When the boys were in 4th grade and 9th grade our family went to La Paz, Mexico on a mission trip. We went with a group of people who all but one, we did not know. Years later, the boys continue to talk about the experience. It completely changed their perception of the world.
They learned what true poverty looks like.
They learned that what we take for granted, others see as luxuries that are out of their reach.
They learned that having very little creates a creativity on how to use the things you do have.
And, most importantly, they learned that helping others is one of the most gratifying things a person can do.
I think all families should experience a mission trip to another country. I’ve been asked, ‘why another country? There are enough people to help in the U.S.’ My response is that going to another country and immersing in another culture amplifies the experience to a greater level.
Fundraising was a part of our process. I was uncomfortable with this, however, being there because other people paid for you to be there added to the seriousness of the trip. There is conscious obligation to the ‘senders’ to fulfill their expectations.
Not all mission trips are religious. There are organizations that go without the Christianity angle. Either way, it is an experience that has changed the fabric of our family’s viewpoint for the better. Taking children opens their minds to influences they would not have had otherwise.
As a side note, I do know someone who went with Peace Corp and their mission was to empower women to work outside of the home. Before children I would have thought that a noble goal. However, now I see it as an afront on other country’s cultures. I think we should go in to embrace and better their circumstances, not try to change them for what our culture thinks is ‘right.’
Some people are born to gift. You know who I’m talking about. They buy multiple items, all perfectly suited to your taste. They thoughtfully place them in a beautiful bag with fancy ribbon. When they hand it to you, they’re flush with excitement at the anticipation of the reveal.
I am the antithesis of a gifter.
I am clumsy at selecting a present that will be exactly what the recipient wanted. I will read disappointment and perplexity in the expression of the receiver. I will feel a little bit embarrassed and lacking when the event is over. For this reason, I do not like holidays where gifts are anticipated. Too much stress and disappointment for me.
I am also not good at receiving gifts. I attempt to act excitedly when I open a present, but, secretly I’m plotting how I will return the item at the soonest possible opportunity. This makes me feel sneaky and unappreciative. My gift attitude has been revealed of late and now my family watches me more closely.
It seems to me that there are fewer and fewer talented gifters in our world today. An indicator is the absurd number of gift cards that are exchanged. How empty, it seems to me, that I give you a $25 gift card to Home Depot and you give me a $25 gift card to Macy’s. What is the point?
And lists. This also seems rather silly to me. Your child makes out his list of wants. As parents, we dutifully go out and obtain said items. We wrap them and give them to the child. Everyone is happy. Again, this seems a bit empty to me. I do the same with grocery shopping – just more frequently.
I don’t have an answer to this dilemma of mine. A gift-truce would never be accepted in my family. Alas, I will continue on this path until such time as a realistic solution presents itself.
I deserve it, he deserves it, she deserves it. It’s become a growing catch phrase in our culture. I didn’t realize it until I was watching advertisements and it dawned on me that many of the commercials played to our entitlement mentality. Advertisers don’t just pull phrases out of the air. There is nearly always a reason for the words they chose. There’s too little space or time to waste a single word. Once the word ‘deserve’ made it to my consciousness, I began seeing and hearing it used all over the place.
Do we all deserve everything? I remember my boys being in preschool. Each day a child (or more accurately the child’s parents) would be assigned to bring the snacks for the class. Sometimes the snacks weren’t well received by the students. The staff had a saying they effectively used in such circumstances, ‘You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.’ They would make the entire class say it. And it worked, the children seldom complained and had the choice between not eating anything or eating the food placed in front of them. No teacher was running around looking for something that little Johnny would eat. Johnny just went hungry.
I think we’ve become too concerned about feelings and expectations. Perhaps a little toughening up is in order. Trying to accommodate everyone leads us down a road where self-centeredness prevails. There is evidence of this with the popular phrase, ‘Sorry, not sorry.’ From the moment I heard that phrase I thought it was snarky and unbecoming of the person using it.
I think we were better as a society when we had manners and were generally polite to each other. We were also at our best when we learned when to just be graceful when we didn’t like something minor, such as the food placed in front of us. Or, when we learned how to try and change our own circumstances when there was something major we were unhappy with. Placing the expectations into the hands of others to help ourselves leaves us helpless and perhaps hopeless at some point.
I just saw a billboard the other day that said, ‘Every pet deserves a vet.’ I thought it should say ‘Don’t get a pet if you can’t afford a vet.’ We place ourselves in positions and then expect others to get us out of the situation. It’s almost as if we’re regressing to children rather than progressing to maturity.
The definition of ‘deserve’ is to “do something or have or show qualities worthy of.” If most of us actually got what we deserved, we would most likely be getting much less than we have now.
October 1-11, 2019
Our plane out of Fresno left at 1:00 am. We planned on sleeping on the plane but had difficulty. Our second leg was from Dallas. We only had 30 minutes to get from our gate to the next, but we easily made it.
We ended up sitting in the Dallas plane for 3 ½ hours before we finally took off. There was an air conditioning problem. They had no meals and so by the time we got to Cancun we had not eaten in about 18 hours. Once we were past customs, we were bombarded with natives trying to give us a ride. The air was humid, and it made my jeans stick to my skin. Our driver was at the very end of the outside parking lot so we had to walk past all of the cat-calling before reaching him. The drive to Playa was an hour but our driver dropped two loads of passengers off first, making the ride even longer. It was interesting seeing big beautiful hotel complexes with large gates and guards at the entrances sprinkled along side jungle, junk yards and dilapidated structures where people were still living. The driver took us down a side street. He said the government had abandoned a section of a small town and gave its citizens the parcels. He wanted us to see his parcel, which had a two-story structure on it that apparently was unsafe, but occupied.
I noticed signs along the way that indicated to beware of wild jaguars crossing the roads. The Maya people considered them to be deities and their statues can be found at many of the ancient ruins. Today, they still roam around this area wild in the jungle, however we were assured that they are nocturnal and avoid humans.
At last, we were dropped off at our hotel, Panama Jack’s All-Inclusive Resort. We upgraded to a room with a balcony view of the ocean. It was stiflingly muggy, but we wanted to take in the view so we went onto the balcony, closing the sliding glass door behind us. It somehow locked itself from the inside. Our phones were inside the room and there was no one above, below or beside us. We simply shook the door until it somehow unlocked itself. We never completely closed the door again while being on the balcony.
All inclusive meant that we could eat and drink unlimitedly while on the property. They placed vinyl bracelets around our wrists so that the wait-staff would know. There were several restaurants to chose from and we would end up trying all of them. There was a poolside sushi bar, Brazilian steak house, Mexican restaurant, an Italian restaurant and a buffet that would have varying culinary themes throughout our stay.
There was nightly entertainment, first outside by the pool, followed by live music in the lobby. During the day there were always activities including bingo, beach volleyball, dance lessons, drinking games, etc. The funniest was when they filled the pool with foam shot from a cannon. Swimmers were given long balloons that they would bat around to the beat of the loud, fast Mexican music that played.
The sister hotel across the plaza was a Hilton hotel. They housed a company called Real Club. We agreed to a 90-minute presentation in exchange for a free breakfast (more upscale than we had at Panama Jack’s) and a couples’ massage. It was extremely high pressure and very shady. I enjoyed the experience because they applied sales techniques that I had been taught and I was viewing the entire scenario analytically versus emotionally. My husband hated it. I must say I’m shocked that Hilton allowed this to happen on one of their properties. A lifetime of branding was greatly diminished in one morning as far as I was concerned.
Walking along the beach was interesting. Each hotel had guards so that you couldn’t access their property if you didn’t have the correct bracelet on your wrist. While the frontage directly in front of the water is accessible to everyone, only guests of the hotels are allowed closer to the properties. The water itself isn’t ideal for wading or swimming. There are a lot of rocks and there is a seaweed problem. Locals are paid to rake the seaweed into wheelbarrows all day long. They are all along this stretch of beach.
There are fishermen that come in with boatloads of fish. The crew pulls a net out near shore with hundreds of fish. The men take the fish out of the nets by hand and place in the boat. Men in the boat place the fish in containers similar to milk crates. Men on the other side of the boat carry the containers to shore. The containers are so heavy they can only carry one at a time. The fish weren’t moving so I’m assuming they were already dead. One of the men said they were ‘bone’ fish, not good for eating. He didn’t know what they would be used for.
You can get a massage on the beach. There are open air tents with rows of massage tables. Their prices were far lower than that of the hotel spas. It was nice to lay there having your muscles kneaded while listening to the alluring sound of the waves and birds. We only did this on the last day. I wish we would have done it more often.
Women and children walk up and down the beach selling trinkets to the tourists. Some of the items are junk, while other things are very nice quality and hand made. We purchased souvenirs from a young boy on the last day. We should have negotiated the price but felt bad doing so. Which is precisely his parent’s strategy, I’m sure.
There were men who would carry musical instruments and/or a microphone with an amplifier and sing along the beach, in the streets, in front of restaurants, etc. They’re not allowed in the hotels so they stand right outside, hoping for donations. Some of them have their wives and children walk around with a hat out for money while the men are singing.
We debated bringing pesos instead of dollars but decided on dollars. We could always exchange via an ATM if need be. The only time we needed pesos was when we wanted to use the hotel’s computer and printer to get our boarding passes. We had to exchange a one-dollar bill for Mexican change. We were told to bring a lot of $1 bills for tipping which turned out to be a great strategy. The people we tipped seemed happy with just a $1 USD.
The iconic structure of Chichen Itza did not disappoint. It’s called Ed Castillo, or, Temple of Kukulcan, and is the centerpiece of this Maya city. I’d been wanting to see it for decades. We were picked up a few blocks from our resort at 4 am. It takes hours to get there and it’s located in the jungle. The heat is stifling so going earlier makes it more comfortable and less crowded. The reviews talked about renting an umbrella, which we did for $4 USD. We were glad we had it. The sun is piercing. We had two hours with our guide who was supposed to be an archaeologist, but we’re pretty sure he was not. You do get more out of the experience with a guide. Then, one hour on your own to wander about the ancient village.
The architecture is amazing. They constructed the buildings around the seasons so that there were visual ques on or surrounding the structures at key agricultural times during the year. The most notable is at the spring equinox when the light catches the Temple of Kukulkan in a way that appears to be a lighted snake with its mouth open at the base, also known as the Serpent Effect.
The entire experience is diminished by the excessive amount of maniacal, rabid vendors who line the many paths with tables of trinkets. They will stop at nothing to get your attention making it impossible to even hold a conversation with your companions. It’s a shame that they’ve let this happen to such a fascinating place.
These ruins are from the smallest Mayan city but also the richest. In ancient times, it was the only city by the ocean. Only 500 elites lived inside the wall surrounding the city. Everyone else lived outside of the wall. Much commerce passed through this port, salt being the most valued which was used to preserve food.
The heavy rain today impaired us a bit. The mosquitoes were relentless despite the doses of repellent we lathered on our skin. We had a guide, which I would suggest to anyone touring this amazing city. Otherwise, you don’t really know the history behind what you’re seeing.
Cenotes are natural swimming holes formed by the collapse of porous limestone bedrock, which reveals a secret subterranean world of groundwater pools. The Mayans revered cenotes because they were a source of water in dry times. The name cenote translates to 'sacred well.' There are thousands of them in the Yucatan.
We visited three cenotes. Each was completely unique. Prior to entering any of them, you must rinse off your skin. The bug spray, sunscreen, hair spray, etc. harms the natural inhabitants of the holes.
The first was called Cenote Verde Lucera, which translates into ‘Green Star.’ You can zip-line into the water which was great fun. You can also dive or jump into the water from above. Spider monkeys were all around travelling through the trees and seemingly showing off. Our group consisted of eight people. Our guide said in the peak months their group size swells to 26. Worth it to visit here in the off-peak seasons.
Another was Cenote Xibalba, or, ‘The Hell’ which you just walk through on a plank. The water is in this one is shallow. The Mayans believed that these cenotes were the passageway to hell. Hell, to them, was simply another place, it did not have the connotation that most other cultures have. Trees grow down into the cenote to reach the clear water. There are bats living inside and when you shine a light they cover their eyes with their little wings.
And finally, Cenote Caracol, or, ‘Shell.’ In this one, we could swim. It was a cave with stalagmites, stalactites, and trees growing down from the earth above. We wore life-jackets and swam in a group through the cave. At times it was very tight quarters where you have to float on your back, your nose not even an inch away from the stalactites. You can’t touch the stalactites because they will stop growing. I’m actually surprised that they allow this. Cenotes Xibalba and Caracol both had lights placed around, otherwise you wouldn’t have been able to see.
In this part of Mexico, there are many, many things to do. There is zip-lining, ATV rides, cultural parks, and snorkeling to name a few. Since we could do and have done all of these activities in other parts of the world, we decided to focus on activities that can’t be experienced elsewhere. I am surprised how interesting it was to learn about the Mayan people. I’m not a history buff and only tolerate museums. But the Mayan civilization captured my attention. It’s too bad that we only know parts of their history, the rest is only conjecture. Their architecture alone seems to go beyond the capabilities of an ancient culture. Everything else that we can surmise just adds to the intrigue.
For our remaining time, we relaxed at our resort, primarily enjoying the beach, music and getting to know other travelers from all over the world. It was like a mini United Nations, except we were all happy.
When I was young, I watched the Flintstones on television. One particular episode has stuck with me my entire life. In the episode, Fred, Wilma, Barney and Betty travel to the future. They’re hungry and decide to have dinner. Fred orders a steak, Barney corn beef and cabbage, the ladies order lamb chops. Within seconds, their meals are served with silver lid covers over the plates. They are shocked to discover that on each of their plates is only a small pea shaped object. The next scene shows them leaving the restaurant commenting on how delicious the meal was and how full their tummies are. From the moment I saw this, I’ve thought how wonderful it would be if we could just take a pill instead of all that goes into our consumption of food.
Think about how much extra time and money we would have. There would be more living space in our homes. No grocery shopping. The diet industry would go belly up (pun intended). Unless of course, you took too many pills; that would make you an over-taker instead of an over-eater, I suppose. No worries about ailments that require modified diets. No planning a day around meals. Surely someone out there can come up with such a solution. When you do, let me know. Yabba dabba doo!
In elementary school. I left campus each lunch period to go to the corner convenience store. The principal figured this out and called my parents. They asked him to follow me to see where I was going. He followed me the following day and watched where and what I did. He called them back and reported that I was going to the store and purchasing a jar of pickles with my lunch money and eating them on my way back to school. My parents treated this as a very big deal. They bought me lunch tickets and I was selling them to other students at a discount in order to obtain cash for my pickles. They grounded me for the rest of my life and made me write daily reports on the dangers of leaving campus at lunch. On the last night of my report-writing punishment I had run out of dangers and spent the evening writing about how dangerous wild dog bites could be.
I’ve always had a weakness for dill pickles. It’s that thing that once I start, I can’t stop. I am reminded of this today, decades later. I was at Winco and saw a jar of baby dills. I stopped in my tracks, staring at them as if they were talking to me. I bought two of the big jars. When I came home, I sat down and couldn’t get them out of my head. It’s been three hours and the jar is about empty. I am Jolene and I am a pickle-holic. Thankfully, my children don’t read my blogs.
I’m at that age where I’m increasingly having to care for my parents while still tending to my children. As I’m talking to a case manager at an assisted living facility she said that I’m what’s called an Oreo. This is a specific stage in life and I have many thoughts about it:
My father continues to offer to pay me to manage his schedule and finances. I remind him that he never charged me to do these things when I was little. He thinks that’s funny.
In the last month, I’ve been to five medical facilities to visit four relatives.
In the last two months, I’ve been to five doctor’s offices for one relative.
Nearly every day since May, I have had to navigate complicated school systems for two boys.
At college orientation, we were told by faculty and students to let our kids figure it out on their own and that it’s ok for them to fail. Yeet.
I wonder if my kids will have to one day manage my schedule and finances. Since I have boys, I wonder if I do need help, will they help me or their wives. I better be nice to both.
The minute I’m caught up, another situation requiring my attention pops up. It seems never ending. It also seems like resolution is seldom simple. This is a challenge for someone who is wired for speed.
While this may be the biggest juggling act of my life so far, I kind of like the newness of the experience and the challenge of doing good work in all arenas. Cheers!
I am incredibly excited to announce that I have been recognized as a Book Excellence Award Winner for my book, Seven Bridges in the Young Adult Category.
Out of hundreds of books that were entered into the Book Excellence Awards competition, my book was selected for its high-quality writing, design and overall market appeal.
To view my complete award listing, you can visit their website.
Seven Bridges was released in 2016 and is about a being who journeys through seven lives in order to become enlightened.
Seven Bridges is perfect for young adults and the young at heart. It plays with perceptions and relationships in a unique and creative way.
You can get a copy for yourself on Amazon.
My youngest child uses the pass-through counter from the kitchen to the living room as his own personal study area. I’ve been battling him for years to take everything back to his room when he’s finished. Seldom does he heed my threats. It drives me crazy. A couple of weeks ago, I was walking past the area and grumbling about the clutter. I realized he’ll be moving away for college and I will be clutter-free. No sooner did I think it then sadness overcame me. He won’t be here to make messes. As a result of this epiphany, I haven’t complained since. In fact, I told him about my realization and said that he can keep his clutter there if he wants. And that is when I began creating a list of lasts and a list of firsts.
There will no longer be a need for a morning shower schedule
There will be an empty space in the garage
I won’t have to call the school when he’s sick or late (won’t miss that one…)
I’ll no longer have an errand boy
It’s quite possible that we’ve had our last 4th of July street fireworks celebration as a family
He’ll be living away from his family
He’ll have to shop and prepare food himself (that should be interesting)
He’ll have to do his own laundry (probably won’t – sorry roommates)
I’ll have no idea what his grades are at any given time
He’ll have to find his first job
I keep thinking of more lasts and firsts. This experience has caught me by surprise. Your kids are with you from birth until they move out. That’s a big hole to fill. I’m looking forward to watching him grow and mature. I’m also wondering about all of the adjustments we’ll make on this end without seeing him every day. An interesting point in life.
In high school I participated on the track team. Because I was a sprinter, I worked out with the boys team to push my time down. One day as I was walking to the track, passing the boys locker room one of them spotted me and began singing the song ‘Jolene’ by Dolly Parton. The others joined in and their voices resonated off the walls and drifted throughout the area. This is my first recollection of the song and how it related to me. At that time, I had no idea that in nearly every week of my life going forward, someone would ask me about that song.
They ask questions such as:
Have you heard of that song ‘Jolene?’ ‘Yes, yes I have,’ said with a smile.’
Does anyone ever ask you about that song ‘Jolene?’ ‘Yes, all the time.’
Were you named after that song? ‘I was born way before the song came out…’
Do you hate that song? ‘No, not at all.’
I’ll bet you get tired of hearing that song. ‘I really don’t think about it one way or the other.’
Did you take her man? ‘No, I have my own.’
Sometimes, they’ll just break out into singing it to me. It’s such a part of my life, I’m just used to it. I really didn’t analyze my thoughts on this matter until I was on the phone with a customer service representative named ‘Brandy.’ She asked about the song and I gave my usual answer of ‘Yes, I’m always asked about the song,’ and ‘No, I don’t mind at all.’ Then she said she could relate because her name is ‘Brandy.’ I said, “Oh! By Looking Glass. I love that song! In fact, one of the main characters in three books that I’ve written is named Brandy after the girl in that song.” She replied, that her parents had named her that because her dad was a sea captain. I said, “Funny, I named the character Brandy because she was married to a sea captain!” We both laughed at how a song had integrated its way into our lives. With that exchange, I stepped back and began consciously listening to what people would say to me about the song.
As a joke, I downloaded ‘Jolene’ as a ringtone. After the novelty wore off, I changed my ringtone. However, for some unexplained reason, the Bluetooth in my car would begin playing the song every time I started the vehicle. Even my millennial boys couldn’t figure out how to make it stop. Funnier still, I was working in Washington and driving a rental car. Somehow, the Bluetooth in the rental car began playing the song and I couldn’t get it to stop. It would be easy to just turn it off, but I needed the GPS system to help me navigate the several hours that I was driving. If I turned it off, the GPS would stop. So, for several hours I had to hear the song in its entirety over and over and over.
While at a doctor’s office, the receptionist called ‘Jolene’ to which two of us got up and walked over. It turned out we had the same name. This had never happened to either of us before. The first question I asked was, “What is your middle name?’ Her first question to me was, ‘How do you spelled it?’ During our time together, we would look at each other and smile, almost like some kind of sisterhood had instantly developed. There aren’t very many of us out there apparently.
The obvious benefit to this notoriety is that people seldom forget my name. I guess you could call it a great marketing tool. So for that, I thank you Dolly!
Thoughts that are alien to any of my other projects can be found here.