Something in Common with God

My friend Pat Thompson wrote this blog post and it is so profound I had to share it with all of you. Are you in the creative process? Perhaps God is hovering over you too.

For the Time Being

One of the great things about my job as director of the YES Foundation of White Center is that I am around a lot of talented young people and I often have the privilege of seeing people in the throes of their own creative process. For someone who doesn’t feel particularly creative, it’s an exciting thing to witness. Although it can be a little messy and feel a bit perilous at times, this place where someone brings into existence that which did not exist before feels holy to me. It has made me ponder God’s creative process.

I have been thinking about something a teenager said at DubCee (a program of YES Foundation) a few months ago. We got into this rather interesting conversation about Genesis 1:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face…

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Cross-fit or Kill-fit?

Patrick murmurs the instructions with his Kenyan-laden accent.
“How many?” I ask. I’m sure I’ve misheard him.
“50,” he says.
“Of each exercise?” I’m incredulous.
“Yes,” he smiles, his bright white teeth shining against his ebony skin.

Oh that’s right, I’m at Kill-fit class.

They advertise it as Cross-fit. But what is it a cross of? I think it’s me carrying the cross of potato chips I ate yesterday.

Kill-fit seems a more appropriate moniker for this class.

Granted, my cross-fit training on our world wide trip included me crossing continents, crossing borders, crossing my husband. Not necessarily heart-pumping, sweat-it-out crossings. Well, maybe with Curtis it was.

When we returned from our trip, I knew the time had come to get back in shape. For two years previous, I obediently woke at 5:30am, walked the dog, and headed down to the park for booty camp. You read that right, boot-y camp. My booty thanked me for this class – it had so much more room now to slide into my jeans.

But alas, booty camp took every extra cent of operating cash I possessed. So six months before our departure, I took the money and ran, literally. I stuffed my cash in the bank to save for our impending adventure, and laced up my runners. Not as thrilling as being in the park at o-dark-thirty and watching the sun rise over 20 middle aged women grunting out burpees. But still, running gets to the point – lots of heavy breathing – for the price of a sturdy pair of tennies.

After I’d spent my last dime on that worldwide trip of ours, coming back to booty camp was out of the question. But I could swing $26 a month at the gym next to our church.

Enter Patrick, the master of killing you with kindness – and workouts. Workouts designed to bring a boot camp recruit to their knees.

Actually, I spent the first two weeks on my knees. Not in the gym – at home. Literally, I could not walk.

Our first workout circuit employed several draconian measures typically reserved for interrogating terrorists. One-legged squats can break a man.

They can break a woman too. This woman, to be exact. In fact, I thought my entire right quad could justifiably be considered broken even though it is a muscle. I limped around for days. I walked down stairs backwards. My gait was alarmingly identical to Arlo’s in Justified, after he got shot by his Federal Marshall son.

Time heals all wounds they say, and it was (almost) true for my quad.

Next class: Abs. Sit-ups were on the menu. I lay on the ground, face up. Patrick hands me a large round heavy ball. Think medicine ball on steroids. “Throw the ball to me as you come up for your sit-up.” And because I can do one, he makes it harder.

“Now put your hands over your head, and throw the ball to me as you come up.” I pull a stomach muscle while throwing the ball. Gripping, searing, knife-stabbing pains shoot through my very small and apparently insignificant stomach muscles. I resist the desperate urge to curl up into a fetal position and roll about the floor.

If I keep up with Kill-fit, I will resemble a stooped Hunchback of Notre Dame who drags her right leg, no longer operable, behind her, and bends over from stomach muscles which have waved a white flag and long since receded.

I must be in my 40’s.

Don’t ask me why, but I return to Kill-fit week after week. I curse the class when I climb the stairs to my bedroom. Or try to change my shirt. My GOD my arms hurt. I can’t lift them past my sides.

On box jump day, I position my sturdy wooden box in front of me. I turn it on its side to make it a teensy bit closer to the ground. I’d prefer to take a chain saw and chop it into small pieces. Instead, with all my effort, I heft myself on top of that box with both feet. Mid-jump I realize I will only complete one box jump of the thirty Patrick confidently announced we would do. It may have also been the same moment I decided to put him on a plane back to Kenya.

It doesn’t help that the most tiny, diminutive Filipina woman across from me has a bigger, taller box than me, and somehow channels her inner-grasshopper, landing squarely on top of her box 30 times in a row. I try not to watch, but really, it’s so unfathomably remarkable that I think our whole class should sit down on our boxes and watch her. I kinda do.

Today there was a ray of hope, although at first glance I didn’t realize it. Patrick promised we’d be outside for part of class. Yay! It’s gorgeous and sunny and springy and I was so very happy to be outside.

Except. Except outside is the construction site. Our church is half-way to completion on a 61-unit low-income housing complex with retail space. Which means that the formerly grassy field where I envisioned our class romping, is now filled with backhoes, tractors, and men with orange hard hats who huddle in circles like gossiping girls with large rolls of blueprints.

Our available workout space is a thin strip of overgrown grass sandwiched between the chainlink boundary of the construction site and a small drop off on the other side. Three gigantic semi-truck sized black rubber tires fill the strip. Our workout? Flipping over the tires.

We assume our squat positions with our toes pressed up against the base of the mammoth tire. “Get your chest up! Now explode!” says our ridiculous trainer.

I realize I should not swear at Patrick out loud. Especially here — between my church and my church’s good deed housing complex. God may come and burn up our tiny strip of grass if I do. I wonder if I stare at Patrick long enough and hard enough, will he know my eyes are swearing at him?

I flip that freakin’ tire over. Once. That will be all. Thank you very much. Now I will go home and die.

Patrick then explains we will flip the tires over 6 times during each Kill-fit rotation. My eyes swear at him again.

My first rotation I manage one tire flip. I squat for the second try, butt dragging on the ground, but cannot budge that tire. I give up and walk away, until a little huddle of construction workers standing nearby taunts me with “oh come on, you can do it!”

Fine. I can do it. I return to the tire. And I flip that freakin’ tire over, again. But really, that’s all I can do.

On my second rotation, I wonder if I should even try the tires. But those hard hats are still lingering so now I have to try. I flip it once, twice, three, four times. It’s occurred to me that if I don’t actually begin with my ass on the ground, I can get more leverage and a better grip. It becomes less about strength and more about technique.

On my third and final rotation, I saunter up to that tire like a boyfriend who’s getting the axe that day. My sweat soaked shirt belies the several stations in the gym I’ve already completed ungracefully. My final ungraceful move will be the tires.

I grab hold of that bad puppy and heave ho. Not once, but six times. On the sixth flip, half way up, I’m sure my legs will buckle and the tire will pin me to the ground, flat as Flat Stanley. In my heart of hearts I know my legs will need to be amputated but the upside will be never doing squats with tires again.

I keep pushing. I slide the tire tread up my sweats, up my shirt, under my chin and across my face to get that thing to flip over. I give it a little extra oomph at the last minute, to make sure it makes a bigger crash sound when it hits the ground.

Because that’s how we girls roll, or at least how we make our tires roll.

Then I say a prayer of thanksgiving for Patrick, and for the ray of hope he’s given me today. Even though I’m convinced for the next week my legs will only have strength enough to crawl across my kitchen floor and I will be reduced to wearing sleeveless tops to ease the seering pain in my un-liftable arms, still I’m happy to realize I’m a wee bit stronger this week than last.

Which is pretty much true for life, even if you do have a big mother of a tire you have to push over.

Raylan Givens is not a real person

The second to last stop on our worldwide trip was Beijing. After months of planning and executing multiple itineraries through eleven countries, we just couldn’t muster up the energy to “do Beijing” on our own.

Thank God. Because we hired ourselves the best tour guide ever and had an absolute blast in Beijing. Plus, we stayed at the most posh hotel we booked on all of our travels.

Lucky for us, we were upgraded to a suite. Well, I should say we were forced to upgrade to a suite. There was a lot of Mandarin flying around between our tour guide and the hotel staff. I stepped away from the front desk because sometimes when you’re traveling you just resign yourself to the fact that you are in a foreign country and whatever will be, will be. This was definitely one of those times.

After sightseeing in the freezing temps of Beijing that day – a mere 28 degrees fahrenheit – the only thing we wanted to do was take a hot shower and get in the big, comfy bed in our 1-bedroom suite.

At 5:00pm sharp, freshly scrubbed, the kids and I jumped into the bed and turned on the TV. When we flipped through the channels and heard English , we were like, Oh My Gosh They Are Speaking English On A TV In Beijing!

We began watching something that looked like a Saturday Night Live skit. Soon it became clear that no, this was not SNL. But what exactly was it? It appeared to be hillbilly clan wars of Appalachia. With really bad country accents. And it was a real show.

As the drama unfolded onscreen, we too began speaking with really bad hillbilly accents. We watched, raptured. We were prepared to skip dinner to get to the end of this episode.

Curtis was not. He came in from the other room, “Hurry up! We’ll miss happy hour which is our dinner! I’m not going back out there in that freezing weather to find dinner someplace else.”

We begrudgingly climbed out of bed, keeping our newly adapted hillbilly accents in full swing the rest of the night.

But I was haunted by that show called “Justified.” What had happened to that girl, Loretta? Would she find her kin? Did a clan war erupt up in them there mountains?

Fast forward one week. We’ve now breezed through Beijing, toured Tokyo and are sitting on the plane homeward bound. The jet lifts off, the individual TV monitors turn on. We surf the selections.

Jackpot! It’s “Justified!”

I squeeze my face between the seats and look at Zack, one row behind me. I whisper, “Justified!” A big, silly grin spreads across his face.

We get a full-on hillbilly shoot out up on the ridge. We resume our new, favorite accents.

And now we are addicted. Obsessed. We have got to get more Justified.

We land in L.A. We search in vain on our hotel TV’s free-flowing, English-speaking channels for “Justified.” It is not to be found. I secretly wonder if this is a show that is made in America but only distributed in places like China. Because, really, who in America is going to watch this show for reals?

Besides us.

We suffer through days without “Justified” and finally, finally arrive back home for good. First stop: The Seattle Public Library to check out, you guessed it, 3 seasons of Justified.

No so fast there ‘lil lady, that show is checked out. I reserve all 3 seasons, and shockingly discover that I am number 184 on the wait list for Season 1.

Apparently it is a show that Americans watch, for reals.

Weeks go by. I check my reserve status daily. We are getting close. We plan for an all-out “Justified” marathon.

Finally, Season 1 and Season 2 are ready for pick-up. But it’s midweek and there’s no time to watch. I’ve promised Zack we will watch it together, and he has homework and baseball and church and as much as I love those hillbillies, they have to wait.

I seriously contemplate watching Season 1 by myself and then acting all surprised when I watch it again with the rest of the family. But I hold out. Completely. Because I’m pretty sure addiction starts like that, loving something that’s kinda bad for you, and then hiding it.

We stick like glue to the TV through Season 1. We begin Season 2, and this is where it gets weird. First, Curtis dreams about the show. Then I dream about the show. I think we’ve watched too much.

I know I’m overboard when I actually start thinking that the main character, Raylan Givens, is a real person. Like I will see him around town. Like he’ll show up at Zack’s baseball game, because, who knew, he’s an assistant coach for the team.

Clearly, I’m in a bad place.

We are now in limbo in Season 2. With Zack’s schedule and Easter hoopla, we are behind. Curtis and I have broken the family pact, and watched the rest of Season 2 without Zack. He is crushed. I promise him I’ll watch all of Season 2 again, which sounds like I’m being a good mom when I’m just feeding my own addiction.

Curtis is adamant about starting Season 3 NOW. I say, no, we must wait for Zack. Besides, after 10 weeks, I am still number 49 on the waitlist for Season 3, down from 199.

So I wait. Waiting is good, it has helped me re-focus and purge. I’m afraid though, once I hear that crazy rap-hillbilly opening music for the first episode of Season 3, I’m gonna be a gonner y’all.

Re-Entry Sucks

If one of my kids says, “that sucks,” I immediately say back, “I don’t like that word, you shouldn’t use it.” 

But there comes a time when it actually is the best word to use.  Which is why it is perfect to describe re-entering your reality-laced world after you’ve been galavanting all over the world for 5 months.

Re-entry sucks, big time.

First, there’s just the sucky shock of being back – in your own country, in your own neighborhood, in your own home.  People speaking English.  What?

Then you’ve got the suckier in-your-face realization that the dream is over, the journey has ended. That is depressing enough.

But it’s nothing compared to the suckiest part of all, the looming question of, “Now what are you going to do with your life?”  Well-meaning friends ask me this daily, it’s commonly the first thing out of their mouths, after “did you have a good time,” and “are you glad to be back?” “Yes and No” in that order.

But honestly, what am I going to do with my life?

My husband’s office manager went on vacation for two weeks, and just before she left my husband said to me, “You’re going to work for me for a couple of weeks.”  Like he had already decided this.

I, of course, was personally affronted.  I said, “What? You can’t just tell me that.”

“Why not? You’re not actually doing anything.” 

“I know I’m not!  But you still have to ask me. Nicely. Besides I’m very busy. I can maybe come in on Wednesdays. In the afternoon.  After lunch.”

It’s not like I’m exactly sitting around eating bon bons and watching soap operas. I might if the soap operas were better, not that I would know, I’m just saying.

My time has keenly been spent staring obsessively at paint samples in the hardware store, then purchasing wild colors.  My favorite is this deep teal/cobalt/luscious blue for one of my dining room walls.  This newly minted wall has received several rave reviews, I might add.

When Curtis comes home from work he just smiles and nods at the fresh paint tracks.  It’s reminiscent of the time I was overdue with my first child, Zack.  My maternity leave had started and Zack wasn’t making any moves to show himself to the world, so I took to painting anything that didn’t move.  When I painted my stairs with red risers and purple treads, I knew the baby had better come soon.  But God Bless Curtis, who just said through his surprised expression each day, “That looks great!”

It’s kinda what he said when he saw my new blue wall.

And the new couch pillows.  And the new drapes.  And the new bedside table.  And the new bed I bought off Craigslist.

Except that, do you know what is not sucky during re-entry?  The fact that your husband finally sees how hideous your master bedroom really is and agrees wholeheartedly that you should slap down some money and make it right.  Even if you’ve already spent the majority of your money in, say, Tokyo.

So now I have a beautiful new master bedroom (freshly painted, I might add) that is finally like a sanctuary after all these years.  And therein lies the rub.  Because if your bedroom is like a sanctuary and you don’t have to be anywhere… you get what I’m saying here?

It takes every ounce of discipline to pry myself out of that bed each morning.  It’s painful, but at 7:00 am my alarm goes off and I go wake up Zack the high-schooler.  Yes, he can set his own alarm and do this himself.  It’s not for him – it’s for me.  Then I drive him to school.  Yes, he can take the bus himself.  But it’s not for him – it’s for me.

Afterwards, I get in my morning run, push Gracie out the door to middle school, and then go to “work.”

I promised myself I would write a book about our adventure.  “I’ll have so much time when I get back.” Yes, that’s true.  But putting pen to paper has proved harder than I thought.  Mostly because I am so distractable.  (is that even a word?)

Suddenly the importance of untangling computer, keyboard and speaker wires is urgent.  Keeping the kitchen sink sparkling now trumps all other duties.  Making dinner is an eight-hour affair which requires a brand new recipe I’ve never made and fresh ingredients from the store, or several stores. 

And with every passing day goes every passing memory.  I think I can actually see the memories of our trip floating past me and out the door, never to be seen again.

I’ve promised to write, and write I will.  I’m going to slog it out in this blog and keep writing even if it doesn’t make me or you or anyone else laugh. It might make us all cry.  But nevertheless I’m going to put words down and see where it goes.

It just might make the suckiness of re-entry disappear.

Ziplining to my (near) death

Now that my sunburn had morphed from bright, blistering red to slow-burn red, it was time for an adventure: ziplining.

The brochure boasted a ziplining excursion through the rain forests in the interior of Thailand’s Koh Samui island. “An adrenaline-filled thrill ride that you will never forget.” Indeed, but not for the reasons they’d promised.

I should have taken note of the part that said, “You’ll even have fun getting to us! That’s right, you’ll have stories to tell about the ride in the safety of our rugged 4×4 safari vehicles.” I do believe they used the word safety.

Now, let’s translate all that brochure marketing jargon. It really means, “be scared out of your pants while you flop around with nothing to hold onto in the back of an open truck, on dirt roads with potholes as big as lakes, and overhanging jungle bush that whacks you in the face indiscriminately, as your newly-minted-from-driving-school driver whips you around corners while oblivious to the use of brakes.”  Gracie could not believe I’d brought her along. I think her inclination was to call CPS.

My 6’5” brother-in-law spent most of the ride in a duck down position, hoping to spare himself from a sudden and swift beheading from a stray tree branch. And about the time I thought my butt might disengage from the rest of my body, up ahead appeared the sign, “No vehicles beyond this point.” Hurray! Our exhilarating truck ride was over, and just in time. Ahead of us was a very steep, dirt hill with deep ruts traversing it in several directions. There’s no way our vehicle could make it up that.

Or could it? Because our driver blew past that sign like it was invisible. Gracie said, “oh my gosh Mom!” and began filling out CPS paperwork. My sister Michelle bravely continued her photojournalism attempts, taking as many out-of-focus pictures as possible.

I reached for the crash bar above the truck. It’s the bar that’s supposed to save you if your truck rolls over and you are inside the truck. I thought I could use it for some Olympic style gymnastic moves when our truck tumbled down the right side of the mountain into the teeming, boulder-laden river.

Miraculously we arrived at our basecamp – a hut sporting rudimentary signs to buy homemade jewelry and gatorade, and oh yes, check-in too.

We find out that our crazy driver “Emmie” will, oh joy, be our zipline guide too. We meet Emmie’s sidekick, a 12-yr old boy (ok, he only looked 12, he was officially 18) who would help anchor the zipline ropes for us. Oh yes, now I feel much better.

Emmie felt it was just as important to christen us with nicknames as it was to fit us with harnesses. As we cinched up thick straps around our legs and torso, he laughed and joked about how old and unreliable the harnesses were right before he yelled out a nickname for us.

Gracie was up first. When he learned her name was Gracie, and she was only 13 and an American, he shouted, “You so beeeeg, you look like Russian!” And because no one in Thailand or Cambodia can hear the difference between “crazy” and “Gracie,” she became “Crazy” for the day.

He bestowed me with the name “Sexy Mama,” and really, I wasn’t about to argue with that, it’s the best nickname I’ve ever had!  He called my brother-in-law “Papa,” although we explained repeatedly he is Gracie’s uncle, not her dad. “Ok, Papa,” said Emmie.

Then began the part of the adventure that is not mentioned in the brochure – the walk up to the zipline. To prepare, Emmie passes out water bottles which we tuck into our harnesses. It is so hot, that I’ve dropped 5 pounds of water weight already at basecamp. Before our ascent, we re-apply mosquito repellent in a delusional attempt to combat the mosquitoes that swarm us in a feeding frenzy. Suddenly, a terrible sunburn seems better than this.

We hike up, the repellent and sunscreen running like rivers down my face, down my spine, down, well, down everything. My skin glistens in a frightening kind of way. How is it that my arms are sweating? Is that actually possible? I’ve never seen my forearms perspire at such a rate.

I remember the brochure boasting “You can even bring Grandma and Grandpa along as well. This is one adventure that’s safe, thrilling, and unforgettable for everyone!” And I’m thinking, this, my grandma could not do. I’m not even sure my parents could do it. But they are right about one thing, it is unforgettable.

We walk up a small, thin, dirt path laced with tree roots and some version of steps cut into the hillside every so often. At certain points of the trail there appears a rail which you think you can grab hold of to steady yourself. The minute you touch it you realize it’s purely for decoration. The thin bamboo rods marginally nailed together provide no support at all. If you lean on them, you will fall to your death. I don’t lean on them, because I decide to wait and fall to my death from the zipline.

We arrive at the first tower. We will zipline six times from tower to tower, through the lush, green overgrowth of the forest. Emmie gives us fewer tips than I think we need, and then pushes us off the platform ledge. One by one, we careen down the zipline, one hand holding the carabiner attached to the cable and the other hand on top of the cable itself, to slow ourselves down. In theory, the tighter you hold the zipline the slower you go.

I’m left-handed and decide this hand holds superior strength. I whiz down the zipline and within 20 feet it is clear that my left hand is not the strongest. I grasp the zipline above but cannot keep a hold with my two-sizes too big gloves. Now I am flailing along the rope, with Emmie on the platform behind me screaming, “brake! brake!” Well I am trying to brake! Mid-way I decide to switch hands which is much easier said than done. Now I have no brake at all and can barely get my right hand up there before I nearly crash into Platform #2 and practically take out Emmie’s sidekick.

After arriving at Platform #4 we embark on perhaps the most harrowing part of our journey – climbing down the attached winding, spindly,  staircase that resembles the toothpick structures I made in elementary school, except my structures were more sturdy. The railings are as unreliable as the railings on the trail. I’m not sure the boards have been changed out ever. Some are missing completely. Emmie stands at the top, joking that someone fell off this platform recently and was never found.

Luckily, Emmie has now commandeered all cameras and videocameras.  There is no way I’m going to try and take a picture while ziplining, and I know he doesn’t want any of us trying although he doesn’t say exactly that. Besides, he seems to know more about the camera functions than any of us camera owners. When he starts to shoot video with Gracie’s camera, we say, “You can do video with her camera?” We had no idea and we’ve had it for two years.

Emmie is the last person to arrive at Platform #6, and as he comes down the zipline he rides hands-free and upside-down while holding all of our devices and taking videos on each. It is then that he secures a place in my heart, even when he comes screaming, literally and figuratively, towards us on the platform and we all scream back in terror. He stops an inch before our faces, laughing.

I felt relief mixed with adrenaline mixed with sadness mixed with more relief when we arrived back at basecamp. I had survived ziplining with Emmie and I had the video to prove it.


Sunburned in Paradise

Finally…the beach!  The Blessed Beach!  We had survived a whirlwind tour of Thailand and Cambodia and our reward, finally, was a glorious stay at the beach.  I counted on my fingers how many days I had to lie around and do nothing except hop between the sea and the swimming pool.

The first day in our Thai tropical island paradise, we laid on the beach in the afternoon. The sun wasn’t necessarily “out” so why would we need sunscreen? We laid our white bodies across the chaise lounges under a clouded sky. Brian, my brother-in-law, laid under his beach umbrella, which proved unnecessary.

Unnecessary because he got as burnt as we did. I don’t mean, pink, or a touch of red. I mean a full-on, beet red, please please don’t touch me sunburn. The kind of sunburn that heats up your  body and your entire hotel room. In fact, a dozen sunburned bodies like this could probably replace a power-generating dam.

I was in so much pain I could barely wear clothes.  I looked for anything that was free-flowing and wouldn’t touch 90% of my suddenly crunchy skin.  Clothing options like this were limited and full nakedness seemed best.  I also refused to bathe. I couldn’t bear the thought of water beating against my searing skin. Clearly we needed help of the soothing kind. Aloe Vera Lotion would be our savior.

The four of us ventured out, down to the “road” outside our hotel. A small string of shops lined the almost-empty, narrow, half dirt-half paved roadway. The German entrepreneur spotted us first. It could’ve been our burning-bush bodies that alerted him we were first-timers to Thailand. We glowed, and not with the enthusiasm of vacation. “Ahh, you have the sunburn. You need aloe vera. You can get it next door at the mini-market. Then come back for coffee.”

I bought the largest bottle of aloe vera available, along with sunscreen, potato chips and chocolate cookies, all necessary ingredients for recovery.

Now it was time for my medical care. I pulled out my large bottle of aloe vera.  When applied, the green gel melted into liquid the moment it touched my skin, like oil on a hot pan. I quickly tried to stop the flow of my liquid gold, scoop it up and re-apply. It was to no avail.

Onto the bed I went, face-up, so the aloe vera could soak into my body instead of the floor. Once the gel dried, however, I stuck to the bed. When I tried to get up, the dried gel pulled at my sunburned legs as though it would rip the skin right off. Oh my gosh, the sheer pain!!  Nevertheless, I repeated this procedure every hour, believing in my heart of hearts that if I applied enough aloe vera my sunburn would magically disappear. It did not.

The next day I laid on the beach, mummified. I only had 6 days here and if I waited for the sunburn to be over, my days at the beach would be over too. I determined to soldier on. My outfit consisted of aloe vera and sunscreen (both of which are considered a layer of clothing based on the volume I wore), swimsuit, beach cover up wrapping around every inch of my legs, t-shirt, and long-sleeved blouse over the top.  Add to that a scarf around my neck and chest, along with a big, floppy hat and sunglasses. I looked like Jackie O in her later years.

Going for a swim became an undressing ritual. And once in the pool, the water repelled my body like oil and water. I could glide with ease, secure in the fact that not one drop of chlorine was touching me or my sunburn. How could it possibly breach my armor of sunscreen and aloe vera?

At the poolside, the most troubling aspect of my ordeal became apparent: I felt a duty to tell every guest at the pool about the status of their own sunburn. I felt a moral obligation to one guest in particular. She had the look of a Russian, and the body of a wrestler. A wrestler with a very bad sunburn. As I swam in the pool with Gracie, I couldn’t quit looking at this Russian woman. I told Gracie, “I need to tell her to get out of the sun.” Finally, I had my chance when she hopped into the pool. I surreptitiously watched her from all angles, trying to determine exactly how bad her sunburn was, and which areas in particular were most vulnerable.

I know she thought I was stalking her, which is probably why she decided to get out of the pool. Not to lose my chance, I swam over to her while she hoisted herself up the ladder. And being that my Russian is a little rusty (or non-existent), I said in English, “Very Red.” And then I took my index finger and pointed and actually touched her shoulder. It was the least I could do in an attempt to save her life. Gracie looked on, horrified.

The Russian woman smiled at me the way you smile at a psycho, then scampered out of the pool. To humor me, she draped a cover up around her legs, kind of. Just enough to taunt me and convince me she’d call 911 at midnight when she woke up with her body on fire.  She actually may have died from it, since I never saw her again after that day.

The good news is that my sunburn didn’t keep me from ordering fruit smoothies every day on the beach, reading through all my books, and napping. These essential ingredients remained intact. On Day 4 we were finally un-sunburned enough to go ziplining, wearing a harness around legs previously too hot to touch. And I don’t mean in a Cindy Crawford kind of way.


Massage with a Fish and a Twist

I have a thing about massages. I don’t like to get them from guys. It kinda creeps me out.

But that has been overridden by fish. Dr. Fish Foot Massage, to be exact.

In Cambodia, fish massage is all the rage. Walk along any pedestrian street, and you will see huge tanks of small to medium sized fish, with a wide, wooden plank border around the top of the tank. That is where you sit and put your feet in the tank. The fish swarm you feet, nibbling away all the dead skin. Presumably, this is a massage.

I said nope, I’m not doing that. But of course, who can really say no in the end? Especially when your 13-year old daughter is egging you on, and your sister.

Up we plopped onto the platform. We delicately placed one foot, just a little bit of it, into the water. The small fish immediately swarmed. I screamed and jerked my foot out. Then, peer pressure prevailed and I put my one foot back in.

I longingly looked over to the rows of chaise lounges on the sidewalk next to us. How normal it was over there, with people getting foot massages by humans instead of fish. Oh, except that the chaise lounges sit on a sidewalk surrounded by shops, restaurants and tons of people milling around. But other than that, totally normal.

Gracie and Michelle stick their other foot in the fish tank. Ok, fine. I put both feet in. But when those fish started nibbling on me I thought I would jump out of my skin. I lasted a whole 30 seconds. Out of the water came my feet, and they weren’t going back in. The man said,”You go back in. You already pay $3.” Um, you can keep the $3.

Gracie and Moozie only got more brave after my abrupt departure. They picked up their feet, circled around while still sitting, and put them in the bigger fish tank behind them. The one with the bigger fish. I was totally creeped out, but they were loving it. A lot. They stayed in there for a half hour.

While they got nibbled, I went next door and booked 3 spots for regular human foot massages.

Finally, it’s time to lay down in front of packs of tourists and take our spots on the chaise lounges. $2 for a 30-minute foot massage. Total bargain.

Guess what? I get a guy assigned to me as my masseuse. Really? First fish, and now a guy? Can massage get any creepier?

I lay there gazing up at the restaurant on the second floor, across the street. What a great view for dinner, I thought. I wanted to wiggle my toes and wave at the diners, but thought they might choke on their Pad Thai noodles.

Michelle had to explain to her masseuse (also a guy) not to touch her big, bandaged toe (remember she had her toenail removed in the Bangkok hospital). Luckily she remembered not to stick that thing in the fish tank.

Gracie got the girl masseuse, lucky dog. And once the massages started, so did the giggles. At how good it felt, and at how ridiculous it is to be laying on a chaise lounge on a sidewalk while people order up fried rice, ice cream cones, or pastries in the presence of our feet.

It was the best $2 I ever spent in my life.

So when we landed in Thailand, we had our sights set on a genuine Thai massage, although I didn’t really know what that was.

Just down the dusty dirt road from our hotel is a little massage shop. We’d walked by it a couple of times, and had always seen the same 2 ladies outside. So the next day Michelle and I ventured inside.

The 2 ladies greeted us. The one in charge explained the variety of massages available. $10 for one hour. At that price I don’t care what type of massage I get.

We opt in for the Thai massage. We explain Michelle’s big toe problem. We show the ladies our sunburned chests, which sport the red color of Christmas.

The ladies lead us 3 paces to the massage room. Ok, it’s not a room. Anyone walking by could have gotten a fantastic view of our sunburned bodies while we stripped down to our skivvies.

Luckily, they finally pulled a curtain between us and the street traffic. And by “traffic” I mean the sum total of 6 tourists that saunter by in an hour.

There were 2 futon-ish mattresses on the floor with fresh linens which they changed when we arrived. Michelle and I laid down head to head. I was ready.

The massage ladies took their positions. Except when I heard my massage lady speak, the voice was much too husky to be a lady. Michelle and I had kinda noticed this right before we laid down, and stared at each other with the kind of look you can only give your sister at a time like that.

You already know how I feel about getting a massage from a guy. And now I was going to get a whole hour of it. With my whole body. With he/she.

The massage begins. What you should know (because I certainly didn’t) is that Thai massage involves a lot of pressure, stretching and pulling. Basically, it is involuntary yoga. You lay relaxed on a mat, and they move your body into incomprehensible yoga moves that you would never try if you signed up for a yoga class yourself.

When I laid face down, it actually felt kinda good. After 30 minutes I flipped over to the front. And the stretching… wowza! When it got to the inner hip area, I clearly remembered why I am creeped out by getting a massage from a guy. Well, I think it’s a guy, but I tell myself it’s a girl. Over and over. Because I am face to face now and this certainly looks like a girl.

It’s time for the neck and chest massage part of the regimen. I re-explain the sunburned chest. A generous supply of luxurious aloe vera cream is rubbed on. Ahh, it feels so cool. And at that moment I feel grateful for my very own breasts, safely tucked under the covers, because here is someone who probably wants some of their own, and yet I’ve nearly burned mine off this week in the sun.

Then I am slathered with lotion that smells exactly like wintergreen lifesavers. I fully expect to look up and see a small child in the back room unwrapping rolls of lifesavers and grinding them into a lotion paste.

Michelle is having her own special massage experience. Shortly after her massage begins, the lady makes a cell phone call while giving Michelle her massage.

Two minutes later another woman appears at the shop with hair that says, “I hurried over here as fast as I could on my moped without a helmet.”

She silently walks over to Michelle. And before Michelle knew it, “I had one set of hands going up my back, and another set of hands going down my back.”

At the end of the session I get a wickedly good back massage for the kink in my shoulder and neck. This is carnage from the outrageously thick, stiff pillows that Thai hotels love to give you.

And then I realize there is a real upside to my massage today. I had a very beautiful masseuse with exceptionally strong hands.

I think I’ll go back tomorrow for another.