Time Travel: Cape Cod Style

DSC00324Twenty years, at least, is the length of time this part of Massachusetts has been on my radar. A bucket list item. The trouble with bucket lists is that with anticipation like that, it’s hard to separate out expectations. It’s not that Boston and Cape Cod are “less than” or “more than” I expected. Just different.  Now that I’ve been there, I wonder what it would have been like twenty-five years ago.

DSC00298Cape Cod was more different than I thought. The image of Cape Cod in my mind comes from magazines and movies. Magazines like “Gourmet”, “Bon Appetit”, and Martha Stewart’s “Living”. That part of Cape Cod certainly exists. Places like Hyannis port are like [insert name of ritziest waterfront neighborhood you know] and places like Truro, where we stayed, are like [insert name of nice upper middle class neighborhood you know]. Graying cedar shingle shake homes with white trim nestled prettily in lush greenery…ubiquitous. Sprawling waterfront mansions on great swaths of white sand beaches predominate certain neighborhoods. Private beaches, private tennis courts, private yacht clubs. It is a comfortable place and the people in it are comfortable…there’s no homelessness, no poverty, no infrastructure aimed at hardship. This is a vacation place. Not one ramshackle looking house anywhere.

JFK’s family had been vacationing in their Hyannis port home since 1928. When he was president in the early 60’s, he created a national park out of most of the remaining seashore and halted all development. At least this is what we were told, and judging from the development, it seems true enough. In Cape Cod, homeowners appear to own their beaches. So where mansions predominate, there are signs posted conspicuously “private beach. keep off”. This was kind of shocking to me. So many parts that are off-limits. Even the richest person in my part of the world can’t own their own beach below the high tide line. So it made sense to me that Kennedy did this, otherwise, there’d be no beach left at Cape Cod to go visit. As it is, there are many, many parts of the coastline to explore along the scorpion-shaped tail of land and sand that is Cape Cod.IMG_20140722_201105

So that’s the second part of Cape Cod…undeveloped wilderness. Sand dunes, scrubby trees, hiking trails, nature preserves, state parks, and historic lighthouses. Really amazing beaches that any pictures don’t do justice to.  White sand, bluffs, pounding surf.  Pristine clean.  There are wonderful bike trails.  It’s possible to bike most of the length of Cape Cod on the “Rail Trail” which is a easy, flat bike and running path along a former rail line.

The third part of Cape Cod was kind of hilarious to me. I’m not quite sure what was meant by Kennedy “halting all development” but from what I saw, it’s like most of the commercial development was frozen in time. Perhaps it is protected as a heritage of some sort because most of it is still operational in an “authentically updated” sort of way.

One night we took our kids to a drive-in movie. Yes, really. It was proudly advertised “as it was in 1957”.   DSC00331IMG_20140721_195501Another day my youngest wanted to go to mini golf. Again, signage “family operated since 1954” and looking like a freshly-painted version of what it must have looked like then. Cottage-type motels and cabins along the road with easily-identifiable 1950’s and 1940’s architecture. I can’t think of any other place in the world like this…preserved and protected, but operational, 1950’s and 60’s kitsch. Another night no one felt like cooking so we went and got burgers from a very busy restaurant take-out window.

It’s like a part of Cape Cod is a living museum and those of us who go visit, can also partake of a lifestyle that may have existed fifty years ago. It’s like a vacation to another place, but in a way, also a vacation to another time.  And I can’t help but think, if I’d come here twenty-five years ago, I think it would have looked quite a bit the same.

And after we partake of this 1950’s holiday spirit, we all go back to our tasteful and very well-appointed Martha Stewart vacation homes. What is it she says? It’s a good thing. Cape Cod is a good thing.  And if it stays as it is, that’s a good thing too.DSC00339

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See? I didn’t even realize there were photos!

DSC00091 DSC00092So I just posted my blog and my husband said “Did you post it?”

“Yes”

“Did you post the photos?”

“You took photos??? I had no idea!!”

“Yes! I had a feeling this was a big event.”

Good grief.

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It’s Important to Wear Clean Underwear Because You Never Know What’s Going to Happen…

11:45 pm and way past my bedtime.

In truth, I had been asleep, but now I stand in my hair-standing-on-end, be speckled state on a Boston sidewalk.

You might recall from an earlier blog that my eye glasses NEVER go out in public. But here they, and me, are…along with all the other guests of “The Eliot” hotel. And two fire trucks and several firefighters, some stressed-out looking hotel staff, a woman with an oxygen mask over her face, several of us in jammies, and a May/December couple who were the last people out. They didn’t make eye contact with anyone…and were very overdressed for the occasion…and moved very quickly away from the rest of us who huddled together.

I had pulled on some jeans and a sweatshirt (yes, it might even have been one with WRITING on it).

Those of you who know me know I do not sleep. Ever. I am the queen of dead-of-night prowling, going to the gym at 5am when I can’t sleep anymore, and listening to endless podcasts in the dark. I’ve even been known to bake in the middle of the night. When I don’t do that, or IF I don’t, then I tend to solve all the crazy problems of my life and that is never pretty.

So it is worth noting, that on this particular night in Boston…standing on Commonwealth Avenue…during this mild state of emergency, I am practically dead asleep. My whole family was up before me, they heard the robotic evacuation announcement through the hallways and were almost dressed and out the door before I had my feet on the floor.

So I’m not exactly sure what’s happening.

And this strange-looking couple has caught my eye and my imagination is busy making up a story about them. Like “hello!” if they were real hotel guests with luggage and who stay more than one night (or part of the night?), they would have normal clothes to put on. Like me. Or that nice elderly couple who are sporting the hotel’s dressing gowns over their jammies. Not an evening gown and a formal suit and tie.

They didn’t have any other clothes to put on. Hmmm. This is not a cheap hotel. Wow. Dating’s expensive in Boston.

…p.s. we were all fine…some sort of Co2 sensor had malfunctioned.

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Have you Ever Noticed How Much People Wear on Themselves?

NY Yankees HatBoston. Wicked Smaht. A few fun facts to illustrate the point…back in the day of the thirteen colonies. You know… pre-1776 and all that, Massachusetts literacy rate was 88%. Too bad today’s fashion wasn’t in fashion in 1761…they could have read each other’s chests.

We’re visiting in the summer, but during the academic year here in the land of Boston College, MIT and of course Harvard, and the thousands of other centuries-old institutions of higher learning, the population swells by 240,000. In the summer there are still lots of t-shirt advertisements for these venerable enclaves. I’m not snobby about this…my children’s souvenirs will be worn by them back home and everyone will know where they’ve been this summer.

Our hotel is around the corner from Fenway Park (Pahk). Today is game day and the Red Socks are facing the Kansas City Royals. The Socks are the defending World Series Champions and today it’s 80 degrees and sunny. And we are planning a long day of “extra” walking.

These ideas are linked by the reality that my 13 year old son is sporting his blue New York Yankees baseball hat. Not really because he is such a fan, but because he loves that city and he’s been lucky enough to have purchased that hat during a game in Yankee Stadium. Even though he lives 3000 miles from that venue.

But I am thinking that for a city whose baseball team only broke their 80-something year losing streak in the last decade, my son’s attire might be considered sacrilege.

Why? I am expecting at least a comment. From someone. Perhaps someone on the “T” who is wearing a t-shirt with big socks printed on it. Why do they do that, I wonder? Who wants to wear shirts that have laundry on them? And there are lots of them. Why? And they’re all red. Ohhhhhh….it slowly dawns on me after I’ve also spotted several others wearing KCY t-shirts and “Kansas City Royals” hats.

It’s not that I’m stupid. I know who Ian Hanomansing is. I can forgive my 14 and 13 year olds blank looks. But as I hiss in my husband’s ear “Yes it is!!” I begin to doubt myself. I glance across the subway car isle where he is sitting very unassumingly in his red plaid shorts. I confess it was those plaid shorts that first caught my attention. I am trying not to be caught “glancing” (‘cause I’m so cool and so what if a national Canadian journalist is sitting RIGHT there?) but I lean into my husband’s ear for the convincing argument “Look at his t-shirt insignia!”.

It’s the CBC logo with the Olympic rings.

Nailed it. Which proves my point…a lot can be said about what you wear.

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You Don’t Know What You Got ‘Till It’s Gone

Image

Joni Mitchell was right.  As this applies to my kitchen-less state, at least.  Being Canadian, turkey was on the menu this past Thanksgiving weekend.  So I left town in order to find a kitchen in which I could cook one.  And I find myself remembering things that I used to cook in an oven.  What comes to mind first is not turkeys.  It’s kids’ birthday cakes.  

I swore at my previous dual fuel [insert brand name here because I don’t want to disparage this company’s good name but it’s two words and one begins with “J” and the other with “A”] range in my head so many times.  Because I don’t really swear. 

But I hated that thing with a passion.  And I don’t use that “h” word much either.  But now it’s gone and I cheered it’s departure with great gusto.  But maybe now I kind of miss it?  I’m not sure…

Every time one of my children’s birthdays rolled around I have been determined to make them whatever cake they chose out of the nice birthday cake books and magazines I was fool enough to keep with my cookbooks. 

It’s important to note, at the outset, that while I am an energetic baker, I am not necessarily the most competent at kids’ birthday cakes.  They actually stress me out quite a bit. 

The kids all think my creations are neat, but I’m just glad we’ve past the stage of the mommies staying for the party…because now anyone who could pass “real” judgment on these birthday cakes is never invited!!

Each year my children pour over the pictures weeks in advance…debating between the teddy bear’s picnic made out of fondant, the race cars on an asphalt track, tropical fish aquarium, or the gumdrop candy mountain.  None of these are simple sheet cakes, but 3-D extravaganzas.  

But all cakes pale in comparison to the fateful year of the “Castle with Fantasy Village” (above) that my daughter wanted.  That was the time I did NOT swear-in-my-head at my range because I was too busy swearing-in-my-head at everything else cake-related in my kitchen…

It all started because I thought I was so smart.  So prepared.  So organized.  

Knowing that creating a cake castle with surrounding village would take some time, I baked the 8×8 inch square base of the castle, the loaf tin cakes from which the cylindrical turrets would be cut, and the giant muffin-shaped village buildings in advance.  I froze them.  A one-and-a-half by two foot foil base would hold it all.  A trip to the candy store secured a variety of confections to decorate roofs and simulate windows.  All was ready. 

The night before the party I set to work with my bowls of fantasy-coloured butter cream.  The “vision” for the castle was a chocolate cake square base with four pointed-roof  turrets on each corner of the square.  Each village building, in the picture in the nice magazine, resembled six inch-sized mushrooms, with enticing candy-coated roofs and miniature doors and windows. Winding between the village buildings and castle was a rock candy pathway. 

Quite charming…any little girl’s dream.  Is it possible the photo had been photo-shopped?

Icing the base of the castle was ok.  Cutting out the five inch cylindania out of the loaf tin shapes and gluing them together with the pale yellow butter cream to create turret-like cylinders worked just fine. 

Then the trouble started.   I thought crumbly cake pieces would be easier to ice if frozen.  I didn’t realize icing doesn’t like to stick to frozen cake.  It prefers to stay on the nice warm knife, thank you very much. 

Drats!!  Now what?  In order to convince the butter cream to leave the knife, I had to scrape it along the delicate constitution of cake which my other saran wrap draped hand cradled gingerly in the air. 

Anyone who’s iced cakes knows that having cake crumbs in your icing is not a desirable outcome.  There were so many dark brown specks in the pale icing that it looked like skin disease, not a confection to delight an eight year old and her friends! 

Walk away, I say to myself.  Unfortunately I didn’t listen.

Part of me believes if I just “try harder” things will work out.  It doesn’t.  I grit my teeth and clench my jaw through the other three “turrets” with similar results.  Who am I kidding?  It looks so bad I can’t even rationalize: “they’re children…they won’t notice”.  Oh yes they will.

To make matters worse, the top of the castle base has a slight slope to it.  It isn’t perfectly flat and the turrets do not want to stay put in their corners. 

So I use a very complicated and never-to-be-replicated system of wooden toothpicks to get the ugly turrets to stay in place.  Phew!  But really, they look absolutely awful and it’s getting late.  I have icing all over the place. 

So I focus on the little village and that goes comparatively well.  Almost charming.  But they kind of make the disease-skinned castle look even worse if that’s possible.  I look at the amount of candy on the non-castle part of my daughter’s stupid birthday cake (oh…was that an outside thought?)  and have an epiphany.

I will “attach” pastel coloured sprinkles (coloured sugar) to the sides of the turrets!  How?  They are vertically in place and I am NOT undoing the toothpick systems. 

Think, think, think.  I unroll more saran wrap and drape it over my hand.  I pour a liberal amount of sprinkles into my palm.  I quickly “shove” my hand against the side of a turret and most of the sprinkles fall onto the cake base…the counter…the floor where I’m standing. 

I’m almost afraid to look, but enough sprinkles have stuck to the vertical turret to cover up the yellow and brown skin disease.  I’m past caring about the mess I’m making and finish crystallizing all the turrets and plop their icing covered paper cones on top to complete the look. 

I’m so happy, but I can’t relax.  The kitchen is a sprinkle and icing disaster.  And the cake!  How, exactly, am I going to get sprinkles off  cake and village parts where they’re not wanted?

As I am vacuuming my kitchen floor with  my very powerful vacuum it comes to me. If I take off the attachment and hold the metal tube ABOVE the cake, it will suck up the sprinkles!  

Oh, I’m brilliant.  So I start sucking and it’s all very satisfying…holding the hose a couple of inches above the cake, only the loose sprinkles are going in until… OMGosh!!!  Like Icarus and the sun, I got too close.  Or rather the vacuum got too close. 

Suddenly a large chunk of the castle base disappears, leaving a gaping brown crater.  For a second I stopped breathing. 

Now what? 

I turn off the vacuum and pace back and forth.  And then it comes to me.  Kids love icing, right?  This part I can conceal and the kids will never know.  More icing is better. 

But I never could have served one of those pieces of half-cake, half-icing to one of the moms.  How on earth would I explain that???

My daughter’s birthday is in January.  Maybe there will be a new oven by then and together we will create another birthday cake masterpiece…or disaster. 

 

 

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Where’s the Chocolate?

IMG-20130917-00212Dear Garbage Collectors,

You are my new bff’s! Seriously. That day I saw the empty garbage can I did the “Happy Snoopy Dance” right then and there with my neighbors looking on over their breakfast preparations. There’s nothing like a kitchen renovation to break down one’s inhibitions, I have found. In my pink fuzzy house coat no less. In the rain. Which I’ve already blogged about so you know what’s happening there. With my glasses on. Which is saying a lot because if I could wear my contact lenses 25 hours a day, I would. No one sees me in my a) bathrobe and brown plastic “crocs” and b) eye glasses. To see all in combination, gyrating at the curbside on a Tuesday morning? Well, let’s just say no one has said “hello” to me on the street since. It’s been over two weeks. Hmmm.

But apparently my friends who have been spared the 7:45 am spectacle at the end of my driveway DO like me. Half a dozen kind souls offered up their own precious blue “get out of jail free” extra garbage tags within minutes of my last blog post. The next day one even drove hers over with a warm meal. What did I do to deserve that?? 🙂

But…do you think I could have that chocolate back? Please? I need it. I promise that in exchange, I will make you some nice homemade cookies or something if my flipping kitchen ever gets finished. I don’t know if that will happen.

You know, when my husband and two children, our fuzzy brown dog, and I started this renovation, our contractor said it would take three weeks. He’s such a kind, gentle man. He expected that it was really possible that everything would fall into place. He is SO deluded. But…like, really?…Has he ever done this before? …Three weeks? One week in my husband’s cocktail-party quip was that “We’re one week in and one week behind…so things are unfolding as they should!”. Funny man. NOT. Now we are three weeks in (bordering on four) and as many weeks “behind”.

demolition was the EASY part

demolition was the EASY part

I have had so many people ask me when we expect to be done. I have answered each patiently: “Our contractor says three weeks, but I have no expectations around that. It will be done when it’s done.” Smile benevolently. Queue yoga studio waterfall music sounds. Say “Ohm” charmingly and end conversation. Feel proud of myself for not being attached to outcomes.

I have to come up with a different answer now. I think it will go something like…smile through clenched teeth: “Well. We have hit a few snags, but that always happens with these things. We’re hoping for the end of the month.” Oh no…did I really voice an “expectation” out loud? Queue inner voice that is telling me to shut up about the dangers of expectations. Not working.

Now where is that chocolate I bought at Costco????

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A new departure for this travel blog…

Dear Garbage Collector,

Enclosed you will find copious amounts of chocolate.  Some would interpret this as a bribe.   I would never insult you with that word.  It is a gift.  

You see, I started renovating my kitchen about two days ago.  It feels like two months ago and I am afraid of what that means for the next “x” amount of weeks.  Renovating a kitchen seems to generate a lot of garbage.  Especially when your nice friends come over to help you pack up the old kitchen and they find a lot of things in your “pantry”.  Things that expired three years ago.  Food that likely would explode if you actually tried to open it.  Or maybe it would emit a toxic gas that would waft over the neighborhood, exposing innocent women and children to…oh never mind!  But if that toxic gas killed the construction site that has become my “neighbor”, well then that wouldn’t be all bad.

But I digress, Mr. (or Ms.?) Garbage Collector.  I am very contrite.  You see, destroying what we had, seems to have generated an extremely full garbage can this week.  So I thought I should go try to find the nice “tag” I bought from our municipality that, for a few dollars, allows me to dump more than my share on our neighborhood landfill.  I can’t find it.  Because me and my nice friends packed it.  It is in some box, likely the one on the bottom of the pile with the dog treats and elementary school “emergency contact forms” from 2011 that I also have not weeded out of my kitchen.  The magical blue tag that I could attach to my almost completely full garbage can, and allow me to pass “Go” without going to Jail is nowhere to be found…anytime soon.  Today was the only day I could possibly go and purchase a new one from the municipal hall except that the demolition of the kitchen’s plumbing caused a “pond” in the room underneath, two friends needed some help that mattered more than any of this, movers were coming for some kitchen parts I had sold or given away, and I just wasn’t able to do it.  And now it’s much past normal business hours and dark outside…

Mea Culpa.  So I am offering this chocolate with my full garbage can in the hopes that you might remember all the weeks I forgot that it was garbage day and there was no garbage to collect.  Or the time I left that really cute Xmas bow on the garbage can with the homemade cookies before the Holidays?  I promise not to do this again.  I promise to do a better job of recycling.  I promise to investigate composting even though black bears LOVE anything organic in my neighborhood (Including the lunch refuse from the workers at said construction site next door which “they” then spread all over our lawns…but again I digress).  I promise to order out less than I have in the last two days and actually buckle down and produce something homemade, nutritious, and from our non-existent kitchen.  Please, tomorrow, Ms./Mr. Garbage Collector, will you take my green bin which is too full?  

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Manzanillo is a ’10’

I can’t leave this part of Mexico without commenting on Manzanillo.  If you’ve been exposed to North American culture, and are over the age of 35…then with or without realizing it, you know about Manzanillo.  Especially if you saw Dudley Moore and Bo Derek in “10”.  I can’t think of a man my age who can’t bring to mind the image of Bo Derek walking out of the Mexican surf on a Manzanillo beach sporting her tiny braids.  Or rather sporting THAT bikini…in that form of human being. 

It wasn’t until this trip to Mexico that I realized that this is where the fashion of beach braids came from.  Thanks to the popularity of that movie, a new generation of North American girls only want to come to Mexico and have their hair braided.  Like my thirteen year old daughter.  She has no idea of where this came from and that it began with that movie with that brand of hollywood actress.

Manzanillo is a half hour’s drive from our house.  We have come to have a favourite restaurant and a favourite waiter there.  I guess you could say our hangout is at the “tacky” end of the beach.  It’s not fashionable or pretty.  It’s a series of a dozen tables in the sand with colourful beach umbrellas to give shade and comfort to us pale Canadians.

It’s perched on a long, flat beach with pounding surf that my youngest child adores.  He takes his styrofoam boogie board into the surf and his father teaches him how to anticipate and ride the white foamy waves.  And when he hits it right, they carry him to the edge of our tables with a grin on his face.  He loves this so much we have given him a new nickname of “wave rider”.  His best days here consist of breakfast at a restaurant where he orders French toast and gobbles down an adult sized portion of that.  Then we head to a beach with surf that isn’t too aggressive and he’ll spend every minute he can in the shallow waves with his boogie board or without, being pushed up and down and back and forth in front of me.  He emerges whenever drinks or food show up at our table.  But only then.Image

His mother isn’t really a “beach person” so I watch him with my legs in the sun and my body in the shade, sipping my cool drink and either knitting socks while keeping my eye on him, or reading one of the best books I’ve got my hands on lately (“Cutting for Stone” by Abraham Verghese) if he’s with another family member.  My daughter patiently sits while tiny braids crowned with blue and turquoise beads begin to cover her head.  Although other styles are available, she doesn’t realize the one she’s chosen is Bo Derek’s.  I don’t enlighten her. Image

The sand trodding merchants plod past our table with their wares on their shoulders and I do my best to support them.  I’m somewhat uncomfortable with the “rich white person” box I get stuck in just by looking at me.

In fact, I’m aware of what a cliché we are.  Part of the southward migration of North Americans this time of year, a mother of two with a husband.  But I hope I ‘ve spent enough time appreciating that I am indeed one of the very lucky ones to be such a cliché and soon heading back to our green and verdant, but still very moist habitat.

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I Got the Cowgirl Blues…

I’m still sore.  It’s been 48 hours since I got off  “that horse”, but my arms, shoulders and area from waist to knee still feel him.  Here’s how it went…

We are driving along “en famille”after a trip into Melaque for some basic provisions.  Before we left Canada we had thought it would be nice for the kids if we could find horseback riding and had looked for a local horse riding experience to no avail.  Anything on the internet doesn’t seem to exist in reality.  So we’d kind of let that go but then leaving Melaque we see a Mexican version of a cowboy riding along the dusty street (because most town streets around here are not paved) with two white ladies.  The “white” part is only relevant for us Spanish-challenged people as it’s a reasonable assumption that blonde-haired people might speak English. They do.  “Where did you rent your horses?”  I am prodded to call from the car window.  “From him.”  They point to their guide.  Himey is his name.  I’m sure that’s now how it’s spelled, but that’s how it’s pronounced.

A relevant piece of information about me at this juncture is that I don’t tend to be a “spur of the moment” kind of decision-maker.  I can do it when circumstances force me to do so.  However, it can cause internal strife and I’m sure much to my husband’s annoyance at times, quite a lot of second-guessing and thinking out loud about what could go wrong after the fact.  It’s not a quality I admire in myself, but it does serve a useful purpose and I hang onto it for this reason. 

After I am, again, encouraged by my car’s occupants, I make arrangements (with the blondies’ help interpreting) for us to meet Himey by the Mallorca bungalows in Melaque the next morning at 8:30 am.  I realize after we drive away that I have no idea what we will be charged, where these bungalows are, and how it will work with no English.  Our youngest, while he loves horseback riding and as done it in his short life more than I have, is not able to control a horse on his own.  When he does ride, he usually has at least two people helping him at all times.  I start vocalizing these reservations to my husband and he assures me that tomorrow we’ll find someone who will help us translate and if I’m not happy with how our youngest and his needs will be accommodated then we won’t do it.  I know my husband’s negotiating skills and frugal nature will not allow us to spend a crazy amount on our little adventure.  So I am pacified.

But also keep in mind on this trip I am not looking for adventure of any size.  In our sunscreen, long pants and shoes (how foreign this feels now!) and baseball hats we show up at the appointed time.  A leggy gal from LA (again, could tell right away this wasn’t an Alberta version of a cowgirl but something further south) was helping Himey and was coming with us on our two hour trip.  Really??  I think to myself…two hours??  Wouldn’t less be better?  But I wasn’t consulted on this, so I go with the flow here.  And I’m feeling better as she zeros in on us and our needs and reads the situation expertly.

Except for the part about which horse to put me on.  My daughter tells her proudly that yes she’s an experienced rider.  She did a five day riding camp one summer with a friend so based on her ten hours on a horse, she’s ready for anything. Good for her, I think.  I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent on horses, but I lived/ate/breathed horses as a girl and went riding on my grandparents’ farm whenever I could convince someone to take me.  But that was a long time ago.  While I read copiously about all things horse-related as a kid, there’s a huge difference between theoretical knowledge and practical knowledge.  And I’d like to think I have the common sense in middle age to realize where my limitations lie and be aware of the gulf that separates theory from practice.  And to any of my Saskatchewan relatives who may be reading this, and to whom my brother and I were, I’m sure, the “city kids”…well, I want you to know you know the truth here.

 “Well,” our guide who is logically making choices for us based on the information that is presented to her…says to my daughter, “I’ll put you on this fellow.  He’s a fine horse but a bit…spirited.”  In the commotion of Himey and his helper getting the six horses ready, the only other thing I am aware of is that my son’s horse is the calmest.  Good.

After all the horses are saddled and then with my husband hovering closely she asks me about my riding experience.  “No.” I say firmly. “I am not an experienced rider.  I do NOT ride.”  My husband chimes in, uninvited “She’s from Saskatchewan.  She grew up on the Canadian Prairie.”  What does that have to do with anything?  I think to myself but I am not going to say anything because there’s no point, and what purpose would it serve than to make me look like an argumentative grumpy person?  And I realize that he loves me.  He’s telling her this because he sees me as a capable, talented person and he’s proud of me.  Oh, he is so deluded but adorable in his misplaced pride.

But there was my mistake.  I should have started an argument right then and there.  And in retrospect I do remember overhearing her say “Oh, so she’s a real cowgirl!”  But I got distracted by my daughter needing something of me and I foolishly left my husband with our guide.  I didn’t hear anything else that was discussed and went on faith that she would have absorbed me saying “I don’t ride.”. 

The next thing I know I’m perched on my mount.  I forget his name.  He seems like an affectionate soul as he sidles up to my husband on his horse and starts rubbing his face in his horse’s neck.  I didn’t want him to squash up beside the other horse, but clearly our relationship is starting off on his terms, not mine.  I want him to stand still so I am yarding on the reins and now he keeps going backwards.  This is what he was supposed to do and if I’d just given him a commanding “Woa!” and brief tug on the reins then he might have stood still.  He didn’t.

The next series of events is somewhat foggy, but I sort of realized in that moment that my daughter was seated on a much lighter coloured horse than she had been introduced to and that I seemed to be on the largest and darkest horse. 

“Wait a minute!” my brain screams…”I’m the one on the SPIRITED horse!!  How did this happen?”  Clearly LA cowgirl had listened to my husband, not me.  Really, all I had wanted was to be on my son’s boring and calm horse but I had to be the adult and let him have it.  At the same time as I am thinking this and not paying attention, my horse is bugging Shannon’s horse.  Shannon’s horse doesn’t like it and bucks and all of a sudden she and I and our horses are in a tangle and I’m just trying to stay on mine, never mind move him anywhere.  Things in Spanish are being shouted but I just want off.  I want off so badly.  But I want to get off him myself, I don’t want him to throw me off which I am worried is a distinct possibility.  And Shannon does too…I can hear her as if from a great distance.

Himey, with my son’s horse tethered to his, comes to my rescue and starts directing my horse.  But my horse’s ears are flat to his head and I remember enough from my book reading that this is not a good sign.  My horse is NOT happy.  I want my horse to be happy.  I want him to be calm.  And I want him to listen to my gentle “Woa!”.  Geez, amongst all this I can hear my grandfather’s booming voice in my head and I just know what he would think of my timid attempts to control my stallion.

But Shannon’s horse is calmed as the cowgirl and her horse herd her away from mine. Himey makes mine move forward and keeps his horses between me and all the other horses.  I am told my horse should not be with any of the other horses.  What!  Now you tell me this? 

Why?  Here’s the punch line…Shannon’s and my horses were the youngest in the bunch.  Shannon’s had only been saddle broken for six months.  She is a mare.  Mine is a young stallion.  This means he is not a gelding.  He has all his male parts and all his male desires.  And love was in the air because Shannon’s horse was in heat!!  Thanks for sharing, people!Image

My horse and I managed to stay together for the full two hours.  I won’t say it was enjoyable, exactly.  A walk along the beach on a horse sounds relaxing, but it wasn’t!  Every time anything spooked my horse, like another horse being within ten feet of him, dogs barking, things I could not perceive in the beach sand, he would start dancing around.  Shannon was fine because her mare wanted nothing to do with my stallion.  But he really wanted to be near her.  I got better at more commanding “Woas!” and I learned to hold him in a tighter rein all the time.  But that made my shoulders and arms sore after an hour and a half. Image

So at one point I flapped my non-rein-holding arm around to relieve the tension.  Wrong.  He thought I was getting ready to slap his flanks to break into a gallop along the section of highway where we happened to be on at the moment.  We went from zero to sixty to back to zero in record time thanks to my memory of seeing my father and grandfather handle horses.  Some DNA in my genetic pool must have surfaced because for five seconds during the whole two hours, I was in charge and that stallion was NOT going to gallop on my watch.

 When I slid off my horse at the merciful end of our ride, it took all my pride and dignity not to slither to the dirt.  My legs barely had the strength to hobble across the street because our cowgirl said the best cup of coffee in town was there.  She was right.  I regrouped over my cappuccino, feeling proud for sticking it out and not being a wussy city kid.  On the outside.  On the inside…ok….yes, one wussy city kid.

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Hola, Oh Canada-Style

At spring break a great horde of northern,  North America dwellers line up at airports in Canada and the US and board airplanes for Maui, Mazatlan, Cancun, Los Angeles, and Barbados.  We migrate to the southern United States, Hawaii or Mexico.  As fast as our little wallets will take us.  Just for some warmth and sun because we can’t stand any more of our collective local weather. 

My family did this at three in the morning the day after our kids finished school.  I reflected that the last time I got up in the middle of the night to get on an airplane was in Milan where I spoke no Italian and had limited capability of securing a taxi for my son and our fourteen and half suitcases to get to Malpensa airport.  Transversing Vancouver International Airport where I speak the language, with fewer bags and a husband and daughter to boot, seemed like the proverbial piece of cake.  My vision of this holiday is a whole lot of nothing with a minority of “adventures”. So far so good.

Judging from the population around me, Canadians love this part of Mexico.  The lovely home we have rented is in a somewhat bizarre development on the beaches of the Pacific Ocean…in the middle of nowhere!!  Named “MusicaDel Mar” it’s true we do hear the pounding surf constantly…easily confused with thunder, except that there are no clouds in the sky so thunder isn’t possible.  Is it?  I only know about rain, so what authority do I have to comment on tropical storms?  Zero.

This is my fifth trip to Mexico.  I’ve not had this experience of Mexico before.  Acapulco, Zhuiatinaho, Mazatlan, Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Sayulita, Mexico City….are nothing like this.  Well maybe Sayulita is a bit like this.  Our development which was the brainchild of three gentlemen from British Columbia, Canada who own the three beachfront villas, is perched in the middle of sand.  Image

Way, way down the beach is a condominium development and even further in the other direction is a five star hotel complex with a 27 hole golf course et cetera, et cetera. Image

That’s it.  Across the road from us is Mexican bushland and the odd grass roofed, cinderblock “hut” with a dirt yard enclosure and various animals roaming through it.  Whoever bought the first lots here took a great leap of faith, in my opinion.  But people from Regina, Saskatchewan (my home province), Summerland and White Rock, British Columbia took up the challenge.  Within the brightly painted walls of “Musica”, are about forty luxury retirement homes for Canadians.  It has a surreal quality to it.

But clearly there are lots more of them around somewhere.  When we rouse ourselves from poolside and slather on more 50 spf and clothing, we venture into towns with names like Colimillia, Melaque, La Manzanilla, and Cihuatalan and encounter Canadians at neighbouring tables.  I can tell by their “accent”.  And a bit by how they’re dressed.  In comparison, yesterday at the beach at La Manzanilla, I knew our restaurant table neighbours were American.  There were four couples of late 50-somethings traveling together.  They were deeply tanned, familiar with the waitress, had a cooler deep with cervezas going on, Texan-styled beach hats, jewelry to match the bathing suits, with deep booming voices.  Even the women.  They were having fun, in a non-obnoxious way, and didn’t mind advertising that.  They just weren’t Canadian and it was easy to figure out right away.  The Canadians seem to find each other.  At a great coffee shop this morning more grey haired people started up a conversation with me and I wasn’t at all surprised to hear they’re from Vernon, British Columbia and their grandchildren live in my neighbourhood. 

Ontario and British Columbia license plates are not uncommon sights on the dirt roads through these one-horse towns.  The “Super Hawaii” corner store in Melaque caters to what Canadians like, and brand names like “Kirkland” are common.  It’s quite weird being confronted with so much “Canada” in the face of third world Mexico.  I’ve never been in a place outside of Canada where the existence of Canadians is so obvious; it’s incongruous to see third world sights with so many grey haired Canadians sauntering through it, and speaking Spanish like the locals.

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