Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Upside of Downsizing

I'm at that stage in life where I'm starting to fantasize about downsizing.  Because that's what old people do.  Less stuff means less cleaning right?  But, I also can't deny that bigger is better.  Because I still have four kids living at home which requires I have a big car, a really large capacity washer and dryer and a Costo membership.  I also just ordered a king size bed to create the distance that I hope will bring my husband and I closer together or at the very least muffle his snores.  But, a big screen TV?  I didn't think we needed one.  Until, my husband convinced me we did.

I loaded up our big, old and heavy TV in the minivan to give it to Goodwill.  But, they gave it back.  Not to get political here, but I'm very pro-recycling.  However, I refuse to pay Best Buy $25 to recycle something for me.  So, I left the TV on the curb at the bottom of my driveway with a FREE sign on it.  And then I waited.  And waited.  And waited.  By the next morning, it was finally gone.  I like to believe it's found a good home with another family, but the reality is someone from the HOA probably threw it in the dumpster because it was blighting the neighborhood.  However, I choose to believe my Disney-esque fantasy ending anyway.

The new 65" screen looked ridiculously huge hanging on the wall.  That was until I sat on the couch.  From where I could not only see the screen clearly, but I could read the channel guide without wearing my distance glasses.  Come to think of it, it's ridiculous that I spent years watching a screen so small I needed my distance glasses to see it.  Which I rarely did because I was too lazy to get off my ass to go get them.  Creating a fuzzy, yet very flattering nearsighted filter for TV viewing.  You probably already know this, because you've probably had a big screen HD TV for a decade or more, but a big screen high definition TV it's really the great equalizer.  Because everyone looks ugly on a large screen.  And really old.  I'm talking about people my age.  Which I sometimes forget is old.  Because I'm old, so I do that.

Most people who splurge a new TV want to expand their viewing options by also getting satellite TV.  Which, of course, is not what we did.  Instead, we reduced our viewing options by cancelling our cable.  And installing a free app called Pluto TV which has channels like Cats 24/7.  Which is exactly what it sounds like: all cat videos, all the time.  I don't even really like cats.  Not only that, it's a pain to access it.  For a technologically illiterate person like me, playing around with the remote control it more frustrating than fun.  And it requires me to go find my reading glasses so I can see the buttons on the remote.  In short, it's a very long process that requires a lot of swearing.  When really, all I want to see is when the shows I want to see (like cooking shows, Anthony Bourdain,  60 Minutes and Frontline) are on.  Because now that we've downsized we don't have any way to record shows to watch later.  We have to watch it when it airs (and run to the kitchen and/or bathroom during the commercial breaks) or we'll miss it.  Just like back in the olden days.  Good thing I'm an old fashioned girl who likes to watch PBS.

So,  I'd argue getting a big screen TV is part of our downsizing.  

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

What I'm Like in Bed

My bed is quite sensual.  Adorned with a silky grey satin coverlet that begs to be touched.  In addition, it provides front row seating for my stripper pole that stands in the corner of my bedroom.  The ambiance is an exquisite fusion of masculine and feminine.  Complete with sandalwood candles to fill the room with an exotic aroma.  Setting the stage for nights filled with erotic encounters.  The kind that you can only dream of.  Because I'm already asleep.

Sure, I have good intentions of lighting those candles for a romantic evening. You know, reading one of the books stacked on my nightstand by candlelight.  But, when my head hits the pillow it takes me all of a whole entire minute before I fall asleep.  With the blankets tucked in around me like a cocoon.  That is, until my husband brutally rips the sheets and blankets out from the end of the bed.  What kind of a psycho does that?  Because when the blankets aren't tucked in, my whole night is spent adjusting the blankets so they cover my whole body as I toss and turn.  Then my husband wonders why I steal the covers.  I steal them in self defense.  Because I'm freezing, dammit.  And obviously it's all his fault.  Because if the blankets were tucked in, I wouldn't need to clutch them for dear life to prevent frostbite. Plus, he always complains he's too hot in the night.  So really, I'm doing him a favor.

Sleeping together is one of the worst things for a marriage.  

Really, who came up with the absurdly overly romantic notion that couples sleeping in the same bed is a good idea?  And why do we still do it?  (By "it" I mean sleep and not the other "it", obviously.)  It's unnatural, I tell you!  When I was little both sets of my grandparents had not only separate beds, but separate bedrooms.  Which seemed weird to me when I was little, but I totally see the brilliance now.  I wouldn't have to listen to my husband snore.  And he wouldn't have to get my elbow jabbed in his side until he finally rolls over.  Which again, is all his fault.  It's pretty simple, if you don't want me to physically assault you in the middle of the night, don't assault my ears by mimicking the sound of an oncoming freight train.  

I'm not claiming that I'm so great in bed.  But, I do have to admit, sleeping with me wouldn't be a disappointment.  I stay on my own side.  I don't snore unless I have a cold and then come on, who doesn't?  I'm not a sleep talker or a sleep walker.  And I don't grind my teeth.  Although, I do clench my teeth when I sleep, leaving bite marks.  But the marks are on the inside of my own cheeks, which doesn't effect anyone else.  Also, how weird is that?  Ok, don't answer that.  I do have this charming little thing that I do in bed though.  I rock my body back and forth slowly.  And It drives my husband crazy.  I don't know why, you'd think it would be soothing, right?  Like I'm rocking him to sleep or something, but no.  Apparently, it's kind of annoying.  Just like when I have to get up in the middle of the night to pee or to go downstairs for a 2am juice box, hoping that I don't get the box with the missing straw.    

So, do we get a divorce for irreconcilable sleep differences or can this marriage be saved?  We'd have to wait until the kids leave home to have separate bedrooms.  And then I guess we'd have to separate the kids' bunk beds to make that work.  But, moving up into a king size bed would give us more distance from each other, which would actually probably bring us closer together.  Come to think of it, it would make the perfect Valentine's Day gift to each other too.  

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Floored Part Deux

This is the after pic of the initial floor refinishing.
It was late last winter when my toilet overflowed on the main level of my house, seeping through the floor and raining pee water down in the basement.  It was late spring when all the repair work was finally completed, including refinishing the hardwood floors.  It was immediately after they refinished  the floors that we noticed bare patches of naked wood scattered all over the floor.  It was in the fall when we finally called the company who did the work to have them come take a look at it.  It was winter before they hired a project manager to clean up all the messes that the previous one had left.  That's when we learned that the company normally subcontracts wood floors out to someone specializing in wood floors instead of doing it themselves.  Which might explain why we were in a hotel for 3 weeks while they did the work and why it wasn't done properly.  Because they were learning how to refinish hardwood floors from a YouTube tutorial.

The day before the workmen were scheduled to come fix the floors, a strange thing happened.  The old white top loading washing machine we have leaked.  (Betcha didn't know anyone still had one.) Water spread to the adjacent wood floors in the office and it was raining downstairs in the basement.  Again. No way. This can't be happening!  But, it was.  We called our insurance company again for water mitigation before work could be resumed on the floors.

That's when we moved back into the same hotel in the same exact room that we did last year. And everyone at the hotel, from the people who worked the front desk, to the maintenance crew and even the ladies who work in the kitchen, remembered us.  Is that a good thing or were we a total pain in the ass?  I'm not sure.  But, even with the additional washing machine leak and an unanticipated 3 days of drying out the water, we were still only in a hotel for one week while our floors got refinished.  Again.  With 4 kids and 2 dogs.  Which may not sound like a pain in the ass, until you have to do it.  Getting enough singles to tip the maids for cleaning the room everyday made me a little self conscious at the bank.  Which made me feel compelled to explain to the bank teller exactly what I was using them for.  Then I had to take the dogs on errands with me everyday so that the maids could actually vacuum up the dog fur that was all over the room.  Which of course means that I have dog fur all over my car now.  Among many other inconveniences.

But here's the final product...

The great thing is, not only can I put off doing laundry because I don't have a washing machine yet, I'm also not supposed to wash my floors for a couple of weeks.  But, I think I should wait at least a couple months, just to be sure I won't be damaging the floors....maybe even more.  Just to be sure.

While I wait for the next mishap to happen.  
Which might be getting dropped by our insurance.

You can find the initial post about my floor here.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

In My Bag

I've traveled with the same tote bag for years.  It's dingy with dirt from all over the world.  Oh, I've washed it countless times to try to restore the canvas to it's original color, but it's stained. In my defense, the bag was a gift: I'm far too practical to buy myself a white bag for that very reason.  But, I love it.  Because it's the perfect size and shape to fit all the travel essentials.  Plus, because it's so neutral (dirt goes with everything),  it coordinates with every outfit I wear on vacation.  And I tote that tote bag every day, everywhere when I'm on vacation like the pack mule that I am.  Because no matter where I am in the world, I'm still a mom.

Yes, I travel with teenagers.  And yes, I still carry things for them in my bag.  Let me explain before you determine that I coddle them. The most important thing I carry in my bag is the passports.  All the passports for my entire family (including my husband's).  My kids barely get to touch their own passports.  There is no passport control more strict than me. I hand them out to my family right before we go through immigration and then I collect them immediately after they get stamped for safe keeping.  I don't care that two of my kids are legally adults.  HAND ME YOUR DAMN PASSPORTS OR GO LIVE ON THE STREET!  If I'm paying for your vacation, I'm confiscating your passport because I don't want my vacation ruined because some kid lost theirs.

The next item in the order of importance in my bag is the wet wipes.  If you've ever been to a country where toilet paper isn't standard (like, but not limited to a lot of African countries) this is pretty self explanatory.  Not only can you wipe your unmentionables with it, it's also a hand sanitizer, an impromptu shower, a laundry facility and I've even washed dishes with them. Don't judge me until you've camped in a van in the snow in Patagonia with four teenagers, ok?  When packing for travel, the more multi-purpose something is, the better.  Which makes the books I bring when I travel with seem like a frivolous extravagance. Yes, actual heavy books I haul around with me on my back.  But, I'd argue that they also act as my traveling workout regimen.

Amidst the Ziploc bag containing my toothbrush and toothpaste, whatever book I'm currently reading with reading glasses to read said book and gum, which my kids are constantly asking me for, is the next most important item in my bag.  Tampons.  So many tampons.  Because not only do I still need them, I also have two teenage daughters.   I know you're thinking, but you can buy tampons anywhere why do you travel with so many?  Because that's not true.  Not only are there countries that don't believe in toilet paper, they also don't have tampons.  In Cuba it took us 2 days to find out where to buy eggs.  And I didn't see tampons in any of the stores I went to.  I think they have them, but the last thing I want to do on my vacation is waste time shopping for tampons.'s actually not the last thing...  

The last thing I want to do on my vacation is contract 3 different strains of E. coli and constantly be searching for a public toilet or let me be honest, when things get desperate I'd also consider deserted alleyways.  Desperate times call for desperate measures.  But it's not all disgusting, no matter where I go, I have wet wipes in my bag.  Even so, I started panicking about the plane ride home.  What if the seat belt signal is on and my body signals it's time to go?  What then?  Which is why I packed an extra pair of underwear in my bag on the plane ride home.  Just in case.  And I started to contemplate a whole new use for all those tampons I had in my bag.  Turns out, tampons can be multi-purspose too.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

How I Became a Mexican Drug Mule

We landed in Dallas on our way back from Mexico.  As we went through immigration, collected our bags, took them through customs and them re-checked them through to Denver, I was nervous.  Even worse, I'd completely forgotten we had to go back through security.  But, I hadn't forgotten what was in my carry-on bag. Especially when TSA pulled my bag for an extra screening after it went through the X-ray machine.  I've seen enough Locked Up Abroad episodes to know what was coming next if they caught me with contraband in say...Malaysia.  But, I wasn't exactly sure how it goes down in America.  Because I never imagined I'd buy drugs in Mexico and bring them into the US.  This is how it always starts isn't it?  As an "innocent" transgression.  But, how severe would the consequences for my lack of judgment be?

It was the day we went to Chichen Itza that I woke up jonesing for drugs.  I'd been clean for a while.  It'd been a few weeks since my last eye infection when I was hopped up on antibiotic eye drops.  I'd thrown out all my make-up, self-medicated with old, expired antibiotic eye drops we had in the medicine cabinet, cleared up my eyes and finally got myself off the junk.  Until that morning, when I woke up with my eyes crusted over, itching and burning.  And me yearning for drugs.  Just this one last time.  Which I knew was a lie when I said it.

It was a day or so later that we finally found a dealer.  A pharmacy where I could score almost any drug I wanted without a prescription.  Including Aderall and Viagra.  Neither of which I wanted or needed.  But, after I'd thrown down some pesos for some Conycol drops for my eyes, I got thinking.  Drugs are way cheaper in Mexico.  I was going to need to buy more.  I just wasn't sure what kind yet.  

It came to me when I was laying on the beach in the sun, slathered in sunscreen.  The time I went to the dermatologist to check on a suspicious lesion just above my upper lip.  I was sure it was skin cancer.  But, it turned out to be even worse.  The doctor looked at it with her special scope and said those words every woman dreads to hear, "It's just an age spot."  Just an age spot?  I'm not even old enough to have age spots!  Wait how old am I again?  Oh wait...almost 50.  Ok, I guess that's about right.  Because when I was young, 50 seemed pretty damn old to me.  Retin-A:  that's what I need!

So, I went back to the pharmacy.  Except they were sold out of the strength I was looking for.  Which was neither the strongest, nor the weakest they had for sale.  Staying clear of extremes seemed the safest route when you're dosing drugs yourself.  Apparently everyone thought the same thing, which is why I couldn't find it.  Until finally, the third pharmacy we walked to had it in stock.  The exact same Retin-A that's sold in the States for $100 was only $25!  I suddenly felt so high.

The sobering part came when TSA took me aside with my bag in hand at the Dallas airport.  Why?  Why did I put the eye drops in my carry-on?  Why didn't I take them out and claim them as my 1 oz. of benign liquid I'm entitled to?  Did I think I wouldn't get caught?  I must not have looked like someone who'd smuggle drugs, because instead of TSA searching my bag by hand, the officer took a wand and ran it along the outside of my bag.  And didn't find anything.  Then, he let me go.  No one caught me smuggling Mexican drugs into America.  And that's precisely when I decided that the next time I went to Mexico I was going to bring back a kilo of Retin-A.  And also when I was sure there'd be a next time.  

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Bay of Pigs

We didn't know exactly what to expect when we arrived in Cuba.  But, it wasn't getting off the plane from Mexico and being subjected to another security check before we'd even collected our bags.  Which didn't any make sense.  Turns out, not much does in Cuba.  Of course I didn't know that yet.  When we arrived, I was still hoping to have authentic Cuban cuisine and comparing a Cuban sandwich actually made in Cuba to the ones I used to eat when I lived in Miami.  Plus, I'd gotten two Cuban cookbooks as a gift from a friend earlier in the month, whetting my appetite even more. But, I was in for a rude awakening.

Luckily, that awakening didn't have anything to do with our accommodations that I'd booked on Airbnb.  Our host was there to greet us.  As were out next door neighbors, part of the tight knit unofficial Cuban neighborhood watch program, who were party prepping for their grandson's first birthday that evening, which we were invited to before we even set foot in the apartment.  (My husband ended up going to the party, doing rum shots, dancing with grandma and returned home with icing from the cake on the back of his shorts.) The apartment exceeded my expectations.  Complete with a balcony; the perfect perch from which to watch the bustling neighborhood below.  Without TV and wifi, this was our entertainment for 5 days.

We rented an apartment as opposed to staying in a hotel for two reasons: first, to get a feel for what it's like to live there and second, because we're cheap; so we try to save on food costs by eating at least one meal in.  Plus, I love to go to grocery stores in foreign countries.  It reveals a lot about the way people really live.  But, I wasn't quite prepared for what I found.

When we walked to the neighborhood grocery store, there was a long line of people waiting outside.  Apparently, they only let a limited number of people in at a time to prevent shoplifting.  When our turn did come up, I was told I couldn't go in with my bag.  So, I left it with my oldest son who waited outside the store while the rest of us scurried to collect the basics for breakfast.  This is the thing...while the store is full of food, there aren't many food choices at all.  There were three kinds of cereal and only, one brand of olive oil and boxed shelf milk instead of fresh.  And there were no eggs, yogurt or butter.   Thank god they had coffee.  And a bakery right across the street from our apartment to get bread in the morning.  Albeit one kind of bread, in the form of a roll or a baguette, lacking crustiness and flavor.  Making me even more grateful that there was jam.

While we were walking the streets of Havana looking at the colonial architecture, classic cars and crumbled buildings (approximately 300 buildings collapse a year in Cuba), we saw people carrying eggs.  But, where were they buying them?  It was on the second day we spotted them stacked up inside an otherwise abandoned looking building.  When we walked up to the open window adjacent to the sidewalk, we inquired how much they were with the clerk.  But, they weren't selling them. They were eggs for the Cuban people with ration cards. Welcome to Socialism.  Then he told us to come inside.  Where he sold us the eggs and told us to conceal them while we walked back to the apartment.  Welcome to the Capitalist Socialism that really runs Cuba since that the Russians stopped subsidizing the country for millions of dollars a day when the Soviet Union disbanded in the 90's.  Where a lot of the population seeks opportunities to make money on the side to put some pork on the table occasionally with their ration rice and beans, eggs and bread.  Not to mention, buying shoes which are very expensive, which is probably why I noticed the locals noticing my sneakers everywhere we walked.

I'd found that the Cuban cuisine I longed for doesn't exist in Cuba because most people don't have the ingredients to make it.
But, the mojitos are excellent. 

I was on the balcony eating breakfast, watching the buzz of the neighborhood.  The old lady selling plastic bags in front of the bakery.  The constant stream of people using the payphone next to the bakery.  And the early morning deliveries being made to the food stalls sandwiched between a collapsed building and the bakery.

The pigs were getting delivered.  In a dirty truck.  And that's when things started to make sense.  While we didn't get any exciting Cuban cuisine in Cuba, we did all get E. coli.  I can't say for certain that we all contracted it from eating ham sandwiches, because I can't say with absolute certainty it was the ham.  But, after witnessing our own bay of pigs, it did seem likely.  (Bay also means the position of one unable to retreat and forced to face danger.  Just let me have this, ok?)  What I do know with certainty, because the lab confirmed it, is that we had 3 different strains of bacteria. 

So, as we were on a plane back to Mexico praying for the seatbelt sign to go off so I could get to the toilet in time, I was singing that Havana song that's so popular right now in my head.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Everyday We're Bustling

We'd been in Mexico for a few days.  Staying in hostels, eating spicy Mexican food washed down with margaritas and taking public transportation.  Which is a dangerous combination when you think about it.  Riding on a public bus 2 hours inland to see Chichen Itza after a couple of cups of black coffee and some eggs smothered in a nice spicy burrito sauce.  What if I shit my pants?  It was a constant worry that only got worse as the trip went on.  But, on this particular bus ride, I was spared.  The kid a few rows back from me was not, apparently.  And apparently, he didn't have a change of clothes either.  But, no worries, in a couple days and another bus ride we'd be back beach side in Tulum where my husband had rented a car.  

Yup, a 1980 VW bus.  That wasn't running when we arrived.  It needed a new starter that was supposed to arrive in the mail that day and then all they had to do  just was install it.  Déjà vu!  If I know anything about old VW cars, (and I'd say having two in my driveway, one of which hasn't run in 3 years, qualifies me as an expert) it's that nothing "just" anythings.  Ever.  I knew where this was going.  Nowhere.  My husband, ever the optimist, hadn't given up hope that it would be driveable in a day or so.  It wasn't.  So finally, to see more Mayan temples and cenotes (limestone swimming holes sometimes linked to an active cave system) that were off the beaten path, we rented a minivan for 24 hours.

It was so easy to rent.  They even delivered it right to our hostel.  Not only did it work and fit our whole family of 6 comfortably with air conditioning, when it came to getting extra insurance on it (which we usually decline), the rental agent even reduced the price on that.  How could we refuse?  So, we drove that over insured Town and Country straight out of town and into the countryside to escape the insufferable tourists.  Which of course is impossible when you are also an insufferable tourist.

The stairs descending to the cenote.
Bonus: No sunscreen necessary.
(And this is the second time we've swum in a cave with bats if we're keeping score.)  
The next morning was Christmas.  So, we drive to the beach, rented a boat and went snorkeling on what our guide claimed was the second largest coral reef in the world after the Great Barrier Reef.  We managed to get back into town just in time to return the car exactly 24 hours after we rented it.  And exactly an hour after we returned the car, my husband received a message from the car rental agent that rented it to us.  "Would [sic] be so kind to come a moment to the office I want to check a detail with you"  Oh shit, what could it be?

The kids stayed in the hostel left to their devices, overdosing on wifi that they wouldn't have when we got to Cuba, while my husband and I walked to the car rental office.  Where Miguel (the rental car agent) greeted us with a photo and a paper.  The photo is of damage to the front end of the minivan we just rented.  WTF?  My heart started racing. "We won't charge you anything.  Just sign the paper and tell us how it happened", he pleaded.

Except, we know the damage didn't happen during the 24 hours we had the car.  But, how do we prove that?  And that's when it all starts to make sense.  The photo was a close up of the damage.  There was no license place to prove it was actually the car we drove.  It could've been any gray minivan from last week or last year even.  Then, they wanted us to sign a blank paper detailing what happened to the car or that nothing happened to the car (and they'd conveniently fill out the rest for us later).  And the discounted insurance?  This was all an insurance scam from the start.

We didn't have to prove we didn't do the damage to the car, they had to prove we did.  Plus, we had an insurance policy of our own, we'd paid with a credit card.  So, we could simply call and have any extra charges reported and taken off our bill should they appear after the fact.  (My husband also secretly video recorded the conversation with Miguel.)  That's when we abruptly ended the conversation and walked out of the office.  The next day we headed to Havana.   


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