Gratitude for Life in Mazatlán

Research has shown that gratitude—taking the time to reflect on what we are thankful for in our lives—has physical, psychological and social benefits. Feeling grateful provides us stronger immune systems, fewer aches and pains, lower blood pressure and better sleep; more positive emotions, feelings of alertness, joy, pleasure, optimism and happiness. Thankful people are more helpful, generous, compassionate, forgiving and outgoing; they feel less isolated and lonely.

Gratitude is a major aspect of most every world religion. The three Abrahamic faiths all value thankfulness. From the words of King David in the Book of Psalms—“Oh Lord, my God, I will give thanks to you forever” (30:12), to the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew—“You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (22:37-40) and the words of Muhammad in the suras, “Gratitude for the abundance you have received is the best insurance that the abundance will continue,” it is clear we should appreciate what we have. Buddhists give thanks for all that life has to offer, the good and the bad, as suffering helps us appreciate our gifts and become more compassionate. Hindus show gratitude through service and hospitality. Confucianism and Taoism look at gratitude as a key pillar of daily life. Here in Mexico we have the small pewter milagros, expressions of thanks for healing delivered or promises kept. Etruscan culture had similar gratitude offerings, but they were commonly made of terracotta.

Many people in the world take classes, participate in therapy, or write in gratitude journals in order to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Here in Mazatlán, however, it comes naturally to most of us. It’s actually difficult to live among such kind, happy people, in such gorgeous surroundings, and not feel grateful.

It is said that gratitude has two components. First is an affirmation of goodness: life is not perfect, but we are able to identify some amount of goodness in our lives. Living here in Mazatlán, we know that things are not always rosy or “paradise”—as the tourist brochures may say. We live in reality, but most of us are also incredibly grateful for the opportunity to enjoy this incredible place, be it our natal or adopted home.

Second, gratitude involves a humble dependence on others or a higher power—a recognition beyond personal pride, that something beyond oneself helps us achieve the goodness in our lives. In this case, Mazatlán itself, the beauty of our natural setting, the friendliness of her people, causes a sense of thankfulness in nearly everyone who lives here.

Today I was reflecting on our lives here. We’ve been coming here since 1979. We were married here. We raised our son in Mazatlán. We’ve lived here full-time since 2008. I am consistently and eternally grateful, for so very many things. Below is today’s “top 15” list. I’d very much welcome hearing what you are most grateful for in the comments below.

  1. Incredible VIEWS—of the port, the ocean, the city, the mountains—including those overlooking the rise of the Super Wolf Moon or the eclipse of the blood moon. Click on the arrow, or just pause and watch, to view each slideshow.

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  2. 20 miles of gorgeous BEACH on which you can relax, eat and drink, play volleyball or soccer, swim, do yoga or tai chi, fish…

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  3. The world’s most amazing SUNSETS, not to mention SUNRISES!

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  4. CULINARY experiences for every palate, from street carts to beach palapas and fine dining, traditional to fusion. Food offerings are anchored in our fresh-caught SEAFOOD: lobster, oysters, scallops, and fish and supplemented by the harvest of fresh VEGGIES grown right here in the tortilla basket of Mexico. The ORGANIC FARMERS’ MARKET on Saturday mornings brings together local and international community members who value health and sustainability.

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  5. World-class VISUAL AND PERFORMANCE ART—opera, ballet, modern dance, symphony, mariachi, norteño and indigenous arts. Our local art community is both talented and welcoming, more than willing to teach as well as collaborate. Mazatlán is also blessed with an international caliber municipal art school with classes for anyone in the community, and we are, of course, home base to the international music sensation that is banda.

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  6. A long history as a mixed COMMUNITY OF NATIONALS AND INTERNATIONALS, from back in our heyday as a major hub on the trans-Pacific sailing trade route. This gives me the benefit of LOCAL FRIENDS who teach me so much, are patient with my lack of understanding, and who make me very grateful to call this place home; and INTERNATIONAL FRIENDS who bring me love and understanding in ways that are familiar and comfortable, allowing me to go out and explore and experiment with the new and unfamiliar and also find respite and reflection. Expats here are amazingly talented, adventurous people, give back in hugely beneficial ways to the local community, and make life in Mexico so much sweeter!

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  7. Any kind of SPORT you could want to participate in: runners have loads of organized marathons, triathlons and 5 and 10k races; swimmers have an Olympic pool, open-water swim club and ocean-fed public pool; we all enjoy the world’s largest open-air gymnasium, the malecón, where you can bike, roller blade, run or walk; hikers can enjoy the lighthouse, Deer Island, or any of a myriad of rustic trails around the municipality; we have baseball, golf, tennis, surfing….

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  8. Amazing WILDLIFE! We have BIRD WATCHING: in the mangrove jungle, Estero del Camarón, Estero del Yugo, Playa Norte, the botanic garden… pretty much anywhere in town. Look to the ocean and you can see whales, dolphins and rays jumping. Just outside of town you can enjoy watching and photographing macaws, jaguars, deer or coati, among many other animals.

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  9. HOLIDAY CELEBRATIONS that people travel across the world to attend, including our family-oriented and inclusive CARNAVAL, supposedly third-biggest in the world, and our DAY OF THE DEAD celebration combining the best of Mexican tradition and innovative artistry. Many mazatlecos are globally minded and talented, so we also are able to enjoy HOLIFEST, ANIME festivals and other innovative events.

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  10. Excellent diversity of EDUCATION at affordable prices, which attracts national as well as international families to life in our port, and an ECONOMICALLY DIVERSE city, with tourism, the port, fishing, farming, a brewery, coffee…
  11. Loving and inclusive SPIRITUAL COMMUNITIES with services in multiple languages, where we can grow, reach out to help others and feel loved.
  12. ARCHITECTURE lovers will find a mix of unique historic buildings downtown in tropical neoclassical style and award-winning modern structures such as the Carpa Olivera remodel or the Montessori school.

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  13. FIREWORKS nearly every night of the week somewhere in town, and loads of free public entertainment in the various plazas.

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  14. Nearby SMALL TOWNS to escape city life. These include BEACH TOWNS like Barras de Piaxtla, Stone Island, Caimanero, Escuinapa or Teacapán, where we enjoy dozens of miles of pristine beach. Also wonderful are MOUNTAIN TOWNS such as La Noria, El Quelite, Copala, Concordia, where we can take a day trip to learn about mining, see completely different flora and fauna, or eat fresh cheese and meat. These small towns offer a completely different way of life from Mazatlán as well as local arts and craftsmanship, and the opportunity to take killer night photos of the Milky Way.

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  15. The FRIENDLIEST PEOPLE you’ll meet anywhere on the planet. I’ve traveled and lived in most of it; I have a bit of experience on which to place my judgment. Here you’ll find the riches of the rich and the poorest of the poor, and most everyone you meet will be eager to offer a smile, a salutation and an offer of assistance.

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    Please remember to let me know in the comments below what makes YOU grateful to live in or visit Mazatlán! All photos are my own, ThruDisEyes.com.

Goin’ for the Gold!

IMG_1305©On a cloudy Thursday this past week our son was blessed to be standing on “America’s front porch” at the nation’s Capitol, facing the Washington Monument, looking over the Mall and the reflecting pool, shaking hands and talking economics and city layout with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Mr. Ryan’s sharp intellect was immediately apparent, as was his down-to-earth sincerity and interest in people.

Ours was not a political visit, but a meeting to celebrate Daniel receiving the bipartisan Congressional Award Gold Medal, the highest youth award bestowed by our government. Danny had logged nearly 700 hours of community service, over 500 hours of personal development, 250 hours of physical fitness, and participated in or led eight expeditions, to earn the award. He had previously received the Bronze and Silver medals; the Gold are awarded in a full day of ceremonies in DC.

The immigrant comes home. My young TCK: Third Culture Kid, our global nomad. We moved our little white boy to Mexico after he graduated from primary school, so that he would know what it feels like to be an immigrant, a minority. It was important to us as parents that he gain a second language and culture, a way of looking at the world that saw beyond state lines. It has not been an easy journey; being an immigrant and a minority rarely is. It’s hard to have your voice not heard; it’s discouraging to be seen as weird, to be misunderstood. It’s frustrating to be labeled, to be grouped, rather than to be seen as an individual. Yet such experiences can cultivate an empathy and recognition of perspective that staying home rarely can. All life paths have their advantages; this was ours. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

The Speaker had just finished a meeting with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy when he met with us, and left us to record an interview with 60 Minutes. How cool is that? We were privileged to visit his private office—with that view I’m not sure I could get any work done at all, and the office’s gorgeous private conference room with its hand painted gold filigree ceiling and paintings of national parks and Wisconsin territorial maps, on loan from the National Gallery.

Sadly in such private spaces we weren’t allowed to take photos, but I assure you that amidst the history, the ornately carved furniture, antique tiled floors, wood paneling and plush carpets, there was plenty of Packer and cheesehead memorabilia. My personal fave was the wooden mallard decoy painted in Packer green and yellow signed by Brett Favre. Wisconsin has made its presence known on the Hill!

First thing that morning before we met the Speaker, we were honored to spend an hour or so with Senator Tammy Baldwin, also from Wisconsin. Her office also proudly repped this fair state: baskets full of dried cranberries, beef jerky, Cheetos, potato chips, kringle next to the coffee pot… Some day I’m going back to the House and Senate offices on a snack food tour! Guess I’d better lose some weight first.

Senator Baldwin had had a late night, because she had actively participated in the 18-hour filibuster on the Senate floor to help ensure that those on the terrorist watch list are banned from buying guns. I am proud to be a cheese head represented by this obviously committed, talented and passionate public servant, who has done so much to help our country realize its dream of inclusivity, first in the House and now in the Senate. She kindly accepted a copy of Cultural Detective LGBT, and assured me she’d give it a read and some feedback.

After these two very fortunate meetings, in the Senate and the Capitol, we went over to the House, to the Cannon Caucus Room, for an afternoon awards ceremony. We were so grateful to our friend Ross, who joined us at the ceremony, and hosted us with his wife, Meredith, at their home this weekend, too. It makes all the difference to have a cheering section, right? This was yet another gorgeous room, with ornately decorated walls and ceilings. The master of ceremonies was a reporter from ABC, and we heard from the President of the Congressional Award Foundation, Paxton Baker, one of the owners of the Washington Nationals. The foundation is privately funded. Although it’s a governmental award, issued according to a law passed in 1979, we were told that no government money goes to support this youth award.

As both the House and the Senate were in session, members of Congress had to come and go to present the awards to their constituents. It was quite a delight to feel the energy of being part of the important voting going on this week on the Hill.

This year 325 young Americans received the Gold Medal—the most ever. I was so happy to witness the diversity of the recipients. The sociologist in me wants to calculate the ethnic/racial demographics of the recipients, but I’d have only their names to go on—not exactly accurate or helpful data. Judging by the skin colors on stage, and the MC’s difficulty pronouncing the names, our diversity is definitely a strength for our future!

Fortunately at this point we got a bit of a break, and were able to head over to the National Arboretum to put our feet up in the shade and listen to some music. We had a major recognition dinner ahead of us in the Reagan Building and International Trade Center, yet another very impressive piece of architecture, this one modern. Over 1000 people attended the banquet so, honestly, we expected rubber chicken. We also feared there would be no alcohol, it being a youth recognition event. We were gratefully wrong on both counts.

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The meal was unbelievably good! I guess in DC the chefs know how to feed large crowds and still impress! We were received with passed appetizers and an open bar. We began dinner with a delicious baby spinach salad, followed by perfectly cooked short ribs and prawns over mashed potatoes with green beans, and finished with fresh raspberry topped chocolate torte. All this accompanied by free flowing red and white wine and beer. We sat with the families of two other awardees, one from California and one from Ohio; it made for great dinner conversation.

On the program for the evening were Cal Ripken, Jr., Wonder Woman herself, Linda Carter, and the hit of the evening, América Ferrera. Here enters our embarrassing moment. They introduce our beloved América, and the three of us stand, giving her a standing ovation. However, no one else does. There are over a thousand other people in that room, and no one stands? Do they not know how awesome this woman is? What a terrific activist she is, for very important causes? Are we this out of sync, living in Mexico? We stayed standing and clapping, feeling the eyes piercing our backs and sides. Today, the day Danny receives the Gold Medal, is the day eight years ago we became immigrants. This is an important day for us, in more ways than one.

América gave an incredible speech. I pray the Congressional Award people will make a recording available. It was so moving that a few minutes later, nearly everyone in that ballroom stood to give her a standing ovation. There was hooting, hollering and whistling. Who’s vindicated now, huh? I really, really wanted a photo with her, but the handlers hustled all the VIPs away immediately after the ceremony. Bless you for being you, América!

Man oh man oh man! We all went to bed that night feeling like we’d each just had the best day of our lives. What an incredible, unbelievable day. Yes, that’s repetitive, but it was a superlative kind of day. And then we woke up on Friday to go back up to the Speaker’s office for a private tour of the Capitol! The two-hour tour for just the three of us took us into the ceremonial office, where there’s an original Senate desk, where the President waits before he gives the State of the Union, and where heads of State wait before they address Congress. We were told that about 15,000 people tour the Capitol on an average June day, and maybe 5 enter that room. We were three of them. 😉 I’ll take that luck. Again, no photos.

We got to walk on the floor of the House, sit in the chairs, push the vote buttons, and even stand at the speaker’s podium. “My fellow Americans,” I proclaimed. OMG, it was so very awesome! Again, no photos. But we have memories!! We toured all the rooms, the rotunda is still being restored, and thanks to Greg’s curiosity we even got a tour of some of the over 30 miles of tunnels connecting the buildings, many of which date back to the Revolutionary period. Trivia? Did you know the Capitol still has furniture makers on staff?

Today is Saturday. We’re sleeping in. Recovering from the hyper-energy of this fairy tale. We had originally hoped to meet with President Obama during our trip. He, of course, was in Orlando on Thursday, honoring the victims and consoling those affected by the horrific mass shooting.

Danny, thank you for working so hard so that your Mom and Dad could enjoy such an incredible experience on your coattails. I know that’s not why you did it, but it was a nice side benefit. It sure was fun. We are very proud of your discipline, perseverance, and hard work. Keep it up, remember who you are, values and ethics first. Be proud of you, in all your uniqueness and weirdness, for there is no one else on this earth with your set of talents and perspective—take them confidently and joyfully into the world.

Speaker Ryan and office staff, Senator Baldwin and staff, thank you for hosting us; we are so grateful for the opportunity. Congressional Award Board and staff, thank you. I cannot imagine the hours of work that go into managing a program of this magnitude, and pulling off an event of this size and caliber. Job extremely well done! It was amazing!

Family and friends, this award is for YOU, too. You helped raise and form Daniel. As the Africans say, “It takes a village,” and Danny is blessed to have grown up with you, in an incredibly love- and talent-filled global village. I have tears in my eyes thinking of the myriad ways you have either gone out of your way to help him, or unknowingly influenced him through your day-to-day modeling of how to be in this world. There are way too many people to mention, but directly leading to this Congressional Award I would like to mention a few.

  • Glen Jonson and Gary Kaufman of Troop 381 in Leawood, KS, who helped guide Danny through his first years of Scouting. You guys taught Danny the value of hard work and honesty, of not just signing off on something when you haven’t earned it. Thank you.
  • Patricia Tirado, who tutored Danny in Spanish and his academic subjects when we first arrived in Mexico. He, and we, couldn’t have done it without you or Gemma Tornero, who tutored him before we arrived!
  • Brian Samore, a close family friend and high school principal, who acted as Danny’s official advisor, helping guide and motivate Danny throughout the path to gold.
  • Jefe Carlos, Jefa Jessica, Jefa Graciela, all the wonderful leaders and fellow Scouts of Grupo 4 Conforti in Mazatlán. You helped Danny rekindle his love of Scouting, and to cultivate that love of the outdoors and camping. Bless you for your friendship!
  • Terry Meyers of the Lone Scouting organization, and all of those who helped Danny on the road to Eagle. Eagle is a significant achievement with a troop, but as a Lone Scout, in a land where no one understands what you’re trying to do, it was unbelievably challenging. There were so many times we all wanted to give up. Luis Ramirez, thank you for celebrating that milestone as US consular officer, to help show our local friends that it was, indeed, something to commemorate.
  • People to People International, thank you for the double scholarships to the Global Youth Forum, without which there is no way Danny could have attended from overseas. You provided him invaluable experiences and friendships.
  • Teachers, students and staff of Instituto Cultural del Occidente. Thank you so much for the guidance, the friendship, and the going above and beyond to help with college applications and recommendations in a foreign system. We so appreciate your loving on our son.
  • The Congressional Award staff. You rejected his Gold Expedition application not just once, but twice. You most definitely helped Danny learn perseverance and hard work. The first time, he led a Scout expedition across Mexico, renting a bus, planning the itinerary, coordinating young to old. The staff ruled that it didn’t show enough independent leadership, and yet, he led the whole trip. It’s a cultural difference between US and Mexican scouting, we get it. In the end, Daniel sold his car and took a much-anticipated solo trip to Argentina, living on US$700 for three weeks. Don’t ask me how, but he came home with money in his pocket. That application proved the ticket. Thank you for your guidance on the record keeping, and your help with the Congressional office visits. You are doing much good with our young people.
  • Speaker Ryan’s staff, for making the meeting happen, for all the behind-the-scenes stories and trivia, and for that most excellent tour! You rock and it is so appreciated! Also thank you to Senator Baldwin’s office!
  • All of you who love him, and us—family, friends, colleagues. You bring joy and meaning to our lives.

God bless you and keep you, most sincerely, from the bottom of my heart. As I read yesterday in the bagel shop recommended by Maureen, from Speaker Ryan’s office, “May the saddest day of your future be no worse than the happiest day of your past” (Irish blessing).

Addendum on Sunday, June 26: The awardees are entered into the Congressional Record! So cool. Danny’s name is on the bottom of the first page—and, amazingly, it is spelled correctly!

 

 

Reflections on a Seven-Year Anniversary

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Kasbah Telouet, High Atlas Mountains, Morocco

June 16, 2008: Seven years ago today we moved full-time into our home in Mazatlán. We’d already owned the condo for a few years—chosen for its strategic location on the malecón, in the middle of the action and close to everything in the city we’ve loved since the 1970s.

Before we moved to Mazatlán, I often took our son with me when I travelled for work. He joined me on trips throughout the USA, Canada and Mexico; to Amsterdam, Berlin, and Prague; and to Bulgaria and Japan, among others. I very much treasured these times together.

Moving here, however, surprisingly and sadly brought an end to our very treasured, shared international travels. The first couple of years, Danny was too busy learning the language and acculturating to life here; we couldn’t take him out of school. His summer breaks were only a few short weeks—time we felt was time best spent reconnecting with family in the USA. During high school, he also had very short breaks, and the curriculum was difficult enough that he just couldn’t miss school.

As with any major life choice, there are pros and cons. Moving to Mazatlán has opened new worlds for us, fresh opportunities, friends and perspectives. On the downside, it has seriously curtailed our joint travel time. Suddenly, Danny was ready to leave for college, and I realized that the three of us, as a family, had never travelled outside North America! How could that be?

A high school graduation trip didn’t pan out due to the tight turnaround between Mexican high school graduation and the start of new student orientation at the US college. A trip this year, however, spontaneously presented itself. I was traveling to Spain for work, and Danny would be coming home from school just two days prior to me leaving. Having not seen him since January, this really upset me! I didn’t want to leave knowing he would be here! But Greg came up with the solution. They would fly to Madrid to meet me after my work was completed. Together, we would travel for three weeks, after which Danny could begin his summer internship here in town.

I am so very grateful to have had this time and this adventure together. The three of us enjoyed three glorious weeks of 24/7 family time, of watching each other’s eyes light up at new experiences, or at recollections of prior ones. We ate so many new foods (including camel) and drank so many new drinks, we met some extremely cool and talented people, and we walked more than we’ve ever walked! I feel the trip brought us closer together and allowed us to transition out of treating Danny like a child and into a more adult family relationship. Thank goodness! Things could have, of course, gone terribly wrong when people are together 24/7 for three weeks.

The other very cool thing? You! Our family, friends, and social media community! So many of you accompanied us on the journey, telling us you were joining us vicariously via our photos, giving us recommendations on places to go and things to do, sharing in our excitement. Thank you, most sincerely! That sort of support and virtual camaraderie is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before, and was really a thrill.

Our first stop together was Spain. It was the first time there for both Danny and Greg, and they loved it: the ease of communication, the incredible architecture and art, the fun-loving people, the green spaces, and the tapas, beer and cava. I had lived and studied years ago in Salamanca. Madrid and Barcelona were both huge hits with our family, and my boys now join me in my love of Gaudí. You can view the slideshow below if you’d like to see a bit of the Spain portion of our trip.

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Next we travelled to Morocco, where we enjoyed the warmth of the people, the depth of the culture, the artistry of the craftsmen, the gorgeous architecture, natural scenery, and the general foreignness of the milieu. We spent almost a week in Marrakech, and also a couple of days in the High Atlas Mountains with the Berber people. We rode camels in the desert, ate camel burgers, drank lots of fresh mint tea, and enjoyed ourselves heartily. There were so many commonalties between Morocco and Mexico, as well as, of course, so many differences. Below is a slideshow with some of our photos from Morocco, if you’d like to take a look.

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Finally, we travelled to Italy. And, while we all loved Rome—the Coliseum, the Pantheon, the rivers and bridges and seven hills with their incredible views, the Vatican—none of us enjoyed the crowds and the constant need for planning and coordination that navigating throngs of tourists entails. A slideshow with select photos from the Italy portion of our journey follows.

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Along the way we stayed in AirBnB apartments. I imagine most of you travel this way as well? If not, be sure to check it out. We stayed in some lovely, large, and extremely well-located apartments. The space was so much better than a hotel room would have been for a family, and much more affordable as well. And, usually we were able to be based right in the middle of where we wanted to be, so that coffee shops, restaurants, bars and sightseeing were just a few minutes’ walk from home.

So, readers, not much to do with Mazatlán in my post today. Rather, a realization that our trip was sort of a seven year anniversary gift, which provided us a renewed commitment to an intercultural life as global nomads and world citizens. I am most grateful to have a family that enjoys sharing these commitments with me, as well a community of family, friends, colleagues and readers who are like-passioned. Thank you so much for your willingness to join us!

The International Road to Eagle Scout

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Our 17 year-old son has been a Scout since first grade. He was active in Tiger Cubs, Cub Scouts, and Webelos, all of which I led, and then he “crossed over” to a high adventure Boy Scout troop. He has learned so much from Scouting: first aid, outdoor survival, swimming, cooking, sewing, teamwork, respect, discipline, leadership, how to take care of and teach the younger Scouts.

Swearing in ceremony

Danny being sworn in to Mexican Scouts by Jefe Carlos and Jefa Graciela

When we moved to Mexico Danny very much wanted to continue with Scouts, and was welcomed into a troop here, Grupo 4 Conforti. The leader, Jefe Carlos, was bilingual, and Danny loved the experience. It was quite an adjustment learning the ways in which Scouting here differs from Scouting up north. Danny met a lot of very good friends that I’m confident he’ll have for a lifetime, and Mexican Scouts helped him perfect his Spanish and learn the culture. He’s learned to lead here as well, an invaluable skill. I know he loves the more laid-back way of learning here, with much less focus on progression and earning badges and ranks.

Boys at summer camp

Jon and Danny at their first Boy Scout summer camp—a week or so away from home

But it was also very important to our son to continue his Boy Scouts of America (BSA) path even after we came to Mexico. He was already a Star Scout when we moved, so only two ranks away from Eagle, the highest rank in BSA. However, we experienced some real challenges trying to fulfill his desire to continue with BSA internationally, and we almost gave up.

I have friends in Tokyo and in other places around the world whose children belong to BSA, but they live in cities with a US American community and an internationally-based BSA troop. We don’t have such a troop in Mazatlán, and we couldn’t find anyone within the BSA organization to help us learn how he could continue US Scouting while living internationally, in the absence of a troop. Finally we learned about the “Lone Scout” program. What a godsend that has been!

Wheelbarrow and shovelers

Danny with “Peli” (a friend from ICO), and a Scout brother

We are bursting-at-the-seams proud to report that, yesterday, Danny COMPLETED HIS EAGLE PROJECT! (That’s him in the photo above, with the wheelbarrow.) Some of his friends from his original BSA troop earned their Eagle several years ago; it has taken Danny much longer. He hasn’t had the support system that a troop provides on the path to Eagle. He’s had to be additionally disciplined and creative, using every opportunity he could create, to accomplish the necessary steps and qualifications. And, he did it! All while being an active leader in Mexican Scouts as well!

So, let me tell you a bit about his Eagle project. That in itself was a journey. Danny has volunteered for a couple of years with our local humane society, Amigos de los Animales. So he naturally hoped to do his Eagle project there. He talked with the director, and had a major project planned to repaint and restore the cages (photos above). He met with various painting contractors to learn what had to be done and how, and had a list of equipment and supplies to purchase and a plan for the big day. Then, just before project day, word came that Amigos de los Animales were going to remodel the building. The cage restoration would have to be delayed. But Danny’s Eagle project couldn’t wait. You have to complete Eagle before you turn 18, which for Danny will be this next September. So he had to quickly find another project. And, he still promised to do the cages, once the surrounding remodel is complete, as long as it can happen before he graduates from high school next spring.

After meeting with a few other organizations in town, he decided to work with one of our local orphanages, Ciudad de los Niños (photos above; click to enlarge photos). The Head Mother and Danny agreed on a two-part plan.

  1. The first part was the biggest: clearing several tons of dirt. You see, a couple of years ago there was a large soccer tournament here in town. A nearby school had asked permission to build a soccer field on the orphanage’s property, and they’d agreed. The problem was, after the soccer field was created, the builders left seven huge piles of dirt, rocks and garbage — tons and tons of heavy, compacted mounds— along the wall of the orphanage property. In rainy season, it causes runoff and flooding on the orphanage property, plus lots of mud, and in the dry season dust and dirt blow everywhere, hurting the kids’ eyes as they try to play or study. So, Danny would arrange to first loosen up the dirt in the mounds, smooth it out and use it to fill in the holes,  ruts and uneven terrain at various places around the playground. To give you an idea of the enormity of the task, the wall in the photos below is four meters high.
  2. Secondly, Danny would build a portable volleyball net, so that the kids could use the existing basketball court (concrete) or soccer field (dirt) for volleyball.
Eagle-Patch

The Eagle Scout patch that Danny hopes to earn

As you may well know, an Eagle project is a culmination — the highest rank advancement in US American Scouting. To achieve it the Scout needs to demonstrate the skills he has acquired throughout his Scouting career; he must be the leader, in every way, of the Eagle project. Danny started by getting a dirt-moving expert out to take a look around and advise. In the process, the guy agreed to bring the bulldozer for a day and do the work on a voluntary basis, because he, too, is a Scout. Hooray! First hurdle jumped.

Then Danny set up a Facebook event, where he announced the project. He invited many community leaders, as well friends and his Scout group here, to participate. He met with teachers at school (ICO: Instituto Cultural del Occidente) to obtain permission for those helping to earn community service hour points. He asked everyone to bring shovels, and got rakes, brooms, trash bags, ice water, even some popsicles. He secured recycled poles and tires, and worked with his godfather to cement the poles into the tire bases to support a volleyball net that would be movable rather than permanent. He purchased two nets and a volleyball. He worked hard alongside loads of blessed friends and Scout brothers and sisters, and he supervised every step of the project.

The scheduled date of the work day had to be changed twice: once due to the heavy machinery company’s changing schedule, and another time due to the orphanage’s  schedule changes. Finally, work day arrived. That was yesterday, Saturday June 1, 2013.

All went off splendidly. I have never seen 26 young people work so hard in all my life! My official role was photographer (thank goodness!), and it was so thrilling to turn 360 degrees and see people working on different projects everywhere I looked!

  • On one side, the bulldozer (driven by Danny’s good friend, Noel) worked all day moving dirt, while young men with shovels helped. Click on any photo to enlarge it.
  • On the other side, young people cleaned, fixed and reassembled playground equipment. They also made a big pile of miscellaneous broken toys and parts they collected from the huge yard.
  • On a third side, a group of young women painted the volleyball net support poles.
  • In the middle of everything, groups of kids cleaned up trash, raked, and swept walkways.

  • Another group removed rocks that were a danger to the kids, and repaired landscaping details.
  • Yet another group of young people with shovels filled in holes and ruts on the playground with some of the dirt that was being removed from the fence line. The dirt was so hard that they had to soften it up with water in order to be able to spread it around.
  • One of the young women arrived with a big bag of toys for the orphanage kids.
  • As the heat of the day got to be a bit much, a group of the young women got the hose out to water all the plants. Which, of course, also started a laughter-filled water fight.

About 4:00 the bolis arrived—Danny had ordered delivery of popsicles in a pushcart as a surprise. The orphanage kids, nuns, and of course the workers loved that. A couple of the Scout leaders went shopping to buy sandwich fixings at one point, as some of the kids were hungry. The ham sandwiches were very well received. The kids worked hard, and they played. They loved the playground equipment: the swings, teeter-totter, slide and merry-go-round, almost as much as the orphans. A group of orphans at one point all climbed up in the bulldozer for a ride, until the nuns put a stop to that, of course. Some of the young workers actually climbed into the shovel of the bulldozer and got a ride around, too. There was a lot of fun to be had amidst the dirt, sweat and hard work. (Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.)

The paint didn’t dry on the poles for the volleyball net yesterday, so we’ll go back this week and attach the volleyball net for the kids. The really GOOD news is that Danny’s local Scout Group 4 has agreed to adopt the orphanage — to go out there regularly and help out. Next time they’ll go will be in a couple of weeks, when the bulldozer will come again to finish up the final dirt pile and to do some more smoothing. Below are some “after” photos, showing how clean (and flat!) the playground area is after the work day.

We are incredibly grateful to the 26 people who showed up yesterday. Bless you all!

Group Photo

The group shot at the end of the day. Tired but happy!

We are also eternally grateful to have been blessed with our son, Danny. He has given us 17 years of pure joy and unbelievable love. Congratulations, soon-to-be Eagle Scout. Thank you for striving to be the best you can be, and to make our community a more humane place in which to live. We love you.

I am planning to put together a video of yesterday’s project, and will share that with you all as soon as it’s ready. That will most certainly not be today!

UPDATE 13 June: Here’s the Indiana Jones spoof I made from some of today’s video footage:

Reminders to be Fully Present: 24 Hours in Mazatlán

Photo by Hiroki Fuse Masuda, Danjiri Matsuri, Sumiyoshi

Photo by Hiroki Fuse Masuda, Danjiri Matsuri, Sumiyoshi

It is the beginning of matsuri or festival season in Japan. I have been seeing so many wonderful photos from friends, and I am longing to be there with them. My longtime work colleagues are having an “OB/OG-kai,” (“old boy-old girl reunion) in a few days, and I sooooo want to be there with them.

My beloved sister-cousin hasn’t been well, though she is most strongly on the mend! Her daughter and family are with her on her farm today, and they are making rhubarb pie. Thank goodness for Facetime, but I want my “beam me up, Scottie” device!

They say home is where the heart is. Fortunately, I have many loved ones in many places—as do many of you.

And life is what we make it. In those moments when we are missing loved ones, craving to be somewhere else, or in multiple places at the same time, the universe stops us up short. Pay attention! Look around! Enjoy this moment, now, right where you are!

(You can click any photo below to see it larger or view a slideshow with captions.)

This morning we woke up a bit earlier than our usual on a Saturday, in order to take Danny up to Anglo Moderno so he could take his SAT tests. Poor us, we were forced to greet another beautiful blue-sky day on the ocean, with good coffee, serendipitously meeting good friends, and taking a walk around a part of town we don’t visit every day.

After that, we drove south along the malecón for a few errands downtown, of course delighting in a few sights along the way.

The final photos above were taken yesterday, during our “palapa Friday” tradition. Fresh seafood and coconuts on the beach, to cap off a busy week of work. La vida dura—life is tough. Thank you all for enjoying life with us, wherever you are!

I almost forgot! I also took some video of the gorgeous morning. Here you go. Enjoy!