Sunday, December 16, 2012

Concrete Blonde Opens the Sinclair 12/12/12

Concrete Blonde at the Sinclair 12/12/12 (Boston Globe photo)
On Wednesday night we saw Concrete Blonde perform the first date of at the brand new Sinclair club in Cambridge. The club was scheduled to open months ago, but a series of construction delays caused shows to be rescheduled at other clubs. Concrete Blonde wound up being their inaugural show.

I first saw Concrete Blonde with my dear friend Tyson back in 1991. They opened for Sting at the Worcester Centrum and they really blew us away. Now it's 21 years later. A lot of the music I listened to back in high school is no longer in regular rotation. I have different taste now. But I still love Concrete Blonde. I've come to think that if Black Sabbath were fronted by a chick, it would sound an awful lot like them.

I hadn't been sure what the new club would be like, as it billed itself as a  club and  restaurant. I guess I kind of expected small cabaret tables, a set-up similar to Club Passim around the corner. That turned out not to be the case. The restaurant is actually a separate part of the building. It will be opening soon. The club itself is standing-room. We stood up near the stage, but there were also several levels of balconies along the perimeter. Everything was pristine and new, and you could smell a hint of "new car smell".

Frontwoman Johnette Napolitano was clearly excited to be the band to officially open the club. She  wished everyone a happy 12/12/12 and gave a shout-out to the Virgin of Guadalupe (Johnette has an affinity for all things Latin American, as do we). The band rocked hard for a full 2+ hours. They played some new songs, old favorites, and covers. They started off the night with a stripped-down version of the new Rosalie. Johnette's voice was clear and amazing.

Then they seriously rocked on Beds Are Burning. It was an intense show; seeing them in such an intimate club was a very different experience than it was in a stadium. A small handful of songs were brand new to me, but most were familiar. Laurie Sargent joined Johnette on vocals for one song. The band powered through song after song, never even leaving the stage before they launched into an encore. Before we knew it, it was 11:30. After a frenetic new I Know the Ghost (with several false starts as Johnette tried to get guitarist Jim Mankey to sing with her), they ended the night with Tomorrow Wendy, which was just beautiful. Great band, great set, great venue!

Everyone has said that the club sounded incredible as well. We sacrificed good sound quality for a position right up front, but it's nice to know that overall the place has good acoustics.

Set List:

Beds Are Burning
God Is a Bullet
Damage I've Done
Take Me Home
Mexican Moon
Ghost Riders in the Sky
Everybody Knows
Happy Birthday
True (w/ Laurie Sargent)
As Tears Go By
Ghost of a Texas Ladies Man
Heal it Up
Scene of a Perfect Crime
Run Run Run
100 Games of Solitaire
The Real Thing
Your Haunted Head
I Know the Ghost
Tomorrow Wendy

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Thanksgiving with Marty in St. Thomas

View from our balcony at Secret Harbour
 We just got back from spending another Thanksgiving with our dear friend Marty in St. Thomas. Craig's brother Steve and their mother went with us again this year. Jet Blue offered a nonstop flight from Boston, and we jumped at the chance to avoid American and United. The flight was at 9:15 a.m. (how civilized!) so it meant we didn't have to wake up in the middle of the night to go to the airport this time. Bonus!  Jet Blue staff were very courteous. They not only give out free soft drinks, but free snacks as well. They even showed a sense of humor when we bounced a bit on the landing and they came over the PA saying, "In case you missed it, we have arrived in St. Thomas." The whole plane erupted into laughter.

We arrived in St. Thomas at 2:15 p.m. We got our rental car and headed straight to Food Center to buy provisions. Marty met us in the parking lot and then we headed to Secret Harbour. Though we had reserved a 2-bedroom suite, they didn't have one available and instead gave us two 1-bedroom suites right next door to one another. This worked out ok as Mom now had her own suite, and ours became the party suite. By 4:30, we were sitting out on our patio preparing to watch the sunset.

Marty and Mom enjoy Thanksgiving dinner at Molly Malone's
Marty's motorcycle club president Biker John had generously invited us to his house for Thanksgiving dinner, but the timing was such that they ate before we arrived. So instead we decided to make a reservation at Molly Malone's in Red Hook. We had eaten there last year and it had been a great deal - all you can eat and drink for $25. 

We had salad, turkey vegetable soup, turkey, mashed potatoes, homemade stuffing, peas, and cranberry sauce. Plus wine. For dessert we had slices of pumpkin pie.  It was all delicious. Then we went back to the hotel and watched the Patriots proceed to trounce the Jets on the late game. What a Thanksgiving!

The next day was Cap'n Marty's Island Hop, our Black Friday tradition. We always rent a boat and cruise around the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. We got up early. Marty went back to his house to pick up a couple of things and we met him at the American Yacht Harbor in Red Hook. Steve, Craig, and Mom bought provisions for the day at Marina Market while I helped Marty to fill out the paperwork for the boat rental.

Cap'n Marty's Island Hop
We met Marty's friends Marni and Christie, who would be joining in on the fun. They have only been on the island for a couple of weeks, and haven't had much down time to enjoy their new tropical surroundings. We loaded up the boat and coolers and set off from Red Hook at around 8:30. It was a gorgeous day.  The water was a beautiful turquoise color. The boat had a nice full-sized bimini that shaded us from the sun. As we "putzed around", as Marty put it, we watched pelicans dive into the water. Schools of fish jumped simultaneously out of the water and created quite a splash.

It was so relaxing. This is what we daydream about at home during cold weather, or particularly stressful times at work. We anchored in Peter Bay off St. John and did some swimming. The water was beautiful. As usual, we marveled at the gorgeous villas on the shore. One belonged to Mick Jagger. Another was  featured on The Real Housewives of somewhere. Even Marty swam here, though he usually thinks that November is winter and too cold to swim.

Anchored in Peter Bay
Sandy Caye
Marty at Sandy Caye
We pulled up our anchor, and headed to Tortola to clear customs so that we could go to the British Virgin Islands.  Once we cleared customs, Marty took us to Sandy Caye. We moored the boat and swam ashore. It looks like a desert island, with gorgeous white sand and palm trees. 

After that we headed to Foxy's Tamarind Bar on Jost Van Dyke. We got a round of bushwhackers and ordered some lunch. Craig and I each had the chicken curry roti, a local dish which was absolutely fabulous. Craig had gotten it last year as well, and had been looking forward to it ever since. We also sampled the popcorn conch and conch fritters that the others had ordered. We got a second round of bushwhackers. They had a sign advertising Foxy's Black Friday sale at the gift shop - too funny!

Then we went a few bays over to the Soggy Dollar Bar. We moored the boat. Mom didn't feel like swimming so she stayed on the boat to take a nap on the rocking boat in the late afternoon sunlight. We swam to shore and got a round of their signature drink, the painkiller.  The round came in plastic Soggy Dollar cups. We have a collection of these at home from previous years, and we would add these to them. We watched a local rasta with dreads down to the ground coaching a young tourist girl about how to get a ringer on a nail with a swinging ring game.

 We swam back to the boat, and it was time to start heading back to St. Thomas. Marty has been coaching Steve (aka First Mate Milky) to drive the boat. Steve drove most of the way back to St. Thomas. Marty said next year it should be Cap'n Milky's Island Hop. When we arrived back at American Yacht Harbor, there were lots of locals waiting for the ferry with their Black Friday goods from K-Mart and Home Depot: huge flat screen TV's, stoves, etc.

Cap'n Marty, Craig, Steph, Mom, Anna, Steve, Christie, and Marni at Foxy's

Cap'n Marty and Craig drinking painkillers at Soggy Dollar
Saturday was a low key day. We enjoyed Secret Harbour, spending the day on the beach. We floated in the water sipping drinks and enjoying the beautiful beach. We ate dinner at The Sunset Grille restaurant on premises. The amuse-bouche (a term that Marni had just taught us yesterday)
was a watermelon mint shooter served in a miso spoon. It was delicious. We all tried nutwhackers (bushwhackers  made with chocolate and  peanut butter - plus you gotta love the name) and we loved them. For an appetizer we got beef tenderloin tataki on wanton chips, with mango salsa and wasabi cream. We also got plantain and conch fritters which had  a great texture and were very yummy. I got the peppercorn and coriander encrusted tuna with white bean ragout and sweet and sour eggplant caponata. There were two huge hunks of tuna. I gave one to Craig, and he shared his lump crab and potato encrusted mahi mahi with sauteed broccolini and pineapple pear jam with me. It was all absolutely delicious.We got another round of nutwhackers and for dessert a decadent chocolate lava cake served with vanilla ice cream. It was a pricey meal but was a true fine dining experience. And to get back home, we just had to walk down the beach. You can't beat that.

Sunset from Secret Harbour
Steve, Marty,  Craig, Mom, and Steph at the Sunset Grille
On Sunday we went to Coki Point Beach, a fun and funky little tourist beach. As usual, we were met as soon as we arrived by a local who could get us things - beach chairs, snorkel gear, beach umbrellas. We rented some chairs from him and requested a shady spot on the beach. He led us to a nice spot where we pitched our chairs. A jolly woman named Dawn came over and introduced herself as our waitress. You have to love drink delivery on the beach! But we weren't ready to drink just yet. Craig, Steve, and I went into the water and floated around in the turquoise water.

As soon as we got out of the water, Dawn was right there to take our order .She talked us into a round of  OGD (Oh God Damn!) which is a lemonade slush and Bacardi rum drink. We ordered plates of jerk chicken. It started to rain a bit and Dawn invited us inside the snack shack. We were mostly covered by a tree and the rain was moving  through so quickly that we just toughed it out.  Dawn then arrived with a towering stack of styrofoam food containers. Inside each we had jerk chicken legs, fried onions, fried plantains, and a salad. Deliciously spicy! We ordered another round of OGD's to wash it down.

After enjoying our lunch, Craig, Steve, and I went back into the water. As we were drying off and preparing to leave, Dawn came to say goodbye and we got a picture with her. She is quite a character!

We came back to the hotel and watched sunset from the balcony. Nobody felt like getting dressed to go out to eat. So  we went inside and ordered a large meat lovers and a large pepperoni, green pepper, and mushroom pizza from Señor Pizza in Red Hook. It came in 35 minutes. We watched football and enjoyed our pizza. Then we played our favorite game, Pass the Pigs. It is a dice-type game which uses little rubber pigs as the dice. You get points depending on how they fall. Craig kept getting epic fails (when the two pigs touch one another it is "a very undignified position for pigs" so you lose all your points) and lost all of his 99 points, but he made an incredible comeback in one of the rounds. We had a lot of laughs.

Coki Point Beach

Steve, Craig, and Mom at Coki Point Beach
Mom, Steph, Dawn, Craig, and Steve at Coki Point Beach

Sunset from Secret Harbour

On Monday we had another Secret Harbour beach day, We were in the water from 11:45 - 4:00 with no break. We went to the newly re-opened Latitude 18 for dinner. They had been closed last year so Mom had never been there. We got a table right on the water. It's nice to dine with the breeze in your hair and watching boats bob on the dock. We ordered painkillers. For an appetizer, we got escargot in blue cheese on garlic toast. It was amazingly delicious. For our main course, we
each ordered the special - a NY strip steak  with peppercorn Jack Daniels sauce, chive mashed potatoes, and mixed veggies. The Barefoot Davis Band (with guitar, electric guitar, bass, keys, and fiddle) played some good songs, including Dylan's You Ain't Goin' Nowhere and Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here. After their first set a high school kid named Zane did stand-up. He's legally blind (with cane and service dog) and mined it for material. He really had a lot of guts to get up there and some of his jokes were really funny.

Steph and Marty

Mom, Steve, Marty, and Craig at Latitude 18
Craig, Mom, Marty, and Steve at the Delly Deck
On Tuesday we got packed up in the morning and then headed to Havensight. We had a nice lunch of sandwiches at the locals' favorite Delly Deck. Then we went to Sean's store, the Pirate's Chest and bought some souvenirs. It was nice to get a chance to see Sean, a fellow Bostonian whom we have met on many occasions. We said our goodbyes to Marty until next year and headed to the airport. Though we didn't have a direct flight home we had a stopover in San Juan and everything worked like clockwork. Jet Blue rocks.

Secret Harbour palm trees
It was another great visit to the Caribbean, and we were thrilled that Marty was able to spend the entire time with us. On many of our vacations, we tend to be going from morning til night nonstop. St. Thomas is a place where we are always able to relax and unwind, without overscheduling ourselves. It was much needed and much appreciated.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Bob Newhart at the Wilbur Theatre 10/6/12

We had a lot of nostalgic fun last night seeing Bob Newhart at the Wilbur Theatre. When I was a kid, "Newhart" was my favorite TV show. I watched it religiously, and even had my parents bring me to the Waybury Inn in Middlebury, Vermont, where exteriors of the show were filmed. Seeing props from the show and autographed pictures of the cast there motivated me to write to the cast. They all responded with personally inscribed autographed pictures (well, all responded except for Peter Scolari. Not sure what he had against me.) I was thrilled, and especially humbled that the legendary Bob Newhart himself took the time to respond to a 13 year old fan.

Bob Newhart at the Wilbur Theatre 10/6/12
Almost 25 years later, when I heard that he would be doing a comedy show at the Wilbur Theatre, I had to buy tickets. He did not disappoint. At 83 years old, he was as deadpan as ever, telling jokes which spanned from the present day (Clint Eastwood stealing his schtick at the Republican National Convention a few weeks ago) to classic routines like The Driving Instructor. He bantered with the audience and said that he gets his material from all of us, and that we ought to just cut him out as the middle man and pay each other directly when we do something amusing.

He capped off the night with a video which included clips of a fictionalized family history as well as early appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and "The Dean Martin Show." It also included clips from "The Bob Newhart Show" and the final gag of the "Newhart" finale.

The crowd loved him and called him back for an encore. It was a very entertaining show and we are very glad that we decided to go. I felt like I was 13 again.
My Bob Newhart Autograph circa 1989

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Kristin Hersh at Club Passim

Kristin Hersh at Club Passim, Cambridge
 On August 18, we saw Kristin Hersh perform a show at Club Passim in Cambridge. This was our first time attending a show at this intimate historic venue, which over the past 50+ years has hosted such acts as a 17-year-old Joan Baez and her friend Bob Dylan. Blues greats Skip James and Son  House had also played there during their resurgence in popularity in the 1960's. Tom Waits even played there in 1974 (preserved in the classic bootleg "On a Foggy Night")!

These days the basement club in Harvard Square shares space with a vegetarian restaurant called Veggie Planet. There is cabaret-style seating for shows, and you can reserve a spot at a small table or sit in one of the general admission chairs around the perimeter of the room. We sat at a table with another couple who had ordered some amazing-looking food. Unfortunately, we had eaten already at home, so we only had room for drinks and dessert (a decadent brownie with vanilla ice cream). Next time we would definitely eat dinner there.

Kristin reads from her memoir Rat Girl

We were happy to get the chance to see Kristin play at this storied venue. Though she is one of the performers we have seen most over the years, circumstances had been such that we hadn't seen her in about three years. In the interim, she has published a memoir called "Rat Girl" (in the U.S.) and "Paradoxical Undressing" (in the U.K.)

At this show she alternated between singing accompanied by her acoustic guitar and reading passages from the book. The book is based on a diary she kept as a teenager playing with Throwing Muses, and some of the readings acted as lead-ins to songs that were written at that time (Fish, Delicate Cutters).  Other songs spanned her career, both with the band and solo. Detox was an amazingly intense new solo song. There were also other  songs from the past couple of years which we were hearing live for the first time, including Krait, Quick, and Mississippi Kite.

It was a great show at an intimate venue, and we had a wonderful time.

Set List:
Your Dirty Answer
Gazebo Tree
reading (Fish Jesus)
Mississippi Kite
reading (Betty and her priest)
Summer Salt
City of the Dead
Hook in her Head
reading (mania)
Hysterical Bending
reading (hit by a car)
White Suckers
reading (band interviews)
Sno Cat
Me and My Charms
reading (running away from the studio)
Delicate Cutters
reading (songwriting)
You Cage

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

In Loving Memory of Abuela

Our hearts continue to go out to our compadres in Guatemala. Humberto's mother, "Abuelita" (little grandmother) to the kids, passed away Sunday at the age of 75. She is the matriarch of the alley on which the whole family lives.
When we first met her, Humberto warned us that, having lived through the terrible Guatemalan civil war in the '80's and '90's, when Mayans were persecuted and even massacred, she was wary of outsiders. He meant this in case we perceived her as unfriendly to us in some way, because we are foreigners. But the truth is that she never did. She was always very polite to us. We weren't able to communicate much with her in words, because of our poor Spanish. But she soon saw how much we loved her grandchildren, and that was what mattered to her. Sometimes actions speak louder than words, and we feel that she accepted us as members of the family.

Family Visit to La Aurora Zoo
We shared some fun times with her over the past 5 years: baptism parties for Aracely and then Eddy, Vanesa's quinceañera, a trip to the zoo in Guatemala City, a New Year's Eve Party, and a joint birthday party for Yasmin and Paola. We also went to the family's farmland in San Gabriel (outside of Panajachel), where she had grown corn and coffee since Humberto was a child. She harvested enough corn to supply her and her chickens through a year, and they would sell the coffee that they grew.

Abuelita and Eddy at Eddy's christening
Most recently, we had gone on a family picnic at a gorgeous lakeside villa.Toward the end of the day, she was sitting in a chair on the green lawn overlooking the gorgeous Lake Atitlan and its surrounding volcanoes. She looked totally at peace. This is how we will remember her.

Abuelita relaxing at Lake Atitlan
It is sad that she had to experience the loss of her great-grandson David in the weeks leading up to her death. She had been in declining health for the past year or two, and maybe she decided it was time for her to go as well, to continue to look after David.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

In Loving Memory of David

We received devastating news from Guatemala on Tuesday: David, Humberto and Paulina’s 4-year-old nephew and the kids’ cousin, passed away unexpectedly. We have limited information about the circumstances, but it seems that he injured his leg a week prior. It was still bothering him Tuesday morning, so his parents took him to the doctor. After several tests, the doctor said all looked fine and they sent him home. Later in the day, his condition worsened. They brought him back to the hospital, where he passed away.

David and his parents Blanca and Pablo live several doors down from Humberto and family. David was often outside playing with his cousins. We really got to know the three of them starting this past January, when we visited for New Year’s. They came to Humberto and Paulina’s New Year’s Eve party, and to Yasmin and Paola’s joint birthday party the following day. When we visited last month for the 4th of July, they came to a house party at Humberto and Paulina’s, and we also spent a day with them at a villa on Lake Atitilan, having a cookout and swimming and kayaking.

David was a very sweet child. Craig and I joked that he was my boyfriend, because he seemed to have a little crush on me. He often tried to get my attention by calling “Hola Stephanie! Hola Stephanie!” and he wasn’t satisfied until I specifically addressed him with “Hola David!” In fact, the last time we saw him and his parents and grandmother was when we went out for pizza with the family the night before we returned home. We were finishing up our meal when they arrived at the restaurant. We all waved to one another and we stopped by their table as we  left. David was not satisfied with a greeting addressed to the entire family; he kept calling “Hola Stephanie!” until I specifically addressed him by name.

It is hard to believe that this vibrant doe-eyed little boy no longer graces the earth with his presence. He always had a smile for us and we will remember him fondly. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his entire family during this difficult time. We are heartbroken.

Aracely and David

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Tyson and David Visit

Tyson and David at the Black Lobster in Salem
Last week, probably the hottest week of the entire summer, Tyson and David visited from Utica, New York. Tyson has been a dear friend of mine since middle school, and this was our first opportunity to meet David.

They arrived on Saturday and we spent the afternoon and evening huddled around the air conditioner catching up on each others' lives. Steve stopped at the Sea Witch for some take-out and we enjoyed fried seafood and a round of drinks.

On Sunday, Tyson, David, and I took a drive to Salem to do the tourist thing. The record-breaking heat was in the 90's, but at least there was a sea breeze. We went into some of the unique shops and then took David to the Salem Witch Museum. This is a museum which illustrates the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 through a series of tableaux of wax figures (though not to be confused with the Salem Wax Museum). It is delightfully kitschy; some of the wax figures look like they could actually have been made in 1692 and the audio recording is over-the-top with melodrama. But it still manages to convey the history of the area in an entertaining manner. After that, we were brought in smaller groups through a second, newer exhibit called "Witches: Evolving Perceptions." It traced the evolution of a witch stereotype from an ancient Celtic midwife to the witch in Grimm's fairy tales, to the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz, to modern-day practitioners of Wicca.  It highlighted other times in history when certain groups were used as scapegoats, and urged keeping an open mind. However, as David pointed out, all of that  "don't stereotype" message kind of went out the window when you enter the gift shop and see rampant commercialization of the stereotypical witch image.
Tyson in a stockade, Salem
After that we walked around some more. We walked down the jetty past the replica of the Friendship (a 1797 merchant sailing ship) out to the Derby Wharf Lighthouse. Then we went to Ye Olde Pepper Companie Candies, America's oldest candy company, since 1806. Its cool, air conditioned interior smelled so good. There was a sign on the door restricting entrance to 10 students at a time, and we realized what a nightmare this store must be during field trips. We bought some candy (the dark chocolate covered espresso beans are fabulous) and then walked down the street to the House of Seven Gables. We were tired and didn't really have a tour left in us, but we sure could use something cold and refreshing. So we stopped at Captain Dusty's Ice Cream, where the guys got cones and I had a vanilla ice cream soda.. On the walk back to the car, the guys bought a case of Ipswich Ale at Bunghole Liquors. On the drive home, we stopped at Market Basket so that Tyson could stock up on Moxie.

That night, we went to the Black Lobster in Salem for dinner. We ate outside on their patio right on the water. We enjoyed some drinks and their pepper calamari as an appetizer. Tyson and Craig got the twin lobsters, David got a fisherman's plate, and I got baked scallops. The food was delicious and we enjoyed the local color as fishermen and biker chicks pulled up to the dock.

Craig's twin lobsters, the Black Lobster, Salem
After dinner it was starting to sprinkle rain, but we stopped at Salem Willows for some dessert. Craig got an ice cream, David got a slush, and Tyson had some fried dough. I was too stuffed from dinner to eat anything. We passed the arcades and bumper cars and walked down the dock where people were fishing by flashlight.

Unfortunately, Craig and I had to work the next morning. Tyson and David went to Rockport for the day and enjoyed the coast. We met up back at the house in the evening and hung out. On Tuesday, they went to Gloucester for a whale watch. The last time Tyson had been on a whale watch was a 6th grade field trip (that I didn't go on) when they got caught in a storm, saw no whales, and virtually the whole class got seasick. Luckily, this one turned out a lot better. It was supposed to hit 97 degrees today, but it was quite comfortable for them out on the water. They saw seven whales and had a fantastic time. On Wednesday, they went into Boston for the day and we met up back at the house in the evening.

It was a fantastic visit and we miss them already!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Week in Panajachel, Guatemala

Yoselin, Humberto, Aracely, Eddy, Paola, Vanesa, Paulina, and Yasmin at Lake Atitlan

We just returned from an incredibly enjoyable week-long visit with Humberto, Paulina, and the kids in Guatemala. The trip started out on the right foot when we got a surprise upgrade to first class on the first flight. Our connecting flight in Houston was a bit delayed, but we still arrived in Guatemala City in the early afternoon. After a three hour van ride, we arrived in Panajachel at around 5:30 p.m. to find Humberto, Paulina, and the kids (Vanesa, Paola, Yasmin, Yoselin, and our godchildren Aracely and Eddy) waiting for us.

Even though we had been there a mere 6 months ago, much had changed since our last visit. All of the kids had gotten taller. Aracely's burgeoning English skills were even better! Humberto had made various improvements to the guest rooms, and Vanesa and Paola were now sharing one of these rooms. In sadder news, Terri the dog had passed away.

Eddy, Steph, and Aracely at Lake Atitlan
Yoselin and Yasmin at Lake Atitlan

We spent the first few days around the house, playing with the kids and enjoying as many hugs as we could get. We made several visits to the local market with Paulina, Eddy, and Aracely to buy fresh food.  On Sunday the whole family walked down to beautiful Lake Atitlan. The four youngest kids got to play on a trampoline and we all got some ice cream while we took in views of the stunning volcano-rimmed lake. They are so lucky to live right down the street from a world-renowned destination.

Paola and Vanesa cooking dinner

Aracely, Abuelita, Eddy, and Paulina

On Tuesday, we went with Eddy, Aracely, Humberto, and  Paulina to the soccer field for some exercise. On the walk home we stopped in to see Paulina's sisters' house. We saw Olga and her kids Pamela, Juan Isidro, and little toddler Allison Margarita. We also saw Estela and her girls Loren and Laisa. Estela has a new baby, little Michelle, who is tiny for a seven-month-old. She has a wonderful disposition and I enjoyed holding her.

Craig, Vanesa, Humberto, Paola, Paulina, Yoselin, Yasmin, and Aracely

On Wednesday night, we went to Paulina's sister Isabela's new restaurant. It is right around the corner from Humberto's house, on Rancho Grande. She previously had a place up near the market, but she just moved to this location last week; it's so new she doesn't even have a sign. We showed up with a party of 10 and took over the place.  She made fantastic tacos with soft corn tortillas, chicken, onions, and peppers.  The kids had fun watching their aunt cook in the kitchen and then playing in the restaurant.

Isabela's daughter Heidy came in to help her make all the food, and Heidy's husband then showed up with their adorable little kids Chino and Diana. All of the kids played together and there was much laughter as they chased each other around the restaurant, playing soccer with a bottle cap. Eddy pretended to cook food and took people's orders. Humberto, Paulina, and Craig shared some large bottles of Gallo beer. It was a wonderful time with lots of laughs which culminated with Paola squeezing 3 limes into the remnants of Humberto's beer while he was in the bathroom. It was great to get to patronize Isabela's restaurant, and we wish her the best in her new location. As Humberto says, "When you're good, the locals find you." She is an amazing cook, and the bill was quite reasonable considering the mountain of food, 3 grande bottles of beer, and about 7 sodas that were consumed.

Dinner at Isabela's restaurant
On Friday night, Humberto and Paulina threw a party at the house and invited both of their families. We had met many of them during previous visits, at Eddy and Aracely's baptisms, Vanesa's quinceanera, and this past New Year's Eve party. It was great to see everyone again: Humberto's nephew Victor, his wife Rosa, and their kids Julisse, Alex, Andrik, and Neli, Humberto's other nephew Juan, his wife Yolanda, and their kids Junior and Fatima, Humberto's sister-in-law Prisceda, her daughter Blanca and husband Pablo with their son David, Paulina's brother Carlos and his wife Vilma and daughters Erica and Elizabeth, Paulina's sister Olga and her kids Pamela, Juan Isidro, and Allison Margarita, Paulina's sister Estela and daughters Laisa, Yesmy, Loren, and baby Michelle as well as some friends and their daughter Gisele. Humberto's mother also attended, which was very nice as her health hasn't been that great lately.

We feel so accepted by both families. Even though our poor Spanish makes it more difficult to communicate, we share smiles and laughs. We love all of their kids and give them each some candy when they arrive. Even with so many people present, circumstances don't always allow everyone to attend,  and they are missed. Humberto's sister Juana and her daughter Rocio (who used to be inseparable with Humberto's kids) were not there this time.

The kids all had a blast with our netbook and our older camera. The women cooked up some excellent blackened chicken on the grill along with fresh home-made guacamole, rice, and corn tortillas. The adults enjoyed Gallo beer and rum and orange juice. A lot of the guests had also been at the New Years Eve party so I showed them the video that we made out of pictures from that party. They got a kick out of seeing themselves in silly 2012 plastic sunglasses. Before we knew it, it was 4 a.m. Vanesa and Yasmin were the last kids standing, after others had long since gone to bed.

Gisele, Steph, Fatima, Craig, and Loren at the party
At 9 the next morning Humberto had made an appointment for us to visit Atitlan Multicultural Academy. Aracely will be starting her third year there in the fall (1st grade), and Eddy will be starting preschool.  Every time we have visited within the past two years, the school had been closed for vacation, so this was our first time to see the interior of the renovated hotel which houses the school. The school is also under new ownership, so this waas our chance to meet some of the staff and learn about their plans for the school. The new leadership consists of a group of passionate "founding parents" whose children have graduated from AMA. They were quite nice and we could tell what a "family" the small school is.

We have been very impressed with Aracely's education thus far. Her spoken English is amazing. Her reading and writing abilities are impressive, especially given that she knew no English before attending, and now she is totally immersed. In kindergarten, she was doing the equivalent of pre-algebra ( 19 -  ___ = 12)!?!  We are  very excited for her, and we are also excited that Eddy gets to start attending at age 4 in the fall. He seems ready; at the house we did several activities with him and although he can be very intense and impulsive at times, he does have an attention span necessary to complete quiet activities.

Vanesa and Yoselin on the boat

Kayaking on beautiful Lake Atitlan

After our visit to the school, we went back to the house and quickly got our things together for an outing. Humberto's nephew Victor and his wife Rosa are caretakers at a beautiful set of rental villas right on Lake Atitlan (Villa B'alam Ya). They had invited the family for a day of relaxation there since none of the villas were currently occupied, and were kind enough to include us. So shortly after 11 o'clock, Humberto, Paulina, their 6 kids, Blanca, Pablo, and David, Prisceda and Humberto's mother got onto a private lancha (boat) which brought us to the villas.

Rosa, Prisceda, Eddy, and Paulina at the grill at Villa B'alam Ya

Paulina, Aracely, Rosa, Pablo, Victor, Blanca, Prisceda, and Craig enjoying lunch at Villa B'alam Ya

As you step off the dock, you step onto an inviting span of nicely manicured lawn. Victor, Rosa, and their kids Andrik and Neli were there waiting for us. We disembarked and Neli, Victor, and Rosa gave us a tour of two of the four villas. They are absolutely gorgeous - a mixture of modern and traditional architecture and interior design.  Rosa and Paulina were cooking in the modern well-appointed kitchen of the biggest villa. Every room had patios and terraces with exquisite views of the lake and volcanoes.

Humberto, Pablo, and the kids were swimming and taking kayaks out for a ride. Craig and I hadn't realized the nature of the place, and had left our bathing suits back at the house. We decided to just go for it, and we took a two person kayak out for a quick spin and followed that up with full-fledged swimming in our clothes. Afterwards we headed back up to the large villa for lunch of grilled steak and fresh guacamole. We enjoyed the tranquility of the place and the gorgeous vistas until 4:30, when we took the boat back to Panajachel.

Paulina and Eddy at Villa B'alam Ya

To celebrate the last night of our visit, we took Humberto, Paulina, and the kids out for pizza. It is always bittersweet to have to say goodbye, and the kids were a bit solemn at dinner. We had a wonderful visit and can't wait to go back. We appreciate the hospitality and love shown to us by the entire family. Panajachel is truly a home away from home.

Farewell pizza dinner