Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Diana's visit....

This snake posed for us next to this gorgeous flower while we were hiking along in Ding Darling, a nature preserve on Sanibel Island. I thought of my friend, Michelle, who would have levitated had she seen this guy so near our path.

My friend, Diana arrived a couple of days ago and I had met her while working in Kigali, Rwanda when she was teaching at a University there as a Fullbright Scholar. Because our friend, Eddie, oversaw the Fullbright Scholars as part of her US Embassy duties, I met Diana when I stayed at Eddie's gorgeous home and we became friends. You may remember Diana from our camping trip with Eddie in Akagera game park.

Diana stayed with Richard. our doggies and me for a couple of days here in Florida before moving on to interview for a job in West Palm. We went off to Matlacha to sight see and then, on to Ding Darling, a nature preserve on Sanibel where we saw these pelicans sitting on a sand bar. It was a hot day for March and these guys should have all flown northward but hadn't because the weather up north has been horrid.

Diana and I caught up, laughed and enjoyed dinner with our neighbors at our home. Again, our neighbors, TJ and his brother, Robbie and Deb and Brian helped with our dogs while we were gone...Richard stayed in Atlanta with his mom and brother and did chores, changing out some faucets and power washing the walks and the house for his mom. We both enjoyed the family time and now, we are revving up for family and friends for spring break...cannot wait.

Mini-reunion continued

Paul, the young man to the left, with his mouth full, is my cousin Lance's son. Lance is a minister and Paul is married to a youth pastor. Tommy, Christy's husband is sitting next to her with a huge grin on his face...and I am not sure what caused this huge grin at this particular moment...but laugh we did.

My cousin, Christy and her husband, Tommy drove up from Montgomery, Alabama, to join us for our mini-reunion and we gathered at the local Shoney's for yet another buffet. Tommy's mom, Nan, also lives in Huntsville and Christy's mom, my Aunt Shirley is in a nursing home.

I left Huntsville in a pouring monsoon which lasted for hours. I was stuffed and so tired of buffets. Ate more buffet food in three days than I have in thirteen years. But, had a glorious time sharing stories over mounds of fried foods. Christy's father had died a couple of months prior to this reunion so we caught up on her life and heard many "Dick Rumble" stories which made us laugh. In fact, many of the stories told during these days were humor filled and really reminded us of our roots and where we came from and how thankful we are to be where we are and with whom we are.

My cousins, Christy and Lance are the product of one of my aunts and another uncle and so the stories they told of their parents and their children were amusing. They were reminded of living in Michigan, near my family, before our grandfather and my aunt and uncle moved to Huntsville.

I had issues with my TomTom which Richard bought me for Christmas. The thing would not stay anchored on my dashboard, so I ended up duct taping it repeatedly so I could navigate from nursing home, to my Aunt Opal's apartment and then, on to my Uncle Ernie's home. It is sitting on the floor of my car and I still must figure this was a life saver so many times. Happy to have it even though the voice my son-in-law loaded, which I love, kept telling me I was an "ass wipe" for turning in the wrong direction.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The mini-reunion in Huntsville

These cuties are Natalia, Laura's middle daugher and Andrew, Jason and Melissa's son. Laura and Melissa are my cousin Donna's two kids and they make pretty kids!
This is our mini-family reunion photo...minus my cousin Donna's daughter, Laura and her kids who joined us for dinner after we had met at my Aunt Shirley's nursing home. So, sitting with dark hair is my cousin, Jeanne Marie and next to her is our Aunt Shirley. Standing with the cane is my Uncle Ernie with Donna, his daugher in green next to him. Her daughter, Melissa in red is next to Donna. In the back is Jason, Melissa's fiance with their son, Andrew and my Aunt Opal, Jeanne's mom, next to him. Lance, my cousin is in the green shirt and is the son of my Uncle Ernie and he is "brother" to Donna.The young man whose head you can see with glasses is Paul, Lance's son. I put "brother" in quotes because it always amazes me when Donna will say something like, "pass the phone to brother" meaning her brother.

My cousin Jeanne had reserved a meeting room at my Aunt Shirley's nursing home so we could all gather and take photos and chat. Auntie is the one in the middle of this sisters-brother reunion. My Uncle Ernie doesn't hear well and cannot see very well at all. Aunt Opal with the dark glasses is about 90% blind and Aunt Shirley, though frail can both hear and see. Interestingly, the older siblings sat down and instead of talking, reached out to touch each other. No words needed to connect...a touch and a warm hand hold made them tear up and laugh. Though they all live in the same city, due to frailties and issues with sight, driving and more, they don't get together often at all.

I woke up this morning at 4:30 a.m. EST which was 3:30a.m. here in Alabama. Been a long day but a good day. My TomTom did not want to take me through the countryside as Sheryl had tried to send me, nor would it take Memorial Parkway south here in had some adventures but ultimately, found my way. Thankfully, my cousins had a super sense of humor...I can travel the world but cannot navigate Huntsville, Alabama. I expect no road signs or building names or numbers in Third World countries but not liking this lack of clarity here in the good ole USA.

I had an encounter of the worse sort this morning about an hour East of Huntsville. I had noticed cones and road construction on 72W but the speed sign I had noticed last indicated 55 mph. I was doing 60 and a cop pulled me over. He screamed at me about rude Floridians and Georgians who race through his state and IF I hit someone, I would be prosecuted for murder and by the way, a fine for speeding in a construction zone is $400! He had me in tears when he said that these workers have families and how would I like it if MY son didn't come home tonight because some Floridian hit him while he was at work? He made his point and he did not give me a ticket but I will surely watch for signs much more religiously.

The day was full of laughter and irreverance. Lance is a pastor, and Paul's wife is a youth pastor. Religion is part of their every day existence. The room we met in had a row of Bibles and Jason indicated he would just pull down the third book of the Bible and refer to it if necessary. And at one point, he started off a story which he was going to share with me by saying, "If you were a woman...." and of course, I allowed quickly that I AM a woman. He has a quick sense of humor and is fun. We told stories, as families do and Lance asked the older set to share embarrassing stories of each other, which they quickly did. The best was when my Aunt Opal shared the story of when she and my Aunt Shirley were interrupting my Uncle Ernie's newspaper reading and he picked them up and head butted the two girls and told them to be quiet...they were.

Justin, Laura's son is the young boy who sent me my Flat Stanley character that has been travelling with me to various countries throughout the year. I have faithfully reported Stanley's experiences in various countries and Stanley has always sent presents and treats back to Justin's class in Madison, Alabama.
He sweetly thanked me and also showed me where he smashed the side of his face on a concrete step while in Mexico, where his dad is right now helping to build their home. Mia, Laura's oldest daughter is combining her quincenera with her 16th birthday and she will shortly start her driver's training classes. Freedom and independence...HA!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Las Recoleciones

One of the neat things about exploring is the surprises one encounters just rounding a corner. We were at Las Recoleciones, some ruins of an old cloister, school and infirmary from the 1700's and rounded a corner to encounter this lovely garden. And then, later, peaking through an area that was being reconstructed, we found this gorgeous angel just leaning against the portico waiting to see where she would next land. She is very detailed and looked like she was swinging an incense basket or maybe playing a gourd instrument...we couldn't get close enough to see her clearly. Her face is precious and she was frozen with a look of pure heaven on her face.

TSA and returning to our country....

Our last day in Antigua, I was wearing my Up North t-shirt and both Kenz and Logan had on Michigan shirts and we ran into so many people from Michigan...some mission workers, but many former residents and we met several MSU fans and alumni.

When we flew into Dallas on the return leg, we met the bitch from hell...a TSA person checking passports who decided to grab Addison and take her by the arm pulling her away from me. Of course, I followed and she yelled at me to stay where I was. Told her I wasn't being separated from my grandaughter and she told me she would have me arrested. Hmmm...just how many adults would allow a stranger to grab their kid, pull her away and out of their sight? Would love for her to have had me arrested. Addison came to stand beside me and another TSA agent, when I said, "she is being a bitch," responded, "yup, come with me." It seems Addison had not "signed" her passport in script...not sure when they teach cursive but she printed her name with ugly woman looking on....that was ME and the TSA person. I dislike poorly educated, low paid personnel being "in charge" of anything.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

McDonald's.....Antigua Style

A friend suggested that we hit McDonalds because it is so upscale. Yup, I know, an oxymoron. You know this is McDonalds because of the M in the wood carving of this fountain. This place is an architectural delight...with huge gardens, huge open spaces and NO golden arches anywhere.
Apparently, the city is trying to get a grip on code enforcement and they have begun with businesses coming in from outside the country. We went and checked out this place and then, our last day in country, we bought food...Addison couldn't believe her luck.

One of the gardens and you can see the McDonald's uniform on the person serving food to the guests. Yes, serving McDonalds. This big fountain wasn't working the first day we were there, but it was when we returned.
And really, where can one sit at McDonald's, eat food and look out over ruinas that are over 350 years old? Tranquil. Beautifully manicured. Spotlessly clean and pricing was Guatemalan.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The poor...ant the lessons learned

It was quite common to see people sleeping in the noisy streets...this was early morning and as the poor go, these men were fairly clean. We were on our way to Las Recoleciones that morning.
We had several interesting situations with the poor...while waiting for Logan to come off the mountain, some very dirty, nasty young boys appeared, begging and not for money. They wanted food. So, I tore up my sandwiches and so did Kenz and we gave these kids our dinner. I assumed Addie had eaten hers because she didn't offer to share with these kids...and later that night, she threw her sandwich away. Kenz and I were upset at the waste. This is another cemetary and these are graves for the poor children who died at a public cemetary outside of Antigua. The open holes are where the bones have been removed and thrown away because the families could not pay the $13. per year fee...after three years, thrown out.

Mt. Pacaya....the day we lost Logan

We decided to take the hike up Pacaya as a group but my knee pooped out and I just couldn't do I came back down the mountain to wait for the kids. Logan had thrown up earlier but ascended with Kenz, Addison and the guide. He later threw up and the guide told him to sit and await their return or walk down the path to wait for me.

Instead, after feeling a bit better, Logan joined another tour group with no communication with anyone. When the guide and kids returned, without Logan, all hell broke out. The police/rangers were called and no one had seen or talked to him so a no holds barred search began. The police, our guide, our driver and other rangers began calling on their radios, charged around and up the mountain and after 45 minutes they located him up at the top of the volcano, now, apparently too weak to walk down and needing a horse. So, I was asked if I would pay for a horse. I did.

Two and a half hours after we could have left and at nightfall, he finally came down. The guide had stayed because he was sure he was going to lose his job. We had another student with us who also was held up...I ended up paying for the horse and a bunch of tips and for drinks for all the rescue workers so Logan owes me about $60.

His story...differs. He said a cop told him it was safer if he joined another group. was that going to happen? He doesn't know Spanish and this is out in the boondocks of Guate. And the rangers told Hector, our driver and me, that they had seen no tall white teenager alone.

Anyway, he was located but ruined an entire evening for everyone. We were not amused that someone with no language, no experience, no survival skills would not follow directions and Kenz was there to hear the directions. Won't ever happen again.