Winter’s antidote

So when last I graced these pages with my erudition, I complained about the interminability of winter. Little did you know that I had a cunning plan for freeing myself from winter’s vile clutches! Indeed, in the strange New England tradition known as February break, we hied ourselves down to Mexico, where a cold day is when it dips below 70.

We’ve been to Cozumel five times, by my count, and to the Intercontinental three times. We went first for the high quality (included in room price) child care, and stayed for the fantastic reefs and unbeatable rooms. We pretty much stayed put this time, venturing out of the resort only twice – once by boat and once by taxi on the tiny island.

It was superbly relaxing. We snorkeled between once and three times a day. We read for hours. The hotel pool was warmed to the world’s most perfect temperature. The spa was fantastic. The poolside food service excellent. The four restaurants enough to keep us from getting totally sick of the menu.

The only real downside was the night where I decided (in long pants and a long shirt!) to sit on our “front porch” and read until late. I woke up the next morning with 83 mosquito bites. The skeeters weren’t out at all during the day, but they were stealthy predators by night. For the record, I read through about 30% of the catalog of M.C.A Horgath during my stay, which I highly recommend as beach resort reading. She’s rather prolific. I hadn’t realized I’d read such a small percent!

The snorkeling was awesome, and since we my Valentine’s gift was a new underwater camera (which was fantastic, by the way!) we have a lot to remember it by. We saw moray eels, lobster, sea turtles, eagle rays, starfish, parrot fish, anemones, barracuda and all manner of fantastic underwater beasties!

We returned to cold rain and gray days, but with warm memories to sustain us. Now, to survive Monday….

Mr. and Mrs. Iguana here were one of Thane’s favorite parts

Moray Eel
I loved these bubbles
The serenity of the reef
Two thumbs up to this cool full face snorkel mask!

Our room was right in front of the first palm tree on the left
Sea turtle!!
Eagle ray!
Family portrait
My boys and me
Starfish in “El Cielo” – the sky

The pool was amazing
The Thane snuggles were also amazing
Handsome menfolk!
Grey approves

Oil and ashes

The southern point of Cozumel

I really love writing, and I love writing this blog. I have watched it fade over the last few years with chagrin. There was a time that I wrote many times a day – back in the Livejournal days of my youth. Then at least once a day. Then at least twice a week. Once a week. Once every two weeks is more or less my current schedule. There are many causes. Sometimes I think the longer form I employ on this blog is a mistake, since it calls me to be more thoughtful and write better. I am tired of my own autobiographical story: I went somewhere. I did something. The kitchen is dirty. The children are joyful. My friends fill my life with adventures. I prefer my own writing about thoughts – about the noticing of the world. I like the way my eyes work when I gaze at life on your behalf.

Today is Ash Wednesday. I sit in my high attic – the elevation makes the stars brighter and dims the noise of the city downstairs. Through these higher, unsullied windows I watch snowflakes like tourists lost in back allies change their minds in their dance between roofs. I’m listening to Russian Orthodox liturgical music, which captures Lent very well for me. I do not recognize the words, but the vast number of voices – so low and so high – sound very sincere, and as though they really know the darkness of Lent. The older I get, the more I love Lent. Maybe more than Christmas, or Advent, or even Easter. Many of the meaningful parts of the Christian calendar have been co-opted by culture. I love Christmas, but not as a Christian. I love it as a child reborn. I turn to Lent and to Pentecost for the depth of contemplation and the spirit of fire I need to bring even a hint of Christ into my secular life.

I was very diligent in getting and organizing my pictures from Cozumel. I did that the first day I was back. I was less diligent in sharing them with you. Probably because I intended to write a novella on the topic of Cozumel, but what somehow aware that would be uninteresting.

The pictures are here.

The summary is this: Such epic vacations carry with them a hope and expectation out of line with the fact that fallible humans will undertake them. I went to Cozumel primed for it to be imperfect, especially with children. I was gallantly rewarded with behavior better than I thought my children capable of, relaxation, love, laughter, snorkeling, adventures and joy. It more perfect than such things can be expected to be.

There was a moment when I went snorkeling with Grey. He asked me to hold his hand as we went out, and fighting against the hard current, I held it tight. Unsure of his courage in deep waters, we went further and further out – more aquatic wonders opening to our eyes – until we hovered above a sunken wreck. There I was with hot sun on my back, small courageous hand in mine and flocks of brilliantly colored fish swimming in uncannily perfect formations through untread stairways. And for a moment, my life was perfect.

How are you doing? Do you lament over the longness of the winter? Do you look forward to the quietness of Lent? Have you had a perfect moment? Do you miss me?

The Eastern coast

Sad to say, but I’m on my way


A fortnight ago I picked my careful way through icing puddles to the nail salon. I drove, even though it is two blocks away and I had time, because the sidewalks are nigh impassible. I asked for a pedicure, and picked a completely unprofessional, unseasonable, inappropriate robin’s egg blue. I watched ice skating and slalom while my toes were transformed. I carefully covered them in layers of thick socks and sturdy shoes for my homeward journey. It seemed impossible to me, in that moment, that there would ever again be a time when my toes would willingly encounter non climate controlled air.


A week ago found me rising at 3:30 in the morning, and pouring my dressed-before-bed children into a taxi, which wound in the predawn darkness to the airport. (Which airport was absolutely chock-full of other parents with other tired children.) My sons both blew my mind with their exceptionally awesome behavior on the first flight to Houston and the second, down to the small island of Cozumel – just across the channel from the playground of Cancun. The island is very small – a teardrop off the cheek of the Yucatan. We stood in unaccustomed heat in an outdoor line. The returning travelers looked tanned, relaxed and sad to be leaving. The pale and pasty newcomers, waiting for immigration, had anticipation writ large across our tired & dark-eyed features.

It was nine years ago that I last came to Cozumel. I was gravid in pregnancy, and longed for the weightless relief of warm waters. I noticed the changes as we took the short taxi ride from the airport to the resort (a new one – I discovered the one I’ve been to twice before is in the midst of a major remodel, which explains why it had no rooms available).

We are at the Presidente Intercontinental. Even the driveway made me feel like I was about to experience something rather more luxurious than my standard expectation – which was true. Our room is small, with two full beds and a fine carpeting of Legos (to make it feel like home). Strangely, there was no lamp on the balcony (the phrase “you get what you pay for” usually refers to what happens when you cheap out. In this case, a more-expensive-than-I-would-have-liked vacation has come along with excellent service and facilities, and within moments sent two guys to figure out how to get a light on the balcony.) But I have watched warm pacific waters through a peek-a-boo curtain of palms every day here.

I have taken somewhere between a bajillion and a quadrillion pictures (discovering that the lighting conditions on tropical beaches are actually quite challenging for people pictures and also that my children have come to see me as unwelcome paparazzi when I have a camera in hand). The resort has a fantastic child care offering (paid for as part of the overall price, which I appreciated), so all the days but two Adam and I have gotten to snorkel together, as we have on romantic vacations since we got married. We visited Mayan ruins and watched the wild, unchecked waves of the Caribbean. We saw many, many, many iguanas. The boys played in the sand, learned to love the pool, learned to swim way way way better and learned absolutely nothing about effective bargaining techniques. (Ask me about the shark tooth necklaces!)

Today we coaxed Grey, who had spent days snorkeling in the pool and avoiding the ocean, to join us for a snorkel. I was entirely prepared for it to be beyond his courage. It can be intimidating, seeing the vast seascapes of the ocean unfold as an unknowable world before you, the colors fading in distance. When we encountered a barracuda in the first five minutes, I was entirely prepared for a hasty retreat. As we, holding his hands, pulled him further away from shore and towards the coral-encroached sunken ship, I could hardly believe his courage held. But it did. We saw so much together. It was a moment past what I could have hoped for, where the vistas of his dreamscapes expanded. He also devoured, in a heart-warmingly familiar way, “The Westing Game” For a day or two there, any question pointed his direction was answered with an “mm-hmmm”. I loved seeing his sun-burnt nose stuck in a book. For all he was an early reader, I have had trouble moving him into chapter books. He prefers the easy familiarity of comic books. I hope that an affair or two with a good novel might change that.

Thane is, as ever, indomitable. Fearless in the water, he started the week nearly drowning himself. A pool noodle added just enough buoyancy for him to not drown mostly. Towards the end of the week, we just put him in a life jacket and let him go in the pool. (Actually, his wonderful caretaker Keri thought of that first. The Kids Club here isn’t just Screens R Us. She takes them to see the iguana habitats, and to go swim at the pool. Thane refused to join us twice today because she was helping him sew a very cool alligator puppet.) He also loved hanging out on the beach (I wonder how long it will take before he has no sand in his hair?) He and Grey have been amazing brothers this week. I just loved seeing his excited face and bouncing eyes above his third cup of strawberry yogurt every morning – so full of joy and wonder and gratitude.

While I was writing this on the porch, a fire dance broke out on the beach below. So cool!

I’ll post again once I go through the pictures. When Adam and I came here last, we had a film camera. This time we took pictures on: my good camera, my old point-and-shoot, Adam’s phone, my phone, my iPad. It’s funny how many changes a decade can bring.

We prepare our return back to our land of cloudy skies and gales. I confess to being unenthused by piled snow, chill drafts and stinging cheeks. I prefer the nuisance of sunscreen. But I feel thawed, rested, invigorated. I have connected strongly and deeply with the people I love most in this world. I have visited the Summerlands from the heart of winter, and won a respite from the seasons. I’ve seen lionfish and stars and smiles. I return to my labors with a lighter heart and darker skin.

Why we have children

Role playing in paradise
Role playing in paradise

When I was pregnant, I used to joke with people that we were having kids so that my husband would have a built in gaming group constantly available. Anyone who has ever been with my husband on a quiet evening and seen the glint in his eyes and he pulled out a dice bag and asked who was up for a Cthulu one shot knows that I wasn’t really kidding.

Still, kids have had more of a dampening than enhancing effect on our gaming life. Our weekly game has survived (the fourth kid has recently been added to the table in the person of a wee little boy born on Christmas Eve), but… well… let’s just say that Adam missed Gencon hotel reservation because he was picking up a sick kid. If anyone has an extra spot in a Gencon hotel let me know. He’ll only be there from midnight to 7 am.

But lately the kids have been getting old enough to do some real actual gaming. Grey is a full on reader, and pretty patient with games. What Thane lacks in literacy he makes up for in spacial reasoning genius. I refuse to play the game, but I bet he’d whup me in Ricochet Robot.

Adam has been playing games with the boys for years. He’s taught them to roll dice and simplified systems. He’s drawn maps and created compelling npcs with silly voices. Grey has played “Eric of the Golden Sword” for years. Thane calls his 1:! game with dad “Lord of the Rings” (it’s not).

On the plan to Cozumel – in which tropical island I currently find myself – Grey read a 7 page Fate rulebook. (Reading a rulebook cover to cover puts him one up on me…) And right now, on the front porch, Grey is running a game he’s been working on all day. There are puzzles and NPCs and monsters and props. Thane and Daddy are sitting with the GM, enjoying the story. Grey is doing a great job – I’ve played in worse games than he’s currently running.

Adam may not have been waiting for this QUITE his whole life. But he has been waiting for it all Grey’s life. Let the gaming begin.