Category Archives: Mexico that I love

Vacation and chronic illness: the goal is survival

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A view from the boat at the Grand Palladium, Riviera Maya

WHAT IS THE GOAL OF VACATIONS?


***** Kindle Countdown Deal Amazon US Oct. 10-Oct. 18, $0.99, IN PROGRESS *****

Please visit Pride’s Children on Amazon for your copy at a buck if you don’t have one, and give them for presents! It’s an easy way to make a recommendation.


The chronically ill person desperately wants to be normal – because normal is so much more fun.

I can’t speak for those who have always been ill, because they don’t have the memory of being ‘normal.’ But I can remember, almost three decades ago now, what it was like to go on vacation for the express purpose of having fun, taking a break from daily life, getting a tan or a snow burn, doing more exciting things and far fewer of the regular ones…

This is my first morning back from our first vacation in over two years, so, as I haven’t been blogging for a couple of weeks now, I thought I’d take the opportunity to capture the thoughts that a week at the Riviera Maya inspire – because if there’s one thing different for someone barely holding it together in ‘regular life,’ it’s going on a real vacation.

In no particular order:

Getting there: Airplane, taxi, private car, boat, bus…

I have an irritating combination of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and a major mobility impairment (I do not walk well for any length of time – working on it). I think I would be dealing better with the CFS if I could do as I used to, and get out for short walks on a regular basis, staying well within the energy requirements. And I know I would have deal infinitely better with the mobility if I had more energy.

But what is, is.

To start the trip, we had to get from home in New Jersey to JFK Airport (from where there are far more non-stop flights), which means I started the trip by trying to nap in the car as husband did all the two-hour drive. I remember being an equal partner in the driving – and, as we both age, it would be nice to be able to help. Instead, as you can probably imagine, just getting to the airport has used up most of the energy for the day already.

The wheelchair IS available (always a concern when pre-arranging things), and I’ve gotten over that hump: me not being my slow self is a benefit to my family – whatever the loss of face from being pushed around (and I still feel it after all these years!), the gains in speed are worth it. There can also be some benefits – we often go through a shortened line for security, and have (and need every second of) advance boarding on the plane. My walker, Sylvia, is there for me to lean on – but needs rolling with us, and is one more large thing to deal with at every stage. On the plus side, more than once her seat has been used to transport baggage.

Then just somehow find a way of sitting mostly in one position from boarding to landing, and managing to get at least an hour of actual sleep to restore some of that energy, and we’re at the Cancún international airport for the next part: gathering of the party. Which, since their plane has been mysteriously delayed, requires sitting at an outdoor restaurant with all our stuff for two more hours, until son and girlfriend arrive from Houston, instead of hooking up within ten minutes as originally planned.

Find and negotiate for transportation to the hotel. REMINDER: if you can pay for things with your credit card, your bank usually has a far better exchange rate than almost anything you can generate on the spot, so use it if you can. But the rest of the world is not the US, and you must be prepared to accept lower hotel or taxi exchange rate if all you have is cash. Mexico has ATMs which will give you local currency – if you can find one. The usual perils of travel apply.

Finally, another hour+, and we’re at the Grand Palladium. Checking in takes no more than the usual (three tries to get acceptable room for the Houston contingent), and we end up, finally, at the dinner buffet.

Getting around at the resort

The biggest problem for me is that we love this resort – hugest pools, wonderful beach, great dining – but there is NO way for me to get to most of the places I want to be without an enormous amount of walking (with my trusty walker, Sylvia). We knew that even before we went the first time: TripAdvisor mentions it, the map shows it, and it is a plus for most people (given the array of eating opportunities). They will send you a trolley if you request one, but it can only get you to approximately where you need to be – so most times I opted for just walking the shortest route.

I am trying to learn to walk again, and I’ve walked this past week probably more than in the previous six months, and it was all agonizing, and that’s about the best I can say about it. If my current experiments fail, or I get even slightly worse, the next step will be a wheelchair, and most often husband pushing, and I REALLY don’t want to get to that stage. I am not a small person, and he already has his own limitations and aging. It may force us to consider an easier – and smaller – vacation destination. For now, I just loaded up on the extra ibuprofen (don’t tell my pain specialist – he’d have a fit), and gritted my teeth.

We finally got into a rhythm where the rest of the family would go on ahead, and let me get there at my own pace (which now includes frequent stops to put Sylvia’s seat down and rest). They didn’t like it – love you, family! – but it did help because they could stand in line if necessary. And the critical part for me was that if I was walking with family, I pushed myself much too hard not to always be the laggard, which increased both pain and a horrible new feeling of breathlessness. By the end of the trip we’d worked out a reasonable combination. Adjusting expectations is crucial.

Conclusion: I could have used the hotel’s help a bit more often, but did about right IF they let me do it my slow way. For next time – think very hard ahead of time, and use the trolley more often, even if I have to wait for it, because energy expended in walking can’t be regained, while energy expended in waiting is far less. And the hotel was uniformly helpful – when asked. Must give up some of the do-it-myself pride – which is still, after all these years, hard for me.

Days of sun and pool and never leaving the resort worked for me

I encouraged husband and offspring and potential new family member to do what THEY wanted to do (the kids did a wonderful day at Xcaret snorkeling through THREE underground rivers), and husband took them sailing.

While we older folk established a chair on the beach or near the pool (never worried a minute about STUFF at this kind of a resort), everyone spent the days as they wanted to – the kids did a lot of snorkeling in the salt-water pool – and I spent most of my time in the water.

And not just lazing: I am counting on neuroplasticity and slowly building up whatever muscles I have (because there is still some nerve conduction going on – maybe 30%) to improve my walking. I had counted on the pool being the exact depth for exercises I can’t do at home. So a good half of the time in the pool was spent – in Paradise – doing exercises and retraining muscles and brain.

Don’t sweat what you can’t change

I just ignored the parts I couldn’t do (didn’t go sailing this time, and have still, after five trips there over the past decade, not made it into the salt-water pool), and enjoyed every minute of the rest.

One of the days had a rougher-than-usual sea, and I got a nasty scare getting into the ocean (bit of a tumble) AND out of it (pushed very hard to get out before the next wave, and ended up not being able to breathe for a bit), and I almost let that keep me out of the ocean. But it was back to its normal calm later, and I did get a wonderful session in the beautiful blue-green water.

Marred by my only sunscreen fail. Kiddies: wear your sunscreen. Reapply every couple of hours, regardless of whether you’ve been in water. Don’t forget covering EVERY SINGLE AREA (I missed my lower arms ONE TIME and have spent the next few days slathering with green aloe gel). And let the stuff sink in as recommended. Wear a shirt part of the time even if you look like a dork. Tropical sun goes through less absorbing atmosphere, and will GET YOU. I never missed before, never had a problem – and it got me this time.

The cost to a chronically-ill person

Even in lowest possible energy-expenditure mode, vacations are a stretch. I never actually managed to unpack, used the same clothes more times than I had planned, didn’t find the after-sun gel until days into the trip, didn’t find my critical meds on the way home until it was almost too late…

The small things accumulated steadily.

I ate too much of the wrong things – half of the time from simple exhaustion (okay, the rest of the time from simple greed). Once I go down that path – eating more carbs than I can handle – it takes at least four days of eating very carefully to reverse the process. And there was no way to muster that energy in a situation where the level of exhaustion was very close to the edge, all the time.

The weeks of planning and packing took their toll (but now I have bathing suits!). I lost untold writing time because the arrangements had to be made with my good time (and even then I almost forgot to get us seat assignments for the trip there).

I lost track of where I am in writing NETHERWORLD, and will be doing a complete reset.

My guess: it will cost me another week just coping with the aftermath, and that if I’m lucky.

Would you do it again?

As often as possible.

Because I still can, and a day will come when I can’t.

Because the time with two of my three kids was priceless – and next time I hope we’re all together for the ‘annual family vacation.’

Because I have the feeling that a week of NOT stressing over what I couldn’t control, and being in basic survival mode (in a beautiful place, with food cooked by someone else), plus three of us in the room going to bed at a reasonable hour because we were exhausted (all of us), whether from fun or making it through, is a good thing (I’ve been going to bed WAY too late).

Because the soul needs beauty, and seeing coatis and mapaches and agoutis and iguanas and pelicans and flamingos in their natural habitat was wonderful (wish the idiot tourists would read the sign that says Don’t Feed the Animals Because it Kills Them).

I hope this brings me back to writing renewed.

And because it was, for all the effort and increased pain, fun.

We ill folk can get into small loops where pain and exhaustion are minimized – but so is everything else. Including fun.


***** Kindle Countdown Deal Amazon US Oct. 10-Oct. 18, $0.99, IN PROGRESS *****

Please visit Pride’s Children on Amazon for your copy at a buck if you don’t have one, and give them for presents! It’s an easy way to make a recommendation.


The same person who writes the blog posts writes the fiction.

Share your challenges with ‘vacations.’

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Incident at Caleta Beach – a persistent memory

INCIDENT AT CALETA BEACH

You tell me who was right – after twenty-four years the day is as clear in my memory as yesterday. And after all that time, I still don’t know what to believe.

Caleta* was Acapulco’s morning beach in my grandfather Papa Memo’s day. My grandfather was the epitome of the Mexican gentleman, warm, family-oriented, and a man of absolutely unwavering integrity.

In those days you saw everyone who was in town at Caleta in the morning. Then, at a suitable time, you went back to your house to bathe; to have that meal known as “la comida,” the food, which could be lunch or brunch or even an early dinner, and which was being prepared by the cook; and to lie in a hammock through the worst heat of the day. Late afternoons, you went to Playa Hornos. I barely had a few years to do this as a child transplanted to Mexico before my beloved grandfather passed away.

In our day, Bill’s and mine, Caleta had lost its uniqueness to population booms, but it was still close to Albemar, my family’s home. We settled on our small plot of sand, to people-watch, to keep our three small children from following the wavelets too deep, to watch for that occasional big wave which still washes up all the way to the base of the hotel which has stood, bare concrete, unfinished due to legal troubles, for as long as I can remember.

The umbrella was set in the sand. Our baby daughter dug happily with her bucket of ocean water to fill the hole. The white-shirted waiter with the rolled up pants and bare feet had brought us two white-painted slatted wood lounge chairs, and would come later with sodas for all, ceviche for Bill if he dared.

People walked by as they will on a beach, vendors of shell necklaces and mangoes dipped in chile piquín, waiters with coconuts. Not crowded, not empty. Just right.

A lone lounge chair twenty feet to our left, ten closer to the water’s edge, sat in isolated splendor – no umbrella, no beach table, no thatched hut – in a patch of sand. A Mexican family, father and three boys, moved decorously – in sand it is hard to do otherwise – between us and the water, and the trailing small boy sat for a moment on the edge of the chair. The father turned to hurry his brood on, the boy stood up and continued trailing along.

All at once, in the middle of this idyll designed to dull the mind to pure lazy observer, came shouting from the waves. Caleta is a tranquil beach, half of a tiny bay, divided from Caletilla by the causeway that goes to the island, but people still drown here. So shouts are heeded.

The words were unrecognizable, guttural, but it could have been the distance. The man charging out of the water had a big belly. It is hard work to charge out of the water. He came slowly until the water cleared his chest, then moved up the beach as fast as his bulk would allow, yelling all the time. He switched to English, and my ear pulled the sound out of the soft murmuring Spanish background. The word he was yelling was “Thief!”

My Spanish-challenged husband said “Stay out of it.” He went back to helping the baby dig to China.

The Mexican gentleman came to a stop, the very portrait of affronted dignity. The German tourist – for he could be no other – gesticulated wildly and switched to his limited Spanish, bellowing “Policía!” I see the small group yet, rooted unyielding in the sand of memory.

There is a tiny cement hut at the end of the causeway where a contingent of blue-uniformed policemen discretely supervise the goings-on of the glass-bottom boats bobbing along the causeway, and the occasional beach drunk. One appeared, notified by the grapevine. He attempted to calm the tourist, assuage the wounded pride of the Mexican gentleman called a thief in front of his children.

El policía had little English – and his set and the German’s didn’t overlap. I, born nosy and American and bilingual, approached, and gingerly asked if I could help. Bill, in the background, shook his head, and dedicated himself to keeping our boys, just as nosy, 3 and 5, but NOT bilingual, well away from the tableau we must have made.

The German tourist latched on to me, explaining loudly in his limited English. I translated. The Mexican father shook is head slowly, consented only to explain gravely, because he had been accused, that he was looking for a place to settle his brood, with their bags and toys, on the beach. The policeman looked baffled and attempted to be conciliatory: there must have been some mistake.

But the evidence was incontrovertible: the smallest of the Mexican boys, the one who had perched briefly at the end of the German’s carefully isolated chair, held in his hand a plastic bag containing the German’s wallet and hotel key.

The German gentleman’s story: he had come to the beach alone, and fearing thieves, had set the chair well apart so he could watch his belongings from the water. His fear had now been confirmed.

The Mexican gentleman’s story: he was looking for a piece of beach for the day; the children were dawdling; he had spoken sharply to the one who sat for a moment, to pick up his things and stop falling behind. The father was thoroughly mortified, but it was clearly a mistake, and his son would now hand the German back his property.

The policeman was baffled. I translated all into English for the benefit of the German gentleman, and his comments into Spanish for the Mexican gentleman and the policeman.

The child was admonished. The policeman clearly wanted the matter to disappear. The German was asked if he wanted to press charges. I was asked what I saw, which was very little – I did not notice whether the child had anything in his hand when he sat down, and I did not see him pick the bag up when he moved on.

The impasse settled like the baking sun on our little group. Finally, I asked the German whether he would be satisfied with an apology. He reluctantly agreed. I translated into Spanish: the dignified Mexican gentleman was affronted – he had already apologized, according to his lights. The policeman saw a resolution, pressed his co-national.

The Mexican gentleman, clearly unhappy, asked me to translate his formal apology to the foreign tourist. The German nodded his head brusquely. Neither man offered a hand.

The policeman went off, the matter dealt with to his satisfaction. The German tourist thanked me roughly, and went back into the water to our left, leaving his plastic bag now carefully tied to the lounge chair. The Mexican gentleman chose a section of thatched hut to our right, called a waiter, requested a drink. The three little boys dashed off to the water.

And so we sat in face-saving splendor. The German stayed in the water long enough to prove he was unbowed, then ostentatiously retrieved his bag and left the beach. A while later we gathered our children and their toys and sandals and towels, and headed out to get a taxi back to Albemar on the hill. We left the Mexican gentleman still in possession of the battlefield.

But I have wondered all these years whether the Mexican gentleman, so poised and so middle-class, and so offended, was not a Fagin with the perfect excuse for his small accomplices to pick up bags left carelessly unattended on the beach by foreigners, even in cahoots with the police. I don’t know why I think that.

And I wonder still whether I did not do the German tourist a terrible disservice because the Mexican gentleman, dark-skinned, balding, self-possessed, was the perfect reincarnation of my beloved Papa Memo.


*This image, courtesy of Wikipedia, is from 2009. In 1992, when this incident occurred, there would have been far fewer chairs and thatched umbrellas and people. There were fewer hotels, and an unfinished one behind the beach. Caletilla is to the right, past the causeway from which this photo appears to have been taken.

Waiting for print? Pride’s Children has achieved ignition

 

PC1 3D frontPRINT BOOKS HAVE VOLUME – AND FRONTS AND BACKS

The print edition is up. Links below, if you were waiting for it.

‘Achieved ignition’ is my little joke. Hard to set ebooks on fire. Though I hope if you get one, you will read it first. Passing print books on to other people is also a good way of getting them off your shelves if you don’t want them any more.

But don’t lend them. The books I lend never come back.

I’ve finally learned not to lend them

PC1 3D back3D FREE Images courtesy Boxshot (high quality renderings available)

Looks like a book, doesn’t it?

You store these ideas in your bookmarks because they are neat – and eventually, you get to the place where you USE them.

IF you remember that you have them. (I need to go through that whole bookmarks list labeled ‘EBOOK,’ which is where I’ve been storing these things, some literally for years, in anticipation of this day.)

Thanks, Boxshot. This time it was very quick to go into Pixelmator, cut out the appropriate images from the full cover (anyone with sharp eyes will notice it’s MY original version – CreateSpace hasn’t put the bar code on the back cover yet), save them as separate images (back, front, spine) trimmed of all excess blank space (Trim Canvas command – but don’t save!). My first attempt looked very odd as a book because I forgot to trim the pixels down to just the piece I needed – the spine image was a tiny sliver down the ‘book’ spine.

Pride’s Children: PURGATORY (Book 1 of the Trilogy) is in PRINT

Amazon kindly links everything up for you on the product page, but here are a couple of the links for your convenience:

Amazon print product page

Amazon.UK product page

Amazon.MEX product page  (Hola, familia)

Amazon ebook product page

In this day and age of ebooks, I don’t expect to sell as many in paper (okay, except maybe to myself), but I’m glad to have that publishing milestone checked off the list. I do have lovely people who have been waiting for the print edition.

AMAZON HAD A SALE COUPON ON MY PAGE, VALID UNTIL DEC. 14.

Hope it is available to customers – I don’t control it. But it IS a limited time coupon if it’s there.

MATCHBOOK: Amazon sells you an inexpensive ebook of Pride’s Children

…if you buy the print edition. I’ve kept that at the 0.99 setting for now.

Check out their conditions – I don’t know what you can and cannot do with the ebook.

Still having fun. Over to you.

The fractal nature of plotting a novel

This is a ‘crazy way Alicia writes’ post – be forewarned.

I just came in from a wonderful bike ride (I can’t walk, but I can ride reasonably well), with all kinds of questions floating around in my mind about the nature of the future – mine – which one set of people are pretty convinced will require taking my back apart and ‘stabilizing’ it – with no promises of anything, just the possibility of ‘preventing further deterioration,’ and I am not in a good mood about it.

Having written it all out – you don’t want to read it, not yet – and decided how to use the fury to write a particularly useful little piece in the current chapter (I’m revising Chapter 16, and looking at 16-20 – the end of Book 1 of Pride’s Children – as a unit), and having found myself some options in a yoga book I already had, I had to get out in the Spring air.

But Hamilton Square is gorgeous in the spring – pink and white and yellow and deep magenta everywhere, the dogwoods and cherry trees are littering the streets with their pink and white confetti, and I am musing about the internal structure of writing that attempts to resonate (or so I tell myself) to think of more important things.

[Mathematical weirdness begins

Humans are subconsciously aware of the fractal nature of reality, and, when they look at stories, see the same nature.

Does that make any sense? The simplest comparison is the ‘beginning, middle, end’ nature of every piece of writing. We’ve all had the ‘Huh?’ reaction to the ending of a piece of writing that just stops rather than resolves (non-fiction, newspaper articles in particular, does this intentionally), and the annoyance of a confusing beginning that makes the reader have to work too hard to figure out where she is and what’s going on, with the confusion surrounding a muddled middle that meanders.

Dramatica is fractal by design. The choice of ratio has been 1:4, and this structure gives rise to all the complications you could possibly hope for. It is possible to see more complexity in the degree of your fractal (1:6 or 1:8), less likely to see everything as black and white (1:2 – a yes/no option for every choice), or splitting things into 3 at each level, but it would be possible.

Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat shows a four-part structure, too (he uses three Acts, but his second Act is twice the length of the first or third Acts); when he lays his ‘beats’ out on a corkboard, he uses four lines, the middle two of which correspond to Act 2. He divides his 40 ‘scenes’ into roughly four groups of 10.

Just as going from 1D to 2D to 3D to 4D in mathematics raises the level of complexity (for those who don’t have differential calculus in their backgrounds: be happy – and skip this part), there comes a point where the basic difficulty has been illustrated, and the number of dimensions makes obvious how the equations are going to go from now on. For me, this happened between levels 2D (two variables) and 3D (three – duh!), because the addition of that 3rd variable resulted not just in another variable to deal with, but complicated cross terms between different possibilities: for 2D (x,y), the only possible cross term was xy. But for 3D, cross terms were not just xyz, but xyx, or xzy, or other combinations of three of the variables, and it was NOT obvious how to create the next level of complexity in how the variables affected each other – regardless of how many times my math textbooks left the 3D version as ‘an obvious extension of the text for the student.’ Lousy texts, lousy teachers, lousy methods – because it was easier for them to leave the longer equations out. They were extremely difficult to figure out for a novice, and I spent wasted hours at it. Going from 3D to higher dimensions – and yes, the dimensions go to infinity, though most calculi go no further than maybe 20 or so additional dimensions – WAS more obvious.

I’m seeing that effect now, as I revise the design of the end of Book 1. There is a mathematical felicity to the design that I hadn’t even realized I was building in. There must be some ‘story structure’ in my brain, because Book 1 is 20 chapters, and the last ‘Act’ is Chapters 16-20, but I’m pretty sure I was NOT being deliberately mathematical when I laid out the plot, figuring out what happened in the story that took it where it went.

The fractal nature is evident at each level: chapters have scenes, scenes have beats, beats have paragraphs, paragraphs have sentences…

And the beats are like mini-stories, with an introduction, setup, conflict in the middle, and some kind of resolution at the end, with ends to sentences, paragraphs, beats, scenes, chapters, Acts, and the individual Books, each calculated for effect – as are their beginnings.

So at each level, I get to tell a story, and assume that the levels above and below will take care of themselves – because that’s the way they are set up.

Where is the ‘writing’ part? The Art?

The variability comes in the writing. Beats are never rote or formula – each takes however long it takes in time to write and space on the ‘page.’ Some stories can be told with four words, others need a lot more.

But in a similar way as the coastline on a map shows the same variation in its inlets and promontories as you go closer and closer – or farther out into space – stories have an inherent graininess – mine, anyway – that I find somehow satisfying. The pieces interlock and fill a level, the levels have the same ‘feel’ to them – but on a different scale.

And I’m finding a deep satisfaction in re-visiting the levels prior to doing the actual writing/revising, a feeling of ‘Yes!’ – this has to happen HERE, and that has its place THERE.

I may be the nuttiest writer on the planet – and I shake my head sometimes at the complexity that my mind insists on building into everything I tackle – but I’m having fun again, after the low spot where I wondered if this whole process is worth the enormous amount of time and energy it consumes.

Mathematical weirdness ends]

Go out there and enjoy Spring if it is happening where you are. I love the States, but I grew up in Mexico City, and there really aren’t any seasons there (okay, two: dry and rainy, with a bit of cold around the Christmas holidays so you can wear your woolies to the Posadas when you sing in the street and carry the statues of Mary and Joseph).

My natural tendency with nice days is to think, ‘Okay – the weather is now the way it is supposed to be always, and it will be there tomorrow and forever after,’ which is not true, and conflicts violently with the known fact about New Jersey’s weather: if you don’t like the weather, wait two hours – it will change. Hard to outgrow your childhood imprinting. So I ‘forget’ to go out and enjoy the pretty – and it becomes something else, and I missed it. And the next day rains. Or is muggy. Or freezes.

Don’t imitate my bad habits. Go, ride, walk, breathe.

What are you doing to celebrate the beauty of the Spring?

You can still vote for local DEMOCRACY in MEXICO

My sister Kathy’s petition to have her local municipal government listen to and take into account its citizens in Atizapán, Mexico, stands at 139 signatures!

Thanks to all who voted with a click.

Petition pic Kathy 139But if you didn’t, thought about it at the time and wondered if it was the right thing to do, and put it aside for ‘sometime’ in the future, you can still add your vote. Continue reading

FREE and EASY: vote for DEMOCRACY in MEXICO

A quick and easy and FREE and FAST and tiny way to vote for DEMOCRACY in MEXICO.

Isn’t the internet wonderful? And no, I don’t make a habit of this (never have done it before).

If you know me and trust me and just want to help sign my younger sister Kathleen’s petition to the Presidente Municipal (local head of government) in the suburb of Mexico City, Mexico, where she lives, and my parents live, to LISTEN to and CONSULT with the local citizenry (yes, she’s a Mexican citizen, and no, she does not hold dual citizenship) BEFORE they make decisions which affect them, Continue reading