Thursday, May 10, 2012

Who Do You Think You Are?

When Dad would get mad at us, invariably he would yell, "Who do you think you are?"  My usual reply was something witty like, "Uhh, Diane?"  This was never a satisfactory answer.  I think he was looking for a more self-appraising assessment, but I wasn't the most introspective kid.

Well, now I'll have an answer for him.  We've decided to have DNA testing done to find out more about our family history.  It won't be too specific, but we're hoping to find out a bit more about where our ancestors might have come from.  There's a rumor that a Cherokee woman married into the family somewhere, but we have no evidence of that.  We think we're 100% white bread western European, but who knows?

Any one of us could do the testing, but we girls think that Jim will get the biggest kick out of it.  He spent a very long time calculating what percentage of our ancestry came from which country, so has the possibility of being the ultimate pie chart.  Geek Fest Alert!!!  I, for one, can't wait!

Maybe we'll find a DNA match in the database--some long-lost cousin in Italy who would love to have us all out to his villa for a holiday.  Or maybe not.

Monday, October 3, 2011

One Step at a TIme

I love my pedometer. It isn't very fancy, but it is by my side (literally) from morning to night. Counting up my steps throughout the day.

There is a new walking program at work and I've signed up to be a team captain. I signed up for purely selfish reasons - if I'm in charge, I just might participate more. The overall goal of the program is to walk from St. Louis to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cincinnati over 100 days. Well, not actually walk there, but walk the equivalent distance. The daily goal is 10,000 steps - about 5 miles.

I walk in place when I'm brushing my teeth or waiting for the microwave to ding. My dog is getting more walks than she ever knew she wanted. I've even been escaping from the office now and then to walk to the park.

So far, so good. For the last couple of weeks, I've averaged 10,000 steps per day. And I intend to keep it up through January 6th. By then, I'm hoping that the walking habit will be deeply ingrained and I'll continue to walk on through January and February. I'll make like an Energizer Bunny and keep going, and going, and going....

I've been using AskMeEvery to remind me to record my steps and to graph my progress. It's a handy little tool that utilizes text messaging.

I already have my 10,000+ steps in for today, so I can relax for the rest of the evening. And I should probably get a band-aid on this blister.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Go fly a kite!

Vince and I decided several months ago that we wanted to learn to fly enormous kites and surf the waves while drinking large amounts of sea water, and so we signed up for 9 hours of kite surfing lessons with a small outfit in Tulum. That first day, we were wearing our suits (I was wearing stylish board shorts over my suit - when in Rome...) and sunscreen, plus short life vests covered with straps and hooks and clips, harnesses (also covered with straps, hooks, clips) hard helmets (safety first - I noticed that none of the instructors had to wear these helmets, and they looked far cooler than we did) and sun glasses. Never put a toe in the water that first day, but stood in the powdery white sand and learned all over again how to fly a kite. Now, Vince had purchased a small "trainer kite" on craigslist (or ebay - no matter, it was, the type of phenomenal deal that only Vince finds), and we thought we had the basics of kiting down pat. Now, dear reader - I imagine you each flew the sort of kites in childhood that I did (though I bet you didn't make them with leftover tissue paper and balsa wood scraps that your mom found in the basement on Dickson, and I bet you didn't tie scraps of your old dress fabric to the tail - the do-it-yourself thing is something of a sickness in our clan). But your kite was probably diamond shaped and had a long tail, and you probably held a roll of string and flew it easily in the vacant lot down the street. These were not those kites. The ones we used were 13 square METERS and we worked our way up to controlling them with 4 25 meter lines attached to a single bar that you tip and slide this way and that to catch the wind and maintain a certain position in relation to the wind direction and the way you want to travel. Of course, we began with 8 meter lines and worked our way up 25. Our instructor, Julien is a 27 year old fellow from Cannes with a girlfriend in North Carolina. He learned to kitesurf in the Mediterranean, and his goal is to open a kite boarding school on the Outer Banks. ( Nice guy with infinite patience.
By the end of the first 3 hour lesson, we were pretty adept at controlling the kite, holding it in the wind in certain positions, and manipulating the bar. The most important thing to do, which is completely counter-intuitive, is to LET GO of the kite when it begins to fall - it will then catch the wind and you can start to wiggle it back up where it needs to go. In order to let go, you slide the bar away from you up the center lines. POOSH! POOSH! Julien would call out in his cute French accent. POOSH! then, when I wouldn't or didn't, LETGOELETGOLETGO
We finished in time for a late-ish lunch and for some bizarre reason, decided to go back to town to eat. We had wonderful ceviche Iand guacamole) at El Camello, then returned to the beach to tour the Tulum ruins.
The ancient town of Tulum ("wall" in Mayan)had its heyday from 1200s-1500s, and was a major trading/shipping town. It is unique among the Mayan ruins, in that it is situated on a cliff above the beautiful Caribbean sea - most ruins (if not all of the remaining ones) are inland. The walls were reportedly once painted bright blues, reds and yellows. It was abandoned about 75 years after the conquistadores arrived.
Because of our late and leisurely lunch, we arrived at the ruins after 4:30 and were not allowed entrance (it closes at 5p), so we peeked through an iron gate in the wall at all of the dull plan-ahead types within, then drove back down the jungle road to an abandoned resort.
What? abandoned resort? In such a paradise? Yep - there are all sorts of closed restaurants and hotels, and other various businesses, which are closed, shuttered, dead. The Kite guys told us that these businesses didn't pay the bribes they needed to pay in order to stay in business, so were put out of business. Hmmmm. So we parked on the side of the road, left tires on the road, right tires in the jungle. Short walk through the sand, past the little cabanas, and the still functioning happy hour bar, and played in the Caribbean as the sun set. We were just below the cliffs on which the ruins perched and tried to imagine what it was like to approach from the sea 500 years ago.
That close to the equator, it seems that when it decides to get dark, it does so quickly. We hopped out of the ocean, dried off, and slipped back through the resort to the car. We passed the happy hour bar, with it's thatched roof and tree stump seats, the happy music from the tinny sound system.
By the time we reached the car, it was DARK. I mean DARK. When we looked into the jungle on either side of the road, we couldn't see that far in - it's dense, low-growing jungle of palms, other trees and stuff. Rocky soil. I thought I'd see loads of parrots in the jungle, but didn't see a single one in the week we were there. No monkeys or jaguars, either, though I hear monkeys are plentiful in certain parts of the jungle, and jaguars can be found. I was glad not to find one.
We went back to the Mariposa (butterfly) and showered for dinner. (don't rinse your mouth while in the shower! remember?)
Where to eat, where to eat.
I actually can't remember where we ate the second night, but I forgot to talk about our typical evening stroll through town -
The tourist district is mostly on one road, but is well mixed with local business. This main drag is wall-to-wall shops and small restaurants, with the occasional hostel thrown in. There are many souvenir places, but also mom and pop groceries, convenience stores, produce stands and the occasional mechanic shop. We heard salsa music from the second floor of a couple of places - lessons and social dancing. The saddest place I saw was someone's dream of a hot disco - pounding music, bright colored walls, mirrors, a bar. Never a soul in it - every time we passed it, the proprietor was sitting dejectedly by himself, back against the wall. Poor guy - probably spent his whole life dreaming of this successful disco for tourists.
We walked for quite some time, looking at hammocks, hats, and other various touristy things. I really wanted a hammock or two to bring back, and we priced and priced - they were always ready to bargain. I'm not bold enough to be a good bargainer - I really sissied out and let Vince do the bargaining. I eventually did pick up 2 nice hammocks: a white and bluish purple one for me, and a multicolored one for the friends who were taking care of Max. We bought them from a guy named Victor - a Mayan from Yucatan, who loves to teach people about the Mayan culture. About 40% of the population in that part of the peninsula are Mayan - they speak their own language (in addition to Spanish, usually) and live in smaller Mayan communities. They sleep in hammocks and live in very modest small homes with thatched roofs. (we drove out in the country a few day later and visited the small community of EkBalam, so saw this first hand). There are certain of their dishes that are very popular, such as puerco pibil (Johnny Depp in "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" - check it out. Robert Rodriguez has a pibil cooking demonstration at the end - and you don't have to shoot the chef (inside joke - watch the film)). Victor was great, and so I bought the hammocks from him because the price was decent, and because he was great - a very good salesman. Of course, Vince bought his hammocks directly from the Mayan ladies in EkBalam for less money, but that's ok.

We stopped on our walk and picked up a small amount of libation, complete with limes, then headed back to the room. Our 2nd lesson was scheduled for 9am the next day. Early for a vacation, but we were all about carpe diem, and such. Windows open, balmy breeze blowing, birds cackling in the trees, and off to sleep.
Tomorrow: more kitesurfing, food-shopping in Mexico, PLUS driving in Mexico (or rather, ME driving in Mexico)! Bet you can't wait!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Hey - how was your trip to Mexico?

Thanks for asking! It was great! - Vince and I flew out last Wednesday morning, switched planes at Washington Dulles, and arrived in Cancun around 3pm. It's a busy airport and everyone was in a hurry - we filled out our customs forms, and made it through the maze quickly and fairly efficiently. We were supposed to meet the driver for the car rental place right outside and to the left of the entrance, but were accosted by several "guides" and other car rental guys on our way, so had the directions repeated to us several times. One "customer service" guy was actually trying to talk us into wasting a whole day of our valuable vacation at a new resort, listening to a sales pitch. Ha. We left him in the dust.
The car guy had Vince's name on a board, so when we saw him, he grabbed our bags, and we climbed into the shuttle van with an American 4-some and drove us to the nearby office. Renting a car in Mexico is slightly tricky - you really need to make sure you purchase all of the additional insurance, which in this case cost more than the actual rental charges, which were pretty cheap. You should also make sure you ask for a tourist card to show if you get stopped for some minor infraction. Theoretically, they cut you some slack.
After all of the papers were signed, they gave us a little fold-out map of the Riviera Maya, which what the northeast coast of the Yucatan peninsula is called, and sent us on our way. It's really just a straight shot along the coastal highway. Though it's coastal, you can't see the water, which is hidden by dense jungle and denser resorts. The coast is lousy with big resorts - dozens, if not hundreds of them - but we sped on past them towards the little town of Tulum. Since the Rental place (American Rentals - don't forget, Mexico is part of North America!) only left us with 1/8 tank gas, we had to stop for petrol pretty quickly. Having just picked up our pesos at an ATM poor Vince wasn't quite attuned to the money yet, and almost got ripped off by the gas station guy - got 100 pesos less than he should have in change. When he questioned the attendant about it, the supervisor came over, and suddenly the attendant spotted a 100p note under the car (it was pretty windy, and I really don't think it had fallen there). At any rate, the situation was resolved, and on we drove. As we drove south during rush hour, I resolved not to drive at all in Mexico - it looked tricky, risky and .... hard. Nothing I was interested in exposing myself to. One of the important speed control mechanism consists of "topes" (In English, this means "teeth rattling speed bumps"). We really had to keep our eyes open for them, as not all are marked, and if you hit one at the posted speed limit, you'll rue it. If you read on, you'll see that overall, the driving wasn't so bad, and I eventually took my turn.
We arrived in Tulum as darkness fell, and realized we had NO idea how to find the hotel - this was my slip-up. I had assumed it was a tiny easily navigated place, and that we would easily find our hotel in the Zona Hotelera. The hotels in town were all tucked into the neighborhoods, though and the town wasn't quite so tiny (or well-organized) as I'd assumed. We quickly spotted a tourist info place and pulled in - the girl there had no idea where Hotel Residencia la Mariposa was, but found it for us on a map tacked to the wall. We were able to see the street intersection - just a few blocks away. It was the only map she had in the tourist information office (really? yes), and we couldn't take it. As we tootled off, we noticed belatedly that there were few street signs, and we were still lost! Eventually, we found ourselves in the right area, a residential neighborhood on the south end of town. A friendly neighbor pointed the way, and there was our place. The Hotel Residencia la Mariposa is Italian owned, neat, clean, reasonably efficient, and cheap ($41/night). The rooms are spare and color coordinated. Ours was mint green, so the butterfly on the door, the very basic wood furniture, and the shelves were all painted that color. The floors were a clean, shiny grey tile, and everything else was white, including the coarse cotton curtains. The bed, sadly, was pretty uncomfortable - just a mattress on a plank bedframe - but we were usually so tired that it didn't matter. there was a portable a.c. unit over the window with a remote control (Daewoo made - it was kind of slick). Our view was of the neighborhood was of typical small town Mexico, I think. There were palm trees, coconuts, oodles of plants of all types, plus clothes lines, people's projects and junk in the yards. We could hear all the neighborhood noises, music, people calling out. It was very homey and fun, I thought. The first couple of nights we kept the windows open, but it became too loud and too hot. The hotel had a breezy little veranda on our floor (3rd) with big green tropical plants, rattan furniture, and cool red tile floors. During the week, we sat out there several times - it was delightful.
That first night, we walked a block or so to El Camello (the Camel) a delicious, cheap pescado place (fish) - we had sopa pescado the first night, guacamole, tortopels(sp? - tortilla chips). Sat in little cheap plastic chairs at a cheap plastic tables right in front of the parked cars and trucks. We had a great, swift waitress who spoke no English (thanks Vince, for all the translating!). The clientele was a mix of locals and tourists. We ended up eating here several more times, and especially liked their ceviche (we got mixto - pescado, camaron and pulpo - delish! - that's fish, shrimp and octopus.
Next morning, we went exploring in the little town of Tulum, but first we took advantage of the "continental breakfast" included in our room fee. Tea or coffee, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and toast with jam and butter. The toast was white bread, Bimbo brand. I had forgotten people even ate white bread anymore. It sort of held us until lunch time - we always took advantage of it, though, as it WAS included!
Our first task that day was to purchase some bottled water - it's true that you should NEVER drink the tap water in Mexico. The restaurants typically make their ice cubes from bottled water and wash the produce the serve in bottled (or at least purified) water, too. I'm pleased to say that neither of us got so much as a twinge in the gut - we were very very careful. (except for one time, which I'll tell you about later - that time, we were just plain lucky). When we purchased fresh fruit at the markets, we washed it in bottled water - scrubbed the skins (and then peeled them)
We found a little grocery and bought a couple of large bottles, then headed for the beach! It was just about a mile away - there was a long straight road to the beach, which t-intersected with a long straight beach road from which you could access the beach hotels, restaurants and little businesses, as well as small plots of personally owned land. The road from town to the beach looked as if it was undergoing some up-sprucing - there were new palm trees planted, a wide bike/walking path, landscaping, etc. Tourists were up an down this path in groups and alone. Some backpackers and wanderers hike along here and there.
Now, the reason we headed to the beach first off was to locate the kite-surfing school we'd signed up with. We had scheduled 3 1/2 days of lessons, and the first lesson was scheduled for 2pm that day. We drove along the beach road looking for the "Extreme Control" sign. It was on the right a couple of miles down, next to a high dark wooden fence. There were a couple of cars parked. We pulled up next to them and went to the gate - it wouldn't open for us, and we were afraid the place was locked up tight. While we sat and dithered a couple of people popped out of the gate, and we figured out how to pull the latch and get in.
Once we stepped over the bar, we were surrounded by a jungle of palm trees growing from the sandy beach and knolls. We spoke briefly to a fellow who appeared to have a shade-tree mechanic business right inside the gate, and he gestured beachward. Over hill and dale we went, shoes off, toes in the sand. We passed a dozen or so small dome tents, and several colorful hammocks. It seems that people stay or live there for days or weeks on end, roughing it. When we arrived finally at the school, we spied a few more permanent buildings - the kitchen was in one, the toilets were in another, and the kite school office was in a one room lean-to. Everything else was in the open air. Mario and Heather, who run the kite school greeted us, and introduced us to our instructor, Julien Kepski. They'd apparently had a cancellation, and suggested that we begin right away. Seemed like a good idea. We covered ourselves with spf 70 (me) and spf 30 (vince) and stepped through the fence to the Caribbean beach.
Aaaaaaaaahhhhhh. It was all I could think of to say. wonderful warm breeze, blue sky, bright sun, and aqua waters lapping beaches of fine white sand. How could anything be more perfect?
Then we turned around and stepped back to the school, because we were required to wear a kite harness, life jacket and helmet during the lesson, so we had to don and figure out how to use all of these things.
Once safely outfitted, we headed back out with our friendly instructor, Julien. More in the next installment.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Shake It Off

Our family has really been through it lately. I don't know about the others, but I got so used to worrying about Mom and Dad for so long and anticipating that dreaded phone call for 20 years that I got into a bit of a depression, I think. Now that Dad has gone on to bigger and better things, I'm beginning to appreciate how gray I let my world become. Drab, institutional, utilitarian, frumpy--definitely nothing inspiring.

Oh it's not just because of Dad. Dad was the least drab person I know. He loved it when we dressed up, wore makeup, and looked "put together." One summer evening we all drove to the MUNY in stretch limos, then stopped at Ted Drewe's for ice cream. He bought me the "right" clothes for my first civilian high school experience. He made Christmas shopping an adventure and set a good example for us by always wanting to spoil my mom. He knew how to enjoy the nice things in life. I just wasn't feeling it anymore for lots of reasons.

But I am now, and why not? Spring will be here soon, which always makes me happy. Today we drove through Provo Canyon and spent the afternoon in Park City, Utah at the Sundance Film Festival, where I saw blue sky and sunshine for the first time in weeks. In February I'll have crocus blooming in my front yard and buds on my forsythia. And if I can figure out how to keep Huckleberry Hound out of the garden, I can plant peas in March.

I still worry about my mom, in some ways even more than before. But Mom is all about being productive and efficient, so I know she understands how I feel. No more black crepe and gray. I'm pulling up my socks and getting on with it.

Monday, January 3, 2011

In Memorium - The Lady in Red, a Dad favorite

'Twas a cold winter's evening, the guests were all leaving. O'Malley was closing the bar,

When he turned and he said to the lady in red "Get out, you can't stay any more."

She shed a sad tear in her bucket of beer, as she thought of the cold niiiight ahead.

When a gentleman handsome flew in through the transom

and these are the words that he saaaaid,

"Herrrrrrrrrr motherrr neverrr told her, the things a young girl should know,

about the waa-aays of college men, and how they come and go (mostly go-o-o-o).

Now age has taken her byoo-hoo-hoo-teee, and sin has left its sad scarrr,

So remember your motherrs and sisterrs booooys, and let her sleep under the bar

Saturday, December 18, 2010

My Dad

So, as you all know, we lost our Dad last Saturday, 12/11/10 at 4:02 pm. (we didn't lose him. He died. We know exactly where he his, and I assure you, there is nothing lost about my Dad). And though we were all there (Mom and all 5 kids), and though it was very expected, it was still a bit of a surprise. Dad was a very stubborn man, and I don't think we completely expected his death. I half expected him to sit up and ask for food. He slugged on with that damned cancer for 20 years - why quit now?
His death was, and is a sad thing. It was and is a relief for him, because he lived in much pain and discomfort and awkwardness of routine for so many years, that I know he was just sick of it all.
His funeral was very nice - military honors, the bagpipes, and a full church service to a packed house. He'd have liked every bit of it.
However...the eulogy was so lauding, so over the top in its praise of Dad, that some of the speakers forgot, I think, the Dad was human. They described him as an annoyingly perfect individual who probably walked on water, and lay on beds of nails for entertainment.
In fact, he was funny, and quirky, and not always laudable.
Dad was quite a bit larger than life - he walked into an empty room, and it was suddenly full.
Yeah - he was human. When one speaker praised Dad's infinite patience, I think every member of the family reared back our heads and mouthed "WHAT?!?!?!?!" Dad had a pretty short fuse and was REALLY cranky at times.
The speakers forgot to mention Dad's motto, which was repeated often -
"Never let the bastards grind you down."
He said it in English and he said it in Latin and he had it mounted over many of his desks throughout his career. And he said "bastards", too, my church friends.
They didn't remind us that he said, "never let 'em see you sweat".
They didn't recount that he taught all the kids and grandkids (and probably his nieces and nephews), how to kill an attacker with one blow. (now, dear reader, I won't describe how that is done, because that may put someone on guard, but rest assured that every member of the Hixson clan is a trained killer - don't mess with us).
They didn't tell the story of how he shot a bat down from the 2 story fireplace in the family room, when he was so sick he could hardly walk even with a walker. (he was worried it would hurt his grandkids - don't you mess with them either. Just because he died last Saturday doesn't mean he can't come back and get you too)
No one ever explained that we were taught never to start a fight. BUT, if someone else started it, we were to by God finish it and finish it good. Hit hard. Hit fast. And it wouldn't hurt to hit low. For a committedly non-confrontational kid, it was good to have that advice. I only had to use it a few times, but was completely victorious when I did.
Dad was smart - very smart. He had many academic and business accomplishments. He was a stubborn, determined, stick-to-it kind of guy who didn't tolerate fools gladly. Hell, he didn't tolerate them at all. Try being a fool in front of him - I dare you. Actually, I wouldn't dare you, because if you're a fool, you'd try it, and my Dad was always heavily armed. Why, we found 3 loaded weapons in the room when he died - 2 within arm's reach. Yeah, buddy.
So, we miss him a lot. It's a hard loss, and I feel selfishly sad about it - selfish, because to want him to stick around would have been to want him to endure more misery, which is unthinkable.
But I miss the Dad who was funny and quirky and a bit of a loose cannon WAY more than I miss the saint who was described at the service.
As Dad would say, Keep smilin' kiddo. And never let 'em see you sweat.
And I'd say, "Love you, Dad"
And he'd say, "uh huh! you bet!"