Friday, May 28, 2004

My Birthday

Today is my birthday.  This will be the last year that I spend in my forties.  I remember turning 30 and feeling old.  Wow.  That was 19 years ago.  Oddly enough I feel younger today than I did back then.  I suppose that the mature and responsible thing to do on one’s 49th birthday is sit back and reflect upon your life.  Regroup.  Separate what you've already done from what you still have to do.  Dust off the cobwebs and sweep up all those film clips just lying on the editing room floor of your mind.

 

So what could one say about me so far?  The… Occupant in my life?

 

You could say that I was born into a fabulously wealthy, prestigious, and influential family fraught with power and fame...

I can understand why some people might have that misconception about me, but it's just not true.  Actually, I was the second of 7 children born to my parents who carefully exposed us to ever increasing levels of poverty.  Apparently my parents selected the 'raising many children in a meager environment with no luxuries' option.  Speaking only for myself, I think that way of life made me a much nicer person, with  a vivid imagination and  a great sense of humor.  Personally though, I think my life would have been as equally enjoyable had they chosen the 'filthy rich, young married couple raising very few but ridiculously spoiled brats' option ... but I’m only guessing. 

 

You could say that my wedding was THE social event of the season and I married well...

But then you’d be lying.  For some reason I eloped to Elkton, Maryland when I was only 16 years old, with a boy whose last name I didn't even know until we filled out the application for our marriage license.  I wasn't pregnant, so I guess it must have been one of those "you had to be there" ideas that seemed good at the moment.

 

Some of my old high school pals might still believe that I graduated from Harvard at the top of my class and dedicated many years to scientific research...

In truth, I attended a Community College, but I was on the Dean’s List the entire two years I spent there.  I put myself through nursing school and my husband through the State Police Academy while simultaneously working as a waitress and raising three small, but adorable children. 

 

One might say that I selflessly devoted myself to motherhood and constantly sought new ways to raise happy, healthy and well adjusted children...

Well... I did read a few books by Dr. Spock.  I started reading them, anyway.  Oh, all right!  I used one of the books to prop open a window in the summer, and a few more to hold up one end of the couch when the leg broke off.  I was a little BUSY trying to bring up three kids, ya know.   But I had every INTENTION of reading them. 

 

Many of my friends and relatives still believe that after enjoying 28 years in a totally monogamous, mutually satisfying marital relationship, we ended our partnership with the very best intentions, wishing each other well and remain the best of friends to this very day...

Only the kids and my next-door neighbors know that three girlfriends later, I finally decided to pack it in, call it a day and get a divorce.

 

It may have looked like I embraced my suddenly single situation with an unbridled enthusiasm and a zest for life. That I was ready to fearlessly face life alone while relentlessly searching for not only my soul mate… but also my destiny...

Fortunately, it only takes a few drinks to appear that way.   I jumped right into dating, not because I was looking for love, but after 28 years of marriage, I needed someone to work the remote control on the TV.

 

By this point in my life I'm sure I had hoped that I'd be enjoying a successful and satisfying career.  One where my contributions actually made a difference in the lives of the people living in my community, and where my many years of experience would afford me the luxury of meeting future challenges before they became problematic...

Although I worked hard to become a nurse, and I’m proud to be a supervisor, I can't say it's exactly... rewarding.  Financially, mentally or spiritually.  My daily contributions to the community usually entail a trip to the cafeteria after it closes to find red Jell-O for a patient who doesn’t like the standard hospital green Jell-O, finding someone to roll Mrs. Weaver down to the lobby in a wheel chair where she can be picked up by her husband, and making sure that someone's mother doesn’t wake up after her bunion surgery with a male room mate.  To me, knowing that there will be a lot of nurses calling out sick the weekend after payday when the weather is nice, isn't  the kind of job related 'experience' I was hoping for.  Call me crazy, but I'd kind of like an occupation where young, happy, healthy people aren’t bad for business.

 

That when I went to sleep at night in my clean and tidy home, my dentures soaking in a glass beside me, I’d be confident that my upcoming twilight years will be spent living comfortably after a lifetime of sound investments, fiscal responsibility, healthy habits, and good genes...

Living with Ray this past year has taught me that  I will NEVER go to bed knowing the house is tidy and neatly kept.  The most I can hope for is the ability to find a clean glass and a spot next to the bed to soak my dentures in (the word fire trap comes to mind for some reason).  But... I can't complain.  My idea of fiscal responsibility is buy one get one free.  Although I recently discovered that I don't have any good genes, a strong family history of heart disease and cancer do lessen one's need for a solid pension plan. 

 

So on this day… my 49th birthday… after much reflection, soul searching, character analysis and assessment, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are quite a few things left on my ‘to do’ list.
I’m very thankful that I’m still relatively young.  For that means I still have lots of time and I don’t have to get started right away.

 

I still have a few more years left to goof off.

Monday, May 24, 2004

American Soldiers

                                                         

Picture from Hometown

 They are our sons and daughters.  Our brothers and sisters.

                                     Picture from Hometown

                                      Our husbands.  Our wives.                                        

 Picture from Hometown

 They are our friends.  Our neighbors.   Picture from Hometown

Our colleagues.  Our classmates.   Picture from Hometown

Far from home.  On weekends and holidays.  In the middle of the night. Missing their families and friends.  Away from home on their wife's birthday.  Their father's retirement party.  Their best friend's wedding.  Their sister's prom.  Their parents anniversary.  Their Family Reunion. Their brother's High School Graduation.  The birth of their baby.

They are American Soldiers.  Away from home.  Accomplishing what the rest of us cannot do.  Doing what needs to be done.  Let's praise them and thank them.  Support them and pray for them.  For their families.  For America.

 

A special thank you to the reporters who stop to photograph our American Soldiers doing the things that remind us who they really are. All the things that make our soldiers so special to begin with.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Men and Women

 

Not too many things about menopause are funny.  I should know... I'm going through it.  I'd rather be going around it, but I don't think that's possible.  Anyway... once in a while I do find something on the subject that catches my eye, grabs my attention and lifts my spirits.

 

More often than not, it's usually something derogatory about men in general.  I don't want to leave you with the impression that I don't like men.  My father was a man, and I loved him anyway.  I have a few younger brothers who were left in my care many times with no subsequent harm.  I was married to a man for 28 years and he emerged from the union alive, functional, and still in possession of all his body parts.  My favorite teacher was a man.  More than half of the patients I have cared for in my nursing career have been men, and most of them recovered.  All my girlfriends are married to men.  My son grew up to be one, and there's every indication that my grandson will be one someday as well.  I love both of them with all my heart and soul.  And I live with Ray... who is SO much a man... that his friends actually call him "the man".  I adore him anyway, and maybe someday I'll make an honest man out of him and marry the guy. 

 

So you see, I have a long history with men.  And lots of experience.  No matter what we do, it appears that men are here to stay.  We might as well make the best of it.  And once in a while we can get in a chuckle or two.  Here's one I had yesterday.  Several times.  I wish I knew who the author was, so I could give her the credit she so richly deserves...

 

Dear Tide:

  I'm writing to say what an excellent product you have!  I've used it since the beginning of my married life, when my Mom told me that it was the best.

  Now that I am older and going through menopause, I find it even better!  In fact, about a month ago, I spilled some red wine on my new white blouse.

My unfeeling and uncaring husband started to berate me about how clumsy I was... he complained that I drank too much... and then he insinuated that I was never a good cook either...  One thing led to another and I ended up with a lot of his blood on my new white blouse. I tried to get the stain out using a bargain detergent, but it didn't work.  After a quick trip to the supermarket, I purchased a bottle of liquid Tide with bleach alternative, and to my surprise and satisfaction, ALL of the stains came out!

   In fact, they came out so well, the detectives stopped by my house yesterday to tell me that the DNA tests they performed on my blouse were negative.  Then my attorney called and said that I was no longer considered a suspect in the disappearance of my husband.  This is quite a relief!

 

I thank you, once again, for having such a great product. Well, gotta go.

 

I have to write a letter to the Hefty bag people...

 

Oh, I hope she had a big life insurance policy on him.  Is it wrong to laugh at such a letter?  At this point in my life... I really don't care.  I'm going to laugh anyway.  Maybe I can blame it on a lifetime of living with the 'persona' of men...

Irritating little teasers that trip you in the school yard, make faces, run faster, and get to pee standing up.  Boys with no fear of bugs, no tangles in their hair and get to go swimming without their shirts on in the summer.  Still... the crush you get on one is all consuming.

Teenage football jocks and local bad boys that get into fights, drive fast, drink a lot, and yell comments at you when you try to walk by inconspicuously.  Boys who spend all night trying to get to first base and then brag about it for weeks later, even if they never got there.  College guys who party all night, major in spring break, drink even more and drive even faster.  Still... falling in love with one is all consuming.

Young men who get paid more and get promoted before you, and can move furniture and open jars.  They look the same in the morning as they did when they went to bed, and don't care if they have a fat tummy or cellulite on the backs of their thighs.  They have never planned activities around their period or stayed home because they had cramps.  Most men never have to shave their legs, armpits or bikini zone and don't care if their breasts sag.  They don't suffer with morning sickness, stretch marks, childbirth, or have to sit on their stitches.  Men never wonder how they're going to have a career AND be a good father at the same time.  They are almost immediately forgiven when they forget to send a card, buy a gift, or write a thank you letter.  They aren't expected to bring any food dishes with them when they're invited to dinner, or feel obligated to help clean up afterwards.  They never wonder if they can wear white shoes past September or starve themselves so they can look good in a bathing suit.  They can talk loud, smoke cigars, curse, burp, scratch all their itchy parts, and tell someone they think they're "hot" without tarnishing their reputation.  Men don't worry about date rape or have nightmares about being attacked.

They don't plan weddings, throw baby showers, or write out thank you cards.  If they volunteer to go on a school trip with the kids, attend a PTA meeting, or bake cup cakes everyone thinks they're wonderful.  They never worry about breaking a nail, getting a runner, or carrying Tampons.  They've never looked to see if there is lipstick on their teeth, or tried to remove water proof mascara.  They've never had their legs up in stirrups, did a self breast exam, or tried to remember if they took their pill this morning.  They've never ruined a pair of panties or talked to their friends about douching.  They've never have an abnormal pap smear, hot flashes or PMS.  They don't have accidents when they cough, laugh or sneeze.  No one thinks badly of them if they never get married or have children, and they've never heard the ticking of a biological clock.  Even if they father a child at age 90, they don't question the health of the child.  They look better than we do as they get older, and they get to keep their last names even after they get married.  Most men don't wonder if their mates are hanging out in bars and strip clubs at night or if they will leave them for someone half their age.  They never have to hope that their spouse will behave themselves while taking home the baby-sitter or attending a cocktail party with their colleagues.  They're never, ever distracted by thoughts of all they have to do tomorrow while they're having sex tonight.

 

Still... the love you have for one man can last a lifetime.  I cherish the love I have for the men in my life...  I can only hope my daughters are as lucky as me.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Our last day in paradise...

Our week long vacation in Punta Cana had started off badly.  The first two days had been cloudy, hot and humid, with several rain showers.  The weather predictions for the rest of the week weren’t much better.  When the sun finally came out on Thursday I rushed into it like a bride on her wedding day.  Not wanting to go home without a tan, I laid by the pool all afternoon without putting on any tanning lotion or sun block.  Between the blisters on the bottoms of my feet from walking on hot cement without any shoes when we first arrived, and now the sun poisoning, I couldn't go out into the sun again for the next three days.  By then, Ray and I were bored, restless and eager to squeeze in as much fun as we could on the last remaining day of our vacation.  
We woke up early and reserved a little thatched roof hut by the pool.  The resort offered many activities and water sports to the guests and I wanted to try them all.  Whenever I picture myself in my mind, I am athletic, graceful and energetic. I think I can do anything, and do it well.  In reality... I am anything but.  Anytime I even attempt to participate in any type of physical activity, especially a sport, it's not long before I am painfully reminded how much of a klutz I really am.  The first thing I wanted to try was boogie boarding.  I had only done it once before and that was many years ago.  I vaguely remembered that I had almost drowned on that occasion, but I didn't think it was because I had absolutely no ability.  I ran into the surf with my little board.  Ray was ahead of me and I saw him catch a swell of water without any difficulty.  I tried to jump onto the same wave, but for some reason it flipped me over and tossed me about like a Frisbee.  My eyes stung from the salt water and my knees scraped against the sand.  I stood up choking, hair in my face, and looking as unglamorous as a girl can get, catching a glimpse of Ray as he glided smoothly to the beach on his board.  He looked up at me and smiled.  "That was great!  Did you ride that one?", he asked.  "No... I caught the one after yours.  It was much bigger and WAY more dangerous!", I lied easily and with a straight face.  I'm surprised they don't have death warnings printed on those damn boards.  I decided to exchange mine for a pair of fins and a snorkel.  I've never been a great swimmer, but I knew it was very unlikely that one would drown while snorkeling just 50 feet from the beach, in only about 10 feet of water, while wearing a life vest.  Getting into the water is the hard part.  Most people put on their fins AFTER they get into the water, but since I have no sense of balance, I have to put mine on while sitting on the beach.  "We could try kayaking after this!", I yelled over to Ray.  "Ummmm... maybe on some other vacation!", he decided after watching me make my way into the surf trying not to trip over the tips of my fins.  I spent the next hour or so splashing around in the ocean, lifting my head up and out of the water only when it leaked down into my snorkel tube.  I frequently engaged in a swimming frenzy when I found myself too close to any coral I was sure would scrape me, found myself near a hole in a rock formation that I was convinced could be the home of a very unsociable barracuda, or if the water became murky from sand I just knew had been kicked up by a rapidly approaching Great White Shark.  Finally exhausted, I emerged from the water, barely able to stand, and crawled to the beach, falling frequently, choking and gasping for breath.  Watching me, one might think I was quite possibly a shipwreck survivor who had been stranded at sea for several months, and finally made it to land.  The adventure over, I was left with that racoon-like indentation in my face from the mask for the rest of the day.  Ray enjoyed the snorkel without a life vest, and was able to dive down and pick up a few seashells for me.   While sitting on the beach, recovering from the dive, we watched a couple take out a Hobie Cat Sail Boat.  Even though they were experienced, the wind caused them to lose control of the boat several times, and they were knocked over into the surf.  Ray and I looked at each other.  We both shook our heads and said... "No!", at the same time!  Sometimes you just know.

We were scheduled for a romantic horseback ride on the beach anyway.   Although I had never been riding before, Ray had lots of experience. I bought a straw hat to protect me from the sun, and we changed into long pants to protect our legs from the flies.  The horses were hot, tired and not as thrilled to go for a ride on the beach as we were, but they cooperated.  The ride was included as part of the resort package, so there was a large group of us going at the same time.  The horses must have been raised together or at least great friends, because they walked VERY close together the entire time.  The horse in front of mine actually tried to kick my horse when we got a little too close.  It was very hot wearing those long pants, but the ride was a lot of fun.  In fact, had we done this earlier in the week we may have signed up to do it again, but in a smaller group.   Before going back to our room, we changed into shorts, and stopped at a few outdoor shops on the beach to buy some souvenirs.  We took a dip in a hot tub and snapped a few more pictures.  "What do you want to do next?", Ray asked.  Thinking about all the things we hadn't done yet, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.  "Take a NAP!", I answered truthfully. 
It was the end of a very enjoyable week.  We had finally settled into the rhythm of the island and actually dreaded going back to the fast pace of our everyday lives.
   We snapped pictures right up to the minute we left for the airport.  I guzzled one more (OK.. maybe it was two) Tropical Beverages while our luggage was loaded onto the van.

The airline delayed our return flight for more than 24 hours, so they had to put us up in Old San Juan for the night.  Initially we were very upset, but the hotel they sent us to turned out to be one the highlights of our entire trip.  They also gave us a $50 voucher for dinner, $20 for breakfast, and ground transportation to and from the hotel in Puerto Rico.  Not having anyone to pick us up the following day in Philadelphia, they also made arrangements to get us all the way home.  The only bad part was that I'd have to go into work about 2 hours after we got home.  Oh well!  I said that I wanted to have fun all the way up to and including the last minute!

The 'El Convento' was a 350 year old convent that had been converted into a luxury hotel by the Woolworth family.  Many Hollywood movie stars have stayed there, including Rita Hayworth and George Hamilton.  The Puerto Rican government has spent more than $250,000 to renovate each room since they took ownership.  It's now the official hotel for visiting dignitaries and government officials.  There are still some remnants left from the convent days, like holy water basins, bells and crosses, but every modern amenity is provided like air conditioning, heavenly mattresses, deluxe showers, and color TV.  The first floor is occupied by gourmet restaurants, bistros, coffee houses and exclusive shops.  The food was absolutely delicious!

I wish we could have stayed to explore and enjoy this fascinating hotel and city.  I can honestly say that although we would never go back to Punta Cana again, we would definitely spend a few nights at the 'El Convento'. 

Sunday, May 9, 2004

Happy Mother's Day!

Picture from Hometown   Being a mother is one of the hardest things a woman can be, but it's also the most rewarding and fulfilling.

It was rather strange to watch my daughter Tina, go through her pregnancy.  It seemed like only yesterday that I was holding her in my arms, that she was playing with dolls, dressing up like Madonna, and telling everyone she was going to marry George Michael when she grew up.  How could my little girl suddenly be all grown up and having her own baby?  When did this happen?  When I saw her holding her newborn son in her own arms, smiling down at him, I knew that my little girl was a woman now.  More than that... a Mother.  I could see the love in her eyes for this new little man in her life.  He will change her life completely and forever, but she'll never regret it.

I wished for a moment that I could go back to the day that she was born, and hold her once again.  But it's her turn now.  And as much as I miss holding my own babies... seeing the happiness on my daughter's face as she gazed into the eyes of her son, made me realize that all the trials and tribulations of raising her, led to this magnificent and unforgettable moment.  To raise her to this point, so that she could feel the love of being a mother herself, was the greatest gift that I could have given her.

Now I realize... that that was what it was all about in the first place.  Tina doesn't know this yet... she won't until she watches her baby hold his own child for the first time.  Just as my mother must have felt when she saw me holding each one of my three kids.

Thanks, Mom.  Happy Mother's Day!  I love you!

Monday, May 3, 2004

Paradise 101

So there we were in the Dominican Republic for one glorious week of sun, fun and romance.  The main reason we chose to stay at 'Secrets' is because it’s the only Adults Only Resort in Punta Cana.  I love being around kids except when I’m on vacation.  I like to sleep late, linger over dinner, and just listen to the sound of the ocean while lying on the beach.  The kinds of things I could only dream about doing when my kids were little.

 

The swimming pool at ‘Secrets’ was massive.  It curved and winded around several buildings and restaurants.  There were plenty of lounge chairs available at the pool and on the beach, and more than enough floats for everyone.  But as much as I hate getting out of bed at the crack of dawn, if you wanted a chair under a thatched canopy to protect you from the sun, you had to get up early and go put a towel down on it.  I found a couple of chairs beside the pool that were also near the beach, a restaurant and a bar.  Anxious to tell Ray what a great spot I got, I took off my sandals and ran back to our room.  I didn't realize how hot the pavement had already gotten from the sun until later that day, when the bottoms of my feet began to blister.  By dinnertime, I could hardly walk.  I could tell that there’d be no dancing for us for a few nights.  Doctor Ray ordered two alcoholic beverages an hour, for 4 hours, as needed for pain.  Thank God I had a great prescription plan.

 

It rained most of the day and we heard that the weather forecast was going to be the same for the following day.  Ray was getting antsy, as he really doesn’t like “slug vacations”, where you do nothing but lie around and eat.  He’d much rather be skiing or at least go sight seeing.

Thankfully Thursday turned out to be a beautiful day, as we were both getting bored and I was desperate to get a tan.  I didn't want to go home without one, and I feared that this might be our only sunny day for the whole week.  I guess that's when I got the STUPID idea to lay by the pool without putting on ANY sun block or tanning lotion.  I didn't think a few hours of unprotected sun could hurt.  Later that night, I discovered how WRONG one person could be.  Sun poisoning is definitely NOT something you want to get while on vacation.  Especially not right smack in the middle of the week!  My hands and feet swelled up like sausages.  It hurt to bend my fingers, my arms and my knees.  It hurt to laugh, smile and blink.  Even my earlobes were burnt and I still had blisters on the bottom of my feet.  Basically... it hurt to be ME.  Other vacationers stared at me when we went to dinner.  I know they were wondering just how foolish a grown woman could be.  I was wondering the same thing.

To make matters even worse, the rest of the week remained sunny, bright and beautiful, and I couldn't spend more than 5 minutes in direct sunlight without excruciating pain.  Ray didn’t want to go and have fun all by himself, so he suffered silently beside me.  What a great guy!

 

In an attempt to salvage our vacation, we started looking for things that we could do in the shade or in the dark.  It was too hot to lie by the pool in one of those enclosed huts for very long.  So… we ate a lot.  And drank, of course.  I tried many new alcoholic beverages, and even invented a few new ones.  We sampled every meal, at every restaurant.  I didn't even THINK about the Atkin’s Diet for a minute.  I was a walking Poster Child for Skin Cancer at a summer camp for Overeaters and Alcoholics Anonymous.  We watched a couple of movies on the TV in our room, shopped, and took in a few musicals performed by the almost really talented resident theater troupe of the resort.  We found that some activities, though normally enjoyed only during the day, can also be done at night.  Like bird watching.  No longer on display for the tourists and their cameras, we discovered a group of Flamingos standing around on BOTH legs after dark (I guess standing on only ONE leg all day gets old).  We studied them for a while in their off-duty habitat and came to a startling scientific conclusion.  Bright pink and fluffy Flamingos are MUCH more beautiful to watch and photograph while standing on just one leg, during their regular on-duty hours in the daytime.  Rather disappointing, but now we know.  And so do YOU.  Another time saving fact derived from the pain and suffering of a few individuals for the betterment and enrichment of mankind.  No E-mails... please.  There’s no need to thank us.  I also found that it’s possible to frolic in the waves of the ocean late at night.  The moon gives off quite enough light to see by, and there are no crowds to contend with.  It’s very romantic and I think the water actually feels much warmer after dark.  I just couldn’t get that image of the young girl from the movie ‘Jaws’ out of my mind.  I somehow knew that being bitten or possibly eaten by a shark while on vacation would completely ruin the rest of the week.  I don’t care how nice the place is.  We could have played tennis or tried archery by moonlight as well, but the staff told us horror stories in broken english, about the local mosquitoes.  They warned us that if one of these roving hordes got into a frenzy, no one would be able to stop them from having their way with us.

 

It was very depressing not being able to engage in all the activities that the resort had to offer.  While walking around feeling sorry for myself, Ray snapped some pictures of me showing all the things I WISHED we were doing, and we had a lot of laughs.

 

 

Picture from Hometown

 

Ray was a great sport.  He just laughed and shook his head whenever he caught a glimpse of me walking with my shorts pulled down as low as they could go and my arms tucked inside of my tee shirt to shield them from the sun.  Still limping from the blisters on the bottoms of my feet, and waddling so that my inner thighs wouldn’t touch, I looked like a deformed midget penguin.  But we had fun.  And we discovered things about each other that we never knew.  Ray cheats at checkers!

 

By Sunday I was FINALLY healed enough to go outside and really start to enjoy the vacation.  Unfortunately, we only had one day left to cram in as much fun as we could, before leaving to go back home.  I remembered to put on the sun block that day.  Too bad I forgot that I have never in my entire life, enjoyed any degree of physical prowess, ability or skill involving any sport or activity requiring a person to maintain a vertical position...

Sunday, May 2, 2004

Paradise... the first day.

Since it had been an entire year since I went away I was really looking forward to this vacation.  I have to admit I was a little worried about going to Punta Cana though, because of all the recent political unrest in Haiti.  My ex-husband had recommended the trip to us, and said that he thought the island was just as nice as Cancun.
By 8:30 am on Monday morning we were in the air.  Ray and I were supposed to have a short layover in San Juan, but due to a flight delay we were stuck at the airport for several hours.
The first thing I noticed when we stepped off the plane in Punta Cana was the heat and humidity.  I was relieved to board the air-conditioned van waiting to take us to our resort.  ‘Secrets Excellence’ was an hour away, and fortunately the roads weren't as bad as I had heard they were.  The trip was far from scenic though.  The ground was hard and dry.  Jagged rocks poked through every crevice and broken stones littered every inch.  The merciless sun scorched the fields, while emaciated livestock crowded under the few existing trees in an attempt to find some shade.  The houses that we saw along the road were tiny cinderblock shacks with thatched roofs.  None of them had windows.  The only openings were the front doors, all of which were ajar.  It was apparent that there was no running water, electricity or telephone service.  Piles of trash encircled every dwelling.  Clothes hung out to dry in most of the yards.  We passed numerous resort hotel construction sites in various degrees of completion.  The apparent luxury to which they would eventually become was a stark comparison to the hovels and ruins that surrounded them.  It was sad to think that the people who slaved for long hours every day to build such luxurious hotels would never enjoy even one hour in them.  What did these people think of us as we rode by?  It appeared that some of the construction sites had been abandoned before they were finished.  For some reason, whenever we saw a group of people, they seemed to be just…. standing around, doing nothing.  It didn’t matter whether they were construction men, store owners, shoppers or just people in front of their shanties.  It was as if the very life had been sucked out of them, and the only energy they had left was needed to just... ‘be’.  The only happy faces I saw were from a small group of children who waved to us as we drove past.  I knew that once we passed through the gates of our resort we would forget the ugliness that we had witnessed for the past hour.  But that thought made looking out the window even more sickening.  I silently thanked God for sparing my children and me a life like the one these people had to endure everyday.  There was little consolation in knowing that tourism is the only thing that helps keep these people alive.  It felt like a feeble attempt to justify a glorious vacation with a clear conscious.
‘Secrets’ was just as beautiful as I knew it would be.  Surrounded by a high brick wall and electric gates that opened into an oasis of vegetation.  Waterfalls were cascading into a pond alive with flamingos, exotic birds, turtles, fountains, palm trees, flowers and lush gardens.  The open-air lobby was richly decorated in rattan, wicker and mahogany furniture with marble floors.  Bellmen took our bags and the clerk offered us ice cold Mimosas to drink.  Bowls of fruit and baskets of chocolate were laid out.  Hundreds of candles were burning and soft music filled the air.  It was Paradise... in the center of oblivion. 
We walked slowly to our room, taking in the beauty and trying shamefully but desperately to forget the world outside the walls and fences of the compound.  A white satin banner reading “Honeymooners” was draped across the door to our suite.  At first we just stood there wondering if we had the right room.  Apparently the couple before us left it there when they checked out.  We laughed and decided to just leave it hanging.  The room was wonderful.  An air-conditioned haven tastefully decorated in tropical colors and soft lighting.  It boasted a King Size bed, a sunken, open-air Jacuzzi tub, marble floors, a private, luxurious shower, color TV, and fully stocked refrigerator.  An electronic safe was provided to store our valuables.  Sliding glass doors opened into a garden where there was a patio table, two chairs and a hammock swaying gently in the breeze.  I could hear ocean waves and distant island music promising fun and romance.  Fluffy bath towels had been placed on the bed and twisted artistically into a pair of romantic swans, and rose petals were scattered on the bed and in the bathtub.  There was a bowl of fresh fruit on the coffee table in the sitting area along with a bottle of Asti Spumante.  What more could we ask for?  We headed out to get something to eat and opted to try the main casual dining room featuring an all you could eat buffet, with scores of appetizers, entrees, side dishes and desserts.  There were four other restaurants available to try on other nights.  The food was beautifully displayed, abundant, and delicious.  The waiters and waitresses couldn't speak much English, but they seemed to know what we wanted without us having to ask for it.  Alcoholic beverages were also unlimited and there was a bar conveniently located at every turn.  Before long we got sleepy and slipped back to our room, anxiously anticipating a week of fun in the sun…