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Exploring Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

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Our adventures took us to a beautiful secluded place, far back in the jungle. As we drew near, we read a sign that said a Shaman lived there, and we needed to be quiet and respectful.

Due to the reverence of the location, we were surprised to find how brightly colored it was painted. Murals in a rainbow of colors covered the walls.

We admired the creativity.

Each of us were told to pick a stick of bamboo with colored stripes and a feather, from a basket that the Shaman was holding.

As we quietly walked we were to meditate and think of something significant we wanted guidance in or wanted to feel peace about, and then at a certain point, we were to push the bamboo into a special place that would be shown us, into the earth.

As we crossed a drawbridge, we could smell fresh tortillas being cooked…

A building on the other side opened up into a beautiful place to eat and rest, and a woman stood pressing tortilla dough, then cooking the perfect rounds on a hot pan. We were told to eat to our hearts content.

Just above her and off to the side, was a stationary bike which had a blender attached to it. If they wanted to make a smoothie, someone had to jump on and pedal to make the blades turn. Genius!

Brightly colored signs marked the way,

and a beautiful little girl with equally colorful clothing and beaded jewelry, watched us gringas with great interest!

A man dressed in leather and feathers emerged from behind some rocks, and blew into a conch shell,

and was soon joined by an older man who carried a smoking bucket of burning sage and a handful of plants, which he waved up and down as he melodically chanted. The rich smell of herbs filled the air.

During this time the little girl wandered into the stream and watched as she held her dress high above the water.

We enjoyed a beautiful, peaceful afternoon in the shade and resting our feet in the coolness of the water.

When we finally returned to town, we wandered along the Malecon for a while.

The Malecon is a mile long stretch that runs along the beach, down town Puerto Vallarta. A wonderful breeze constantly blows off the water and cools the never ending sweat on our faces. At one point the broad path crosses over the river, where people often come to swim during the day.

In several areas, human statues sit perfectly still, hoping for a small tip,

and many gorgeous bronze statues stand tall and proud, ready for photographs.

Some of them are fountains…

Each town in Mexico has the traditional large lettering name, where visitors flock for pictures.

Huge arches stand as a backdrop to an amphitheater across from the town square, framing the Hotel zone of Puerto Vallarta in the background.

A crowd gathered right at sunset to listen to and watch the traditional Danza de los Voladores (Dance of the flyers), where dancers launch themselves from a 30ft pole, and spin while hanging upside down and playing flutes. The ritual was originally presented to ask the Gods to send rain in times of drought.

We continue to love Mexico and her people. We love where we are staying in La Aurora, where taco stands lines the cobbled streets in the evenings,

and everyone is humble and friendly. The world has much to learn from the people here…they know how to laugh out loud, take good naps, make and eat delicious food, work hard and love their families. Life is good, and the adventures continue…

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

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When I look at an arial view of meandering rivers branched out and eventually combining to form one – which ultimately leads to the ocean, I feel like it represents a diagram of my life. I have walked and camped along so many streams, rivers and lakes, and they along with that inner compass in me, seem to lead me to the ocean every time. It’s where I feel most peace. The ocean heals me. It’s my watering hole.Having reached yet another crossroads in my life, I found myself doing the same that I have done before…taking my children and finding a magical place by the ocean where we can immerse ourselves in a new culture and dip into a new place in the sea. Our choice this time, was Mexico.

Puerto Vallarta is situated on the coast of the Pacific Ocean’s Bahia de Banderas. There’s one road into town and one road out, and on one end is the police headquarters and at the other end is the military base – which makes it a pretty safe place to be.

This beautiful town lies at the foot of the Sierras Cuale and San Sebastian, where three rivers flow through, the Cuale, the Pitillal and the Ameca.

One can never be too sure if the photos on lodging sites are accurate or not, and for the most part over the years we have had good luck. When we reached our apartment this time, however, we stood outside with our bags, took a deep gulp and nervously smiled as we looked at the exterior. It appeared that we were in the armpit of Vallarta, La Aurora – otherwise known as L.A. by the locals. Our Uber driver cautioned us to be careful and to stay in at night.

We found the right floor, made our way through the locks, deadbolts, gates and doorway, and stepped inside what would be our home for a couple of months. The kids and I looked around at the mustard colored couch, the closet sized kitchen with a leaky faucet and the broom closet sized bathroom. We peeked inside the two bedrooms that each had a full sized bed in them – one of which was slightly bowed in the middle, and bust out laughing. This, was going to be an adventure for sure!

We were not above this. We would fill this space with love and laughter, and it would be the base camp for adventures and new friendships and allow us a place for soul searching, meditation and growth. Our hearts were filled with gratitude that we had a roof over our heads and a place we could shower!

Mycah and I immediately bonded with all dogs in the neighborhood, we spoke in friendly voices to our neighbors, who we could hear clearly through the walls, and began exploring. We love the fact that we live in the heart of where the locals are, and where all the 15 peso taco stands are. The food is authentic and the people are real. Their huge smiles and welcoming hearts have made us feel right at home.

Our first adventure took us to a beautiful Cathedral, ’Señora de Guadalupe.’ It is one of the most important monuments of the city and the spiritual center for Catholics in town – which happens to be 99% of the residents.

Bells are rung by sextants 30 and 15 minutes prior to each service. Foundations for the church were started in 1903, and for the following 18 years, various sections were built and used then added on to – finally ending in 1921.

We sat quietly inside and soaking in the reverence and beauty, before continuing on farther into the Old Town.
Outside, vendors called out special prices and and flags flapped in the ocean breeze.

Mariachi bands played and dancers braved the heat as they whipped their skirts around and periodically clapped and stomped their feet.

Jewelry stores line the streets of the city, with locally mined fire opals brilliantly glimmering in gold and silver settings. In some stores, workers sit with blow torches In hand and patiently work the materials into sellable settings.

The streets of Puerto Vallarta are cobblestone, all harvested from the coastline. It makes walking with a cane quite fun as I pick my way over lumps and bumps and enjoy the picturesque setting of it all.

Tequila is also part of the bread and butter for Mexico, and since I’m not a drinker, I didn’t know anything about the process or
product.The Blue Agave plant is what Tequila is made from.

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The volcanic soil is well suited for growing the plants, and over 300 million are harvested each year. Agave grows differently depending on the region, so in some areas it is sweeter and in others it is has more of a herb flavor.
Men who harvest the plant are called jimadores, and have an intimate knowledge of exactly how the plant has to be harvested – passed down from generation to generation.

The quiotes, which are several meter high stalks that grow from the center of the plant, and are regularly trimmed so that it doesn’t flower and die early, allowing it to ripen fully. Once the Pina, or core of the plant is ready for harvest, they average around 150 lbs in weight, and in the lowlands they can reach 240 lbs. The pinas are transported to an oven and slowly baked then shredded and mashed under a tahona, or large stone wheel. The pulp left behind is used as compost or animal feed, the extracted liquid is placed in fermentation tanks and the leaves of the plant are beaten and dried and the long fibers then used for making ropes etc.

There are over 1000 tequila brands and they all seem to have a devout following.
We are excited to continue exploring and learning about this beautiful country. Until then, we’ll be eating tacos and drinking horchata out on the street with the locals….

A new chapter

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A new chapter to my book of life begins, and as I reflect on the pages previously etched, I am filled with gratitude.

This past year in Thailand has been yet another of discovery and learning.

I have learned that when it comes to loading trucks and side carts with goods to sell, the Thai throw all laws of physics out the window. I have seen loads of who knows what, stacked 20ft high and leaning far to the left, defying gravity, never to topple and dump the goods or the sleeping man that is stretched out on top of it all.

I’ve seen groups of four or five people riding on one scooter…an entire family, or village perhaps, as well as a happy dog, baskets of morning glory for tonights meal, two live chickens, freshly caught fish and a large 10 gallon bottle of drinking water.
I love that when a dog lies in the road, traffic skirts around it so it can be left to relax. I love that many times in the evenings, naked babies and toddlers bathe in silver metal tubs on the side of the road as mom and dad stand close by selling produce or carving up a freshly slaughtered pig.
I love that every morning at 5am, I hear the call to prayer, loud and clear across the rooftops. I love that no matter the time or day, the same old man sits on his dilapidated plastic chair on the main road, contentedly watching traffic – his toothless gums smacking together as he greets and nods to walkers by.

I love that growing in our yard are healthy banana trees untainted by modern nonsense and still producing bananas with pea sized black seeds within, just as they use to.

I love the matching uniforms on petite little ladies with perfectly groomed hair, all standing in a line and ready to greet and direct any who enters the hospital.
I love the enthusiasm of exhausted massage parlor staff as they usher in yet another overweight, sunburned, sweaty foreigner in a speedo who just walked over from the beach to be pampered.
I love the sights and smells of a night market, where beautifully arranged produce, octopus on a stick, sticky rice balls, grilled pork strips and fresh fruit drinks and ready for purchase for a small price.

I love that a snake took up residence in our scooter and that one never knows if its going to show its face while driving down the road.
I love that we fostered 2 precious street dogs who had never been loved and cared for, yet quickly learned to trust and crave frequent belly rubs.
I love that it wasn’t me, but Jude instead, who stuck her foot down into her shoe on her way out the door just to feel a squishy frog between her toes.
I love the friendly smiles on beautiful faces, the complete disregard for matching clothes and fake appearances and the chilled fresh coconut and iced Thai tea stands on every corner.

I love the jungles, brilliant blue waters and the long boats cruising past.
Thailand is rich in beauty and all things spicy.
I am so grateful for this time here and for the friendships I am a part of.

The journey continues, and so does the never ending adventure.

Glory days in Thailand

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Our daily routines are filled to overflowing with plenty of hard work, as well as oodles of fun, as we enjoy this beautiful country of Thailand.

We love spending time with Caleb and Jude. It’s been wonderful feeling their energy in the home. Caleb has become quite attached to ‘The Beast’, and takes it on fresh water runs for us, as well as loading creatures up for trips to the beach. It has a rather loud muffler and draws plenty of attention, since ordinarily only locals drive the bikes with side carts. Somehow our family seems to draw attention no matter the place we travel!

Here at the house we are renting, there is a game room, where many pool and foosball games are played. Emma is quite the ninja at foosball!

I love watching the concentration on everyones faces as they attempt to beat each other.

The creatures have made several friends as they meet families that come and go. Recently we met some wonderful people from Botswana, and their kids spent a couple of days with us. There was much swimming, game playing, eating, exploring beaches and hysterical laughing, the entire time.

We continue to find new fruits and vegetables to try – one of my new favorites is the mountain apple. I tried it while living in Hawaii, but have just really enjoyed it here. They are really crisp and so delicious.

Mycah has become very attached to a sweet little boy who’s family is in our church. When ever Mycah picks him up, he snuggles right into her, lays his head on her chest and falls asleep. Often he will also just lay cuddled on her – wide awake for long periods of time. She often tears up when he does this, and loves him so much.

We really love the Thai people. We love their funny little quirks and traditions, and their sweet spirits. We love the way they enjoy their incredibly spicy food so much, the way they light up when we attempt to communicate with them in Thai, and also the way they always take their shoes off when entering a home or business. This photo is of outside the dental office. I love it.

Thailand continues to WOW us with its beautiful islands,

wonderful traditions,

Sense of humor,

and amazing night markets.

We never know how long we will live in a certain area, since we enjoy travel and exploring so much, but while we are here, we’ll just keep soaking it all in!

Jude’s birthday pachyderms

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Christmas in Phuket is interesting, because the Thai people do not celebrate Christmas. Thailand is 85% Buddhist and 14% Muslim, so Christmas Day is just another work day, but, with many foreigners visiting for the holidays, many hotels display decorated Christmas trees and several stores sell minimal decorations and treats. We were able to find a real, wonderful smelling Christmas tree for sale – all the way from Canada, and brought it home to decorate with tinsel garlands and colorful balls.

Four days after Christmas, our beautiful Jude turned 21, and knowing that she has an intense love for elephants, we scheduled an afternoon with the gentle Asian giants. The place we enjoy going to, is the Phuket Elephant Retirement Park, where worked and abused elephants are brought to safety, roam free unless being medically treated, and spend their days eating, playing, taking mud baths, chunky dunking in the water hole, and sleeping. None of them are chained, beaten or ridden, like so many others are in Thailand.

Jude fed a baby a bottle of soy milk. It guzzled it down in seconds.

It was clear to see that the young elephants were quite a handful, as they played and wrestled with each other, and only listened to the staff when they felt like it.

The two youngest, who were 18 months and two years old, took turns splashing around in a big tub. At times they both tried to fit in at the same time, at which point one would squeal and chase the other out.

We helped prepare food for the elephants, by washing cucumbers, while others husked corn and chopped sugar cane.

I love hairy little elephant tails!

The elephants only sleep for 4 hours a day, and the other 20 hours are spent eating, bathing, rolling in dirt, eating, throwing dirt all over, eating, playing and eating.

Our favorite part is playing in the mud with the elephants…and each other. I didn’t want to risk slipping and hurting my back, so this time I had a blast and a half standing on the sidelines and taking photos of the mud fight.
Aidan decided to tackle Jude, but they both went down together!

There’s nothing quite like the taste of fresh mud!

It didn’t take long before Danny and our friend, Jack, got in on it, and it all went down hill from there!

Our family was covered from head to toe…

So much fun!

The elephants LOVE the mud!

Just when I thought these goof balls were done… I realized they weren’t…

So much fun in the warm mud!

The elephants (and family) were then led to the waterhole, where they massaged the pachyderm backs with brushes.

One in particular enjoyed filling its trunk with water and spraying everyone.

Once they were nice and clean, some of them snuck off to roll in the dirt…

The creatures had a blast!

What an amazing day.

Happy Birthday Jude.

Catching up – Family

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Since more of our family was arriving in Yakima, we rented airbnb’s for the remainder of our time there, and enjoyed time together all under one roof. I had frequent appointments with Dr Meirelles, where my surgery sites were checked, meds adjusted and physical therapy began. Each time we visited the office we felt like we were meeting with family members, as they welcomed us with smiles and open arms, and I, for the first time in a very long time, could stand at my full height and without any pain. I am so grateful.

When my mom was a little girl, one of her fondest memories was eating ‘gum’ from trees out in the bush in Africa. She preferred it to any candy. Mycah, my mom and I came across a tree with gum on it, and made several trips to it, filling ziplock bags with the sticky golden treat. My mom enjoyed every bit of it, making sounds of delight as she chewed. It was so precious to watch.

The most wonderful part of being in Yakima, was having our beautiful Creatures around me. Six of the original 7 (Jonathan had to work), were there, and well as two precious additions, Nonna and Zailyn.

We spent hours playing,

going for walks and wheelchair rides,

watching movies, and laughing and cuddling.

Regardless of how much time all the Aunties and Uncles spent with her, her absolute favorite person, was Oupa!!!

Nonna is such an amazing mother to Zailyn, and a wonderful daughter to us. We adore her and love the energy and love she has brought into our life and Hunter’s life.

The competition continues with Hunter and Aidan, and so far hunter is still taller but Aidan is SO close behind…I’m not sure I got an accurate photo, because the two of them kept jumping and standing on their toes.

After our time in Yakima, we spent ten days in California with Mom and Dad. We loved every second with them and wish we could whisk them away and bring them here to Thailand with us.

Being back in Thailand has been wonderful. It’s good to be home back in the warmth, where continued adventures await…

Catching up…Our trip to Nebraska and Yakima

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The past four months have been quite the whirlwind! I’ve wanted to write several times, but due to the medications I’ve been on, was unable to think straight long enough to write anything that made sense.So, here’s how this whole adventure has transpired…

In August, Mycah and I traveled to Nebraska to visit our sweet family. Zailyn has grown so much and seeing her, Hunter and Nonna, was so wonderful. We were planning on being gone from Phuket for a couple weeks, but an entirely new unexpected adventure awaited us…

For so many years now, I have experienced intense lower back pain, and due to the combination of my stubbornness and high pain threshold, have put it out of my mind for far too long. After years of powerlifting, horse back riding, running track barefoot, cliff jumping, and living life to the fullest, the damage I have inflicted on my poor spine, had finally caught up with me. After the 26 hours of travel to the US, my back had finally had it and may sciatic pain was through the roof. Mycah managed all the luggage and pushed me in a wheelchair through the airports. Once settled in Nebraska, a friend of mine who is in anesthesia and living in Yakima, Washington, suggested I travel there to meet with a colleague who is a Neurosurgeon.
After spending just a short time with our angels in Nebraska, we hopped on an airplane to Yakima, figuring we’d be there for a week or two…

Our friend, Jeff Follis, picked us up at the airport and he and his sweet wife, Susan, invited us to stay with them in their home in Yakima. Jeff gave me an epidural that evening right there in their kitchen, to try tide me over till my appointment, and I received a few hours of relief, then continued to experience the intense pain that had me walking completely bent over and leaning to the right.

Dr Meirelles, who owns and practices at Northwest Neurosciences in Yakima Washington, has been an answer to prayer. He is the most knowledgeable, thorough, compassionate doctor. When in the exam room with him, I felt like I was the only patient on his schedule, and had his absolute undivided attention. After an MRI, X-Rays and examination, he helped me understand exactly what was going on in my back and gave me options for treatment and explained recovery of each. In the mean time he had started me on medications to help relieve the pain.

His diagnosis was that I have Spondylollithesis, Radiculopathy, Scoliosis, Bulgining lumbar discs and Ruptured lumbar discs.
The Spondylollithesis is when vertebra slip, which is a defect of one to both wing shaped parts of a vertebra, and can result in vertebra slipping backward or forward over a bone below.
Radiculopathy is when one or more nerves are effected and neuropathy occurs, which results in in tense pain, weakness, numbness and/or difficulty controlling certain muscles. I was experiencing foot drop because of it, and over the top excruciating pain.
Scoliosis is a condition where someone has a “S” or “C” shaped curve to their spine. Mine is “C” shaped.

The staff worked literally day and night to get me pre approved though our International Insurance which is based in Hong Kong with offices in London and who knows where else, and helped Mycah and I feel completely at home and taken care of.

After informing Dr Meirelles that I would really like him to go ahead and fix all of it at once, he explained the expected length of surgery, that it would actually take two surgeries, 4 or 5 days apart, and that recovery would take about a year. I had absolute complete faith that he was the doc for the job, and I wanted him to start ASAP.
From the time he prescribed the medications and I started taking them, to several weeks after the surgeries is a bit of a blur because I am not a pill taker, and was in ‘Lala land’ for all of it, but I do remember all sorts of fun and exciting events taking place while waiting for the insurance to approve the surgeries…

For Mycah’s 19th birthday, her and Jeff went skydiving. He took a special class allowing him to jump solo, and Mycah jumped tandem. Both of them loved the experience!

Jeff and Susan introduced us to amazing things, like MOD Pizza, and drove us through gorgeous countryside and to a wonderful little town where a huge market/street fair was taking place. They pushed me around in a wheelchair and while Mycah dyed her mouth and organs blue with cotton candy, I devoured kettle corn!

Mycah and I fell in love with Washington! We loved seeing hundreds of acres of orchids and vineyards, and the quaint barns and fruit stands selling boxes of delicious, crisp apples and pears.

As time passed we could see that due to insurance approval taking forever, we were going to be there much longer than we thought. I also had no idea that my back was as bad as it was, and knew that staying longer in Dr Meirelles’s care was going to be important. I spoke with Danny and the twins who were back in Phuket, moving our belongings into our new rental home, and we decided that we’d fly the twins out to where we were.

I had many pre op and post op appointments as Dr Meirelles tried to keep my pain at bay until he could operate. The staff were filled with compassion and kindness, and so were Jeff, Susan and Mycah. We communicated regularly with Hunter and Nonna in Nebraska and described how wonderful the area was that we were in, which got them talking more about moving out there.

Finally it came time for surgery. I was in such overwhelming pain as I climbed up on the table. Dr Meirelles looked at me with great compassion and reassured me that when I woke up, pain would be considerably less and I would be able to stand taller. For 11 hours,Dr Meirelles picked through contorted, delicate bundles of nerves and disk material, freeing up the nerves without damaging them. As part of the surgical team, another doctor placed sensors along my nerves and his job was to monitor them and inform Dr Meirelles if he was getting too close to the nerves. Our friend, Jeff Follis took care of anesthesia and did an extraordinary job, and so did the nurses and other members of the surgical team.

After laying in recovery, Dr Meirelles took my hands and helped me stand, and for the first time in many many months, I was able to stand at my full 5’8” height, and standing there, I was in no pain at all. The big test would be, once medications from surgery had worn off.

While I had been under anesthesia, Danny, Mycah and my beautiful Mom had been chatting on the phone, and had decided to fly my Mom out to Yakima to help with my recovery. There’s nothing like being in your mothers arms when you’re not feeling good. Mycah took care of my every need. She gave me medications night and day at their scheduled times, drained the bags of blood that hung from tubes entering my body, helped me to the bathroom, and got me to and from the doctor office. She is truly an Angel.

Four days later I was back in surgery for another 7 hours, at which point bone grafts from my own body as well as a cadaver, were placed, and also cages, rods and screws – all securing my S1, L4 and L5 in place. Between my pacemaker and the added hardware, I felt even more like a bionic woman! A fragile one for now and the next year, but bionic non the less!