Sunday, December 04, 2011

Thanksgiving in the Islands

Thanksgiving dinner at Molly Molone's: Steve, Mom, Marty, Craig, Steph

We upheld our tradition of spending Thanksgiving in St. Thomas with our pal Marty. This year, Craig, Steve, and I were joined by Craig and Steve’s Mom. We shared a two bedroom beach front suite at Secret Harbour (the same room that we had when our friend Beth joined us back in 2002  , but its kitchen and bathrooms have been upgraded since then). For the past couple of years, we have gone to Toad and Tart for a full Thanksgiving dinner, but Anna closed up shop since last year and we were left looking for a new place to eat turkey. Marty suggested dock-side Molly Molone’s in Red Hook, which had an incredible deal: all you can eat turkey dinner with all the fixin’s (including unlimited wine) for $22. This is a bargain by island standards.  We ate as much as we could while enjoying football on their big screen TV’s.

The next day was our traditional Cap’n Marty’s Island Hop. We had an inauspicious start to the day as we headed out to our rental Ford Focus to find that it had a flat tire (to go along with its lack of shocks). Steve called Marty and managed to catch him just as he was getting onto his motorcycle to come and meet us. He was able to switch to his car and came to the rescue. We would deal with the flat tire tomorrow.

When we arrived at the marina, Marty and I went to fill out the boat paperwork, and the others went to Marina Market to buy provisions. As usual, we rented the boat from Mattheus at See & Ski.  With Cap'n Marty at the helm and Steve (a.k.a. "Milky") as first mate, we set off from Red Hook towards St. John.

Cap'n Marty's Island Hop: Milky, Mom, Cap'n Marty, Craig
Cap'n Marty and Mom on the boat
Craig swimming at Peter Bay, St. John   

Swimming at Sandy Caye
Sandy Caye

Craig at Foxy's, Jost Van Dyke
Steph at Foxy's
We anchored off of Peter Bay in St. John and Craig, Milky, and I went for a swim in the turquoise water. We enjoyed watching pelicans and another sea bird whom we dubbed Jonathan. We aren't sure what kind of bird he was, but he had distinctive turquoise coloring on the underside of his belly and wings. The pelicans plunged straight into the water, whereas Jonathan glided along the water, just barely preventing his wingtips from breaking the surface. The weather was partly cloudy, which meant we didn't get sunburned. We could see rain clouds in the distance, dumping rain on the coasts of other islands. Hopefully we would avoid it during the rest of our travels today. We climbed back on the boat and dug our wonderful Marina Market sandwiches out of the cooler. Craig and I had our usual: the turkey with cranberry sauce, cream cheese, and dijon mustard. It was delicious. We had already worked up an appetite this early in the morning..
After that, we  docked at Tortola to clear customs for the British Virgin Islands. Mom got her first stamp in her passport here – how exciting!! We anchored off Sandy Cay, a gorgeous strip of white sand. We all got into the water here for a swim, even Cap'n "It's too cold to swim in November?" Marty. Once Marty and Mom got back onto the boat, a rain cloud caught up with us. We continued swimming while raindrops pelted us. Marty told us that we better get out of the water or we were going to get wet.

Once we were back aboard the boat, Milky played the role of relief captain for a while as we cruised through open ocean. Normally we would head over to Norman Island to the Willy T for cocktails, but we just couldn’t bring ourselves to go knowing that our favorite bartender Zeus is no longer there. It just wouldn’t be the same. So we changed up the itinerary and went to Foxy’s on Jost Van Dyke – someplace we haven’t visited in several years. 
At Foxy's, we sat at a table in the sand near the bar and the stage where Foxy the proprietor sometimes plays his trademark island calypso guitar. We drank painkillers and ordered some lunch. I got conch fritters. They were fresh, hot, and delicious in a tahini sauce. Craig and Steve got  a delicious chicken roti and curry. We caught sight of Foxy with Massachusetts Senator and one time Presidential hopeful John Kerry. Mom shook Kerry's hand and he smilingly acknowledged her Patriots T-shirt. We ordered a second round of drinks. We browsed around in the shop and Mom bought a pair of sandals.

The boat was anchored in waist-high water, so we walked through the water and climbed aboard via the ladder.  We had hoped to stop at the Soggy Dollar Bar for some more drinks, but it was packed with people and Marty didn’t feel comfortable anchoring the boat so close to other boats. So we skipped it and headed back toward St. Thomas instead, via Pillsbury Sound. We saw a rainbow over one of the ships we passed.

Sunset at Secret Harbour

Dinner at Sunset Grille: Steve, Marty, Mom, Craig, Steph

For once we weren't racing the clock to get back to the marina by 5 p.m. We pulled in at 4:40 today. That meant that we were able to get back to Secret Harbour in time for a fantastic sunset. For dinner, we went to the newly opened Sunset Grille at Secret Harbour. It was previously the Blue Moon, and we had always enjoyed eating there. They renovated the restaurant when it changed hands. We sat at a table right next to the ocean. For an appetizer, we shared the ahi nachos. These were mango salsa, wasabi sour cream, seaweed salad, pickled ginger,  and tuna piled delicately on wanton chips. I absolutely melts in your mouth! Craig and I got the jerk chicken, which was served with coconut bread pudding and rum apple raisin slaw. The food was all top-notch. We washed it all down with frosty painkillers. After a busy day, we went to bed early.

As luck would have it, our visit coincided  with a big party thrown by Marty’s motorcycle club, the Carib Riders Motorcycle Club. It was a weekend-long party at Magen’s Bay to celebrate the 69th birthday of CMRC member Skeeter. This sounded like fun to us, so we accepted Marty’s invitation. 

On Saturday, Craig cooked us a breakfast of "Craig McMuffins" in our little kitchenette. We enjoyed eating with a view of the ocean from our room. After Craig changed our flat tire, we headed over to Magen's Bay mid-afternoon. We were introduced to birthday boy Skeeter, his lovely wife Donna, and his daughter (who coincidentally lives about 2 or 3 miles from our house – what a small world!), and we were happy to see Biker John and his wife Nancy (whom we had previously met when we ate at their former Mexican restaurant  Charlotte Tamales). Folks were camping in a wooded grove right next to the beach. There was a small pavilion where local band Untold Trouble played three live sets of classic rock, and there was a buffet full of all kinds of good down-home food (macaroni and cheese, pulled pork, pasta salad, a full turkey, etc. This was no ordinary cookout.) We enjoyed the live music; the band really rocked. And the food was delicious. The guys drank beer and Mom and I drank rum and Pepsi and vodka lemonade. Everyone was so incredibly friendly and welcoming to us. We are glad that Marty has such good friends nearby. They really stressed the fact that since all of their families live on the mainland U.S., they act as surrogate family for one another on the island.

Untold Trouble plays at Skeeter's 69th birthday party
Craig and Steph at Skeeter's birthday party
Campsite, Skeeter's birthday party
Mom's walks down Magen's Bay beach during Skeeter's birthday party

Skeeter, Biker John, and Nancy watching Untold Trouble

Untold Trouble with special guest
Acoustic set
Mom and Donna (Mrs. Skeeter)

There were several other gatherings taking place on the beach that day. One was a group of VW bug enthusiasts who had their customized bugs on display. These same guys and vehicles had been here last year when we visited as well. We wandered through and admired their vehicles. The electricity at the beach shuts off at 6 pm, so that’s when the band stopped playing. They did a little bit of acoustic music before everyone headed back to the camping area. They had a campfire and everyone dug into a delicious glazed spiral ham prepared by Biker John. Marty crashed in his little one-man tent, and we said our goodnights and headed back to the hotel.

Sunday was a day of relaxation. We didn’t leave the Secret Harbour grounds.  After a leisurely morning enjoying cereal and coffee in the room, we staked out beach chairs in the shade of some palm trees and went for a swim. The water was cooler than usual, and the sky was overcast for most of the day, which made it even chillier. We saw yellow and black striped fish as well as some translucent fish that looked sort of like angel fish.  The latter kept bumping into me underwater, startling me in an amusing way. Suddenly it wasn’t so amusing when they started to bite at our legs. I have been nipped by fish before when snorkeling, especially when trying to feed them. But those nibbles were nothing compared to what these guys were doing. They had sharp teeth and it really hurt. If we stood still they continued biting us. So we started to tread water and flail a bit to keep them at a distance. 
These guys bite!
Steve wandered down the beach to get us some bushwhackers and blackened bleu cheese burgers – delicious!  We spent the afternoon on the beach, taking another swim before heading inside at 5 o’clock to watch the Patriots/Philly game on TV. We ordered pizza in-room from Señor Pizza and watched the Pats win. Of course, they were so far ahead that at 8 pm the coverage changed to another game.

Craig and Steph at Secret Harbour Beach

Monday we went to Havensight so that Mom could do some shopping. We stopped in to see Marty who was working at Sean’s store, The Pirate’s Chest. It is now located at the Port of Sale mall as opposed to its previous location up on Paradise Point. The store is really nice, and who did we run into but Skeeter, Donna, and Skeeter’s daughter. After chatting with Marty and buying a few items, we walked around and went to a few other stores. Then we drove over to Udder Delite for their famous milkshakes. I got the Jamocho (chocolate ice cream, coffee ice cream, and Kahlua) and Craig got the Udder Delite (almond crunch ice cream with amaretto). They were deliciously refreshing after our morning of shopping.

Then we went back to Secret Harbour. We enjoyed the sunset, though it wasn't as dramatic as Friday night's.We had hoped Marty would join us for dinner on our last night, as we were planning to go to one of his favorite restaurants, Petra’s Schnitzel Haus. However, he was still recovering from the weekend, so just the four of us went. We started out with an appetizer of snails in garlic and butter. They were just as we remembered: delicious. Mom had never had them before and she was pleasantly surprised. She and I had rum punch while the guys had beer. We all got schnitzel (Craig, Mom, and I got pepper schnitzel with onions, peppers, and cayenne pepper, whereas Steve got the Jaeger schnitzel) served with bratkartoffeln (potatoes similar to home fries) and red cabbage. It was obvious that Mom thoroughly enjoyed her first exposure to schnitzel as she cleaned her plate. We had hoped to get some of Petra’s fantastic home-made strudel for dessert, but she had been away for the holiday weekend and hadn’t had time to prepare any. So we headed back to the hotel and got dessert and drinks at the Sunset Grille.
Marty at the Pirate's Chest

Craig and Steph at Secret Harbour Beach

Sunset at Secret Harbour
Dinner at the Schnitzel Haus: Steve, Steph, Craig, and Mom

On Tuesday we woke up early, got everything packed, and checked out of the hotel at 11 o'clock. We had some leftover food we hadn’t consumed, so we stopped into Sean’s store to give the leftovers to Marty. We got a chance to speak to Sean on the phone, and we said our goodbyes to Marty. We then stopped at the Delly Deck for lunch. Their special of the day was meat loaf and mashed potatoes. Craig and I both ordered it and it was absolutely delicious!

When we rerturned the rental car, they gave us a credit of $25 for the inconvenience of the flat tire. That was an unexpected surprise! Our flights home were on time and we arrived in Boston shortly after 10 p.m.

Secret Harbour
Secret Harbour

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Rick Wakeman and Jon Anderson in Worcester 11/8/2011

Rick Wakeman and Jon Anderson played several shows in New England in support of their recent album The Living Tree. They didn’t play in Boston, so we had the choice of seeing them in Concord, NH or Worcester. Both shows were on weeknights, but we chose Worcester as we were able to get front row center mezzanine tickets.

The show was at the Hanover Theatre, a new venue for us. It is around 100 years old and has alternately housed playhouses and movie theaters. It recently underwent a major renovation and is now a beautiful concert hall. Everything was freshly painted and there were dazzling crystal chandeliers. The seats were exceedingly plush and roomy and we had a perfect view of the stage, which was set up with dozens of electric candles, several keyboards, and several guitars.

Shortly after 7:30, the strains of Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra (the theme music from 2001: A Space Odyssey) blared forth on a trumpet. The final notes were comically out of tune, and kept getting worse as it repeated. It was very Monty Python-esque, and as it concluded, Rick and Jon walked out onstage to thunderous applause.

We have seen both of them play live before as part of Yes, and also in their respective one-man-shows.  A lot of people in the US don’t seem to realize what a wonderful comedian Rick is. He has developed a second career as a TV presenter in the UK due to his wonderful sense of humor.  He never gets a chance to speak to the audience during Yes shows, and he hasn’t done a lot of solo touring here in the US, so this was a pleasant surprise for a lot of folks in the audience who had perhaps expected Jon to do most of the talking. In fact, their repartee was quite amusing. Jon would try to introduce a song and Rick would always interrupt him with slightly off-color comments and jokes. Jon played the straight man but often dissolved into laughter at Rick's jokes.

They played stripped-down versions of Yes favorites, as well as 7 selections from their new Living Tree album. The theater had wonderful acoustics, though when the audience got laughing it was difficult to hear the onstage banter. We had avoided looking at set lists from prior concerts because we wanted to be surprised by the material. 

Many of the Yes songs were ones that Jon had performed earlier this year as part of his one-man-show, which we saw in Somerville and Londonderry. The versions were similar but with the addition of Rick's lovely keyboard work. Starship Trooper had a lovely classical piano flair to it. Sweet Dreams was jaunty with Jon on rhythm guitar. Time and a Word was given a reggae treatment. And You and I got its rightful Rick keyboard solos.

A pleasant surprise was a stripped-down version of Yes’ cover of Paul Simon’s America (Jon’s wife Jane had suggested that they play it in celebration of Jon becoming an American citizen two years ago). It was much more of the Paul Simon version of the song as opposed to the traditional Yes interpretation.

The two made fun of their ages (they have been playing together for over 40 years) and Jon had a music stand next to him with lyrics from the new album. Though he knows the classic Yes lyrics cold, he said he is having a hard time committing the new lyrics to memory. Jon called this the "recital" portion of the show. The new songs worked quite well interspersed with the classics.
For artists that have such a vast repertoire of material, if you don't see new songs during the time that they are touring the album, you may never get to see them live. It was great to have such an intimate venue to soak up the nuances of the new songs.

After about an hour, they announced a “prostate break” and after a short intermission, they returned for their second set, which began with the familiar piano intro to South Side of the Sky. Wow, what a treat! It was a lovely version of this powerful song. Rick's keyboard evoked a music box during the spellbinding Wondrous Stories. Jon introduced 23/24/11 by saying that its title refers to a soldier in Afghanistan counting the days until he is able to return home. It is a similar sentiment to Tom Wait's Day After Tomorrow.

They started the "community singing" portion of the show with Your Move. Jon introduced it by saying "You know the words. Sing it like you know what they mean." Everyone sang along enthusiastically, perhaps too enthusiastically as we all skipped to a later part of the song too early. Jon had a laughing fit and then resumed the song, which segued into All Good People. Jon introduced the new House of Freedom by saying that young people today won't stand for corruption. It seemed apropos of the current Occupy movement. 

Jon had been Tweeting that he was so happy to be able to play Awaken on this tour. He and Rick told the story about how they originally recorded it in Montreux. The rest of the band was in the studio, but Jon and Rick went to a church so that Rick could play his part on the pipe organ while Jon sang and played harp. They actually recorded the final version of the song over a phone line from two different locations way back in 1977! Who knew? Tonight's version was excellent, with the keyboards channeling a pipe organ and Jon's voice was particularly bright and clear.

For encores, they did Roundabout during which Jon fully let it fly and let his voice get raunchy. Jon's voice returned to clarity during Soon, in which he hit some amazing notes. They finished off the night with the always enchanting The Meeting. During the piano intro, someone took it upon themselves to yell thanks to Rick and Jon for making Worcester a stop on this tour. While I agree with the sentiment, just because Jon hasn't started singing yet doesn't mean that people weren't enjoying the lovely piano melody. And of course one down side of allowing drinks in the theater is that during a very quiet and touching part of the song, a bottle hit the floor and rolled down toward the stage, making a terrible racket. Despite the distractions, hearing Jon and Rick perform this song together was just magical, as it had been six years ago when we saw them perform it together in Canada.

The crowd was very respectful and attentive during the new songs throughout the course of the night.
The new songs worked well live. John and Rick were relaxed and confident onstage. We've been lucky enough to see them many times over the years in many different configurations. Seeing them re-interpret their work in such an intimate and casual atmosphere was quite enjoyable. At age 67, Jon is sounding as good as ever, arguably even better than with Yes. And Rick's personality really shines in this format. His playing was intricate and effortless. Rumor has it that they will be releasing a live album from the European leg of the tour. We are looking forward to it.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Rest in Peace, Brownie-Girl!

Our loving and lovable cat Brownie passed away overnight.  She was my first pet. She showed up as a stray at my parents' house in 1995. She hung around the neighborhood, and would keep my mom company when she went outside for a cigarrette. She was extremely friendly and immediately won over my mom (who is admittedly not much of a pet person). If you reached down to pet her, she would rise up onto her hind legs and thrust her head up toward your hand. We dubbed this her "cute thing" and it endeared her to everyone she met. She returned day after day, even in the spring snow. She was thin and hungry and obviously homeless.

Craig had purchased our home in 1993. He was in the process of renovating it, and wasn't living there full time yet. Craig and I had known each other less than a year when Brownie appeared.  He had owned cats for all of his life at his parents' house, and intended to get some of his own for the new house. He was immediately interested in her, and told us that he would definitely take her in. So my mom started to feed her and a couple days later Craig came out to get her and drove her the hour from my folks' house to here. She cried the whole way (she never liked car rides), but was immediately comfortable when she arrived at the house.

Our ex-sister-in-law came up with the name, commenting that her fur coloring looked like a multi-layered brownie. The name stuck. Craig took her to the vet, who estimated that she was probably about a year old at that time. We never knew what had happened to her to cause her to be a stray. She had an acute fear of plastic bags and human feet. We wonder if she was ever put into a bag or kicked before or during her abandonment. The fears lasted a long time, but she did eventually got used to both household plastic bags and feet. She never got used to the sound of the vacuum, though.When Craig and his dad were doing construction on the house, she would keep them company, making herself comfortable anywhere in the house, including the kitchen cabinets.

Brownie moves in to the unfinished kitchen cabinets
She liked the yard and the woods and would spend a lot of time outside. We would whistle to her at bedtime and she would come in for the night.  Not too long after she took up residence, she disappeared for a few days. Craig and I made flyers and he posted them around the neighborhood.  He actually came across her in a yard in the next neighborhood up from ours. The person said that she has been around for several days. We assume that she had gotten lost and wound up in a parallel neighborhood.

Brownie napping in the bay window
In 1996, we brought home a new black half-Siamese kitten. Brownie had been relatively playful and youthful at first, but once Blackie came into the house,  she immediately turned more maternal. Blackie's type A personality kind of overwhelmed Brownie's more laid-back nature. Blackie was able to lay claim to certain areas of our house that Brownie would no longer enter.

We officially moved into the house in 1998, by which time the cats had lived there for several years. We wondered what went through their minds when all of a sudden, we were in the house around the clock too.
We never fed them human food because we didn't want to get them in the habit of begging. And they didn't beg. But Brownie was always aware of what we were eating, especially when it involved tuna fish. There were several times where we found her sitting on the countertop licking the electric can opener after we had used it to open a tuna can. Our friend Gary dubbed that behavior as "kitty mischief." It always resulted in some serious cleaning of the can opener. Another time she climbed right into an empty SmartFood bag and licked the cheese off of the bag's inner surface. And she loved SeasonAll. If we spilled some on to the deck while grilling chicken, she would go into a drooling trance, trying to rub the stuff all over her body.

Brownie attempts to stow away in our luggage
Brownie always seemed to know when we were getting ready to go on a trip. She would become extra loving and clingy in the days leading up to our departure. Sometimes she would even lay on or in our luggage. Though we couldn't take her with us, we did carry a photo of the cats with us when we traveled. It helped to break the ice when we visited the Maasai in Kenya and when we visited Antonio and his family in Ecuador. Brownie had gained weight over the years and a photo of her lying on her back on the rug with paws up in the air, fat and happy, made people smile.  When we would return from trips, Blackie would hold a grudge for a while, but Brownie always acted friendly and was happy to see us.

Every year, Brownie immediately laid claim to the Christmas tree as soon as it came into the house. She held court underneath the branches among the presents. She loved people and was always very sociable. She loved it when we had company and would always greet our guests. She even had patience for little kids who would come to visit.
Brownie holding court beneath the Christmas tree

We lost Blackie in 2007. We assume she fell victim to the food chain of the forest. She certainly hunted plenty herself,  so it is an appropriate way for her to go.  We missed her very much and Brownie appeared to as well. But in the absence of a younger cat she started to behave more like she did when she was young herself. She  reclaimed the rooms which had been solely Blackie's territory, including our bedroom.

She would stick close to us when we were home. She said goodbye to us as we left for work in the morning, and she would be waiting at the door for us when we got home in the evening. We thought that her days alone were probably lonely, but by this point in time she was growing old, and we thought that bringing a new cat into the house might cause her undue stress.  After Blackie disappeared, Brownie went through an extended period where she did not go outside very much. Maybe she sensed what had happened to Blackie and the danger that is inherent in the woods.

el gato gordo

As her age and weight increased, she had trouble climbing up onto the couch. So we bought her a little plastic stepstool, which she used faithfully. She was unable to do her "cute thing" any longer, so we invented a new one:  I would lay her on her back and massage the shoulder joints of her front legs. She sure seemed to enjoy it. We got into a routine of giving her "tasty treats" every morning before work. She loved to play with her toys, including Crunchy Frog and Crunchy Rat.

For the past few months, her health has been waning. She has pretty much stopped eating, and has become very frail. Her routine changed, and she wanted to spend entire days (and sometimes overnight) outside lounging on the back deck or stairs. She started to breathe heavily and cough and wheeze. She seemed to be going downhill fast, and we were worried. Then she rallied for a while, catching two mice...something she hadn't done since her young days. But, realistically, she was around 18 years old, and cats don't live forever. We were worried about how to know when it was "the right time" to take her into the vet. She still hated car rides so much that we wondered if she'd even survive the trip.

But that wasn't necessary. She passed away sometime overnight. When she came inside last night she was breathing heavily. We said goodnight to her and while in bed I heard her cough a bit. I woke up this morning and she was not in her usual morning spot. This concerned me, and I walked to the back door and saw her lying there in her most comfortable position, having departed this life. Nature did its job, and we didn't need to intervene.

We miss you, Brownie; thanks for being such a wonderful companion for the first 17 years of our relationship.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

More Pictures from Guatemala, July 2011

Eddy channeling James Dean
Paulina and Eddy
Steph with Aracely

Olga, Isidro, Allison Margarita, Eddy, Estela, Loren, Aracely, Paulina

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Our First Quinceañera in Guatemala

Vanesa at her quinceanera party
Our dear friends Humberto and Paulina in Guatemala have five daughters and a son. Their eldest daughter, Vanesa, turned 15 last Sunday. In Latin American cultures, a girl's 15th birthday (or quinceañera, in Spanish) is her coming of age. We knew that we wanted to be there to help celebrate. Because of the timing of her birthday, we weren't able to take advantage of our 4th of July Independence Day holiday, as we usually do. But we were still able to take a 5 day trip, which meant that we would also be there to celebrate Yoselin's 9th birthday on Saturday.
Yasmin, Paulina, Eddy, and Yoselin
Our flight to Miami was scheduled to take off at 5:30 a.m. on Thursday. This meant that we had to wake up at 1:30 a.m. and get ourselves to the airport. It was a rough wake-up, but it meant that we would arrive in Guatemala City at 10:30 a.m., which is about 4 hours earlier than usual. This would mean that we would be able to make the most of our first day there.

We arrived in Guatemala City on time, and were picked up by Humberto's colleague Benjamin. Benjamin drove us to Panajachel, and we arrived at around 1:30 p.m. We like to visit as often as we can, but a year had elapsed since our last visit. It was amazing how much everyone had grown and changed in the past year!
Steph, Craig, and Aracely
Loren and Craig
All of the girls looked beautiful. Vanesa was now slightly taller than her mother Paulina, and her hair was a bit shorter than usual. Paola was taller, and had lightened her top layer of hair. Yasmin and Yoselin were looking almost like twins, both having grown taller. Yoselin had gotten her hair cut. Yoselin made sure that we realized that Saturday was her birthday. Our goddaughter Aracely was still petite and adorable. She had just finished a full year of kindergarten at the English Language Atitlan Multicultural Academy. Our godson Eddy, the youngest at 2 1/2 years, looked like a little man. His hair was now cut short, and he neither looked nor acted like a baby. He could now pronounce both of our names. Although he was a little stand-offish and shy at first, he soon got comfortable and climbed on us as much as the others did.
Family Dinner
Cousins Josue, Neli, Loren, and Yesmy were around at various times. Josue, once a silent, shy boy who wouldn't sit on our laps, was now talkative, outgoing, and asked us (by name) for piggy-back rides. Neli was much taller and more mature. Loren and Yesmy were as sweet as ever.

Humberto had hired 3 workers to finish the construction on the guest rooms. The four downstairs rooms, each with an en-suite bathroom, were completed. They were now working on the four upstairs rooms.We thought back to our first visit four years ago, when we slept in their dining room and the guest rooms were just in the planning stages. It has been a very productive few years! Humberto has been very successful growing his home and his business, and we are very proud of him.

Paulina and Humberto recently decided to start hosting students from the Jardin de America Spanish School. Students taking a week of Spanish lessons can opt to spend their week doing a homestay with local families. The students eat their meals with the families and learn about local customs and lifestyles. Their first student, Mario, had arrived two days before. He is a French Canadian doctor from Montreal, currently traveling around Latin America while on a 6 month sabbatical. It was a pleasure to meet Mario, and it was obvious that he had already made a connection with the kids. He was great with them, and they enjoyed playing with him and helping him with  his Spanish.
Josue and Mario
On Friday the older girls needed to go to school. Aracely's school is on the US school calendar, so she is currently on summer vacation. We went with Paulina, Aracely, and Eddy to the market. When we ran into some of Aracely's young cousins on the street, Aracely wanted us to pick her up, to show off that we were her godparents. We bought some meat, fruits, and vegetables at the market and then took a tuk-tuk back home. We had brought some toys and games for the kids and we enjoyed playing with them. Aracely can now write her name and has the fine motor skills to draw more complex pictures. She can count past 20 in English and uses various English words in context. She can follow directions when playing games and take turns. She has really learned a lot in her first year of school and we are very proud of her.

Steph and Craig with godchildren Eddy and Aracely
Saturday was Yoselin's 9th birthday, and she was very excited. She and Aracely came into our room first thing in the morning, and we presented her with a card and a couple of small gifts. Aracely was almost as excited as Yoselin. Yoselin was gracious and let Aracely open some of the items. We noticed on this trip that she has become very generous, and always shares what she has with others. Mario had given her a pink teddy bear, and Paulina took Yoselin and Vanesa to the market to buy them each a new outfit. We held down the fort while Paulina was gone. The weather was unseasonably warm (no afternoon showers to cool things down) and Yasmin and Aracely had a water fight.

Craig, Yoselin, Yasmin, and Eddy watch videos on the netbook
Sunday was Vanesa's 15th birthday, and the day of the big party for both birthday girls. We gave Vanesa a crystal necklace and matching earrings. Then Humberto took some of the kids shopping for party supplies. They decorated the hallway between the guest rooms with streamers and balloons, and set up tables and chairs. We went to the 6:30 pm Mass, and the Mass was offered for Vanesa and Yoselin's birthdays, which were announced at the beginning of the service. After church, we returned to the house where both Humberto and Paulina's families had gathered. Humberto gave a nice toast to his daughters and then proceeded in English to introduce us to everyone present. It was really fun for us to see all of the kids whom we have met over the years. We recognized so many of them...little Isidro, whom we had met when he was 15 days old and is now a stocky toddler, Allison Margarita who is no longer and infant and walks around, Nidia who is dressed as usual in a beautiful traditional outfit, sisters Laisa, Yesmy, and Loren, Pamela and Odilia, Julisse, Alex, Neli, Josue, Luis, Junior, Adrik, and Mario. Paulina's sisters Estela, Olga, and Isabela were there, as well as Humberto's sister Juana and their brothers. Paulina's brother Carlos was there with his wife Vilma (we had attended their wedding several years ago). We met Vilma's daughter Erica. Humberto's mother was there, and Paulina's father was missed (he passed away earlier this year). We felt totally accepted by the family and we felt like we knew everyone. Panajachel is our second home. We met some new people as well, including incredibly outgoing 3-year-old cutie Briseda who came right up to us, extended her right hand, and said in Spanish, "I'm Briseda, who are you?" and another adorable little girl named Fatima.
Birthday girl Vanesa with Eddy
Humberto and birthday girl Yoselin

Paulina and Vanesa
The women served dinner, which was chicken and rice in a mushroom cream sauce, served with beets and tortillas. It was delicious. After everyone had finished eating, the it was time for the piñatas. Yoselin's was shaped like a white kitten wearing a pink dress (vaguely reminiscent of Hello Kitty), and Vanesa's was a more traditional 7-pointed star piñata. They didn't blindfold the girls but they spun them one time for each year and then let them loose on the piñatas, first Yoselin's and then Vanesa's. Children scurried along the ground, picking up hard candies and lollipops. Yasmin, Yoselin, and Aracely gave us each some of their candy, which was very sweet of them. When Vanesa's piñata had broken open, they tore off the points of the stars and wore them as hats.
Humberto's family
Yoselin swings for the piñata
The spoils of the piñatas

Next it was time for cake. Each cake had fruit slices on top and the girls' names were written in frosting. They put nine candles on Yoselin's, and put a candle shaped like the number 15 on Vanesa's. Both cakes were lit and the crowd started off by singing Happy Birthday to Yoselin (in English, surprisingly). They followed that up with "Queremos pastel" (we want cake) sung to the same tune. Then they counted to 9 in Spanish and Yoselin blew out her candles. Caught up in the moment, Eddy blew out Vanesa's candles, and everyone laughed. They re-lit the candles and sang to Vanesa, after which she blew them out. Then the girls had to take a bite out of their intact cakes using no hands. Yoselin dove right in and came up with a moustache of frosting. Vanesa tried to be dainty and just licked a bit of frosting, but the crowd was not satisfied. She bent forward to take a bite and her cousin Alex pushed her face down into the cake. The crowd approved, and she stood up with frosting on the tip of her nose. But they weren't completely satisfied until she bent down a third time and took a full mouthful of cake. The cakes were then  sliced up and distributed to the guests.
Family members enjoy the party
After everyone had enjoyed the cake, some of the tables and chairs were moved to make a dancefloor. Humberto had setup his computer outside and some of the young men acted as dj's. Mario had been about to head to bed, but couldn't pass up an invitation to dance. Kids and adults, men and women, all danced and had a great time. Craig honed his new-found dancing skills (from our recent trip to Ecuador) and danced with the women and kids. People popped balloons and lit firecrackers. It was a lot of fun for everyone.

Steph participates in folkloric dancing
Eddy was whining a bit and was staggering around very tired. I picked him up and danced with him and he fell asleep on my shoulder. I brought him into our room and put him to sleep. At the end of the night one of the men taught me a traditional Mayan folkloric dance. The party broke up at around 1 o'clock in the morning. The next day was a school day, after all!
Eddy and Loren
On Monday morning, we went for a walk with Paulina, Humberto, Eddy, and Aracely. We went to see Aracely's school. Unfortunately, it was not open, so we were unable to go inside. We stopped in to visit Olga and Estela, and brought Isidro and Loren with us to visit Mario at Jardin de America Spanish School. It was a lovely school which offers one-on-one private instruction. We may decide to take classes there sometime when we are visiting. Then we went to Sarita and got some ice cream. We dropped Isidro at Olga's house and then went back to our house for lunch.

After lunch Humberto and Paulina wanted to take us to see his mother's farmland in the nearby village of San Gabriel. It was difficult to get there because there had been a mudslide on the back road out of Panajachel. Humberto, Paulina, Yasmin, Aracely, Humberto's mother (called Abeula), Craig, and myself piled into the back of a pickup truck, which took us to the landslide. All of a sudden the road in front of us ceased to exist, it had been swallowed by the mountainside. We crossed a temporary steel cable bridge which had been erected. It had wooden floorboards that had holes in some places, so you had to watch your step. And the whole thing swayed back and forth as people crossed. On the other side of the bridge, cars were waiting. We got into a van that brought us part of the way there, and then we took a chicken bus the remainder of the way. We walked through the cornfield, and Humberto explained that they harvest the corn on a single day in November, and it yields about 500 pounds of corn which his mother will use to feed herself and her chickens over the course of a year. They also have coffee plants there. They sell the coffee beans rather than processing them themselves. There was a small shed on the property and Humberto said that is where they seek shelter when it rains and they are working in the fields. When he was young, he and his father and brother would spend the night there sometimes. It was interesting to get an insight into this part of their lives. Though they live in a small city and most of their activities are urban, there is still a rural component to their lives which is integral to their being. Humberto finds solace in the fields and feels close to the spirit of his deceased father. We felt honored that he wanted to take us there and share it with us.

Bridge across the landslide on the road out of Pana
Paulina, Yasmin, and Aracely in the cornfield
Humberto in front of his father's shed in the cornfield

After walking among the cornstalks and coffee plants for a while, we took a tuk-tuk followed by a pickup truck followed by a van to get to the landslide bridge. We had to wait a few moments before crossing cue to a lot of foot traffic in the other direction. We took a pickup truck back to the market, where Paulina bought a pumpkin to make soup for dinner. We piled into a tuk-tuk, and after a brief stop to buy a cake for dessert (rumor had it that there was not enough cake for everyone at last night's party) we arrived home. We ate dinner with the whole family, including Mario, Olga, Yesmy, Loren, and Josue.

The next morning we woke up early. The older girls stopped into our room to say goodbye before heading to school. We ate breakfast with Mario, Aracely, Eddy, and Vanesa. Our van arrived just before 8:30, and the kids, Humberto, and Paulina walked us down the alley to the street. We said our goodbyes, and said that we look forward to the next quinceañera (Paola in January of  2014) but that we would visit long before that. After hugs and kisses, we started our long journey to Guatemala City, Miami, and finally Boston, touching down at 12:15 a.m.

As usual, it was a wonderful visit, and we can't wait to return.

Eddy, Vanesa, Paulina, Humberto, Aracely, and Josue