Happy Mother’s Day

This Mother’s Day, I thought it might be a bit  hackneyed to honor two women whose consistent and genuine goodness continues to amaze me. And since I’m always looking for an excuse to use the word “hackneyed,” honoring them is just what I’m going to do. My mom, Floralee, has taught me that service is nothing more than inviting another person to join your celebration. After my parents’ divorce, my dad married my stepmom, Mary, who has taught me the meaning of loyalty and friendship.

Floralee Shumway

HawaiiMy mom raised five children in a two bedroom condo. Even though we knew we weren’t exactly well off, we never felt like we had too little to share. My mom invited a different family to dinner every Sunday. She never baked just one loaf of bread or a solitary pie. Rather, she descended upon friends and neighbors with baked goods she mass produced the way Henry Ford did Model Ts. But my mom’s products came in a lot more shapes and colors. Every pie crust was painted with a picture of the fruit contained within. If it was a holiday pumpkin pie, it was topped with a chocolate poinsettia molded from red and green chocolate. When an occasion called for a savory dish, my mom brought a cheese ball shaped like an igloo flanked by scores of penguins crafted from carrots and olives. If it was summer, whatever she brought would look like an American flag.

Mash site 2Growing up with my mom, meals were more than just food. They were events. Dinner was an occasion for taste testing competing brands of sodas and tortilla chips and for dry runs before her new recipes went public. Every holiday was accompanied by festively food-colored dishes, which we had a perfect record of eating until the Halloween of the black milk.

Because of the way my mom celebrated the routine, we never noticed how much she sacrificed. For years, my mom cleaned our music teachers’ homes in exchange for our piano and vocal lessons. She brought in extra income by hiring out her clothes ironing services. In all this, she never asked for thanks, and she rarely received it.

Unasked, my mom recently delivered a different dessert every Sunday to the children of a family friend with terminal cancer. From the months before and after the funeral, my mom made it her yearlong goal to provide these children something to be happy about. 564362_10150810181571432_792562310_n (1)

My mom continues teach me that even when things don’t turn out the way you might have liked, you can still celebrate the people you love. For Floralee Shumway, service isn’t a sacrifice to fret over or try to fit into your schedule. Rather, it’s just a way of inviting one more person to join you as you celebrate life with music and rainbow-layered Jell-O.

Life didn’t turn out the way my mom expected, but her love and service never wavered. All my mom ever wanted was to provide an idyllic life for her children. When circumstances made that difficult, she worked as hard as she could and trusted that the rest would be provided. I will forever be grateful for my mom’s example of service: that she gave of what little she had, even when she didn’t know when she would have more.

Mary Shumway

JuliaMarySalinaHouseWhen my dad married Mary, she became an instant friend who joined us in movie marathons and midnight Slurpee runs. She listened and remembered every detail while we talked about school and friends, and she always took our side.

Mary stepped into our family at full-stride, and rather than trying to change us, she joined in the fun. Some of my favorite memories are of Mary giggling along with us as my dad tried to foster some sense of decorum at the dinner table. In fact, my little brother and I used to fight over who got to sit by her during dinner.

Mary was always coming up with fun crafts and outings. I remember her bringing home a box of art supplies and a book on how to make puppets. This led to hours of gluey fun. Mary provided the bread and transportation for countless afternoons of feeding ducks from the paddle boats at Liberty Park.

TylerJuliaMaryStevenThe longer I’ve known Mary, the more I’ve grown to appreciate her. She notices people’s needs and goes out of her way to serve people, even before they know they need help. Mary drove my high school best friend and me on a grueling hunt for the perfect homecoming dresses. She used her connections to have a job waiting for me when I finished my mission. She helped me pick my wardrobe for my first post-mission date. Every time I tell Mary about some new venture, she immediately provides a contact person, a recipe, a vehicle, an outfit, or hair products.

More than anything, Mary is a true friend. She’ll do anything she can to help the people she loves, and she never asks for anything in return. She looks out for what we need, more than just what we want. If we need advice, Mary’s full of wisdom. If we need to have fun, she’ll buy the ice cream or movie tickets. 2013-05-12

Because I’m apparently pretty self-absorbed, it only recently occurred to me how differently her 30s must have turned out for Mary than she’d expected. When she married my dad she also took on five kids who were a bit of a mess. My dad had been cooking layers of crusty Hamburger Helper—one on top of the other—in what I can only assume was his only pan, but Mary calmly swooped in and put our family back on its tracks. During the first year she and my dad were together, Mary calmly handled my allergy attacks, my little brother’s string of upholstery-destroying bloody noses, my throwing up all over her car and everyone else’s dressiest clothes after she took us to see The Nutcracker, and lots and lots of very vocal—and sometimes quite violent—sibling rivalry. On top of her creating order out of our family chaos, I’ll always be grateful Mary also made sure that my hair was combed every day and that I looked reasonably presentable. Including once when I fell out of a tree: Mary was the one who went out and bought me a new outfit so I could leave the hospital in style.

I am deeply grateful that Mary had the faith to accept unforeseen circumstances and that her capacity to love was great enough to make five rowdy kids a part of her family.

Governor’s Island – July 2

Saturday morning, July 2, I flew from Santo Domingo to New York City to visit my sis and brother-in-law, Chibby and Greg. My bro Levi was also visiting. We went to Governor’s Island which is in the middle of the Upper New York Bay. It used to be a fort in the Revolutionary War, and it was a US army post from then until 1966. Then it was a Coast Guard installation until 1996, when they had to pull out all troops because it was haunted.

Now, during the summer day times, high society crowds (Chib and Greg) can go out there and watch chintzy polo matches, and the middle and lower classes can rent tandem bikes and jump on bounce houses and the like. No one has ever stayed on the island at night and lived. In the winter, hobos occasionally ferry their way across the bay and try to find warmth in the barracks. They know this from surveillance cameras, but no remains have ever been found. Spooky, right? I know.

Caves of Cabarete – July 1

Caves are so super cool. Bats, no bats, butlers, no butlers. While I’d choose a cave tricked out with a bat suit plus butler plus hot car when given the choice, when not given the choice, I’ll take any old cave, every time. I signed up to tour the Caves of Cabarete through these guys, but when I showed up the tour guide was still in bed. Turned out I was the only person who’d signed up for the tour. This was fine by me because it meant I could pick and choose what we saw and pick up the pace (I chose to speed through the parts where he showed me a “real Dominican village” – took me right through some guy’s house, which made me feel far more like a oblivious, dehumanizing, American tourist than I usually do.) so I could make it back to Sosua to catch our bus back to Santo Domingo. It also was fine by my tour guide because it meant he could say creepy  things and touch my face without any awkward interference. Everyone’s a winner!

The caves, though, the caves! The caveswere so incredibly awesome. He didn’t have a flash light, only candles (which he stopped and bought on our way there). I had my head lamp, though, which I was happy about. So, he swam across the cave and lit candles all about so it was well lit. Then we jumped in and swam. You can’t see it in the picture, but there were little tiny off-shoot caves that he couldn’t fit into but I crawled in (after he told me he was pretty, pretty sure there were no squids or other death monsters in them). This pool was so deep, too.

We then went to another cave where there were bats circling all about. I am sort of frightened by bats because they’re the number one cause of rabies in Utah, but I faced my fear and also lived my Batman fantasy. This was a lifetime high point. Unfortunately, my phone camera isn’t fancy enough to take very high quality cave pictures. But please enjoy the best I could do.

Sosua, scuba diving, barefoot beach running, beach lounging, and general luxury – June 28-July 1

If you’re ever in the Dominican, I’d suggest you spend some time in Sosua. It’s super duper touristy, i.e., nice. In the Dominican beach towns, there are tons of Europeans who decided they wanted to live the high life and moved here to start hotels, recreation shops, and restaurants. I ate some really delicious stew my first night in Sosua, thanks to a very nice German fellow. The beaches here were just lovely, so I took several low-quality photos of them with my phone.

These first two photos are of the beach where I relaxed and read the first day we were there.

The next photos are of the beach where I read that same night, watched the sunset and then went barefoot running and then lounged about reading the next morning. Oh, we also ate ice cream and went on a very peaceful moonlight walk on this beach.

Also, a little ways up on this same beach, I went scuba diving with these guys, which was very cool. Except that the sand on the way down the beach was blazing hot to the point that I thought I was going to blister. Marie’s feet were even sore from it hours later (mine were not, which I was both surprised and happy about). ALSO, this beach had some really steep, multi-flight, cement stairs you had to go down to get to it, and they were under construction, i.e., a death trap. There were no railings, only 25 ft drop offs to your doom. Luckily, we all lived.

I didn't take any scuba diving pictures, but if I had they'd probably look something like this.

Also Sosua was a refuge for Jews during the Holocaust. They had a very cool museum about it that was unfortunately closed when we tried to go to it. But I was happy to know it existed. Here’s it’s website, if you’re curious.

Sex Hotel! May 26

Julia and Lucy outside the fancy wall around the Hotel Don Juan.

We accidentally stayed at a sex hotel. Don Juan was the city closest to the Batey Relief Alliance Clinic (BRA), in the region of Monte Plata, Batey Cinco Casas. It was like 4 kilometers or something. A very nice fellow from BRA drove us out to the Hotel Don Juan, and from the outside, it looked really nice.

Make yourself at home!

As we went in, it started to look sketchier and sketchier. Packages of lube were strewn about outside, and within each room, there were condoms on the towels. Also, the bed only had one sheet – no covering. And there was a mirror behind the bed, and to the side of the bed, and above the bed. Also there was a little snack-sized door right next to the bed. Ostensibly for room service, though I don’t know how you’d call room service.

Everything's funner when viewed from multiple angles!

Also, the bathroom didn’ t have a door. Oh, and the air conditioner made horrible sounds during the night and leaked.

Lovely view of Don Juan.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. We went back to town and ate lunch in a room off some lady’s house. The view was quite lovely, and the food (rice and soupy meat) was really delicious.

Then we went to the city of Monte Plata and found a nicer place to move to the next day. Then we came back to Don Juan. Our cook had shut down, so we bought bananas and crackers at some convenience stores, went back to the hotel – where there was no electricity, ate a romantic dinner by the light of head lamps, and turned in at 7:30. We hoped to sleep this place away as quickly as possible.

Room service, anyone?

Gourmet dinner by headlamp.

Oh, we also were not willing to sleep on the bed. Ugh, that horrible, nasty bed. We sanitized spots on the floor and couch and slept there. Probably not much better, but at least they gave us a psychological edge. So many voices during the night, so much water leaking out of the air conditioner during the night. We all woke up around 11:30 and were so, so upset to find we still had more than 7 hours before the first gua gua (bus) would pass by to take us to Monte Plata. But, finally, the night passed, and we said farewell to the the Hotel Don Juan forever.