Let’s begin with the food.

I had a rough goal of consuming all the seafood I could get my hands on while we were on vacation. I don’t eat seafood in Oklahoma, for what I feel are obvious reasons. There are no oceans nearby. Have we considered how long that fish had to travel in a truck to get here?

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This ceviche was so delicious that I had to drink the juice after it was all gone.

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And my mom’s seafood tower was a sight to behold. This place, Zitla, was well worth it. If my dad had his way, we would have gone there again. And I would have been perfectly happy to visit again.

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Alhambre on the side of the road hit the spot.

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Two types of typical Mayan cuisine at the Meson de Marquez in Valladolid hit the spot after a visit to Chichen Itza.

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Throw in a beach-side churro, which my daughter called “Mexican donuts.”

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Native fruits, seeds and nuts along with cactus on local bread with hibiscus juice.

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Argentine empanadas and a flan that wasn’t really that good.

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Locally made palletas (Popsicle) on the side of the road. Mine was pistachio, but of course the kids got bubblegum.

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Tortillas and a cake stuffed with dulche de leche at the Oaxaca market.

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And moooooore ceviche, from El Pirata, which was excellent and perfect and good. Hole in the wall feeling and we sat out on the side walk with marimba music in our ears, chatting with the New Yorkers at the table next to us.

I realize this post isn’t filled with recommendations and tips, because for me it’s more about the journey. We tried hole-in-the-wall places, we bought from vendors on the streets. Finding the food is half the adventure.

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Changing Up Traditional Christmas

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I’m a fan of warm weather.

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I grew up on the equator and Christmas is usually the time everyone heads for the beach. So while a lot of North Americans associate Christmas with the cold and snow and all that, I’ve never cared one way or the other.

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Now that I have kids, what I really dislike about the cold is being stuck inside all the time. You can only toss them outside to play so often when temps are in the 30s and lower. (No laughing, Canadians!)

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So this year, instead of heading for Idaho, I talked my parents into meeting us in Mexico, where we rented an Airbnb condo in Playa del Carmen.

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It was alllllll that.

We swam, we toured, we lounged, we ate. What more can you ask for during that weird week between Christmas and New Years?

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The Story of a Coffee Table

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The best home furnishings should have a story.

The story of our coffee table starts a year ago, wait, no it doesn’t. It starts before that.

When we moved into our house seven years ago, we didn’t have a coffee table. I mentioned to a friend that I wanted a round one to save little foreheads from bangs. A little while later, she called on a Saturday morning, saying she’d see a round coffee table at a garage sale. About an hour and $20 later, I had my round coffee table. We rocked that table for more than six years.

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Apparently I don’t take many photos in my living room. Here’s a blurry one, with the table piled with laundry, as one does.

Then, I grew tired.

I spotted this one, on sale for around $350, but even that for a veneer top seemed steep. And I got the crazy idea that I could have one made that would perfectly fit my living room.

I found a local welder, who said he could do the job. We came up with a design for the base (there was a lot of math and angles), and for $40, it was mine.

Next: powder coating. I found a local place that did it for $40. When I went to pick it up, I described it to the guy and he said, “Oh, yes, the fancy thing.” Ha! Love my small Oklahoma town.

Finally, the top. I wanted wide and round. None of the places in town carried wood like that and I was stumped. I thought I’d have to visit a lumber mill a few hours south. Finally, an acquaintance directed me to some old guy in Kansas. I called to make the appointment, but my (Dutch) husband went to get it. He called me on Facetime so I could see the wood and help pick it out. We were thinking of some kind of walnut, but the gorgeous striations in the local sycamore grabbed us. (Then the guy asked my husband where I was from. He thought my super-vanilla, Midwestern American accent was from somewhere exotic! Oh, sir. Not all of us in Oklahoma are country folk.)

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My husband, who I like to refer to as McGyver, attached two boards together and figured out a system using a child’s bicycle wheel to cut and sand that baby within an inch of it’s life.

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Today, that surface is as smooth as butter and sealed with just a light touch of tung oil.

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And now that, is the story of the coffee table. Boring perhaps, but a very fun creative process for me. One to which my husband may have lost a few inches of skin to while sanding. Sometimes I catch him in the living room caressing the striations in the wood, which are apparently caused by mold growth. But, man are they pretty. And my kids, of course, think it’s an excellent jumping off point.

Here’s to stories, and creation and future family card games!

Look Beyond

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On Thursday, I walked.

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I made it a point to get lost, to meander, to explore.

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The world looks different from my sneakers and getting off the main road yields happy alleyways and corners.

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I’m always thrilled to find the places where real people live and imagine what goes on inside the walls, who lives there and what the rhythm of daily life is like.

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But to find those places, you have to push past the obvious.

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You must look beyond the apparent.

 

Look above the crowd.

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And in seeking the unexpected, you might rise to sun-bleached vistas.

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Or find a quiet moment on the Mediterranean Sea.

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Or maybe even commune with the souls of those long gone.

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It’s always worth it to make your own way.

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And even lovelier to return home, heart filled with the journey.

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An 8-Track Car Cake

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His love of cars has never faded.

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So when it came time for a celebration of turning 8, he asked for a race track with a car on it with a puff of whipped cream smoke coming out.

There was that, but then making the shape of the cake in an “8” seemed like a no brainer. Then we had to cover it in grass and use Oreo crumbs as a race track.

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Cake decided and designed, now it was time to throw a party.

Friends were invited, little sisters tolerated.

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We started with the classic Donut on a String, because we did it once, and our kids thought it was the greatest thing ever.

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They always ask for it. Possibly because they can imbibe so much sugar.

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I learned 8 is officially the age when everyone drops off. As in their kids. Last year several parents hung around, this year it was just us and eight hyper 7 and 8-year-olds.

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We wanted to keep them as busy as possible, so we set up an “obstacle course” in the backyard.

Step one: Dribble through the cones.

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Step two: Balance on a log.

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Step three: Crawl through the boxes and jump over the hurdle.

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Step four: Run through the “sand trap” and slide down the slide.

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Step five: Jump rope.

Step six: Run through the Orbeez pool!
Or fall, as the case may be.

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Step seven: Pull the rock up the hill in the sled.

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Step eight: Return to finish!

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They couldn’t stay away from the Orbeez pool, though, and after everyone had finished the course, a war broke out.

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Which they probably enjoyed more than any organized activity.

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After they were hot, sweaty and tired, we pulled out the sugar to revive them.

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Thankfully it was an overcast afternoon, but it got plenty sticky in our shady back yard. Everyone was glad to stop for drinks.

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After we picked up trash and corralled them again, it was time for presents.

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Post presents, we moved on to the finale: the piƱata.

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I love doing these because we always did them growing up. Of course, ours were make of terracotta pots, which made them much more fun to crack open, but the fancy paper shapes they come in nowadays is just as fun. As is being given a stick and told you can wack something.

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And finally, we sent those sugar-high kids back to their parents.

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Another birthday celebrated hard.

Doors of Sidi Bousaid

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If you’ve looked at a tourist brochure of Tunisia, you’ve likely seen this door in the background of someone’s photo. It’s right on the main drag, in front of a little park.

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But if you spend some time looking closer, you’ll find some other gems.

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Like maybe one covered in bougainvillea.

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Or a doorway that’s more ornate.

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Perhaps one with dark secrets.

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Maybe even one tucked away in an alley that didn’t quite get the shade of blue dead on.

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How about one that’s freshened up?

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Or what about a yellow door?

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Or a white one with stars?

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What about a simple rectangular one, with hardware as dark as kohl eyeliner.

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What about one with a chalky finish and a blue-painted railing to match?

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Wander off the main path a little, friends.