Thursday, August 3, 2017

Six memorable summer moments I didn't blog about

This is the opposite of a rough summer.
It's been a rough summer for me. Recouping from my surgery is harder than I thought, then (and I haven't told you this yet) I had a coughing fit about 10 days after the surgery, and fractured a vertebrae in my lumbar spine.

A post about that is forthcoming, but the point is...rough summer.

But I always manage to laugh stuff off best I can, because what else are you gonna do?

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

I Almost Rescued a Bird

Go away, crazy lady.
When I last left you, I had fishing line sticking out of my neck and a $109,000 surgery bill. Well, not really a bill because insurance....but still.

You'll be happy (or maybe just grossed out) to know that after tugging on the fishing line a little bit each day over the course of a few days, the thread finally just slipped out. The thing was about two inches long.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Surgery is Expensive. Also, I didn't Win the Lottery.

We didn't win the lottery. I say "we" because my brother, sister, myself, my mom and stepdad have an agreement that if any of us wins, we will all split the money.

So when my sister and I drove out to California to visit my mom this past weekend, we bought tickets.

And now, here I lay in my bed with my little laptop tray, surrounded by sleeping dogs in my mess of a bedroom, checking lottery ticket numbers. In my pajamas.

Friday, June 16, 2017

What They Don't Tell You When You Have Surgery: A Post-Op Post

I had neck surgery about two weeks ago.

The whole business of surgery is unsettling. You don't really know what goes on in that operating room when you're passed out from anesthesia.

Despite my trepidation though, I knew it was time to have surgery. I had a couple discs in my neck that had been causing me problems for a few years and it finally got bad enough that I felt like I didn't have much choice.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Three Things I Never Thought I'd Have to Do as a Parent

Being a parent is hard. Even if you go into it, expecting it to be hard... it's harder than you ever imagined.

Oh sure, there's joys and rewards and in the end, you wouldn't trade it for anything, blah, blah, blah.

But there are some things you end up doing, as a parent, that you never, ever, EVER, thought you would have to do.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Just Another Weekend Full of Epiphanies, Chores, Peppercorns and Coneheads

Well, it's another red-letter weekend over here at Laidoffsville.

The Big Garage Clean-up

On Saturday I decided to organize the left side of our garage because it's been a big jumbled mess for a few months now and I finally got tired of it. When Fred saw what I was doing he asked what the trigger was. He hates when I start a project like that because he knows he's going to get sucked into it somehow. And of course, he would, because there's a box full of stuff he unloaded from his car before we sold it (last summer) that I've been bugging him to sort through. Did I mention since last summer?

But the box wasn't the trigger. I told him the mess was just bugging me and I wanted to get it done. He knows me though. He asked me again what triggered me to suddenly decide this was the day I was going to clean the garage when I hadn't even mentioned it the day before.

He was right. There was a trigger. I was feeling like a complete failure because the day before, I had planned to earn a little money doing some freelance blog post writing. Only I couldn't write. Wasn't feeling it. At all.

So I binge watched The Blacklist instead and then hated myself for it because where is my self-motivation? Then that whole thought process led me to the conclusion that maybe I lack the discipline to be self-employed and work from home and I should just look for another job.

So I got on Craigslist. Hey potential employer, how about you just suck my soul out through my left eye socket for that $10 an hour you're willing to pay?

This is what having your soul sucked out looks like.

So then I went back to the writing site and tried it again (because if I'm going to work for peanuts, it may as well be work I enjoy and don't have to shower and get dressed for), and still wasn't feeling it. Then I had an epiphany. And let's see how many sentences I can begin with "so" and "then". Jeez.

My epiphany was this: I'm good at helping others be great, but not at being great myself.

I'm motivated and proactive and all organization and efficiency for an employer, but when the employer is me... I'm pretty much a slacker. How does one fire oneself?

So (the answer is one. One more.) with that, I drank a bottle of wine, had some pizza and called it a night.

Then came Saturday morning (okay, two). I awoke with the innate and overwhelming need to accomplish something. To be great at something. I needed some gratification, dammit.

That was my trigger. After explaining all of this to Fred, he gave me that "what is WRONG with you, woman" look that I'm all too familiar with, and went back to bed.

What is WRONG with you, woman??

The garage turned out pretty good. What we really needed was a yard sale, but that wasn't happening right away, so the best I could do was rearrange, throw out, and donate some stuff. The point is... I felt like I accomplished something and that made me feel better about my employability, self or otherwise.

Not terribly dramatic, but what do you expect from a slacker?

I could end this post here, but I need to tell you about the peppercorns and Coneheads. Because red-letter.

The Peppercorn Incident

Fred and I went to Winco on Sunday. If you don't know about Winco, it's a grocery store with low prices, great produce, and my favorite - the bin section.

They have an area where they sell all sorts of things out of bins. You scoop out how much you want, put it in a bag, write the code number for the item on the twist tie, and they weigh it and ring it up at check-out. I don't buy everything from the bins, but certain things, like specialty flours, spices, and nuts, are really inexpensive.

Fred hates the bin section. He says the time it takes to scoop and bag is "Twenty minutes of my life that I can't get back."

Nevertheless, I needed peppercorns so we headed to the bins. I had to explain to Fred what peppercorns are and how I put them in my pepper grinder and of course he had to ask, "Wouldn't it be easier to just buy a container of ground pepper?"

He just didn't get it. So while I made him help me scoop, label, and twist tie my little bag of peppercorns, I educated him all about how much cheaper peppercorns were this way and how much better fresh ground pepper is and yada, yada, yada, we finished and went through check-out.

My damn peppercorns were $9.96.

I looked at the receipt and they were over $15 a pound! I went straight to the customer service desk and had them double-check it. Yup, that was the price.

I returned the peppercorns.

Fred gloated all the way home.

The Coneheads

We have a nickname for one of our neighbors that lives up the street. They have young kids and apparently feel that placing a couple cones in the middle of the street means their kids can ride their tricycles and Barbie cars in the middle of the road, with no parental supervision, and be adequately protected from getting hit by a car.

Oh, and to add to the fun, they park their big-ass toy hauler in front of their house and allow their kids to dart out into the street from behind it. Because, you know, the cones are there. 

All of this goes on while one parent is either busy doing something inside the toy hauler, or not visible at all, anywhere outside.

A few months ago Fred was driving home one afternoon, going very slowly because he saw the cones, and one of the kids shot out from behind the toy hauler in her Barbie car, right in front of him. Fortunately, Fred was going slow enough that he was able to stop in time. The dad then came running out towards Fred's car, and started yelling at him to be more careful! Fred suggested that, gee, maybe they should supervise their kids. 

Despite having that near-miss (and others, I'm sure), they continue to let their kids play in the street. On our way home from the grocery store, sure enough, there was the toy hauler, the cones, and various little kids on little vehicles, including Barbie Knievel.

It was a welcome distraction from Fred's peppercorn gloating, but still... the Coneheads are a source of annoyance. They definitely aren't on our Christmas Cracker list.

So that was my weekend. How was yours?

Your Barely Employable Slacker,

Thursday, April 27, 2017

How a Pedicure Confirmed My Bitchy Resting Face

I love getting pedicures. Nothing makes a girl feel more girly than smooth heels and painted toes.

"Oh yeah, pink's ma' color." (source)

Last year after we moved, I felt like a needed a mini spa-break, so I tried a new nail salon right by our house. I had a lovely nail technician we'll call Sebastian.

Sebastian was quite the salesman. It started immediately when I sat down in the comfy massage chair and he handed me a card listing about 90 different kinds of pedicures. They ranged from the budget- friendly "we file your daggers and clean your toe gunk" to the more indulgent "we exfoliate, decrystallize, and massage until your legs are butta' ".

I really just wanted a simple pedicure, but Sebastian said I could really use a good foot sloughing, so I picked a treatment somewhere in the middle. Come to find out, he was quite direct about what his customers needed.

Sebastian is the king of the upsell

I settled in as my foot pampering began. We started to chit chat a little and he began asking questions about my skincare regime.

Uh-oh. I could feel another sales pitch coming on.

Sebastian: When was last time you had facial? (Don't lie - from the size of your pores, it's been a while.)
Me: I don't remember. (Hmmm, do I NEED a facial?)
Sebastian: We have special on facial and pedicure. You get discount. (Note to self: add newly invented special to the treatment list card.)
Me: I don't...

At the first sound of a protest from me, Sebastian jumped up from his little stool, came over and stood by me, and began peering closely at my face. I was a little uncomfortable at first, but then again...the man was cleaning my toe jam, so I suppose we were looking at personal space boundaries in the rear-view mirror.

Sebastian: Awww, yeahhhh, your pores clogged. We use very good product. It lift all dirt and toxin out. Your skin glow! You won't believe difference! (Have you looked in mirror lately?)
Me: Maybe next time when I have more time...(Jeez, is my skin that bad???)
Sebastian: No extra time! I apply mask now and it sit while I do toes. Your skin glow! You will love! (Think I snagged her...)
Me: Okay, why not? (Would you just shut-up about my pores, please?)
Sebastian: (Suckaaaaa!)

So Sebastian washed my face and brushed on some product that he told me the name of but I can't remember. Then he put a paper mask over my face. I had my eyes closed while he was doing this and didn't realize that the mask had eye-holes cut out of it.

He returned to his stool and resumed working on my toes, while I sat there thinking I had a mask over my eyes. Finally, he said, "You can open your eyes if you want."

I reached up and touched my eyes. Oh. Eyeholes. I felt like a doofus.

I feel ya, dog.

While my skin was de-gunking and my toes were de-hobbitfying, Sebastian and I chatted. His father owned the salon, his siblings worked there too, he was married with three kids, he works a lot. Sebastian was a pretty nice guy and I was beginning to forgive him for his hard-sell tactics.

Soon, he finished my toes and peeled the mask off my face.

He began exclaiming and oohing and ahhhing as he slowly pulled the paper off, "Ohhhhh, look at all that! You had lot of dirt, loooottt of dirt!" (He dragged out the word "lot," excessively). "Ohhhhh, you won't of dirt!"

Lot of dirt. Got it. Thanks.

He showed me the paper mask.

It looked like something an archaeologist unearthed. The frown shaped mouth is evidence of my "bitchy resting face". You know - the natural state of one's face when one isn't smiling.

It's a thing. And it's now confirmed I have one.

It's Homobitchirestingfacapian. (Pronounced homo-bitchy-resting-face-apian)

Apparently, the condition of my pores was quite intriguing to Sebastian. He went on and on about how much dirt was stuck to the mask.

Did I mention the salon was crowded? Every seat was full. I was thrilled that a roomful of strangers were now intimately acquainted with my supposed lackluster skin cleansing habits. "Hey Sebastian, since my pore gunk is so fascinating, let's pass the mask around so everyone can see, like they do with the gifts at a baby shower," is what I thought to myself.

After he finished marvelling at the evidence of my filthy face, he handed the mask to me, "Here, you take home."

Yeah. No.

What was I supposed to do with it? Like I had just the spot for it up on my mantle, right next to my gallbladder in a jar.

"Thanks, I'm good," I said.

"Okay, I take picture for you," he said. And that's how the above picture came to be. Because I honestly would never have thought to take a picture of my pore gunk. So you have Sebastian to thank for that.

Before I left the salon, I looked in the mirror, certain that I must look hideous with my large pores and now, no makeup.

But, you know what? My skin looked fabulous! I mean, it really was glowing.

Son-of-a-gun. Sebastian knew what he was talking about, after all.

Despite his overexuberance about my pore dirt, and his relentless upselling techniques, I still go back to Sebastian. He gives a heck of a pedicure and I found his directness a little endearing.

Or maybe I'm just a masochist.


This post was brought to you by Mama Kat's Writer's Workshop prompt to write a post inspired by the word "break". As in "spa-break". It's a stretch, I know.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

How to Walk Four Dogs in 33 Easy Steps

I've taken to watching an episode or two of The Dog Whisperer on Saturday mornings. Because, you know, we have four and they don't respond all that well to our commands - whispered or otherwise.

How to walk your dog in 33 easy steps
She's a little tied up at the moment.

The problem is that we don't treat them like dogs. They're more like noisy, messy roommates.

Anyway, the other day I was taking two of my roomies out for a walk and I thought I'd try ole' Cesar's method of using body language to adjust their behavior. Specifically, pulling back on their leashes to keep them from gallumphing off ahead of me, like they always do.

It wasn't working very well, but it was really hard to try to train both dogs at the same time. I decided to scrap the plan for the moment and try it another time with them, one at a time.

And that's when I realized which of Mama Kat's writing prompts I would tackle this week. Write a post inspired by the word "incomplete".

Incomplete. That pretty much sums up our dog training regime.

To illustrate, below is a narration of one of our walk adventures. (You can read more adventures in dog walking here and here, by the way.) I posted it on my personal Facebook page a few months ago and since it fits, I'm reposting it here.

For those of you who read my personal blatherings and my blog blatherings - sorry for the rerun. But at least in this post, you get the benefit of a picture so you can see who each culprit is.

An example of our incomplete dog training (alternate title: How to Walk 4 Dogs in 33 Easy Steps):

Step 1: Gather the dog leashes and harnesses which are in a big tangled mess from the last time you walked the dogs.

Step 2: Untangle the mess while tripping over the dogs as they jump, spin, run, and bark around you, because they know they're going for a walk.

Step 3: Try to put the harness on dog 1 (who is offended by leashes and harnesses).

Step 4: Study the harness while turning it over in your hands for 5 minutes, trying to remember how the hell it goes on the dog.

Step 5: Go find dog 1 who has, by now, run and hid from the harness.

Step 6: Try again to put the harness on dog 1, who has decided to lay down.

Step 7: Realize the harness is too small.

Step 8: Take the harness off and adjust it.

Step 9: Go find dog 1 who has run and hid again.

Step 10: Repeat steps 6 - 9 twice more, then give up on dog 1 for now and decide to walk dog 1 and 4 together, after walking dogs 2 and 3.

Step 11: Put different harness and leash on dog 2, who is generally cooperative.

Step 12: Quickly grab dog 3, who is always excited to go on a walk but likes to play "catch me if you can" when it comes time to put his harness and leash on.

Step 13: Praise yourself because you bought him a new, easy harness and he's leashed and ready in a few seconds.

Step 14: Curse yourself because you still have to get your shoes and jacket on, find your keys and phone, and grab some poop bags, all while holding the leash of dog 3 because as soon as you let go, he'll want to play "catch me if you can" again.

Step 15: Finally ready, try to get out the door with dogs 2 and 3 (who keep walking back and forth in front of you and tangling up their leashes), while explaining to dog 4 that she has to stay behind and wait her turn.

Step 16: Regain your balance as dogs 2 and 3 struggle to be the first out the door.

Step 17: Watch leashless dog 4 squeeze past you and run out the door to the end of the driveway. Make repeated, frenzied, and eventually menacing, commands for her to come back.

Step 18: Curse under your breath as she completely ignores you.

Step 19: Put dog 2 back in the house.

Step 20: Walk to the end of the driveway with dog 3 in tow, so you can grab dog 4 and put her back in the house.

Step 21: Watch dog 4 begin to run into the street.

Step 22: Begin to chase dog 4, yelling at her because a car is coming.

Step 23: Grab dog 4 and toss her back into the house, yelling at her to "stay", and call dog 2 to come outside (this may take a few minutes as dog 2 tries to figure out who the heck you want to "come" and who has to "stay").

Step 24: Walk around the block with dogs 2 and 3.

Step 25: Get almost home, then watch as dog 2 takes a large dump in your next door neighbor's front yard, getting dog poo all over the leash because (once again) it is tangled around her.

Step 26: Try to keep the dog poo part of the leash off dog 2 and yourself, keep a grip on the leash of dog 3, and scoop up the poop, all at the same time.

Step 27: Curse under your breath and pray your neighbor isn't watching out the window.

Step 28: Bring dogs 2 and 3 in the house.

Step 29: Wipe dog 2 down with doggie wipes, in case any poo got on her. Throw the dog poo bag in the outside trash, and wash the dog leash.

Step 30: Give up on walking dog 1 at all because by now, you're in no mood to struggle with the damn harness. Put the leash on dog 4.

Step 31: Curse as dog 4 runs around the coffee table leg twice and you have to untangle her.

Step 32: Walk dog 4 to the corner and back.

Step 33: Throw all the leashes and harnesses back in the closet, in a big tangled mess.

I don't know what Cesar Millan would think if he came over for a visit. Between their walk behavior, entitled attitudes, and complete disregard for orders, our dogs could easily be the stars of The Dog Whisperer: What the Hell Happened Here?? edition.

Oh well. Add it to the list of things to work on.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

5 Tips for First Time Cruisers

In my last post, I mentioned we took a cruise and had a little misadventure in Puerto Vallarta.

This week, I thought I'd share a few of the highlights of our trip, in the form of general tips for any other first time cruisers out there. Because I don't mind getting laughed it.

I know you're thinking, "All right already with the damn cruise!" This is my last cruise post, I promise.

Docking at Puerto Vallarta

1.  Proofread any texts sent during the sail away party.

The sail away is a big deal. It's when you first pull away from the starting port and everyone is up on deck, all excited and happy (and 7 pounds lighter than when we dock a week later) at the thought of a responsibility-free week filled with food, fun, and adventure.

And booze. Don't forget the booze.

Aren't the anti-barf bands I'm wearing on my wrists sexy?

I was just starting on my second of the above pictured cocktail when the DJ started playing the song We Are Family by Sister Sledge. So of course I thought of my family back home and decided it was a good time to share my buzz joy with them and let them know how much fun it would be if we all went on a cruise together.

This is what I sent:

My auto-correct is a lot more fun than I am.

That was supposed to say, "It's making me miss you guys," and not imply I wanted to get naked and honk things.

So, my future cruisers, enjoy the sail away party, but... proofread.

2.  Be adventurous and try new foods and drinks.

A cruise is the perfect place to try new foods because there is so. much. food. And it's all free. So, when I saw Escargot on the menu in the dining room one night, I decided to try it.

I'm not sure if I would have been so intrepid if the little slitherers were still in their shells, but fortunately, these were de-shelled already.

Here's how that went:

Honestly? They tasted pretty good, but it's hard to forget the fact that they're snails. So, once was enough for me.

Then there is my husband, who's idea of "trying something new" is to dip his fries in ranch instead of catsup. Needless to say, he wouldn't try the snails.

But I have to give him props - he was a good sport in my endeavor to find an alcohol he might like.

In case I haven't mentioned it before - Fred's not a drinker. Not because he's on the wagon, but just because he's never found an alcohol he likes the taste of. So, because I wanted someone to commiserate with in my debauchery, it became my mission on the cruise to help him find a drink he liked.

Turns out, margaritas are probably his least favorite:

In the end, guess which drink he actually ordered two of?

That's it...come over to the drinking side, my pretty!

A strawberry daiquiri - probably the least manly drink there is. Go figure.

3.  Read the ship's newsletter so you don't miss important events.

There's all sorts of fun activities and shows happening throughout the day and evening on a cruise. They list them all in a daily newsletter and deliver it each night to your room so you can plan out the next day accordingly.

I liked to circle the must-dos, like this:

Don't judge me - drinks are generally $8 - $10 a pop.

4.  Don't feel pressure to engage in every activity.

Aside from Happy Hour, there are dances, games, competitions, classes, and loads of other things to do on a cruise. They try pretty hard to keep everyone entertained.

But sometimes you just want to chill out, and that's perfectly okay too. This was our favorite thing to do during the day:

Aren't we the exciting pair?

5.  Things may not go as planned, so roll with the punches.

Remember how our hike in Puerta Vallarta didn't go quite as planned? I'm happy to say that our next two port visits went much better, although they did have their own surprises.

Oh, Mazatlan, what do you have in store for us?

In Mazatlan we visited Stone Island where we decided to kayak.

FYI - the ocean isn't a good place to learn to kayak. Or maybe the two of us are just too uncoordinated to figure out how to use the paddles in sync, stay upright, and battle the waves all at the same time.

I was optimistic we could figure it out, but Fred had his doubts after he slipped getting into the kayak and then couldn't sit up and was flailing on his back like a panicked bug until the attendant righted him.

When the first wave hit us, we were supposed to paddle together and ride the wave out to sea - or a few feet from shore, at least.

Instead, we immediately flipped over.

Fred declared kayaking done.

So instead we rode a banana boat. Have you ever ridden a banana boat? It's a long raft shaped like a banana that you sit on (one in front of the other), with a handle to hold onto. Several people can ride at once. The raft is attached to a speedboat with a long rope and you're pulled through the water.

This worked well because there was absolutely nothing required of us, other than to hang on tight. And surprisingly, that, we managed.

In Cabo San Lucas we looked forward to a tour in a glass-bottom boat.

Let me just tell you that the advertisement used the word "glass-bottom" a bit loosely. Yes there was some glass and yes it was in the bottom of the boat. But it was more like a small glass window that, if it weren't being used as a storage box and were clean, we may have been able to see out of it - bottomed boat.

But no matter, because we had the option of having the tour guide drop us off at a little secluded beach to snorkel and swim for a couple hours so we did that instead of finishing out the tour. And that was heavenly.

That's our cruise ship in the distance. We figured if the tour guide didn't come back to get us, we could always swim for it.

My point is...even if excursions don't go exactly as planned, be open to alternatives and laugh about the negatives. Because, hey, a bad day on a cruise is still better than a good day at home. Well, unless it's the Titanic...or Norovirus...but you get my drift (no pun intended).

This post is a loose interpretation of Mama Kat's Writer's Workshop prompt to share a spring break memory. I figured the cruise was our little break and it was in the spring, so...

Hey, if the glass-bottom boat guys can do it, so can I!

There's a lot of stuff to learn about cruising. Here's 5 things we learned on our first cruise that might help somebody else (laugh).

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Sunglasses that Sunk Us and Other Lessons Learned in Mexico

We went on a cruise last week. Neither of us had ever been on one, so it was spectacularly exciting and we had a fabulous time, but as happens with all new adventures, we learned a few lessons.

The Ruby Princess cruise ship in Cabo San Lucas
The Ruby Princess

Actually, we learned many, many lessons, but this post is about what we learned while in our first stop on the cruise, Puerto Vallarta.

But first, a little background. For a month or so before the cruise, I researched what sights we might want to see in each port city (it was a 7 day cruise to Mexico). There are all sorts of excursions available - some through the cruise line and others through outside tour companies - that had activities ranging from snorkeling, to boat rides, to historical city tours.

For Puerto Vallarta, I found information on a 2 mile coastal hike that starts from a little town called Boca de Tomatlan, passes by two pristine, nearly deserted beaches, and ends at the popular beach, Las Animas. (If you're interested, there's lots of great details about it here).

A gorgeous beach view on the hike from Boca de Tomatlan to Las Animas beach
One of the views along the hike from Boca de Tomatlan to Las Animas

To me, a chance to burn some cruise calories, take in beautiful coastal views, frolic on a deserted beach, and enjoy authentic Mexican food, all sounded perfect. However, I'd have to convince Fred of its appeal. This is a man that names any hike I drag him on, a "death march."

One thing I had going for me was that, once we got to Las Animas beach, we wouldn't have to hike the two miles back. We could take a water taxi!

But one negative to the whole plan was that, to get to the starting point of the hike (the little town of Boca de Tomatlan), we would have to take two buses (a total of about 50 minutes travel time).

I wasn't certain of our success at navigating around the streets of Mexico with our extremely limited knowledge of the Spanish language. And by "limited knowledge" I mean Fred's grasp of the phrase "Las chichis grandes," which, when uttered on the streets of Mexico by a foreigner, may lead us to some interesting establishments...but probably wouldn't get us on the right bus.

Happily though, I didn't have to do too much convincing. Mr. Anti-Death March declared the whole plan an "adventure" and said, "If our daughter can manage to find her way around the jungles of Kauai, the streets of India, and the town of Phuket, Thailand, surely we can manage a bus ride and a hike in Mexico."

And with those words, my story begins.

Lesson #1: Don't pay $10 for sunglasses in Mexico.

Right after debarking at Puerto Vallarta, we stopped at the first kiosk we came to so that Fred could get a pair of sunglasses. In all my research about buying anything in Mexico, the advice was to haggle, haggle, haggle. But alas, I forgot, and we paid the first price quoted, which was $10 US dollars. Also, we probably should have sojourned a little further into the city to find a better starting price, to boot.

But, oh well, we thought. Nothing wrong with supporting the Mexican economy, right?

The sunglasses we shouldn't have spent $10 on in Mexico
The sunglasses that sunk us.

The bus ride part of our adventure was easier than we thought it would be.With the help of a few friendly tour salesmen that bombarded us at the port, we found our way to the first bus stop. Sure enough, the correct bus came along pretty quickly. We told the driver where we needed to get off, and he let us know when we got to the correct stop. Then we only had to say the name of our destination, "Boca de Tomatlan," and an amiable passerby pointed to the next bus stop.

Bus ride in Puerto Vallarta, on the way to Boca de Tomatlan
See the spray painted letters on the window? That's how you see if you're on the right bus. Also, there was a huge windshield crack on the driver's side, but you can't see it real well in the picture.

The second bus route was about 40 minutes long and took us all along the coast. It was a pretty drive, and passed by several resort hotels and sandy beaches. Soon we arrived at our small fishing town destination, Boca de Tomatlan.

Lesson #2: Be prepared to pay to use a public restroom in Mexico.

Of course, after our fairly long bus ride, and before beginning our trek, we had to pee. We bought a few snacks for the hike and the store owner directed us down a path toward the beach to use the restroom.

Just in case we missed the painted letters on the outside of the bathroom, there was a guy posted at the door to let us know 'tweren't free to pee. This was the case in Mazatlan as well, by the way.

Pay bathroom in Boca de Tomatlan
I love the look on Fred's face. He's like, "Really? As I'm coming out of the john?"

Sidenote: Apparently, according the the Urban Dictionary, there is a second meaning for the word "tweren't," which, although being a body part one might interact with when using the toilet, is not the intended meaning here. Just clarifying.

After finishing the restroom business (no pun intended), we made our way to the starting point of the hike.

It was an odd path that took us through people's front yards, basically. But I guess the locals were used to it because most of them ignored the gringos trekking right past their windows.

The two gringos

Vacation house in Boca de Tomatlan
One of the homes whose yard we passed through.

Boca de Tomatlan beach view from the hike
One of the amazing views on the hike.

At first, the path was right along the coast and we could see the azure water and hear the gentle waves below us. It was quite lovely and we were in high spirits (that sounded very Jane Austen-like, didn't it?). I couldn't wait to get to our destination beach and feel that cool water.

Here's a clip of Indiana Fred in high spirits.

And then the beach path began to climb upward.

Lesson #3: When it comes to hike descriptions online, the word "moderate" is very subjective.

I had done my research regarding this hike. At first I worried it might be too much for two osteoporotic, diabetic, old fatties like us. But I read personal accounts and Trip Advisor reviews and most of them described the difficulty level as "moderate," with some of the reviewers being in their 60's. 

Surely, we could handle it, I thought.

When the path began to climb up and away from the coast, it became stone steps. Lots and lots of upward climbing stone steps that went on...and on...and on. Our legs began to ache and we rested often, hoping the next bend would bring a flatter path, but it never seemed to end.

We ran across four locals hiking, who looked to be in their late teens or very early 20's and at least one in their group was having just as hard a time as us.

Fred told me later that he honestly thought he was going to need to be airlifted out of there.

Sweaty, tired, sore, and feeling foolishly overambitious for taking on this odyssey, we finally arrived at the first beach on our route. There were several local families already there, so it was a bit crowded. So much for my earlier dream of frolicking on a deserted beach.

We were not even halfway through our hike, exhausted, and pretty disheartened because we didn't know how we would make it to the second and third beach. 

Then we saw the most welcome sight of all...a water taxi! Fred and I took one look at each other and he took off running along the shore, waving his arms wildly, to flag it down.

So, I guess he did frolic on the beach...sort of.

The water taxi took us past the second beach and that one was deserted, and looked absolutely beautiful. Unfortunately, I have no pictures of that beach, the water taxi, Fred's headfirst dive into the water taxi, or anything else that happened after the kayak picture below. You'll soon see why.
After a five minute water taxi ride, we arrived at our final destination, Las Animas beach. I have to admit, it sure beat an hour-long hike.

Kayakers we passed as we hiked.

Lesson #4: Bring enough cash with you.

After getting off the water taxi, we could see several restaurants all along the beach. We headed for the one nearest the dock, with several outdoor tables right on the sand. We walked by an older couple sitting at one of the tables and said hello and it turns out they had done the hike too, only they actually hiked the whole thing and I have to say, didn't look near as wore out as us. (What is WRONG with us? Wait...don't answer that.)

I had to use the bathroom, and fortunately, since we were about to be paying customers, the bathroom didn't cost any money.

Let me tell get what you pay for in Mexico. The bathroom was disgusting. The only toilet that was not plugged, didn't have a seat on it and there was no way I was going to sit my tired behind on it. 

Ladies, have you ever tried squatting to pee, after a strenuous hike? It goes something like this:

  1. Squat
  2. Pee till your legs begin to shake
  3. Stand up and rest 
  4. Repeat
It took me like, 15 minutes to pee.

But I'm getting off track. I was talking about enough cash.

You see, we weren't planning on buying souvenirs in Mexico. We didn't need anything, and any trinket we bought would probably end up in a yard sale a couple years down the road anyway. To me, memories and pictures were enough.

So when we were figuring out how much money to take with us to spend in Puerto Vallarta, we tallied up bus fare, one water taxi ride, lunch on the beach, a little extra for a cushion...about $70 US dollars seemed like enough.

We ordered lunch, then counted how much cash we had left, after the sunglasses, bus fare, snacks, and water taxi. We had $37 left.

Lesson #5: Understand the conversion rate and/or ask for the prices in US dollars.

$37! That was less than we expected, so we double checked the cost of what we had ordered (the menu was in pesos) and figured our lunch would come to about $27 US dollars. A bit overpriced for an order of beef fajitas, some ceviche, a Corona, and a Coke, but okay.

That would leave us just enough for a water taxi back to Boca and the two bus rides to get back to the port. We stressed a little, but after refiguring the pesos to dollars conversion (which we thought we had a grasp on) figured we would be okay.

Then the bill came. It was in pesos and since our money was tight and we couldn't afford accidentally over paying (the tip was included in the bill), we asked what the amount was in US dollars. The waiter had to check with the manager.

The bill was $37. Everything we had left.

This was Fred when he realized we may have to beg for money in Mexico. (Source: Giphy)

Talk about stressed! Granted, not having enough money to get back to your cruise ship is definitely a First World problem, but when it happens in a Third World country, it's a BIG problem, nonetheless. I thought we were going to have to literally beg for money from strangers. In Mexico. Now there's a twist for you.

After Fred choked on his overpriced Coke, he talked to the manager to see if he would take $27 and let us make our way back to the cruise ship, get more cash from our room, and return with the remainder. The manager was actually very gracious and kind and said that was no problem and we could do that. And we would have... but we didn't have to.

Which brings me to the last lesson in my story.

Lesson #6:  There are kind and sympathetic people in the world and not everyone is out to scam you.

The nice couple that we met at the table next to ours evidently heard our whole sorry story. The man came over to us, handed Fred $20, and said, "Here. Pay it forward."

They were not passengers on our cruise ship, so there was no way we could immediately pay them back. We asked for their address so we could send them the money when we got home, but they refused (gee...can't imagine why they didn't want to give two needy, poor-planning, overspenders their address).

We thanked them profusely, of course! They saved us from begging on the beaches of Mexico, AND from having to take a water taxi, two buses, a regular taxi, and another water taxi, to bring the shortfall of money all the way back to the restaurant.

Later I wondered, if they had not overheard our plight, and we actually did have to ask them (or anyone else) for money, what would we say? And would they have even given us money, not knowing if we were telling the truth?

I guess the bigger question I was asking myself is...would I have given money to someone with a crazy, hard luck story like ours?

The truth is...I have given money to strangers with a story, but usually with the assumption that the story was just a ruse to get money. But now...having been in the shoes of a person in a scary situation who needs money...I understand that not all hard luck stories are scams. 

Either way, there's nothing wrong with having a little "pay it forward" in the bank, so to speak. You never know when you might find yourself in a situation where you're at the receiving end of it.

So...between the grueling hike and our chagrin at the restaurant, we decided we really couldn't be trusted in Mexico and we had better head straight back to the safety of the cruise ship.

Somewhere in there was a happy hour drink special I really needed to get to.

A water taxi and two buses later, we made it to the ship, having never stepped foot in the ocean water that enticed us on the hike. 

We headed straight for the ship's swimming pool.

One of FOUR pools on the ship.

Oh, and it was later that night that we realized, had we not spent $10 on the sunglasses, we would have had enough money. The sunglasses had sunk us.

By the way, those sunglasses broke the next day, in Mazatlan.

This post was brought to you courtesy of Mama Kat's Writer's Workshop and her prompt to write about something learned in March.

Also...if you like this post, please help someone else avert disaster by sharing!

Six very important things you need to know before going to Mexico!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Take a Bite of the Cheesecake

My husband is a friendly guy.

My husband is like Forest Gump. He's a friendly guy.

He's friendly to just about everyone, strangers or not. He actually goes out of his way to be friendly.

In grocery store lines, he's the guy that looks for opportunities to make people laugh, and most of the time, he's successful. Except for one time when he was standing behind two big Samoan guys who were carrying gallons of milk.

Fred said, "Nice jugs!"

The Samoans were all:

They just stared at him. Maybe they thought he was actually talking about their pecks and assumed he was trying to pick them up (in the biblical sense). I'm not sure.

But that was a rare exception.

Most of the time he gets the whole check-out line, including the cashier, cracking up at his witty remarks. But his friendliness doesn't end at grocery store lines.

Last weekend we went out to The Cheesecake Factory for dinner. Shortly after we ordered, the waitress seated a woman and her pre-teen daughter at a table adjacent to ours. While Fred and I waited for our order, we could hear that the woman and girl were speaking to one another in German. Every once in a while they would glance over at us and smile and we'd smile back (as one does in such situations).

At one point, the woman asked us the meaning of something on the menu and Fred explained. More friendly smiles ensued - nothing out of the range of normal friendliness.

Then our dessert came.

Salted Caramel Cheesecake.

Salted Caramel Cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory
Courtesy of The Cheesecake Factory
And boy, did that get the attention of our German neighbors! We could hear them ooh-ing and aah-ing over it as the waitress put it on our table. So much so that Fred leaned over to me and whispered, "Should we offer them a bite?"

Now mind you...I'm dieting. And that day, knowing we were going to The Cheesecake Factory for dinner, and knowing I was fo' sho' going to order cheesecake to split with Fred, I had starved all day and saved my calories for this dessert. Not that I looked online at their menu and pre-decided what I was having or anything. Because that would be obsessive.

So my first reaction to Fred's suggestion that we share my coveted dessert, was this:

Well, maybe not that bad.

But truth be told, I told Fred no, he shouldn't offer them any. Not because of pure selfishness or gluttony, but because of how I knew I would respond if the situation were reversed. If I were offered a bite of cheesecake from a stranger in a restaurant, I would decline out of politeness. Even if I really wanted a taste, I wouldn't. That's just my courteously deferential-edness.

My friendly husband did not share my reticence. He offered the two cheesecake interlopers diners a bite and they said, "Oh hell yeah," (internally) and they took him up on his offer. 

I could tell they did not regret it for a second. I could tell it was a delicious cheesecake party in their mouth, and it made me happy that we could offer them that small unexpected bit of happiness. Then I took a bite of it and it tasted every bit as good as the look on their faces implied. We all shared a moment.

That simple little gesture from Fred got us all talking. Turns out, they were from Germany and vacationing here in Vegas. They asked where a grocery store was, and we told them. Then we got on the topic of dogs (as we often do) and chatted about that too, for a minute.

Shortly after, we all wished each other well, and Fred and I left. 

I don't know if they had been to the U.S. before, or to Vegas before, or what their travelling experiences had been like until then. But I hope they look back on their 2017 Vegas vacation and smile at the memory of the friendly guy and his greedy wife who shared their cheesecake and some smiles.

There are two points to my little story. One is: Take a bite of the cheesecake!

People like sharing happiness (even if one of the sharers is a sugar-starved dieter). So when someone offers me a bite of something, instead of politely declining, I'm following the example of our new German friends and I'm taking a bite. I'm going to accept that little offering of happiness and make the offerer happy in return...for the most part (see disclaimer below).

The other point is: Offer a bite of the cheesecake!

Even a friendly little gesture can make a difference in someone's day. Whether it's a bite, a witty comment, a smile, or help getting something down from a shelf (a thing my husband often does in the grocery store because he's tall), offer it up and spread a little happiness.

Disclaimer: Upon further thought, you might want to use discretion before accepting random food (or drinks!) from strangers. In this particular instance, the dessert had just arrived, everyone used their own fork, and no one double dipped. More importantly, I was with my husband and pretty certain the two girls hadn't sprinkled a date rape drug on my cheesecake. So...use much discretion when considering this advice!  

Anyhoo...I guess my story actually has three points. The third being that I have a very friendly husband who likes to make people smile. He makes the world a little happier and I'm lucky to know him. I learn from him every day. But don't tell him I said that.

This post was brought to you by Mama Kat's Writer's Workshop in response to her prompt: Write a post inspired by the word: friendly.


Thursday, February 23, 2017

Videos, Binging, and Unemployment. Now You're Caught Up.

I'm still here.

As per my MO, I'm back to blogging after a rather long hiatus. Wondering what I've been doing instead of blogging? This post title pretty much tells it. Well, not quite, but I'll fill you in later.

Anyhoo, what better way to get back in the grove than with a Mama Kat writing prompt?

So, here's my five favorite things right now:

1.  Videos on how to make doll stuff.

I had no idea there were so many of these on Youtube. There are entire channels with hundreds of videos on how to make itty bitty doll stuff. My favorite channel so far is My Froggy Stuff. It's a mother and daughter crafting team. They specialize in making doll rooms out of cardboard that fold up for easy storage, but they also make all kinds of random doll accessories. I don't know why, but their videos are just completely captivating to me. I guess I've always had a thing for miniatures.

Here's one of their videos on how to make a doll concession stand, complete with a little hot dog grill and bags of cotton candy!

Another fun miniature-making channel is Rainbow Tinkle's World. Here, she makes a little mini toaster and Pop Tarts:

The videos inspired me to make mini popcorn and drinks for my granddaughter, for when she wants to take her Barbies to the movies. I used tutorials from the two Youtube channels and made this:

I have to perfect the cardboard carrier a bit, but...cute, right? If you're wondering how I have time to watch miniature-making videos and do crafts, please see #3 below.

2.  The KODI app.

In an effort to cut expenses (again, see #3 below), we cut out the "expanded" cable package. What we now have is the "you may as well turn it off and read a book" package. 

My brother texted my husband one evening and asked what we were doing. My husband replied, "Channel flipping between The Love Boat and All In the Family." Yeah. That's how bad our cable package is. 

My brother must have felt sorry for us, because next thing we know, my brother and sister went in together and bought us a box that lets you stream just about any show or movie you want, using the Internet. It works similarly to a Roku or Chrome stick. The only thing is, it only works on our bedroom TV because our living room TV is 13 years old and doesn't have HDMI inputs. #FirstWorldProblems.

It's great when Fred and I want to watch something together, but I have some favorite shows that he has absolutely no interest in (Grey's Anatomy and Madam Secretary), and his preferred after work lounging spot is the bed. So that means ixnay on any good TV watching for me in the evening.

But (and the whole point of this story), my brother also pointed out that the same app that the box uses to stream shows, is also available for Android devices.

It's called KODI. You can download it to an Android phone or tablet (maybe computers too, I'm not sure), then add other apps within it (we use Exodus, but there are others), and stream just about any show or movie.

So now I can watch my favorite shows, commercial free and anytime I want, on my tablet - for free!

So, yay! And also...I should probably read more.

3.  Not working.

I was laid off from my job this past summer. It's the first time I haven't worked since 1990 and I have to say...I don't hate it. Now before you start getting all judgey, thinking all I do all day is #1 and #2 above, I need to tell you that I have been trying to make some money doing some online stuff.

And no, I don't mean in my bedroom with a video cam.

Although...I hear the money is pretty good.

No, really, it's legit stuff, and it's largely why I haven't been blogging in such a long time. But, like most online endeavors, it's proven to be harder then I thought and I'm not sure how successful I'll be at it, in the end. But that's for another post.

The point is...not going to a job every day is definitely one of my favorite things right now. I should have lived in the 1950's..

BTW, a big shout-out to Mr. I-don't-mind-that-my-wife-doesn't-have-a-job for not only not pressuring me to look for a job, but for actually being happy that I'm home more, despite the shortfall in income. I'm a lucky wife. 

4.  Tea

I may have mentioned 5839373875 times a time or two how much I like many, many cocktails the occasional cocktail or glass of wine. And I still do, but I'm also trying to lose weight (an ongoing struggle). So I've cut back on booze and instead, I have tea. 

I guess that makes me a teetotaler, literally. Did you know that's spelled "tee" and not "tea"? I didn't until I googled it. Funny.

Anyhoo, it satisfies that need to have a soothing drink in my hand in the evening and helps squelch snack cravings during the day. My favorite is vanilla chai tea with a little almond milk.

5.  Natural Bliss Creamer

You might think I liken myself to the girl screaming for coffee in the picture. But no. That's my husband, ever since his schedule changed at work and he has to leave an hour earlier in the morning.

I have never seen the man drink coffee since the day I met him, but one day, a few weeks ago, he asked if we had any creamer because he'd like to take a cup of coffee with him to work.

After I finished checking for the "Fred suit" zipper and was satisfied an alien body snatcher hadn't taken him over, I put coffee creamer on the grocery list.

I didn't want to get one with a bunch of preservatives and crap in it (although Fred wouldn't have minded - he prefers his food to have a barcode). So we tried Natural Bliss creamer by Coffeemate.

I've always been perfectly happy with just a bit of almond milk in my coffee. Never liked it very sweet - that is, until I tried this stuff. It makes the creamiest, yummiest, cup of coffee ever!

All that's in it is real cream, nonfat milk, and sugar, so I suppose I could just buy cream and add sugar and it would be the same thing...but I haven't tried it. Plus, when the man who's encouraging you to not get a job, tells you his drive to work in the morning is a little less of a drudgery, thanks to his cup of coffee...well, you just don't mess with that.

So those are my five favorite things right now. What about you? Any favorite things in your life you'd care to share?

Oh, and if you have time, take a gander at the other writing prompts and posts over at Mama Kat's. Cause you got nothin' better to do.