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Tag Archives | Sri Lanka

a decade of caleb

This face of joy is Caleb, at one, at Barnegat Light on Long Beach Island.  He’d learned to walk at nine months, which meant that despite having a brain about the size of a walnut and a diaper the size of a basketball, he would climb up stairs, stagger along the curb, or waddle straight into the surf, utterly without fear.

This August, we spent our tenth summer on LBI and it’s Caleb’s favorite beach (which, given that he’s now spent time on beaches in the Maldives and Sri Lanka, is quite a compliment).  Our first summer on LBI, I was hugely, gigantically pregnant and wearing a maternity bathing suit that was so hideous it can be only excused by pregnantbrain. Why else would a woman in her last weeks of pregnancy purchase and wear a shiny teal maternity tankini? On the upside, I suppose I was responsible for any number of teen-age girls not getting pregnant  that summer. They took one look at my spherical teal body and told their boyfriends to back the hell off

But Caleb. My sweet, fearless Caleb, who still plunges into the ocean with the grace and abandon of a seal, he’s ten. He’s learning Arabic and computer coding and the trumpet; he wants to be an author, or maybe a spy, or maybe a mad scientist, perhaps a basketball player.  I think he might be headed for the stage, because the boy has never met a hat he doesn’t like:

calebinnurseryschoolnursery school graduation

calebindiaIndia – tiger safari (no tigers, just a hat)

calebsingaporeUniversal Studios Singapore: minion loot

This boy who loves hats and computers, who doesn’t read books so much as devour them, and who was as happy with his book about military history as he was about an envelope containing 300 dirhams (about 80 bucks, and okay, he was a bit more excited by the cash), doesn’t yet realize the strength of his own gifts.  He measures himself against his older brother, not willing to concede the difference that almost four years makes.  I think that might be why Caleb learned to walk so young: he wanted to keep up.  Now, however, with the dawning of pre-adolescent self-consciousness, he sometimes doesn’t try to keep up because he’s sure that he’ll never catch his brother.  It’s a funny trick of growing up, isn’t it, the way the confidence of childhood evanesces just when we need it most?

Caleb is our current-events child; he reads the newspaper and tells us what’s happening in Gaza, in Syria, in Ferguson–and then asks the hard questions that we should all be asking and attempting to answer: how do these things happen, why do these things happen, why do people care about the color of other people’s skin or the way they worship?

We moved to Abu Dhabi on the eve of Caleb’s 7th birthday and the traveling we’ve done since we’ve been here means that he’s been to more countries by ten than I had by thirty-five.  His passport looks weather-beaten, as if he were a career foreign services officer–and who knows, perhaps that’s where he’s headed.  I can’t even begin to predict what he’s going to be when he grows up–perhaps the stage, or maybe he’ll go concoct strange potions in some jungle laboratory. Who knows.

All I know is that our lives for the past decade have been richer and more joyous for Caleb’s presence.  I can’t wait to see what’s next on the journey.



Continue Reading · on August 24, 2014 in Abu Dhabi, birth, Children, family, Kids, Parenting, Travel

how to return or, happy birthday michelle obama

You know how when you get an email or a phone message that you probably should return quickly, and then you don’t, and then the longer it goes the harder it feels to return the call? So that what would’ve been a quick little note or a short conversation starts to loom larger and larger, and then it feels like too big a task, so you put it off even longer and the task gets bigger, and maybe it keeps you awake at night because you know you should get to that unanswered message tomorrow, really you should but then you just…don’t. And it drags on until finally one day, for no good reason, you figure oh what the hell, and you return the message and the person on the other end is like “what? what message? Oh thaaat, yeah, I just wondered if you wanted to grab a coffee or something. Whatever.”

Oh. That doesn’t happen to you?

Well then you won’t understand this weird little “blogcation” that I’ve taken. I didn’t really mean to stop writing, I just stopped. Let’s call it a hiatus, shall we? And then the longer it went, the harder it felt to return.

And I know, your lives have been empty, positively desolate without me.

In the intervening month, we’ve been in New York: family, friends, really good pizza, many museums, theater.  Saw “The Goldfinch” painting that is at the basis of Donna Tartt’s ginormous book (which would’ve been a great 350-page novel but was unfortunately 800+); saw a great Magritte exhibition at MoMA as well as an exhibit about applied design that was fantastic (a wind-powered land-mine detector made of biodegradable materials); went to the Met for Balthus and other paintings, as well as a reunion for the boys with their beloved “Arms and Armor” wing.

Then Sri Lanka for New Year’s to recover from all that urban culture:


In Sri Lanka, there were fresh coconuts, harvested by this guy:IMG_7773

And then the coconuts were turned into charming beverages: IMG_7765

fresh coconut milk, from the coco-mouse, on the left, and a pina colada on the right. Two kinds of coconut fabulousness

Sri Lanka helped me come to terms with my impending millstone milestone: I turn fifty in forty-eight hours. Michelle Obama, my BFF (well, we would be, I’m sure,  if only we’d ever, you know, met), turned fifty already and she makes it look good, so I am comforted by that fact, despite my lack of defined upper arms and political clout. I suppose my AARP card is wending its way from my NYC postbox to my Abu Dhabi mailroom even as we speak. Maybe Michelle and I can get together at a “newbie AARP mixer” or something like that.

There is already much on the docket for 2014 – a book project, another writing project, telling myself that fifty is the new forty, mulling the wonder of Benedict Cumberbatch’s cheekbones.  For the first time in almost thirteen years (which, coincidentally is the same age as my oldest child) I am not teaching this semester, which leaves me with lots of time to read Tom and Lorenzo binge-watch Orange Is the New Black work on my writing projects.  True to form, I am already berating myself for not getting anything done with this mini-sabbatical. I wonder if Michelle O does that? Hmm.

What I have done, however, is slowly begin to remove areas of productive procrastination – you know, those things you do to avoid what you should be doing, which in my case is writing. And yes, in fact, I have already re-arranged the linen closet, complete with using my beloved label-maker to identify which sheets get piled where. I also turned the storage room from this:


into this: IMG_7814and you will want a close-up of this bag, which I got in 2008 at Economy Candy, the best candy shop in NYC.  I love this bag and frankly, I think Michelle would love it too. I’m telling you, we would totes be besties.


So. The blogcation is over, the new year has begun, and a bonne annee to you all.


Written on the sand in Sri Lanka on New Year’s Eve



Continue Reading · on January 18, 2014 in Abu Dhabi, aging, Books, growing up, The National, Travel

in which I am humiliated by a fiberglass plank

I have good balance. I can do standing balance poses in yoga (the mildly twisty ones, not the super-twisty ones); I have mastered the rudiments of stand-up paddle-boarding; I’ve even done some yoga moves on a paddle-board.

So I figured that learning to surf would be easy. Liam and Caleb did it in one lesson, in Weligama Bay, where the waves break evenly along a broad expanse of beach. The Sri Lankan teen-agers who were teaching them simply pushed the boards out to where the waves broke, aimed the board in the right direction and gave it a shove, saying “paddle, paddle, paddle.”  The boys paddled, they wobbled, they stood, they hung ten.

And suddenly they were surfin’ safari dudes who couldn’t wait to do it again.


Watching the boys, I says to myself, I says “self, you’ve got balance, and you’ve got an Athleta bathing suit–what more does a gal need?”

The next day we got a tuk-tuk to bring us back to the bay and I rented myself a board. I paddled out into those nice gentle waves ignoring the twinges of pain in what’s become a Middle Aged Shoulder, I watched the boys and the other beginning surfers, I got myself lined up, I paddled, I wobbled, I…

…went face first into the ocean.

That board kicked my ass.

Who knew there were so many ways to face-plant into a wave? Even with the help of the surf teacher, who tugged me into the right alignment on the wave, the same thing happened again and again: the board would dart forward on the energy of the wave, I would start to stand, and…


Again and again and again, as my kids whizzed by doing that bouncing thing with their front leg to make the board go faster, and clamoring to go out to the big waves.

I was not an Athleta gal shredding across the wave’s curl. I was that Athleta gal’s middle-aged mom with a bad sunburn and a borrowed rash guard t-shirt belly flopping off a tongue-shaped piece of fiberglass.

Athleta, summer catalog 2007, Sayulita,Mexico, surfer Julie Coxthis is not me

But you know, mom’s got some pride, and I didn’t want to hurl the board onto the sand and stomp off down the beach.  Especially because it was only about nine in the morning, too early to drown my sorrows in a festive tropical drink.

One more, one more, one more…flop, flop, flop.

Then on what I told myself would be the absolute last time, I stood up! Flying, gloriously, for probably an entire 2.5 seconds, before again eating the wave.

It was enough, that tiny ride. We’re planning a return trip to Sri Lanka and before we go, I’m going to tend to the Middle Aged Shoulder, find some muscles somewhere (maybe on the internet? you can get everything on the internet, can’t you?), study the pictures in the Athleta catalog in order to find the bathing suit that comes with mad surfing skillz.

Besides, by the time we go back to Sri Lanka, I might finally have gotten all the seawater out of my lungs—and how better to go into my next decade than on a surf board?


Continue Reading · on April 8, 2013 in exercise, Kids, me my own personal self, sports, Travel, yoga

Mirissa Whale Watch II: now I know how Ishmael felt

Our second morning of whale-watching started as smoothly as whale-watch number one: we puttered out of the harbor around 7AM on beautiful morning, waving at the fishing boats cutting gracefully through gentle swells on their return from a pre-dawn expedition.


The crew passed around small plates of fresh fruit for breakfast, and all seemed well with the world.  One of the crew explained that yesterday, whales had been sighted relatively close to shore, but that today, the whales had returned to their more typical path further out, “grazing” in the deep ocean trenches.  There may have been some smug smiling among our family when we realized that we had seen this close-to-shore whale, while the other people on our boat anxiously scanned the horizon, wondering if today would be their lucky day.

Out into the deep waters we went; Mirissa’s cliffs dwindled to a thin line and then vanished altogether and it was just us, plowing through what the crew said were calm seas.  Calm rolling seas. Up and down we went, over swells that probably weren’t very big but weren’t very small, either.  Up and down, up and down, up and down. And then sometimes just for fun, a little side-to-side action when we’d shift direction in search of Moby Dick whales.

Plus? It was hot. Really, really hot. No breeze whatsoever and I had my eight-year-old sprawled across my lap, complaining that he felt “weird.” I popped half a dramamine in his mouth (I am nothing if not prepared), and then gave the other half to Liam, who had ignored our suggestion that perhaps he shouldn’t crouch on the deck reading (the final book in the “Mortal Instruments” series, apparently un-put-down-able) if he wanted to avoid being seasick.

“I am not seasick,” he insisted. “I just feel…weird.”

Apparently others on the boat were also feeling “weird:” I saw three or four people resting their heads on the boat railings, and a woman sitting near us got up with alarming frequency to hang her head off the side of the boat and vomit.  Lovely.

On and on we went, up and down, up and down.  The world looked like this (for full effect, wave your computer screen around as you look):


Do you see anything? Yeah. Me neither.  The waves, which only a few hours ago had seemed so picturesque now seemed diabolical.  And the slice of fresh mango I’d been served for breakfast was suddenly imitating the movements of the waves.

I tried, people, I tried. I kept my head up, looked out at the horizon, took deep breaths, but I had Caleb moaning in one ear and Liam moaning in the other, and that damn mango would not sit still.  I shoved the children off my lap and heaved myself to the little bathroom at the back of the boat just as the mango made a precipitous exit.

Post-mango, I felt much better, but my children and a handful of other passengers–judging from their pallid skin and hanging heads–were still feeling weird. We’d been on the boat now for about three hours and all we’d seen were a few dolphins, far in the distance.  It was ten o’clock, ten-thirty, eleven o’clock and nothing. Nothing, that is, but sunshine glittering up at us from the water and beating down on the deck.  Most of us huddled under the canvas shade stretched across the deck, which meant we were all squashed together, the last thing on earth (or sea) you want when you’re wrestling with mal de mer.

And mal is what that mer was, let me tell you.  I imagined all the blue whales of the world gathered in some thousand-meter canyon, laughing at our vain attempts to find them.

We’d occasionally veer more quickly in one direction or the other and everyone would perk up–maybe a whale-spout had been sighted….but then, nothing.

So we turned back. Five hours on the water and nothing.  But when we headed back for land, the breeze picked up, the boat stopped rolling, and the mood on board lightened considerably.  Even the Frenchwoman who’d spent the better part of the morning with her head hanging off the side managed a smile.

A little while later, Husband poked me. “We’re going back out,” he whispered. And sure enough: the shore line was behind us again, the boat was rolling again, the breeze had died down.


Yes. The guide explained that the fishermen had reported seeing a blue whale “in that direction,” (waving vaguely at the endless ocean) and so we were off again.  “We want you be satisfied,” he said, “so we will find the whale.”


But the only way I was getting off the damn boat was to swim, and given how far we were from land, that wasn’t an option. Plus I’m afraid of sharks.

On we went, heaving through the waves, which had picked up a bit in what was now the afternoon breeze.  The crew handed ’round a snack: one cream cracker and one gingersnap. Well, two gingersnaps.  Bon appetit, eh?

We went lurching in one direction and then another.  No whales. The whales had sensibly all gone out for lunch, which is what we should be doing. Or they were napping. Or they were half-way to freaking China.

The ocean offered us a consolation prize:


 But no goddamn whales.  We’d now been on the boat for seven hours. Several of us had vomited at least once, others more frequently.


On we went.  For a little while, a few other whale-watching boats stuck with us, but one by one, they came to their senses and went back to Mirissa, whale-less. But not us, oh no, we had the dedicated crew; we had the persistent crew.

And then–miraculously–came the call: “there she blows.” And indeed, there she blew. A whale. An actual freaking whale:


Yep. After seven and a half hours on the boat, we saw a whale. Or maybe just a big honking rock. Who knows.

Apparently this whale had her calf swimming alongside her, but I never saw it –the other passengers, frantic in their desire to see a whale, crowded to the side of the boat and blocked my view. Thus you get only this picture of a whale-rock and not some magnificent National Geographic-worthy shot of cetacean maternity.

And while yes, magnificent ocean creature and wow nature is amazing and blahbittyblah, you know what mattered most when we saw this whale (and her ostensible calf)?



Continue Reading · on April 5, 2013 in environment, Kids, Travel, Uncategorized

Mirissa Whale Watch I: Tail Up!

We just got back from a family trip (different from a vacation, remember that) in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is one of those places that I’d never really thought about before, other than knowing it used to be called Ceylon, and is the little earring that hangs off the southern tip of India.

I had been casting about for a spring break trip–we didn’t have a lot of time, we didn’t want to spend a lot of money, and we needed to please all the constituencies (see above on “family trip”)–and Sri Lanka fit the bill perfectly.  Off we went, on a flight that left two hours late, with one child exhausted from two nights performing in his four-hour long school play, and the other child with strep throat and a system full of antibiotics.  We were accompanied on this flight by a chorus of infants doing a roundelay of misery pretty much from the moment they entered the airplane until the moment they disembarked.

All woes were forgotten (mostly) when we reached Mirissa, a tiny surfing town on the southern tip of Sri Lanka:


Here’s why I chose Mirissa:


My children still haven’t recovered from the Bataan Death March through Paris museums two summers ago, so a culture-vulture trip wasn’t going to work–but I wanted more than just sitting on the beach. Thus: whales. One of the major migratory routes for blue whales, sperm whales, and all manner of other fishy mammals, goes along the Sri Lankan coast, and although the end of March is near the conclusion of the migration season, we’d probably still be able to see at least Something Big.

Whale watch day one went like clockwork.  Up at dawn, onto the boat, sunscreen applied, and out into the blue waters of the Indian Ocean. Caleb regaled me with whale facts: a blue whale’s heart is the size of a small Volkswagen, a whale’s tongue can weigh almost two tons.  We spent a few minutes wondering about a two-ton tongue and then: dolphins off the port bow!

Ooh, and ahh, and aren’t the dolphins cute, but where are the whales?

As if in response, gleaming endlessly out of the water, a dark blue back, with a ridiculously tiny dorsal fin:


I looked out at this creature and realized why old seafaring maps are decorated with pictures of sea monsters; I also gained a much deeper appreciation for what it meant to be a whaling ship in the 19th century: scanning the ocean for a whale is the aquatic version of looking for a needle in a haystack, even if the needle does weigh upwards of 100 tons.

But fate and cetacean were willing, so day one of whale-watching was a big success: dolphins, flying fish, and a blue whale who dove and surfaced with regal disregard for the cluster of whale-watching boats bobbing the requisite 100 meters away.  At each dive, the guides on the boat called out “tail up! tail up! tail up!” so that we camera-laden tourists could get the money shot:


We were on the water from about 7AM to 11AM and as we put-putted back to the harbor, we applauded ourselves for having the foresight to make a second whale-watching reservation the next day.  If we saw a whale on this outing, then of course we’d see more whales the next day. Right? I mean, what could go wrong with that plan?


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Continue Reading · on April 5, 2013 in environment, expat, family, Kids, Travel

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