A Magical Winter Walk

It was a normal winter morning and my dog Maya and I went on our walk together. We discovered the neighbor’s horses close to the road. We stopped and quietly watched them, allowing ourselves to share space and time with such beautiful creatures. It is a moment like this that turns a normal winter walk into a magical winter walk.

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Maya & The Ginkgo Tree

Maya Under Her Gingko Tree

Maya Under Her Ginkgo Tree

Once upon a time

There was a Ginkgo tree

With fan-shaped leaves

So delicate and green

Then summer ended

Crisp autumn arrived

The Ginkgo turned gold

Its leaves bright and alive

It was one fine day

When Maya stood near

Enjoying the view

And the time of the year

Then without warning

The gold leaves fell down

Descending on Maya

Ginkgo losing its crown

Maya pondered

Deeply in thought

Sir Newton was right

About what he taught

Maya Deep in Thought on the Pond of Leaves

Maya Deep in Thought on the Pond of Leaves

She sat in the pond

Of crispy gold leaves

Counting the days

To snow and the freeze

Because Maya is happy

No matter the time

The weather, the month

To her it’s sublime

Happy Mother’s Day to My Friend Consuelo

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I met Consuelo two years ago when I first moved to London. The name “Consuelo” means comfort or consolation in Spanish. We met while walking our dogs in our neighborhood. She is a nanny for a family with two children and a handsome black Labrador Retriever. Her dog and mine took an instant liking to each other. Her dog is 11 years old and still looks very youthful. Consuelo shared that the secret for her dog’s youthful look and good health was that she had fed him freshly cooked chicken and rice since he was a puppy. Spoiled boy!  Consuelo shared that she had moved from her native Ecuador to London over 30 years ago. So we had always chatted in Spanish. Over the months, we would run into each other with our dogs. Most of the time Consuelo would be pushing a stroller with an adorable little girl who is now 3 years old. One weekend afternoon I ran into Consuelo with the family that she works for and I found out that their older son had severe disabilities. Consuelo also cared for this little boy.

The months would go by and we would continue to meet each other and share pleasantries on the street. Then Friday morning was a special day. I was on my way to a coffee gathering when I ran into her with the little girl. We said our hellos and the cute little girl who recognizes me gave me a huge smile. It turned out we were walking in the same direction so off we went to the St. John’s Wood high street and chatted for about 15 minutes.

She would share so much in just those 15 minutes. She would open up in such a way that even she surprised herself. I asked how the little boy that she watches was. She said he was doing ok. She shared that it is always so challenging to take care of his needs. It is an exhausting job for both the parents and Consuelo. I told her I so admired her patience in dealing with the boy. My friend commented that she is always so concerned when they hire a babysitter for when Consuelo cannot be there. Consuelo will review a thousand things with the new sitter to ensure he is well taken care of. You can tell she is very protective of him. One day last week, Consuelo was preparing the boy for a bath. The boy is about 7 or 8 years old. As Consuelo lifted him to put him in his bath, he turned his face, and he placed his open mouth on her cheek in what appeared to be an attempt to kiss her. She was so moved because it was his first attempt at kissing and of showing any signs of affection. Consuelo could not believe it, and even as she recounted the story she was filled with goose bumps. The little boy had not even done this with his own mother. I said to Consuelo, “That little boy loves you so much. He must sense and recognize your dedication to him.” The outside world only sees the boy’s disabilities and suffering, while Consuelo focuses on improving his quality of life while showering him with love and affection.

Consuelo then shared that she and her husband were expecting a grandchild. I congratulated her and asked if it was their first one. She said it wasn’t but that it was the first girl and she was obviously very excited. She said her oldest grandson was 11 years old. She was delighted to share that her grandson had just been awarded a full scholarship for the rest of his education in London. She commented that the family was very pleased with this since her son had limited financial resources. As we walked further, she turned and said, “You see my son is disabled, he’s been in a wheel chair since he was a child”. She went on to tell me some wonderful stories about her son and how he has tried to live independently and support his family. I asked her if he was the reason why they had left Ecuador and she said yes. Her son would not have had much of a future in her native country back then.

I turned to Consuelo and I said something like, “Dios te escogió para este labor por una razón muy especial”, which translates into “God hand picked you for this task for a very special reason”. I could not get over the fact that after raising her own disabled child she would find the fortitude and patience to repeat the whole experience all over again by helping raise another family’s child with special needs.

We arrived at the high street and were getting ready to say our goodbyes. But she had one more story to share. She told me how her son had adapted a vehicle that allowed him to store his wheel chair on the roof and was therefore able to drive everywhere. It pleases him very much that he can transport his own family. You could sense how proud she is of her son. No doubt her son gets a lot of his “can do” attitude from his mother who through her example taught him to never give up. Consuelo continues to share this love and perseverance with the children she watches. And in return those children adore her not just as a caregiver or nanny but also more like a grandmother. Not to mention the family dog who also adores her because she showers him with love and attention too, oh and with freshly cooked chicken and rice, as well!

My heart filled with such joy to have met Consuelo and to have run into her on that particular Friday morning. I turned to her and said, “I must hug you”, and I did. She thanked me for listening to her and said she shared these stories with me because she felt I was a special person. I was very moved. We said “Hasta Luego” (See You Later) and went in our different directions. It may be the last time I run into her since I will be moving back to the US. I often wonder why people’s paths cross. I like to think that it is not just coincidence but that somehow it is meant to be, that there is a reason for it. Even if it is just to say, I am so proud to have known such a special person and role model like Consuelo.

Happy Mother’s Day

Mystical Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay

The Islets of Ha Long Bay
Photo courtesy of Curt Petrucelli

We met Sunny, our guide, at 7 a.m. to depart to Ha Long Bay. The car ride would take us from Hanoi, due east, through the countryside, to our destination by the sea. Sunny told us the ride would take over 3 hours because although Ha Long Bay was not so far in distance, the road to get there was shared not only by cars, trucks, and motorcycles but by cows as well and he was not kidding.

Examples of Tube House Architecture Notice: Most of the time they leave the sides unpainted.

Examples of Tube House Architecture
Notice: Most of the time they leave the sides unpainted.

We passed through numerous villages, rice fields and farms. We saw plenty of cows and water buffalo. We were also introduced to the architecture of Tube houses. Tube houses were originally built between 1428 and 1788 but today continue to be the house design of choice in the northern part of the country. They can be as narrow as 6.5 feet (2m) but up to 262 feet (80m) deep. Some of these houses today have been made taller and are referred to as “rocket buildings”.

The Ginger

The Ginger

UNESCO designated Ha Long Bay as a World Heritage Site and its name translates into “descending dragon bay”. Ha Long Bay is a 580 square mile (1500 sq km) area dotted with more than 2,000 outcroppings of limestone and dolomite. We were mesmerized to see the mystical beauty of Ha Long Bay. The islets looked even more magical set against the misty bay. Upon our arrival in Ha Long Bay we boarded a junk, named the Ginger with Jasmine Cruises. We would spend the night on board the Ginger with 15 other passengers.

That afternoon we went on an excursion to visit caves that exist inside the numerous islets. The highlight of the afternoon was a visit to a floating fishing village. At the floating village we boarded smaller boats that took us closer to see the floating village homes and the villagers. One of the primary ways to make a living is fish farming.

The Floating Fishing Village

The Floating Fishing Village

The children of the village attend the local school also floating on the bay.

The School

The School

We were surprised to see that some of the houses had televisions. We were also surprised to see that some of the families owned dogs. We met a very protective dog taking care of  his master’s fish farm. He ran across the logs that supported the fish nets with amazing balance and speed.

This dog protected the fish farm and ran across the logs with great agility.

This dog protected the fish farm and ran across the logs with great agility.
Photo Courtesy of Curt Petrucelli

During monsoon season the villagers tie their houses together and float them closer to the islets.

The next morning we were invited to take a class of Tai Chi on a nearby beach followed by a short hike to the top of the island.

View from the Top of the Islet

View from the Top of the Islet
The Ginger in the bay.
Photo Courtesy of Curt Petrucelli

After a wonderful breakfast we returned to the port. There we met up again with Sunny. He had bought Vietnamese snacks for us to enjoy. Among them were dried Jack Fruit. The flavor of Jack fruit tasted to me like a combination of mango and pineapple.

Jack Fruit

Jack Fruit on Tree

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Jack Fruit Chips

Fresh Jack Fruit

Fresh Jack Fruit

We said goodbye to Sunny and to North Vietnam and took a flight to Danang, Vietnam. Stay tuned for the continuing trip through central Vietnam.

For further reading about Ha Long Bay: http://wikitravel.org/en/Ha_Long_Bay

For further reading about Tai Chi: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T’ai_chi_ch’uan

Maya, the Center of the Family Universe & the Center of the Family Board Game

Maya making sure she gets Love.

Maya making sure she takes her turn, for love.

To say that our dog, Maya, has become the center of our family universe is an understatement. We gravitate around her and surround her with love 99.99% of the time. She is a “love bug” who looks to be part of everything possible. And if for some reason, you are distracted, or not paying proper attention to her, or focused on something else, like a board game for instance, she’ll make sure to remind you that she exists. Sometimes she stares at you and whimpers for attention, sometimes she nudges you with her head, or sometimes she simply lays across the board game to take her turn, for love.

A couple of winters ago my daughter and I were attempting to play a board game until our Maya decided the center of the board game was a good place to rest and to make sure she joined the “party”. My daughter got up quickly to get the camera and capture the moment. How could we resist giving Maya love.

As we like to say in our home, Maya’s theme song is the song by the Beatles  “All You Need is Love”.  All that Maya needs is Love. All she needs is love, love. Love is all she needs.