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When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water.  ~Benjamin Franklin

I’ve done a fair amount of traveling to places where you should never, ever drink the water that comes out of the tap. Usually there’s bottled water available, but it takes vigilance to remember to use it every time you brush your teeth – a single lapse, and you could spend the next two days on the can.

Ice is also suspect. I tend to make a case by case decision about ice in my drinks. Sometimes it’s worth living dangerously to have a frozen margarita.

I came back from a vacation in Mexico last week, and the first few times I turned on a faucet, I was astonished to think that all the water rushing down the drain was potable. Every drop of the water we use to shower, to flush the toilet, wash our clothes and water the lawn has been purified to be safe for drinking. That means that the average U.S. household uses over 400 gallons of clean drinking water a day!

Doesn’t that seem crazy wasteful!?

On Cape Cod, we don’t have the kind of  severe droughts that afflict much of the world, so It’s easy to take our clean, abundant water for granted. But that’s not the way most of the world works. And not taking things for granted is important if we want to change the way we impact the earth.

This Earth Day, I’m committing to being more mindful of the worth of water. If you’d like to join me in reducing your water waste, consider the following:

1. Shower bucket. Instead of letting the water pour down the drain, stick a bucket under the faucet while you wait for your shower water to heat up. You can use the water for flushing the toilet or watering your plants.

2. Turn off the tap while brushing your teeth. Water comes out of the average faucet at 2.5 gallons per minute. Don’t let that water go down the drain while you brush! Turn off the faucet after you wet your brush, and leave it off until it’s time to rinse.

3. Turn off the tap while washing your hands. Do you need the water to run while you’re scrubbing your hands? Save a few gallons of water and turn the faucet off after you wet your hands until you need to rinse.

4. If It’s yellow, let it mellow. This tip might not be for everyone, but the toilet is one of the most water-intensive fixtures in the house. Do you need to flush every time?

6. Re-use your pasta cooking liquid. Instead of dumping that water down the drain, try draining your pasta water into a large pot. Once it cools, you can use it to water your plants. Just make sure you wait, because if you dump that boiling water on your plants, you might harm them.

7. Head to the car wash. If you feel compelled to wash your car, take it to a car wash that recycles the water, rather than washing at home with the hose.

8. Cut your showers short. Older shower heads can use as much as 5 gallons of water per minute. Speed things up in the shower for some serious water savings. And do you really need to shower daily? Skipping even one shower a week makes a difference.

9. Choose efficient fixtures. Aerating your faucets, investing in a low-flow toilet, choosing efficient shower heads, and opting for a Water Sense rated dishwasher and washing machine can add up to big water savings.

10. Use less electricity. Power plants use thousands of gallons of water to cool. Do your part to conserve power, and you’re indirectly saving water, too!

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The blissful bungalows at Petite Lafitte, just north of Playa Del Carmen.

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Valladolid, a classic colonial town. 

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Chichen Itza, a 35 peso ride from town by the collectiva van. 

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Casa San Roques in Valladolid, one block off the town square.

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Cenote Jaci, just two blocks from our hotel.

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Till next time! 

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Dingle

I think most of us want to be Irish today, and not for the green beer. There’s a mystique to the Irish character that draws us.

Although I’m a quarter Irish, I’ve only been to Ireland once, ten years ago with my son Alex. I remember whitewashed cottages and emerald hills dotted with sheep, dark cliffs plunging down to the sea, and evenings spent drinking Guinness to the rolling rhythm of Irish pipes.

But the most memorable part of the trip was the afternoon we spent with Bernie.

Alex and I showed up unannounced on Bernie’s doorstep in the town of Dingle. When Bernie answered our knock – a bright-eyed gentleman in his mid-70s wearing a rumpled tweed jacket – I explained that my sister had hired him as a tour guide a few years earlier and she urged me to look him up when I was in town.

Bernie said he could probably arrange something for that very afternoon. Since he was about to go to the pub for lunch, he suggested we join him. He grabbed his cap and headed briskly down the hill, already beginning to weave a mesmerizing tapestry of stories drawn from the history, myths, plants, animals, faeries and politics of the region – a flow of stories that didn’t stop for six hours.

A friend of his who owned a cab was recruited to be our driver. They took us to ancient cemeteries and crumbling ruins overlooking the sea. It began to rain lightly, but we kept going. They loved to talk about their corner of Ireland, and all we had to do was keep up with them and offer our delighted attention.

Eventually, we were back in town, warming up over cups of tea in a small cafe, and our companions were still bantering and spinning improbable yarns. “This is what they mean about Irish men!”  I thought, remembering the blarney stone and all the characters I’d met in books, brimming with charm and passion and darkness.

Frank Delany wrote, We Irish prefer embroideries to plain cloth…We love the “story” part of the word “history,” and we love it trimmed out with color and drama, ribbons and bows. Listen to our tunes, observe a Celtic scroll: we always decorate our essence.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote, To be Irish is to know that in the end the world will break your heart. 

I suppose the heartbreak flows from a history fraught with destitution and oppression. But to be able to turn that into color and exuberance, humor and creativity? Wonderful!

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Alex and Bernie, Dingle

 

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Today is day five of being sick. I’m coming out the other end, though I know the effects (bronchitis, cold sores) will linger for weeks. Still, I’m grateful for the opportunity it’s imposed upon me to “put it all down” for a few days. Illness, in its acute phase, is one of the few things strong enough to silence my incessant To Do mind. During the sickest days, illness insists I just be a body, even a suffering one, napping and breathing and occasionally getting up for a piece of toast.

One morning, I had just stepped out of the shower when a wave of dizziness and nausea came over me, demanding that I go lie down RIGHT NOW!  Wait!! Let me towel off first!  But my body would have none of that, so I staggered across the hall and put my dripping chilly body under the covers till the feeling passed.

Now, as I begin to feel better and clearer of head, it’s easy to think I have the energy to tackle some small projects. I mean, what is unexpected at-home time for? But the supply of energy is very limited, and I quickly hit the wall.

I have to admit that there’s something I love about this process. Maybe it’s because my day to day life is so out of balance. I mean, what does it say when I look forward to surgical anesthesia because it seems like one of the rare times I really rest?

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I also want to thank my immune system for the fine job it’s been doing. I know it’s never a given that the battle will go my way. The virus, which probably arrived as a small raiding party that landed in my nose, proliferated quickly and swept through my body like Hitler’s forces sweeping across Europe and North Africa. (The rapidity and breadth of that sweep was one of the horribly dazzling take-aways from my visit to the World War II Museum in New Orleans.) Soon the battle was being waged on many fronts, hence the headaches, chest spasms, woozy stomach, low grade fever, and general feeling of having weights attached to my limbs.

Clearly now, the tide has turned, stability is being restored, and we’re mostly dealing with a cleanup operation. If I were a general, I would send the troops home on leave with a ration of whisky.

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Between naps, I’ve been reading I Contain Multitudes, which is about the microbes within us. I should mention that the author, Ed Yong, takes issue with applying military metaphors to the immune system. What’s happening is far more subtle and complex. He says the immune system is more like a team of rangers carefully managing a national park, only the control flows in both directions as the immune system manages the microbes and the microbes manage the immune system.

There’s so much in this book! Read it if you want to know who/what you are.

New Orleans is a hazy fever dream of a city, with a history as winding and arabesque as the stretch of the Mississippi River Delta upon which it sits.  ~ Todd Plummer

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It’s a glorious September weekend here on Cape Cod, which feels a little incongruous when disaster is raining down in so many places – hurricanes, flooding, earthquakes, fires gone wild.

Perhaps nature is telling us something. Something like, You do not control me. Or maybe, You cannot ignore me.

How often we ignore the natural world, treating it as a scenic backdrop to our human-centric busyness. Or treating it as simply a resource from which to extract whatever we need to sustain our standard of living. Our 24-hour lighting and climate-controlled buildings supports this confidence that nature is under our control. Things like sharks and earthquakes and hurricane only show up in the movies. Except in times like this.

I’m not saying that nature is a pissed-off Mother who is trying to teach us a lesson. (That’s just another view that puts us in the center of the universe.) If anything, natural disasters show us that we are not the end all and be all. Our deep ancestors knew their place in the scheme of things. Right now we could use a little of their wisdom, their humility.

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It’s been an odd summer for me because of the trip to Africa plopped down in the middle of July. Between prepping for the trip, being away, and re-entering, there hasn’t been a lot of what I think of as summer.

So now I’m trying to grab a little of that old Cape Cod magic before summer is gone.

The other day, I took the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard with my friends Mary Ellen and Susie. It wasn’t a day trip – more like a half-day trip. But still, it was fun.

Our destination was Oak Bluffs and Illumination Night – an annual festival where all the gingerbread cottages that surround the old campground are lit up with paper lanterns. I’d never seen it, though I’ve read about its magic in books. (Check out Illumination Night, a novel by Alice Hoffman.)

While waiting for darkness to descend and the lanterns to come on, we had a wonderful dinner at the Red Cat Café in Oak Bluffs. (World’s best roasted brussel sprouts!) At the table next to us were two women visiting from Dubai, who told us that we absolutely must get donuts from Back Door Donuts after dinner. The apple fritters, they said, were TO DIE FOR!

They explained that the shop sells pretty conventional baked goods out of the storefront during the day, but at 7 p.m. every night after the shop closes, they open the back door to the parking lot and begin to sell truly amazing donuts, right out of hot oil, to a waiting crowd. Even the Obamas were known to stop by when they were on the island.

“Try to get there early,” they warned. “There will be a line.”

And indeed there was! Though it was not yet 7:00, several hundred people were already queued up, waiting. A festive, chatty mood animated the crowd. The folks ahead of us in line were flabbergasted to hear that Susie had never, ever eaten a donut before. NEVER?  Nope, never. This seemed like a pretty good place to start! We speculated whether apple fritters counted, and whether we might be able to cage a few free donuts, given the historic moment.

Ixnay to that idea, but the apple fritters were as delicious as advertised, a perfect blend of hot sugary crispness and grease.

The illumination part of the evening was less successful. It was the tradition to precede the lantern-lighting with a hearty, patriotic sing-along in the Tabernacle that anchors the campground. The singing went on and on and on till we finally had to bolt for the shuttle bus, lest we miss the last ferry back to the mainland. Never did see the lights.

Better luck next year!

Zanzibar!

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I fell in love with Zanzibar before I set foot there. The name itself promised so much – trade winds, white sands and turquoise water, coffee and spice plantations. The archipelago has a Swahili culture rich with Persian, Arabic, Indian, and Portuguese influences dating back to Zanzibar’s heyday as a trade center. And then there is Stone Town, the old part of Zanzibar City, with its atmospheric maze of alleys, terraces, and intricately carved doorways, its mosques and markets, bazaars and beaches.

I’d never spent time in a predominantly Muslim culture before, and the experience was good for my heart and mind.  It made me realize how varied the second-largest religion in the world is, and how little I know about it.

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Patrick and I took a cooking class at a spice plantation, helping the matriarch, her four grown daughters and assorted granddaughters prepare lunch for travelers taking the spice tour. It was a hoot!

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We visited a rainforest to see the only colobus  monkeys on the planet. Then we had to say goodbye to Zanzibar, because safari was calling.

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Final note to self about safaris. It is completely unnecessary to have special safari clothes! In fact, if you wear the full regalia, you will look pretty silly. You’re  going to be in a vehicle when you’re out in the bush, so the color of your outfit is not important.

On the other hand, whatever you wear will get absolutely filthy! (Dusty roads.)

 

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Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes. ~ Henry David Thoreau

Easy for him to say, but he didn’t have a closet full of colors that are a no-no on safari.  (Bright colors and white scare off the animals. Blue attracts tsetse flies, which can give you sleeping sickness. Yikes!) Local stores are full of pinks and blues and whites. It took some real looking to assemble this pile. I hope to wear the same clothes for the whole time.

Tomorrow evening….my first trip to Africa! I’m so excited!

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So my January staycation to date: so far, it’s felt like a month of Saturdays. Not Saturday in the sense of Wheee! A day off to relax and have fun! — I’ve actually been quite busy doing stuff for the business and around the house. I’m talking about the way Saturdays feel different from Sundays. On Saturdays, with the buffer of Sunday ahead, I usually enjoy a relaxed sense of time. On Sundays, there’s a subtle tension – a fear of running out of time to do all the things I want to do before the work week begins again.

More than anything, my January staycation has been a vacation from that time stress. I know that after this day there will be another day off, and then another one, and another.

Recently, I was looking over some of my past blog posts, and was appalled to see how much I write about Too Much To Do And Not Enough Time. OMG! I thought.  I sound like such a whiner! I must vow to never write about that topic again!

But after some reflection, I changed my mind. First, because I want to talk authentically from my life, and time-stress is a big part of my day-to-day experience. (I actually prefer the term time-hunger, which is kind of like air-hunger, the panicky feeling that arises when we can’t get enough air. I like it because it shifts attention to the bodily response I have when I think, not enough time.)

Plus, this stress is experienced by many if not most people in our modern world – you could call it a societal disease. As such, it’s worth investigating more deeply.

As my month off winds down, I’m sure I’ll be feeling more of that anxious Sunday feeling. So forgive me if I continue to go on about this topic. I don’t want to just complain, but to understand.

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