Don’t Stop BELIZING

If you are a child of the 80’s you are humming along after reading that title. Chanel your inner Journey. Sing the sound. Out loud. It makes you feel good…

As the song goes….Don’t stop belizing—hold onto that feelin

Speaking of journey…..haha….see what I did that.

During our Belize studies (and the studying we did reading the travel magazine while waiting in lines in custom) we heard about something called the Secret Beach.

Getting there required a 45minute golf cart ride along the island. If you’ve read anything about my traveling experience you know that motorized vehicles aren’t my strong suit.Read here for the moped debacle . Nonetheless, I was willing to try again.

“Are we going to have another moped story?” Liam asked as we piled in our rented golf cart and prepared to follow the hand written map to our destination. A map I must confess included such directions as “when the map ends turn right” and “4 miles down a dirt road.”

We took off. Through the streets of San Pedro we went. We passed bikes, more of the open air boutiques I described yesterday and shanties. The roads may have been paved with good intentions but that was all about all the paving that had. Potholes the size of a small car were prevalent. There were several times I did the whole use-my-arm-as-a-seatbelt to prevent Kinsley from hitting the dash. On more then one bumpy occasion I had to turn around to be sure Liam was still perched on the back seat.

In San Pedro fast food consisted of folding tables and pots and pans full of homemade food sitting haphazardly either on or just beside the road. We passed those too. “Co-Co nuts….fresh co-co-nuts,” barkers called out, “we’ve got rum!” They would add to entice passerby’s to stop.

Co-co nuts and we got rum to go in ‘me

Block after block we found abandoned constructions sites. Hotels half built. Homes with the skeleton of a 2nd story only barely completed. Several of the properties looked as if the crew had simply walked away one day and never returned. I’d love to know the stories behind the empty ruins that appeared to have meant to be luxury hotels or lavish homes.

Large iguanas sunned themselves on porches. Single palm trees stood sentry in empty lots. The further we went out the more space there became between the crumbling structures. Soon there were handmade signs proclaiming a BAR or a YOGA retreat.

As instructed we got to what appeared to be the end of the island and turned off onto a dirt road. Water began to appear. Marshy, low lands with salt water rivers popping up here and there. It was the only indication we were headed in the right direction.

After a very bumpy 45 minutes we saw a sign pointing toward the Secret Beach. We drove a little more and out of the desolate land popped an oasis. A cheerful man saw us and waved us over. “You are here! Welcome to the Secret Beach. Come. Come.” We parked where he directed and looked ahead.

You never have to guess where you are in Belize

Perfection.

Palm trees swayed. Music played. Bright blue water laid out as far as we could see. A huge bar was off the the left. Blue cushioned lounge chairs stood ready and waiting. Further out a water playground waited for little ones to play upon. A pier and a thatched pavilion overlooked the turquoise water.

I giggled in glee. Actually giggled. I was so freaking excited. It was paradise. Absolute paradise. Any stress left in my body faded away and I was as suddenly as relaxed and happy as I had ever, ever been.

We spent the morning sipping on cocktails and exploring the clear, cool waters of the sea. The sea was so salty it held you up. All you had to do was kick up your feet and you could float for hours while the water lapped over you.

The secret beach was made up of 3-4 little areas each with their own bar and delights. One had swings in the ocean. Another had little boats you could rent. yet another was a full scale restaurant and bar. This restaurant was unique in that the tables were IN THE WATER. You swam up to your table and a fully dressed water waded over and took your order. While you waited on your food you snorkled around the table seeing sea horses, needle nose fish, tarpon and shiny silvery fish that swam around your feet waiting for you to drop your chip into the water. If you weren’t a snorkeler you could play beer bong in the center of the tables. If tables weren’t your thing you could rent a tube, tie it up to the table and eat and drink floating all around. “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond played while the patrons sang along. Boats pulled right up to the pier where people debarked and swam over to tables.

Forget toes in the sand..put mine in water

How. Cool. Is. That? I mean seriously HOW COOL IS THAT?

We stayed in paradise all day.

The kids snorkled and I napped.

I napped and the kids snorkled.

We took pictures. In the same order that Kinsley had already established: Me, her, she and I, she and Liam, Liam and then all of us.

We bought souvenirs from 2 little girls with a table set up. Their mother was Guatemalan and handmade purses. They made more of the ever present bracelets and beaded items. Carved wood pieces made of local wood. A lady walked around offering to braid your hair Island style. They offered their wares, they didn’t nag or pester. There very presence added to the festive, fun, party atmosphere of the little beach there at the end of the world.

I could have stayed forever but the clouds darkened and the sun began to fade. We rushed to our golf cart as the skies opened up and rain began to fall.

The rain barely lasted long enough for us to get damp. But we’d spent the day in paradise and it was time to head back.

Midway down the barely marked road I suddenly realized the absurdity of the situation. Here I was on a rented golf cart, miles away from the safety of our resort. I had only a crudely drawn map to show me the way. I had 2 teens in tow. Our phones didn’t work.

About the time I started nervously laughing at the whole situation the gold cart went dead. I laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed while the teens looked at me like I’d lost my mind. I barely had time to panic when my smart girl realized that the severe bumps in the road had caused the golf carts lever to pop into neutral. Moments later we were back on the road.

It was an adventure within our adventure.

On the way back we stopped at a Co-Co nut stand to let Liam buy a non-alcoholic coconut—straight off the tree. He sat like a toddler with a Capri Sun sipping coconut water right out of the fruit. He might have enjoyed it more had I not hit the worlds largest pot hole that sent him and the coconut flying. Any liquid he had remaining was soon splashed all over him when I, intent of capturing a picture of the surroundings, veered a little too far off the road and almost hit a bike. I don’t believe I was all that close but my dramatic daughter grabbed the wheel and jerked us to the other side of the road.

Words were exchanged. But lets not dwell on that.

Once we were safe and sound back at our little hut I was quite proud of myself. I felt brave. I felt like I’d created memory within a memory that made the whole trip even more faceted then even I had imagined.

And I hadn’t repeated the whole ‘moped’ incident.

Still Un-Belizable

At first I started writing this as one long blog. But each time as I typed I realized as I wrote I was re-living the moments. I wanted to prolong by Belize feelings so I decided to write about my trip in a series…prolonging the joy I felt on our journey.

So here is part two.

As I stated, the first BEST decision I made was employing Global Escapes to help plan our adventure. Before we left we got a complete packet of information to help make the most of our trip. Everything we needed to know was provided. I knew the projected weather. I had packing tips. I know the Belizean currency was 2X the American dollar and I knew that most places took dollars and accepted by beloved debit card. I also had a listing of favorite restaurants near me.

The food at Ramon’s Village was scrumptious. The resort restaurant, Pineapple’s, offered delicious breakfast, easy lunches and elevated dinner options. We didn’t need to leave the resort to get good food. But, thanks to Tiffany at Global Escapes I knew there were other options within walking distance.

So we set out to find Iguana Juan’s. To my delight our traveling buddy donned a flamingo shirt for our jaunt. He looked so handsome and excited. My girl put on one of her flouncy tops purchased especially for the trip. All gussied up as my mama would say, we set out on foot. The restaurant was a few blocks from our tropical hut.

All dresses up and out on the town

Walking the streets was another layer of our adventure. I felt completely safe walking along the streets. Golf carts zoomed all around us. People smiled. Buildings were run down but brightly colored. Banners for Belikin Beer were everywhere—it was obvious Belize was proud of their beer and encouraged everyone to partake. Tucked into nooks were what I can only call Bodegas. Inside you could get souvenirs, liquor and everything in between. Clothes hung from rafters and fences—a yard sale in the USA…a boutique in San Pedro. The village was very obviously poor. But proud.

Fathers rode bikes with toddlers perched on their hips. Mothers bounced mopeds on sidewalks while their young sons ran into doorways and returned with bags of food. There were no Chick-Fil-A’s. Takeaway food seemed to be doled out from doorways that were barely, if at all,marked in any way as a business. An ice cream vendor pushed an old fashioned cart peddling nice, cold treats. He had an old bell in his hand that he rang as he walked. At one point he stopped and knocked on the window of a barber shop. Adults and little ones ran out and purchased what I assume was a popsicle.

It was quaint. It was familiar but foreign all at the same time.

At Iguna Juan’s we walked up a set of stairs and into an open room. Only 3 other dinners were inside. A rotund little man greeted us like family and told us to sit wherever we wanted. There was a thin balcony adorned with small tables meant for 2. He noticed us looking that way and urged us to pull up a seat and sit where we had a view of the street.

He asked if we were visiting and was delighted when we told him that we were and that our travel agent had recommended the restaurant. “We have great hamburgers, try our hamburgers, it’s what we are known for.”

So we did.

The drinking age in Belize is 18 so my graduates were able to order a daiquiri. The only downside of our resort was that it sold non-alcoholic smoothies along with beer and wine. No liquor. As accommodating as they were they were quick to urge you to visit a supermercado to buy some local rum to add to your smoothie. My young companions weren’t the beer or wine type so this was their first experience ordering a REAL drink.

They ordered their little daiquiris while I ordered the special Carnita. A tropical twist on a margarita. It was to be the perfect companion to my teriyaki burger with spicy pineapple salsa garnish.

Our host was also the bartender and the waiter. He might have even been Juan. I don’t know. He certainly was a one man show. He ooozed happiness and just being around him made me smile.

While we sipped and waited we took in the sites from our second story balcony seat. Directly opposite us was obviously a home. The door was propped open, I assume, to allow the breeze to blow in. A 2 liter bottle of coke sat on a table draped in plastic. The male of the house sat half in, half out of the doorway smoking. The grandmother ran in and out busily doing chores of some sort. In the small window of the first floor I made eye contact and smiled at a woman who was rinsing chicken parts in a green plastic bowl. I am not sure she had running water. I can’t say if she was prepping in a restaurant or cooking for a large family. Either are possible. Beside her was what appeared to be a bar. A man sat on a stool and talked on a cell phone the entire time we were there.

A young man strolled up the street carrying the fastest baby I’d ever seen. She wore a tropical little dress and had bright yellow sunglasses perched on her fat little cheeks.

It was all so normal but do different all at the same time. I could have sat there all day just watching and observing the lives of the villagers.

But soon, on island time, our food was delivered.

The burgers did no disappoint. They were HUGE. The teriyaki touch made a familiar burger exotic and tropical. The fresh pineapple salsa….oh my….it took every ounce of me to not lick the bowl. AMAZING. Liams potato’s had Belize spice added so they were tangy and pungent and downright delicious. I can’t tell you what the bun was made of but damn was it good.

All checks came with 2 amounts: the BZ or Belizean amount and the American dollar amount. You chose which version you paid. It wasn’t complicated but it was exciting. With the Belizean currency being twice the American dollar you felt like you were getting everything at 50% off! I love a good sale and every time I signed a check I felt like I was winning.

After lunch we wondered along different streets toward the sea. Beside a humble abode there would be a placard announcing a business of sorts. Tiny souvenir stores were tucked here and there. Inside were inexpensive t-shirts and artifacts of all sorts.

A reminder of the pandemic…everyone wore masks. Even on their bikes. A few stores were closed. The fresh air art market was only going to be open a few days versus all week. Hand sanitizer which I suspect was simply water in most cases sat outside most stores. The people didn’t seem fearful or panicked, just taking precautions. I felt safe and felt protected.

A little further down, right off the street there was a brightly painted park. SAN PEDRO letters stood against the concrete play area. It was an ideal photo spot.

Underneath the letters and the playscapes families sat having picnics out of little baggies of food.

The people of San Pedro always seem to be relaxed and lazing about. The adults sit and watch as children run up to tourist holding handfuls of brightly colored bracelets. “Para mi escuela” they chant holding up the bracelets and allowing their big, brown eyes to coerce you to buy. If you say NO they run away with no more effort. If you say YES they excitedly help you pick out the best of the bunch. The little urchins take American dollars or Belize money and they are quite adept at telling you their prices in either demonization.

The whole area is, in a word, charming.

Later that evening we sat at the Tiki hut sipping on our non-alcoholic smoothies and playing checkers with beer caps.

San Pedro is laid back and chill. You don’t feel rushed to do anything. Everything moves at an island pace. Sitting and watching the ocean, reading in hammocks by the sea, listening the the bamboo wind chimes out side the little gift shop…none of it seems like a waste of time. There aren’t a million other things you feel like you need to be doing to make the most of your vacation days. That’s part of the charm of the island.

Each night we tucked in early. At first the teens balked but quickly realized there wasn’t anything else that they needed to be doing. We played all day and, at night, we tucked in and relaxed in a different way.

These two-never a dull moment

The huts didn’t have TVs. They did have refrigerators so we visited a local store and bought sodas and snacks and yes, some local liquor. At night the younger ones played on their phones or wrestled about. They popped open sodas and watched crime documentaries on their tiny phones while I read.

That may sound boring to some but it was priceless to me. I got to be a part of my girls relationship with her beau—which is absolutely adorable. I got to relax and recharge and rest…something I didn’t realize how much I needed until I did it.

Many people looked at me like I’d lost my mind when I said I was traveling with my girl and her guy. But he makes her happy. Hell, he makes me happy. He’s a delight to be around. For over a year he’s been part of our family. Sharing this experience with him made it all the more special. Bless his heart…he was even a good sport when my girl made us take pictures in this order: her, him, them, me, her, she and I and then all of us. “Just in case we ever break up I want you to still have pictures to remember the trip,” she explained. He loves her and is patient with all of her realistic and frank explanations of things. Lord love him.

Every vacation has it’s own pace; it’s own vibe. Our pace on San Pedro was slow, relaxed and easy. The vibe was exciting but chill. I hadn’t known what to expect. I’d been a little nervous about having bored teens. But, like everything else in Belize, I found the pace just what I needed.

Being in Belize was just taking a deep, deep breath and I loved it.

Un-Belizable Beginning

After weeks of scouring the internet trying to plan a monumental graduation trip for my big girl I threw in the towel and called Tiffany at Global Escapes.

Best. Decision. Ever.

I had a rather lofty list:

1. The trip needs to require the use of a passport.

2. The trip needs to involve an ocean.

3. The trip needs to need memorable and special.

4. The trip needs to have a bucket list worthy item on it.

5. Oh, and I have a budget.

To my surprise and delight she didn’t hang up on me. She didn’t even groan aloud. I am sure she wanted to.

Soon I had a choice….A CHOICE…of trips that met my demands.

I chose Belize.

Second. Best. Decision. Ever.

I hadn’t verbalized by other wish list items: it must appeal to an 18 year old, I need it to be incredible so she knows how much I appreciate her help this past year, this trip needs to be as amazing as she is and it would be great if it offered mama a chance to relax as well.

Days before the trip I got a nicely packaged itinerary. Every detail was planned. Everything was thought of and thought thru…FOR ME.

That alone was a treat.

The direct flight to Belize was easy. Even with the slight mechanical issue that delayed our departure I was relaxed and excited. Mask were required for the entire flight….a reminder of the world we still live in.

When the large jet landed we made our way outside to the tarmac. Confession time: I’ve never seen the movie Casablanca. But, for reasons I can’t explain, I felt like the heroine of that movie as the coastal heat washed over me.

Customs was easy. Our COVID vaccination cards got us fast tracked. I quickly learned that island pace is different from my normal pace but it was okay. Everyone was smiling and friendly and there was no angst because of any language barriers.

It wasn’t long before we were sipping a Belizean beer (and soda) waiting on out 13 minute flight to our final destination. The little airport was quaint. The beer booth was happy with my American dollars and the bright colors and festive atmosphere already had been feeling relaxed.

A Belikin Beer in Belize…say that 3 times

In our tiny plane with Kinsley sitting in the co-pilot seat we flew toward San Pedro. The clouds were white, the water below were shades of blue I’d never seen and the greenery was lush and exotic. Though still traveling, our vacation had started.

At the airport we were greeted by a handsome, smiling porter. He welcomed us to his island, hefted our bags and helped us into a waiting golf cart.

Golf carts were everywhere! There weren’t really lanes—just room for golf carts going in different directions in some sort of understood pattern. It was controlled chaos. I barely had time to take in the bright colored but well worn store fronts before the golf cart we were in skirted to the left onto a sandy path.

We were mere blocks from the airport but we’d been swept into a different world.

Wide, white, sandy paths. Lush green tropical forest creating a canopy on all sides. Birds sang. Hibiscus flowers bloomed. A warm breeze took away the heat. We had arrived in paradise: Ramon’s Village.

Not a bad walk!

It was everything I wanted and more than I had imagined. Our room was in a thatched hut. The front doors opened to our own little slice of the forest. The ceilings were varnished wood native to the island. The air was cold, as cold as we could stand. It was, in a word: heaven.

Exploring only confirmed my diagnosis. Hammocks hung under thatched roofs right beside the sea. The pool was blue and wined around lush bushes and tall trees. The wind blew the palms making them rustle so that they created an almost melodic soundtrack as we examined the restaurant, the boats and the dock sitting atop perfectly clear, hauntingly blue water.

Literally living the dream

That first day we snorkeled, swam, read books in the hammocks and allowed ourselves to be totally and completely taken care of.

Thanks to Tiffany at Global Escapes our perfect vacation was laid out ideally. Our first day we relaxed and explored and delighted at each new thing we found.

Our own little treasure found right off our little dock

The next morning we awoke with the first of our bucket list items: snorkeling a live coral reef and swimming with sharks. I can’t lie. I was nervous. I’ve snorkled once when I visited the manatees. I can’t say I was good at it. I wasn’t sure how well I would do in the middle of the sea.

Ramon’s Village is primarily a diving resort. Large groups of divers of all ages and sizes tested equipment, geared up and talked of the excursions they had taken and would be taking that day. The travelers visited the guides like family. There were hugs and shouts of recognition as they got ready. Some talked English, some talked Spanish and many spoke a combination of both. It was exotic without being intimidating.

While we waited we sipped on Fanta Pineapple and cold cokes out of thick glass bottles. The Belize version of the popular soft drinks even tasted like a vacation: similar enough to be comforting but different enough to be exciting.

Joshua, our guide, greeted us with helped us to our boat. He was gorgeous. Skin the color of the most perfect latte. Soft brown hair curly hair and a quick smile that made me feel instantly relaxed and safe.

The Hol Chan Marine reserve wasn’t far from our village. The coral reefs surrounding San Pedro kept the sea at bay so that the waters inside the reef had movement without the up and down, up and down movement of the open sea. The waters were deep blue or brilliant turquoise depending on the depths.

Joshua gave some brief instructions and we took to the water. It was me, my girl and her guy. Our own private tour. Within seconds of putting on my goggles I was blown away. Fan Coral waved back and forth as if welcoming us. Bright, tropical fish swam all around us-not the least bit shy around us humans. A large turtle chomped on sea grass right below me. A large ray played beside us, eels weaved in and out of large brain coral. There were colors I’d never seen, shapes I didn’t know existed. It was alive and moving and I got to watch it all. The high levels of salt made it so you floated without effort so that nothing distracted you from just being there, in the middle of an underwater playground. Liam was brave enough to dive deep and swim through an underwater cavern like a native snorkler.

The snorkeling experience was enough. But there was still adventure to be had. We got back on the boat and went a few feet to the next phase. There the guides explained that this area of the reef was where fisherman had always come to clean their fish. Sharks became accustomed to the sound of boat motors and immediately gathered when a boat arrived in anticipation of being feed with the fisherman’s scraps. The guides would chum the water on one side of the boat and we would gently slide into the water on the other side. From there we would observe the sharks.

There are sharks in these waters!

True to their word, the boat stopped and immediately 10 or 12 sharks began circling the boat. Some were small, some were not. Nurse sharks as long as 8 feet swam right below us! I should have been scared. I wasn’t. I was intrigued and excited and could hardly wait to be in the water with what I was sure to be a bucket list experience.

By the time I was in the water there were over 30 sharks swarming around the chum being thrown in the water. Their powerful tails whipped around as they fought to get in the feeding frenzy. Others swam silently from behind to join in the fray. Hauntingly empty eyes caught mine, skin like sandpaper scrapped my arms as they swam close enough to brush against me. I couldn’t look away. I could hardly keep my snorkel in my mouth because I was smiling so broadly and kept saying “this is incredible, this is incredible, this is incredible” even though no one could hear me.

Eventually the sharks tired of the chum and one by one wandered off into the blue of the sea.

It was only the start of our adventure but it was already move than I could have imagined

One lesson learned: the underwater camera suggested is a MUST. I made the mistake of being cheap and NOT spending the $30 needed to get one at the dive shop.

On the way back to shore Joshua, perched high atop the driving panel of the boat started laughing and pointing at me. “I just saw your hat. It’s funny!” In Spanish he translated my hat to the captain of the boat. I SURVIVED THE QUARANTINE OF 2020! it read.

In this perfect place surrounded by so much beauty and wonder I had forgotten that for a year or more the world had shut down in a pandemic that impacted even those here in paradise. The reminder made the sun feel warmer, the wind feel more refreshing. The many, many blues of the water below us seemed bluer and all the sights I’d seen under the water seemed more vivid. What we were doing now seemed unattainable just months before. But after a year of hard, hard work, long hours, emotional toils and fear we were here….in Belize…having experiences liked I’d never dreamt possible.

Across the boat my daughter was smiling happily at her beau. She was beautiful. She was radiant. Her year had not been easy. She’d had to become a teacher, a sister, a surrogate mother all while navigating her own emotions over all that COVID had taken from her. Amongst all the challenges she had survived. No…she had THRIVED.

I wanted to give her a trip to celebrate all of that. I wanted to celebrate her, her accomplishments, her bravery and her spirit. I wanted a trip that made her smile and that would make her smile for years after it was over. I’d hoped to give her an experience-an adventure and a glimpse into the world that awaited her.

We were early into our trip but I was already certain that our Belize adventure was going to deliver all that I had wanted.

And it was only day 2!

From mama to my big girl

What would you tell your younger self?

I can’t go back and change anything in my life…nor would I…because every single step and misstep got me here, to this moment, where I am celebrating my amazing daughter.

I don’t want my girl to never have a misstep. Some of those missteps made me the person I am today. I want her to hurt a little so she values the happiness on the other side of hurt a little more.

I don’t want anything handed to her. The pride felt after working to obtain what you want is too valuable.

Other things I want her to know:

Have fun!

I’ve pushed your entire life telling you work first, play later. It’s my mistake that I never told you to have fun. Don’t take it all too seriously. Your quick wit and infectious laugh are proof that you have fun in your soul. Let it out more! Embrace the silly. Seize every moment that brings a smile to your face and lightens your heart. You’ve proven you can work hard. It’s okay to play a little too.

Swing for the fences

Swing for the fences. Even when you are nervous. Before your at bad you always took your practice swing with crossed legs. I knew it’s because your nervousness wanted you to flee for the restroom. But you didn’t. You stayed in the batters box. You will be nervous with your choices. Don’t let that stop you from taking them. Don’t concentrate on striking out. Focus on the ball Ana swing for the fence—every-time. You will strike out. It’s okay. You’ll also foul a little, pop up once or twice and get out but…but, if you try, you will also connect and with that connection you will score. Swing for the fence.

Be kind

Always offer a helping hand to someone who needs it. Help a little. Be kind every chance you get. You have high expectations of yourself and those around you. It’s okay to have those but…don’t be judg-ey. Sometimes people’s best will fall short. Understand that their best and your best are not the same. Find patience. Find grace.

Have a matching set of glasses and use them. You’ve lived in a house with mismatched glasses and odd and end dinnerware. That’s okay. But it’s also okay to have nice things. And to use nice things Don’t pull out the fancy plates just for fancy occasions. Make every occasion fancy. Celebrate as much as you can. Don’t let the small things go unnoticed while you wait for bigger things to come along.

Be authentic. Be you. Wear white glasses because you love them. Don’t follow a trend. Speak your mind (when appropriate). Don’t back down from a fight you believe it. Don’t take anyone else’s path…follow your own. In the end you are the only one you have to answer to. And you have to answer to yourself every time you look in the mirror. Don’t do anything that makes you look away. Be able to look yourself in the eye and know you stayed true to YOU.

All-Star Smiles

Find your tribe. You’ve seen the importance of having a tribe in my life. Find yours.

Someone believed that she could so she believed she might.

Try new things. Do things outside your comfort zone…that’s how you grow. Expand. Stretch yourself. Embrace every experience you can. Find the A in every day. Some days will suck. Straight up suck. Don’t focus on that. Focus on the one part, even if it’s just a second, of the good. And there is always good. Always. Sometimes you have to loom hard for it. But it’s there.

Dance

Dance. Dance your dance. With Cheeto dust in your teeth and with a little side pony tail you asked your grandpa to dance. You didn’t know all the steps but you danced anyway. And, in that moment, you created a memory that no one who witnessed it will ever forget. Make more of those type of moments.

Learn the art of compromise. Get what you want but be willing to see the worth in other things too. Sometimes you will want that $30 shirt. If you so, and if you can afford it, buy it. But sometimes that $5 shirt will wear and look just as good. Know when and where to spend more.

Things will not go as planned. Not everything will be perfect. Remember that sometimes, in the unplanned, there is unexpected joy. I spend hours making a backdrop by hand for this valentine. I dressed you up and prepared for a perfect picture. I got this instead. And it will forever be a favorite. It wouldn’t have happened if I had only seen beauty in the picture I had planned.

You are more then a number. GPA, test scores, rankings, social security…there will be lots of numbers in your life. Be more then the number.

People are always watching and looking up to you. Let your actions and your words give them something to emulate. Set examples. Lead the way. Do things you will be proud for others to see. Inspire courage, be courageous. Be bold and support boldness. Be kind and scatter kindness. Be someone’s champion and help others find someone to champion. Be honest and demand honesty in return. Speak with your truth and listen when others do the same. Be the last one in line when there is food but be the first to offer to clean up. Speak to the adults in the room whenever you enter. Even when you are an adult. Learn to shake hands. Learn to shake a mans hand firmly.

Don’t forget where you come from. Your path is your own but you share it with those that have shared your journey. Life is meant to be lived forward. Not backward. But sometimes you have to look back to get your bearings. Do that when you need to.

Keep arguing but quit when you see the argument needs to be over. Learn to admit when you are wrong. And you will be wrong. A lot. Being wrong doesn’t make you weak. Not admitting she you are wrong makes you a fool. And you are not foolish. Argue when you need to but shut up when it’s called for. Learn the difference. Learn what’s appropriate. Don’t be silent because it’s easier or because people don’t want you to speak. But don’t be afraid to be quiet. There is strength is speaking out. There is also strength in keeping quiet.

Be a lady. Be graceful and delicate. Say restroom, not pee. Put your napkin in your lap. Learn to walk in heels. Be soft. Sparkle. Find joy in sparkly things. Dress up. But feel beautiful in sweatpants and messy buns too. Don’t be afraid to get dirty!

Your cousins have been your best friends. Keep them in your life.

Be your own cheerleader. Cheer on others. Be the loudest voice for the slowest one in the race. Say good game to those that lost. Always thank the coach at that end of the game. Be humble when you lose and when you win. Remember that, no matter what it is, when you win that means someone lost. Put in the work. Don’t take shortcuts.

I am so proud of you my extraordinary girl. Thank you for all that you are. I’ve loved being your mama. No matter how old you are, how accomplished you become I will always be your momma. My arms will always be open for a hug. My shoulders will always be big enough to help carry your burdens. My home will always be your home. Here you will always be safe and wanted. Let me laugh with you, let me cry with you. I will celebrate all your victories and will mourn with you at your defeats. I will call you out when you are wrong. I will show you the way. Your path may take you in a different way. I won’t always agree in your direction. That’s okay. Your trip is your own.

I love you. I am proud of you. Everything I do, anything I say comes from those 2 simple truths.

Juxtaposition

Sometimes a word just comes to life.

So it was for me this week.

2 daughters.

Tuesday evening I was with one at honors night where she was awarded summa cum laude, an AP honor scholar award and her beta stole. My fierce, smart, driven girl starts at the University of Georgia after her graduation this week. She’s worked incredibly hard. She has a plan. There isn’t a single doubt in my mind that her tenacity will lead her to success.

The very next morning my big girl sat at my little girls 5th grade graduation.

The contrast was startling.

My youngest one won no awards. There were no accolades. She wasn’t recognized or applauded.

5th grade graduate

It was a juxtaposition. At least that’s the word that sprang to my mind.

My little one did her best. She worked as hard as she could to do as well as she could. I know that. I am not a participation trophy kind of mom. But in that moment I understood the participant trophy mentality.

I saw her eager little face as each award was called out. I knew she wanted one. But her best wasn’t enough to earn her one. I am not taking away from those that did win…I am not. But my heart ached wishing there was something that she’s accomplished that earned her recognition.

Her path is so different than that of her sister. One is not harder then the other. Both have their own mountains to conquer. But the world will rejoice when my first born conquers hers. No one will even know when my little one crests and peaks.

The following is making its way around Facebook.

I can’t tell you how much this spoke to me.

I also can’t tell her how much I struggle with this.

I don’t want to downplay the incredible success of one just to make the other feel worthy. I want my girl to shine brightly and to never, ever dull her own sparkle for anyone that complains she’s too bright.

I also don’t want my other one to think her light is any dimmer because it shines differently.

The contrast of the paths of my 2 girls is the definition of juxtaposition for me.

My girls!

As she walks across the stage on Saturday I want my big girl to feel how proud I am. I want her to know I am honored to be her mom. I am humbled by her. I am in awe of her. She makes me a better person. She makes the world better by being in it. Her accomplishments thus far, though incredible, are pale to what she will accomplish in the future. I want her to know that her hard work is not unnoticed. Her dedication and commitment to all she does is amazing. She is, quite simply, extraordinary.

But I also want the little one sitting beside me to know that she’s extraordinary too. In her OWN way. She’s not her sister. Her oath isn’t that of her sister. Her worth isn’t lessened because her accomplishments will be different. A test score, a grade, a gpa do not define her.

But she won’t understand that.

And I don’t want to lessen the pride my big girl has in such things by making light of them.

To see one soar while the other struggles to fly is hard on a mom. Fly high! I want to tell one.

You’ll fly one day! I promise the other. But aren’t there birds with wings that don’t fly? That’s my worry. That I don’t even know how to support my flightless girl on her journey. I don’t want to set an expectation that’s not meant for her to meet.

My big girl is leaving the nest and I am not ready.

My little girl may never leave the nest and I am not ready for that either.

Juxtaposition

Such contrast in 2 things so close in my heart.

cracked

Shattered

Break a mirror and you’ll have 7 years of bad luck!

Isn’t that how the old wives tale goes?

Today marks the 7 year anniversary of things shattering.

Too bad there isn’t a statute of limitations on shattered families or broken marriages.

I am reminded of this macabre anniversary every year because, ironically, the weekend my marriage ended and my life changed was the very weekend we were taking pictures of the beginning of someone else’s love story. Every year as they lovingly celebrate their wedding anniversary I am forced to remember the decline of my own.

Piece by piece I’ve put the shards back together. But a mirror pieced back together warps the image of the person that stands in front of it. My life now isn’t what my life looked like then. It’s like looking at life thru a fun house mirror all the time. Some of images are funny. Some of the warped images are scary; some are just a little skewed while others are twisted and distorted.

7 years of bad luck. If only I’d just broken a mirror.

Broken trust and heartbreak take longer than seven years to get over.

My life as a whole isn’t broken any longer…I’ve mended and put most of the pieces back together. In Japan they have a practice of using gold or precious metals to fix a broken pot. It’s called Kintsugi. Rather than hide the flaw—they accent it. The focus isn’t on the break but on the story the crack tells. The broken pot isn’t seen as worthless—the gold used to fill the cracks actually makes it more valuable. I like that.

The repair makes the pot stronger. The gold accents can make the broken pot more beautiful in some people’s eyes. The technique adds interest, it adds contrast and it changes the pot. I like to think of the cracks I have in the same way.

Most of the time I focus on how the pieces have fit back together. I believe I’ve created a life that, even with it’s imperfections, is beautiful.

But every once in awhile I am cut by the broken pieces. Broken homes aren’t easy on the little ones. Sharing a parents time, divided attention, not knowing your place….it’s all part of being a child of divorce. Seeing the hurt and confusion on my little ones face is the part that cuts. Having to dry little tears is sad. No matter how justified the decision it hurts to know you had to make it and that, by making it, you impacted the little ones you love the most.

Little slivers, unseen, sneak out of nowhere and cause pain. There, under the skin, are little splinters of glass that just hurt. Being alone is something you get used to but occasionally, out of nowhere, the loneliness of being alone slices a little too deep. Being alone isn’t bad. Being lonely is.

The hand on the small of your back when you go thru a doorway…warmth when your feet are cold…a hug that makes you feel safe…a phone call in the middle of the day just to say hello….these are the types of things you miss. And you miss them unexpectedly. It’s like catching a glimpse of your reflection out of get corner of your eye when walking down the street on a sunny day. That glimpse. That second that distracts you from your destination, makes your step falter just a bit. It’s like that.

I wrote about My Truth when it happened.

I am not going back there. I prefer to think of the broken pot. Cracks filled with gold. Broken pieces but back together to create a new piece of art. Seeing my cracks in that light makes them easier to bear.

But on a single day 7 years later I am reminded of the shattering; not the putting back together. Anniversaries are for re-living. Not all anniversaries are happy. So I take the day and relive some of the hurt and allow myself to acknowledge it.

If I’d broken a mirror my time would be up.

That’s what I thought all day today.

7 years.

Tomorrow I’ll channel my inner artist and delicately fill my cracks with gold. I will be stronger and I’ll be proud of the story my pieces tell. I will.

If I’d shattered a mirror it would all be over now.

Having a weird mom builds character

If having a weird mom does indeed build character my babies are set for life.

“Who needs 2 fat heads??? You have one. That will do,” those are the words I said to my daughter before senior swim night.

At the swim banquet last night I got my answer. “Who needs 2 fat heads??” The answer: anyone child who participates in 2 sports.

The crowd chuckled when the picture popped up.

I sank as low as humanly possible in my seat.

To her credit my girl didn’t say, “I told you so.” I didn’t even get the, “MOOOOMMMMM!” That would have been screeched just a few years ago. Age has mellowed my girl. I got a smile and a non-bitchy roll of the eyes.

I deserved much worse.

“Hey—-you will never forget senior night!” I challenged. And than reminded her that having a weird mom builds character.

When each senior got a copy of the said picture I put my head in my hands and groaned, “I could die!”

She laughed.

We survived that moment although I couldn’t make eye contact with my co-worker across the aisle (also a swim/dive dad) because I knew he would be laughing. He hasn’t let me forget my faux paus after seeing it on Facebook.

The state team members were recognized. My daughter was up there. She didn’t want to be. As an alternate she was embarrassed to me amongst the elite swimmers when she didn’t actually swim at the state meet. I was thinking of how incredibly proud I was of her. Her 4 year goal had been to swim at state. When she was asked to be an alternate, she didn’t hesitate. She knew she wouldn’t be allowed to attend the meet, but she kept practicing and kept pushing herself nonetheless. She didn’t think she deserved to be up there but I did. Her heart and her commitment despite her disappointment were honorable. I was proud she was up there and for everything her being up there represented.

I was busy thinking about how she would never know how proud I was of her. I was beating myself up for not getting her a fathead, if for nothing else, out of respect for all her hard work.

Next came team awards. I was busy obsessing over my failures as a mom and only 1/2 heard words like: integrity, supportive of everyone, hard working, committed. “Someone’s about to be proud,” I thought to myself as they went on to describe the team voted upon award.

“The swimmer most embodying the spirit of a Titan is…”

I don’t have a poker face.

I think my kids are AMAZING but understand not everyone shares my opinion.

But they said HER name.

The Titan Tide spirit award went to my girl!!!

I acted a fool.

“YOU?!” I asked incredulously.

I think I whooped.

I know my shock was displayed in my face because the teacher who handed her the award told my girl, “I wish I had a picture of your moms face!”

I don’t have a picture of her winning the award.

After my shock and disbelief I immediately started discreetly crying. The team voted for MY GIRL! They didn’t know her self-confidence struggles as a swimmer. They didn’t know she was disappointed to never have been an official state team member. They didn’t know she hated every stroke, every turn of practice because swimming was pure WORK for her. They didn’t know that she stayed up until 1a doing homework during swim season because swim took so much time. They didn’t know on top of AP classes, swim practice and football games she was also responsible for her little sister. They couldn’t have possibly known how much this award would mean to her.

I cried because I was hurt. For seven years I’d tried to make the swim banquets special with homemade decor. I’d done it for her brother and always thought I’d do it for her. This years banquet wasn’t like the others so I I had no hand in it. We were lucky, in a covid world, to even have a banquet so I was thankful to have the event but said that these hardworking seniors didn’t get their just due. It made me sad to not have a part in making her night special. It hurt to think that she might somehow see that as a sign I wasn’t extremely proud of her.

There were tears because it was over. My days as a swim mom were over and that left a hole in my heart.

There were tears because she was so damn beautiful standing up there.

I wiped them away discreetly so as to not embarrass her.

Although it was probably too late for that; As I sat there in my glittery tennis shoes and bright red sweater with stars on it.

All the chapters of her book are waiting to be written.

One of the most important chapters of my life had just closed.

So I cried for that too.

Don’t worry. I quickly dried up the waterworks. This was a night to celebrate her… not to pacify me.

I wish I could go back and hear the words I missed. I wish I could hear her coach describe her and her Titan spirit.

I also wish I could go back and get her an appropriately sized fat head.

Or maybe I don’t.

As ridiculous as it looks it does adequately depict our swim life.

Like the time we drive 4 hours for a meet only to realize she’d forgotten her entire swim bag. Does the phrase you had one job!? Resonate here?

Or the time she’d splurged on acrylic nails. They were too long I my opinion. My opinion were justified when her talons got stuck in the grate as she was diving off the block.

Then there was the time she had to walk a balloon llama in front of hundreds of people. It seemed like a good idea when I bought it. Repeat after me: having a weird mom builds character.

Then there are my gold shoes. Yes. I had gold tennis shoes to wear to the meets.

I am not sure what I did here to deserve this look but I am sure it was something she didn’t a Appreciate.

I am sure she was stopping one of my motivational attempts here. “Just don’t be last and don’t drown” probably didn’t do much to motivate her.

Regardless of our wacky years at the pool I hope she knows that I think she’s a total bad ass and I am in awe of all she’s accomplished.

My girl is strength. She’s pure grit. She’s a fighter. She’s committed and determined. She’s responsible and trustworthy. She’s selfless (most of the time). She’s powerful but humble; hardworking and driven. She’s sharp, witty but soft at sweet at the same time. She’s got a infectious laugh that comes from her belly and spreads joy to anyone that hears it. She’s got stars in her eyes even as she keeps herself firmly rooted.

That’s my girl.

My Titan.

No Hallmark card here

I have written, and discarded, post about being lonely this Valentine’s Day. Though it’s how I feel I couldn’t write it without sounding whiny—which I refuse to be. So, instead, I am focusing on other kinds of love.

This year is full of love.

Yes, I am 1/2 of a whole living in a world that was meant to be lived in pairs. Yes, I am lonely. Yes, I am feeling unloveable but I have to elect to not focus on that but to focus on the love that I did see today.

I love that my big ones found people to love that I can love too.

Flowers

The big girls beau came over today with flowers for his girl, his girl’s baby sister and his girls mom. Each a different color. I love that he loves her so much that he loves the people she loves.

The gang

Big brother and his girl. Big sister and her beau. Little sister (who is now as tall as her big brother). I love that they double dated with a +1. Hearing them kidding with one another and chatting as they headed out the door with little sister in tow made my heart happy.

My heart

I love that my big boy loved his sweater. I loved how nice he looked in big boy clothes. I love the happy smile on the youngest (I can’t call her the little one much longer) one’s face. I love my big girl and I love that they all match. Totally unplanned of course.

I love that we have a fire and a fireplace.

I love that this picture is taken just before the +1’s arrive and they all head out to a double date at the outdoor ice skating rink.

Sweet and rich?

I love that I raised sweet and thoughtful kiddos that have a sense of humor. My big girl’s valentine to me…a sweet, rich and perfect man.

I can’t lie. Today has been hard. I am acutely aware of how alone and lonely I am. I struggled today. In a day full of celebration for couples it’s harder to be single. 1/2 of a whole. 1 in a world of pairs.

But thanks to my babies I did my best not to dwell.

I love that my girl and I had our own little date.

Her daddy had to cancel his weekend with her because of ‘other plans’. Her little heart was hurt when she found out those other plans included another lady and a vacation in a town she thought he was taking her. She wasn’t feeling too loved today as a result.

This day shouldn’t be ruined for her too.

So we have faux bubbly, a fire and a good dinner planned. The bigs are off with their loves so she and I are left to celebrate on our own. She’s cozy in her sisters sweatshirt. I am comfy in my sweats. The fire blazes, the dog is curled up at our feet…I chose to focus on those sweet things.

We were doing okay until we realized that even our dinner was heart shaped!

WTH

Even the crab cakes are heart shaped!

Once I realized that the faux bubbly didn’t quite seem enough. “Mom…you getting cranked up?” My daughter asked as I prepared a pink adult drink. I don’t know where she heard that or what she meant. I laughed, she laughed and we went about our business. In the end I ate the stupid heart shaped crab cake. Then I ate hers.

We did face mask…a gift from big girls beau.

We ‘chilled’ and watched tv.

We did a little crafting.

I love (and hate) that both the big kiddos called to check in while on their valentine dates. I loved that they thought of us but hate that they were worried.

I booked a trip to take my big girl on an college tour adventure. I loved that I could do that.

Did I mention how much I love my fireplace? It was a dreary, rainy gray day which was perfect for a fire. It took a cord of wood and constant stocking but I kept a fire going all day long.

I can’t lie…the day was hard. I am alone and lonely. Alone I am used to. Lonely is something I will never get used to.

I was sad for my little girl who had lots of emotions all her own today.

I felt unlovable. I felt sad.

I almost stayed there.

But, isn’t the middle of all the sadness, there were things to love. I chose to focus on those things instead of the sad things. I decided to look for things to love instead of the lack of love I had during this silly, made up holiday built for couples.

Life is meant to be lived in pairs. I am solo.

Life is meant to be shared with a partner. I don’t have one.Being alone is one thing. Being lonely is something else entirely. Today I am lonely.

But in the middle of the loneliness I have a lot of love. It took a little bit of determination but today I decided to focus on that…the love I have in my life, the parts of my life I love instead of the love that I am missing.

My big ones are loved.

I love my little one.

My big ones love me.

I have crafted a life I can love.

I have a fireplace! I love my fireplace.

Heart shaped crab cakes are stupid but they taste just like regular crab cakes…which are delicious.

This day, February 14th, is meant for lovers I don’t have one. But I have a lot in my life to love. That is what I have to focus on.

I am 50. I look 50. I’ve never dated well. The old saying “teach an old dog new tricks” doesn’t apply here. I didn’t date well when I was of dating age and in dating shape. The very idea of dating now is absurd. It is obvious I am going to end my life the way I live my life…alone. Yes, that makes me incredibly sad. But I have options. I can dwell in the sad or I can fight my way out of the sad and try and find things to focus on. I am focusing on the parts of my life where I see love…not in the areas where I am not loved.

Today I saw lots of things to love.

That is what I decided to focus on.

Matching sweaters, face masks, crab cakes, roaring fires, adult and non-adult bubbles and text check-ins…that’s what I am focusing on today. My valentine’s may be filled with a different kind of love but it’s filled with love none-the-less.

For the first time in about 15 years I didn’t make handmade valentines for school.

See my handmade valentine story here.

For $5.95 or so I got little packets of candy for my little one to hand out. I was both elated and horribly disappointed in myself.

But alas, 2 months of crazy long days, a move, some disappointmentsthe and the selling of a house had all taken their toll. I just didn’t have it in me.

To be honest I don’t think my little one had “it” in her either. 5th grade homework is killing her. 5th grade meanness is too. I just don’t know that finding, and writing, something nice about everyone in her class would be possible. Plus, to be honest, I think maybe she wants to be “normal”. The handmade valentines aren’t normal. She doesn’t want to stand out. God knows she doesn’t need one more thing to be made fun of.

So I bought valentines.

On the last year of her “trading valentines” I bought valentines.

My heart hurt but my head was screaming, “YES! YES! YES!”

And I thought that was it.

Until…

Yep.

I did.

I handmade valentines.

Not 23 for a 5th grade class.

Nope.

I made almost 100 handmade, homemade valentines. For work.

WTH

I just can’t help myself. So much for my head prevailing over my heart.

Give me a sharpie, some cars stock and some crafty paper and watch me work.

I was excited. I felt creative. I felt useful. I felt I was doing my part…While I was making them.

Today I felt a little embarrassed.

Homemade valentines for grown people? Was I being ridiculous??

I don’t know.

But…

Today I was hanging some valentines donated be a youth organization. I decided to put them in a very visible area with a sign that said need some love-take one.

There is a lot of stress and angst where I work. I thought maybe, just maybe, a valentines might make someone smile as they were leaving an extremely difficult shift. Or maybe it would make someone coming into work feel hugged. One nurse saw me taping little handmade valentines to the walls and said,”what a wonderful way to spread kindness!”

Was she taking about the precious little ones that made the valentines?

Was she talking about the need-one-take-one note?

Was she talking about the idea in general?

I don’t know.

But in a rare moment for me I decided to take her passing comment as a compliment. I decided to look at my wagon full of handmade valentines as my little way of spreading kindness. I decided to think about the person that would smile when they saw them instead Of the person that rolls their eyes and thinks it’s the dumbest thing they’ve ever seen.

We all have different ways of showing kindness. Maybe NOT making my little one make her own valentines was kind.

Maybe buying a box of valentines for her to hand out was me being kind to myself.

Maybe me deciding to make handmade valentines will be an act of kindness to someone that needs to feel some kindness.

Maybe me making the valentines was a kindness in its own way. It was nice to feel creative and productive vs feeling inadequate and stressed.

Maybe….

Maybe not.

Who knows?

I won’t. The valentines are hung and timeclocks, put on cafeteria tables and scattered in areas where they will be seen.

I won’t know if one person smiles when they see it.

I won’t know if seeing it will make someone’s day or night a little easier.

I won’t know if someone feels that kindness intended by the gesture.

And I don’t need to know.

What others think isn’t as important as what I feel in being able to tell people that they are appreciated and loved. I feel goof about being and encourager. I feel good about making a tiny gesture for strangers.

So my handmade valentines days aren’t over. My desire to make something for someone isn’t finished.

My paper cutting, hot gluing, glitter-everything skills remain in tact.

And I choose to let my heart be happy believing that maybe, maybe I had a hand it making someone feel good.