La República Dominicana

“Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men & things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all of one’s lifetime.”

One of my favorite Southerners, Mark Twain, said it best. Traveling makes you modest, makes you question your comfort zone, and ultimately, makes you ponder your tiny place in this vast and ever-changing world. And that’s a good, healthy thing.

The Caribbean view from the plane en route to the Dominican Republic.

So, we got to La República Dominicana on my 44th birthday. My first impression upon arriving was disbelief at the inefficiency, like having to take a bus from the tarmac to the terminal check-in … you know, all 100 meters of a journey.

Then paying a guy $10 to enter the country, and having to hand over the government tickets to another dude some two yards away. Now there’s make work! I think that airport needs to invest in some automation.

But all turista complaining aside, our time in the Dominican Republic was enjoyable and stress-free. Sure, we made a few mistakes, like tipping the airport baggage guy way too much, or buying an 8-pack of tampons for $8 (gasp!) because I thought I had forgotten to bring mine, and purchasing for some pricey cigars that turned out to be Cuban knock-offs.

Rebeeler on la playa in Punta Cana. Gracias for “quince” great years, mi amor! If you can put up with me for 15, certainly we are in it for the long haul.

Honestly, haggling, in my opinion, is just the worst. I like the competitive and equalizing factor of “here’s the good and this is the fee.” But in other parts of the world, price is debatable and fluid, depending on the circumstance and possibly even the consumer’s country of origin.

This is no slight at those who can barter and haggle well. It’s just that I’m so accustomed to the competitive and consumer-friendly forces of goods as far as the eye can see and at the best possible prices, that it is always hard for me to get cope with such hyper-inconsistent exchanges.

Interestingly, Americans aren’t the only fat ones. It seems the rest of the world’s beach dwellers — well, at least the ones from South America and Europe, from which most DR turistas hail — are rather robust, too.

A Dominican artistic impression of Conan O’Brien. Now this work of art is certainly worth a good, healthy haggle.

String bikinis are an unfortunate trend at the beaches in La Altagracia region. Even though it is mostly the Dominicans who are the fittest and most exquisitely beautiful, modesty was replete on la playa. Hey, at least the turistas don’t have negative body image issues, as do many Americans.

In general, non-Americans know multiple languages, like our concierge Eugenia. She was Bulgarian, but was fluent in English and Spanish.

Also Anna, the Ukrainian lady who pitched a vacation package to us: she spoke Russian, of course, as well as English, French, and Spanish. And Lisandro, our Spanish-speaking guide on the wonderful local excursion, also spoke English and French, and was in the process of learning Russian.

Bávaro Beach from a catamaran before muy cocktails, a sunset swim, & a lobster dinner. That’s just the way things roll in La República Dominicana!

Moreover, the turistas we met from places like Montreal, the Czech Republic, Uruguay, Russia, and Slovenia, spoke impeccable English, even though they usually would humbly say they only knew “pequeño” (a little).

And Stephen’s español was just amazing. He gets rusty, sure. But once he lets go and relaxes, hearing him communicate with locals is like listening to a symphony of sometimes discordant, yet mostly harmonic musicians, playing the earthly tune of man. Communication in its purest form.

Therefore, I’m going to be a student in Stephen’s weekly Spanish lesson with the boys. It’s going to be difficult for me, I know. But if there’s one thing that homeschooling has taught assured me, it’s that I’m a lifelong learner. So, if I have an open enough mind to overcome my math phobia, why not tackle a foreign language (or two) while I’m at it?!?

If you got no pesos, this is how poor turistas can work off mamajuana shots & El Presidente cervezas!

Other than linguistics, we had many beach-bum days filled soft sand, seaweed swimming, palm umbrellas, endless cocktails, perspiration galore, and people-watching. Time was not much of a concern — quite an odd feeling for most Americans, but very necessary and therapeutic, since relaxation is the main objective.

We adventured outside of the resort on occasion, like our visit to a local farm to tour the home and property, and lands where coffee, cocoa, tobacco, plantains and other tropical fruit are grown. It was incredible getting to meet Dominicans, who are typically friendly and kind, as well as hang with other cool turistas from around the world.

Our tour also took us to a mountainside restaurant, an elementary school outside Higüey, and La Basilica de Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia. The church, which is the largest basilica in Latin America, was architecturally pleasing, but also a tad disturbing as it had Mary as its centerpiece, rather than, you know … Jesus!

Drinking vino piño, smoking puros, listening to music, star gazing, having deep conversations, & relaxing on the beach our last night in town.

Our savior, the Son of God, and healer of mankind’s brokenness, seemed an after thought there. Strange how that happens in Latin America, as well as in some other places in the world. But I’ve learned that deifying the mother was a way that Catholics long ago tackled the veneration of pagan goddesses. And it just kinda stuck.

Moreover, Christ has been dealing with castigation, mockery, and misinterpretation since the dawn of man; that’s kinda what we sinners do. But He defeated death and sits at the right hand of God, and His spirit lives in us. So, a little Mary-worship sure can’t squelch His power or waver my faith in any way. It just ain’t my thang.

Now, we got to DR without a hitch, but leaving was another story. The coiled lines were long and unnecessarily slow. All the passengers on our flight were forced to sit on the tarmac for an hour in order that a few folks and their bags could be rechecked due to some kind of ticketing error.

Taking a break in Macao after a long day of exploring the area of La Altagracia & meeting some of the locals. By the way, have I mentioned that the Dominican Republic is HOT, like steamier-than-New-Orleans kinda hot?! Don’t even bother wearing makeup.

And then the Homeland Security guy that “welcomed” us back to the States was so stereotypically rude that it seemed like a spoof. Thanks, ‘Merica. But we survived. I’m just glad my travel-weary husband didn’t punch him, otherwise I’d have a way more subversive headline for this blog.

But travel sure does make your appreciate all your blessings and give you invaluable insights about yourself, the world, and the diverse peoples that inhabit it. Our vacation was an exciting and memorable trip, as well as such a loving gesture from my hubby, who took me there to celebrate early our 15th wedding anniversary.

I truly appreciate the adventure, Stephen, and look forward to our next travels. And thanks to you, too, Granny, for taking care of the 3 Amigos so we could experience this romantic time together sans kids! We certainly couldn’t have pulled it off without you.

Papa & the 3 Amigos have a blast cooking (& hypnotizing!) crabs for our delicious seafood feast w/ family. Thanks for the awesome memories, Papa!

In early August, the boys and I went up to see the Richmond crew and eat yummy steamed crabs. It was a leisurely visit that included lots of chilling with the family, plus, some spur-of-the-moment hang time with three of my old-school pals: Angela, Shelley, and Michelle. So great to catch up with these fine ladies!

In mid-August, we got to see the other side of the family in the mountains, but this time for a sad occasion: Uncle Tommy’s funeral. It was a heart-wrenching trip, since his death was quite shocking. After all, Tommy was a pretty young, healthy guy.

Plus, knowing that his granddaughter, sweet Ella, is too young to probably have formed any lasting memories of him is just a devastating thought. But we are praying for all of those who were closest to Tommy and will miss him most, specifically Granny, Kelly, Laura, Mike, and Dale.

The 3 Amigos have been playing a lot lately w/ our neighbor, Matthew (seen here far right), as well as a cool kid named Nick. It sure pleases this mama that the boys have plenty of neighborhood friends for good-time shenanigans.

But there were some happy times that weekend, like the boys playing with their Carolina kin, Ella, Grace, and Faith, and getting to meet Jovi, their cousin from Minnesota, and Stephen and I bonding with family we don’t see all that often. We were also able to make it to the Houston Family Reunion.

Remember those pukey sleeping bags from our last camping trip? Well, I took the need of having to clean them in a front-loading washing machine as an opportunity to invite the dudes and I over to Meredith’s house. I figured she has the high-tech wares, so why not get some much-needed time in with her and Rorie, all while tackling the overdue task?!

Rorie had a great fun with the 3 Amigos, who she classified as “such loud boys.” And Meredith and I were able to chat while the kids entertained one another. Thanks for a great afternoon of fun, washing, eating Chinese food, and good conversation, girls!

Houston, Zeke, Owen & Gabriel get ready to rock out @ the Folk Fest!

We attended the National Folk Festival last weekend in … Greensboro! Amazingly, our fare city has been chosen as the host of the big event for three years. Very cool.

One of our dearest friends, Steven, his wife, Paige, and son, Owen, came to town to partake in the festivities with us. It was a blast to spend some time with them and get to see some kickin’ live music so close to home.

We hope to rekindle our friendship with Steven and get to know his beautiful family even better. After all, it was he (along with his two older brothers) who was responsible for Stephen and I crossing paths back back in ’98.

Nice photography skills, Houston. Thanks for snapping this pic of Mommy & Daddy w/ our buddies Steven & Paige during stay with us. We look forward to seeing them later in the fall.

Fall baseball at the Y has been underway for a month. The dudes are playing for the Atlanta Braves and are doing quite well. Everyone’s skills continue to improve unabated, and the twins’ focus on the game has gotten much better, too.

Yesterday, I thought the boys’ game was at 12:15. But at 11:10, I happened to glance at my calendar and see that it was an 11:15 game. Gasp! I grabbed a baseball cap and bra for me, opted to skip brushing my teeth, threw the gear in the back of Stephen’s truck, and sped down the street to pick up the kids from trampoline jumping at Matthew’s.

Somehow, we made it to the Y by 11:30. Unfortunately, I had to do my bra-and-hat routine in the porta-potty, but at least I got to witness some rather entertaining baseball, and the 3 Amigos (who are virtually half the team) were able to play the majority of the game.

Can you tell I’m a tad excited to hang w/ Dale Watson & see one of my all-time favorite musicians perform in my hometown?! I’m already looking forward to next year’s fest.

CC, Awana, and piano are in full swing again. Things are going swimmingly, both learning-wise and time-wise, especially since I’m being rather diligent about not biting off not much more than the essentials and a few outings here and there.

Houston says he wants to do CC Memory Master, which means being able to recite all 24 weeks of grammar for seven subjects by late March. It was his idea, so I’m letting him take the lead. He did this for two subjects (Latin and history) during his first year of CC in ’12, and this is his second time around with Cycle 1, so I’m confident he can pull it off!

Last but not least, we cannot forget about Stanley. He had gotten pretty mellow and sweet over the summer, that is, until we had some dental work done on him at the vet last month. Now he’s back to the same old grumpy, ornery critter he used to be. I hope that mean feline likes living outdoors for a while. What a rude, fat cat.