with Jeff's 'I turn into an asshole drunk', and my 'crying you hurt my feelings drunk'. I actually seem to recall it being a hard adjustment for Jeff and I on other occasions when it was just us alone as a couple. No friends, no kids, no family... just us. I think we just forgot how to be around each other alone. This week of vacation/honeymoon comes after a long over-do 10 years, so I guess it's only natural we'd have to wean ourselves back int
o couple-dom.

Day Three

Today was sort of a business day. We milled around after breakfast and then went on one of those timeshare tours. They promised not to be pushy (turns out they weren't at all), and we got $100 cash and $200 resort bucks out of the deal. Plus, we got to tour the entire resort, including the incredible Presidential Suites. You get your own fully stocked bar (they call you the week before to see which liquor you prefer), own personal chef, plus this macked out, amazing suite with it's own pool and outdoor shower! We also checked out some of the Castita section. We would have loved to upgrade to these, but it was too much.

Picture of us on tour of Castita Section

2nd floor Castita pool

We did, however, take the opportunity to upgrade from our "garden view" room to a "swim-up junior suite". I had budgeted for this, and it was well worth it! It took us to the other side of the resort, right at the very end where it bordered with the jungle, and it was right by the ocean. We also were near another large pool with swim up bar, and we could swim right up the lazy river right outside our room to get to it. It was a nice mix, being at the end of the resort as it was more private. At the same time, it seemed like there were a lot more younger couples milling around this end, which made for some fun conversations and observations.

Us by lazy river outside our room

View from our building of the ocean
I am losing track of time here in Eden. Yesterday (Tuesday?) we planned to take the afternoon to head into Playa del Carmen. It turned into another early drinking day....complete with shots of tequila. Jeff's drink of choice that day was a "double" LIIT (as opposed to his beer day, his margarita day...). I spent the first half of the day drinking mango daiquiris, and even a few Bahama Mamas. Life is rough here.

Poolside ~Jeff on his "margarita" day <.... ....>Chrissy taking in some sun.

After deciding that we were too drunk to navigate a foreign city, we strolled on down to Jo-Jo's for yet another meal. I started with calamari, and Jeff had Jalapeno Poppers...which we ended up ordering another double order, because they were so good! I ate most of his, and I don't usually like those things. Our waiter was really funny, and had me repeat some sing-song phrase in Spanish, complete with animated hand motions! Although we're not really sure what he had me say, we think it was something to do about being drunk and "hombres". The rest of the meal was yummy, and then we headed back to our poolside cabana to drink some more.

View of beautiful sky while lying in cabana
It was really nice to sit with Jeff on the steps of the pool, wading across only to get a refill at the bar. We chit-chatted with other guests, but mostly people watched and tried to figure out how many people were peeing in the pool! It seemed that most of the people we chatted with were either from Canada, or the cold northern states, like the Dakotas, Minnesota or Washington state. I guess I don't blame them!

They had all sorts of activities going on all day, which was hilarious to watch. During one water aerobics, this big, burly, drunk guy joined in... it had everyone laughing hysterically. Funny thing was, he stuck it out the entire time! They had this weird, trippy instrumental Mexican music that played really loud by the pool all day. I don't know if this was the kind of music you'd hear in the clubs or whatnot. I've never heard anything like it, but it added to the tropical ambiance and made Jeff do goofy dances in the pool. How embarrassing! Eventually, I went and passed out on the cabana, while Jeff drunkenly wandered off to play a game of pool volleyball.

We then headed to the room shortly before sunset (around 6 p.m.) and both took a two hour nap before showering for dinner. We headed to La Fondue, one of the restaurants we hadn't tried yet. I felt okay up to that point, but as we were sitting there waiting to order, I had a wave of nausea come over me. I tried... but couldn't even eat the lobster medallions, scallops and shrimp served with a cheese fondue... you KNOW I was sick. I felt so bad to ruin the dinner, but Jeff was accommodating, and we headed back to the room. At least we didn't have to pay for it! I was violently ill most of the night, with severe cramps and the chills. Jeff blames it on too much drinking, but it felt more like food poisoning to me.

It's Wednesday...

...and after only 3 hours of sleep, I feel amazingly great waking up, again at sunrise. I'm just glad I packed Pepto-Bismol.

To assist in my recovery, Jeff and I went for our sunrise couples massage on the beach.

complete with mimosas!
This was one of those things that we used the $200 in resort bucks for, so it was essentially free! The massages were done in these semi-private, two-story cabanas on the beach. Jeff had a female masseuse, with the most strikingly blue eyes I've ever seen. My masseur had these terrifically strong hands that found and released every kink and toxin in my body.
Maybe it's the Mexican way to do massage, but Jeff and I agreed that this was the closest to boob and privates we've ever had in a massage! No violation, mind you, but whole body was not exaggerated!

After a cool mimosa... this was a wonderful way to start the day... with the ocean in the background.... ahhhhh!

We headed back to our room and decided to take it easy before hitting lunch, and later Playa del Carmen. The upgrade to the Swim-up was well worth it today, as we read/Soduku'd right in the water and lazy river outside our room. To make things even better, "cabana boy" came right up to us to get our drink order. Right outside our room!! :) Note: it's only 10:30 a.m., so we should be careful!

Enjoying a chill morning on the lazy river....

After lunch, we cabbed it to Playa del Carmen. It was interesting to drive on the roads here, our first real venture outside the protective walls of our resort. There is obviously much poverty here, and tourism appears to be what keeps this area alive. They have checkpoints every so often, and we later learned that these are manned by the Mexican Army/Navy. The Army is seen in much higher regard than the Policia. In the event there is some large danger in either Playa del Carmen or Cancun, they can shut down all traffic in and out for the safety of the citizens and tourists. Pretty scary stuff we learned, goes down within the cartels of Mexico. Interestingly enough, it turns out the choice of goods smuggled, is actually Cubans (the people, not the cigars). It is easier to get the Cubans to Mexico and then smuggle them across the border to the US, as opposed to the Cubans trying to make it to the US by boat.
Playa itself was fun. We headed to Quinto Avenida (5th street), that was closed to traffic and ran parallel to the ocean five blocks down (duh). There is a large docks there, where all the ferries come in from Cozumel and the cruise ships hang out. There were tons and tons of shops, restaurants, etc. of all shapes and sizes. We sauntered along, popping into one of the open air bars (with shade) for a cold one, or turning down an interesting side street. This was a fun place to people watch, dark shades in place. Jeff and I pretended to be highly trained undercover members of an elite traveling military team, called the UNIT. Mexico is just teaming with undercover activity. It seemed like a fun place to live, if you were younger and hip (as opposed to old fogies like us!). Seemed like a lot of American or European transients with dirty shoes and backpacks. And, the tourists -- we were SO glad we didn't have to drag a kid along with us. There were street performers, bums, & beautiful little Mexican children playing in the cobblestone street while their adults haggled the shoppers.
: I have to comment, on the local lack of safety while traveling with children. No car seats whatsoever. We even saw a dad and mom sitting on a moped with the mom clutching a toddler to her hip in heavy traffic! No helmets, nothing. Yikes.

Guy making a bracelet with Gracie's name on it

Cool building
Near where the boats let out, we were looking for a bite to eat and a few beers. We stumbled into this tiny, little unassuming place, tucked in between the larger, popular establishments, like Senior Frog's where a beer is $9.oo. Instead, we opted to have 2 beers for $6 and some fresh spit
roasted pork tacos with amazing homemade salsa verde. Yum. Having two Mexican brother-in-laws, I knew this was the closest to "real" Mexican food we'd get. Fresh, warm tortillas and meat cut right off the bone. Funny thing we noticed. No where in this region of Mexico will you find a bottle of hot sauce on your table.

Soon, we noticed that the ferries had arrived and watched as the DROVES of people started their way into the streets. We decided it was time to move along, got our next round of beers to go, and enjoyed the walk back, ahead of the masses.

< Us enjoying fresh tacos and beer

Thursday ~ Our last full day here. :(

Despite this being our last day, I was most excited for this day. This was the day that we planned our biggest excursion. I mentioned before that we were attracted to this area because of the cenotes. I want to share a little about cenotes from a site I found, and then tell you a little more about our experiences...

Read on about cenotes:

The natural wonders of the state of Yucatan are innumerable and some of the most important and unusual are the cenotes (say-NOH-tays) or sink holes. In the Yucatan there are over 3000 cenotes, with only 1400 actually studied and registered. The Maya called them dzonot (ZO-note), which the conquering Spaniards translated as cenote (say– NO–tay.) Giraldo Diaz Alpuche, was a military commander in the 16th Century who was greatly impressed with these underground caverns and pools, and he tried to explain the meaning of the word cenote in the Spanish language as meaning "deep thing". The Motul dictionary, a dictionary of Mayan hieroglyphics, defines dzonot as "abysmal and deep". Cenotes are magical, enigmatic and unique in the world and were once the only resource for fresh, sweet water in the local Yucatecan jungle. They were the sacred places of the Maya for that reason, but also because they represented the entrance to the underworld.

The Yucatan Peninsula is a porous limestone shelf with no visible rivers; all the fresh water rivers are underground. Being porous, caverns and caves formed where the fresh water collects – hence the cenotes or water sink holes. The water that gathers in these subterranean cenotes is a crystal clear turquoise color with a very pleasant temperature of 78°'b0. The stalactites and stalagmites that form inside the cenotes are true natural works of art. In many, holes in the ceiling allow the sunlight to filter into the cenotes, giving the scene a magical feeling. The cenotes of Yucatan are a natural treasure that should be seen by all, keeping in mind that they should be protected so that man does not destroy in a few days what nature took millions of years to create.above ground centote Estrella (Star) underground centote -- amazing!

PS- I want to thank those of you wonderful friends who took my earlier advice and learned more about the cenotes. My friend, who is a teacher, teaches his students about them when they talk about the Mayan period; and my girlfriend, who is a wonderful mom, took the opportunity to google them with her 10 year old son. Learning is such fun!


Our trip was through an adventure company, and was a three part trip. We started at an inlet called Akumal ~ meaning 'place of the Turtle'. This is a very sensitive ecosystem and very unique. It is where the fresh water from the cenotes and underground water system, meet with the salty ocean waters in a natural phenomonon called "haloctine". It made the water almost oily looking and you could see where the two mixed. No where in this region are there mountains, lakes or rivers. All the water sources are underground until they reach the ocean.

In this particular place, the coral reefs were literally within swimming distance from the inlet. I am not the strongest of swimmers, and the currents were too strong for me. Jeff and I decided to hang back in the inlet, which was still quite amazing. When the rest of the group returned, they were exhausted and said they wished they hadn't swum out in the ocean like they did.

entrance to Akumal inlet Jeff snorkeling!
From Akumal Inlet, we got back on our 15 passenger tour van and headed to our next destination. Our tour guide/driver was Marcel. He was so terrific. He was a constant flow of information, and very personable. He had a great, teasing sense of humor - and not so bad on the eyes either. :) While we drove to the next spot, he had about 20 minutes to fill us in on some of the local culture. We had a few questions we wanted answered also. Marcel was the one who filled us in on the cartels and crime situation. We had also witnessed an interesting sight while in Playa del Carmen, where a line of taxi drivers stood and received an injection of some sort. It was very odd, and we thought maybe methadone (these are the people DRIVING us around?!?!). But no, Marcel informed us they were shots for Malaria - he had a long Spanish name for it, and it's different types, and informed us that Malaria season was right around the corner. Interestingly enough, the mosquitoes that carry the disease are a huge public threat mostly in the cities-hence putting the cab drivers at greater risk, and the federal government provides the vaccinations. This seemed opposite of what you would think, until we learned that the BATS kept the mosquito population down in the jungle, where you hardly find any mosquitoes at all. Of course, Marcel had a story about his two terrible bouts with Malaria. It was fascinating.

He spoke of his many other adventures, which were plentiful for a man who seemed only in his late 20's/very early 30's. He is a very experienced diver, so he has had the opportunity to dive in many of the coastal areas in South America. He would later go on to tell us he'd dived the entire mapped portion of the cenotes...more on that later.

Mayan statues, protecting entrance to cenote
So, we finally turn into the property where we will be diving in the cenotes. We take a dusty, bumpy, skinny road about 20 minutes into the jungle. The road is poorly maintained and the trees and branches scrape the side of the van. Each rut and crevice in the road is enough to bring some exasperated ooh's and ah's out of the passengers in the back of the van. I was sitting directly behind the driver, with my seatbelt wrapped around my arm for support.

We come to an opening that reveals modest accommodations. There was a shelter that overlooked an above ground centote, a small building where our lunch would be prepared and served, and what a appeared to be a few private, shacks. We all piled out of the van, and awaited our instructions. Again, we were reminded not to pee, or wear anything but biodegradable sun lotions. The fresh water of the cenotes is also the only water source for the people who's land we were on, in addition to the fact that these particular cenotes were only two of an intricate system of underground rivers.

Jeff chillin' in hammocks by cenote View of above ground cenote

Marcel talked with great respect, when he explained that the land we were about to explore belonged to a real, live Mayan Family. I always learned that the Mayan population mysteriously disappeared centuries ago, but it appears they are alive and well, and 2 million strong in the low lying peninsula Yucatan. In fact, although it's a dwindling native language, today's Mayan's still speak in their own distinct Mayan dialect. Marcel spoke something in Mayan, that sounded somewhere between Spanish and Clingon.

We then re-adjusted our snorkel gear and hiked down a short path to the underground cenote. This was it! The moment I've waited for! The reason we came south of the border in the first place! I was in awe. As I walked down the path, I took it all in. I concentrated on taking deep, slow, intentional breaths - I was breathing in the souls and spirits of an ancient, brilliant society. I was walking on land that was sacred. The ancients respected and revered this spot, the entrance to the underworld - the unknown. I could only imagine the trepidation they must have felt as they walked this very soil.

The entrance was small (see below - view from inside cenote, looking out). I couldn't believe how cold the water was. Being one of the first to venture in, I felt the pressure to glide quickly into the water, rather than inch my way in like I would a cold swimming pool. It took my breath away, and I inched myself out into the water, aware that large daggers of limestone were both under and above me. I put my head into the water and looked around me. The water was so crisp and clear, that everything seemed enhanced and intensified, and the distances small. The water was cold enough to send my body from shivering to numb, and was actually quite refreshing after our humid day.

Jeff and I posing for camera!
There were spots where the stalagmites jutted up far enough to stand on (or at least try to in flippers), and other spots where you could feel the obvious currents move from the abysmal cavern openings below you. I'm not sure I've had many other opportunities in life to be so finitely aware and in tune with my present moment. I FELT TRULY CLEANSED.

After we all had a chance to explore a bit (there were about 10 of us), we headed to the area where we would be served a fresh-cooked meal from the family who owned the property.

Jeff waiting for his Mayan lunch

It was a very yummy meal. I was actually pretty familiar with the way they used shredded, grilled chicken, warmed tortillas, rice and fresh salsa. Having eaten some of my "cunado's" cooking on previous occasions, I felt confident that this was much closer to local cuisine than Taco Bell would ever be!

After we let our food settle, we hiked a small walk back to the above ground cenote that we passed as we had driven in earlier. This was a great way to end the trip. Some of the more daring opted to cliff dive or take the zip line in. I carefully took the ladder off the platform and did a little more snorkeling. The water was also very cold here, but warmer in spots where the sun shone, in beautiful rays of shimmering light. Jeff opted for the hammocks and observed.

Open Cenote <> Me swimming in open cenote...note how clear the water is by looking at my legs

Adventure van leaving
So, we returned back to our resort after that. There were a few other adventures we would have liked to explore this trip. One, would be the Mayan ruins and temples at Tulum. But, alas, too much tequila! No regrets, and now that we know what we will do the next time we go. Hell, it might be another 10 years from now, but I hope to see this beautiful place again. I hope you, too, can go someday.

Our last meal, was a fantastic fondue (back to try again after my last attempt ended with skurvy!). with lobster, shrimp, mussels, scallops, etc. dipped in a rich melted cheese. Desert was a chocolate fondue. It was a breezy night, and we took advantage of the extended dinner atmosphere.

It was a long walk back to our room, as our building was the last on the other end of the resort. It's always sad to think that this is your very last night on any vacation. We knew we had gotten the most bang for our buck here this week, and enjoyed ourselves and celebrated our marriage. How much more can you ask for? I guess, in the end, I must admit - this one was of the most extraordinary experiences of my life, and I loved that I got to share every minute of it with my best friend, husband and fellow drunk. Love ya Jefe!!

Now is the only time I will admit, I missed Gracie painfully. This awesome sign (see below) was so much fun to come home to! And, as we came to the door at my parent's house, my heart pounding out of my chest, I could barely contain my excitement. Hearing her voice, the sound of her heavy pitter-patter as she ran towards me, and her hands on my face was the perfect ending to our anniversary holiday. HASTA LA VISTA!