Thursday, January 12, 2017


Made in Vietnam.
I knew it was coming.  And I didn't want to talk about it anymore.  I was sick of talking about it, thinking about it and waking up in a panic in the middle of the night because I'm worried sick about it.  It was one of the realities I went on vacation to avoid, if only for two weeks, before the reality set in.  Before the most volatile, least qualified president elect with the most conflicts of interest and least laudable character becomes president of the most powerful and influential nation in the entire world.

There I was in Vietnam, an ambassador to all things American in a communist country, when the Vietnamese tour guide asked the inevitable. Please note, these are the abbreviated and sanitized version of my reply.

What do you think of Trump?   Here we go.  I don't like him and I didn't vote for him.

Why not?  He seems like he's doing a good job so far, our tour guide adds.  Obama is still the president until January 20th, which is why things haven't changed, yet.  And as of right now, Trump is doing a good job of stocking his cabinet with sketchy characters who appear likely to not only threaten, but completely trample, existing civil liberties and rape the environment.  Also, Trump is a despicable human being.

But he's such a good business man!  That's debatable.  First of all, he got a head start on business with a $1 million handout from his daddy in the 70's.  In the 80's he owed his daddy and his daddy's companies $14 million from bad business decisions.  If it wasn't for his nepotistic safety net, he would have been out of business.  Plus, I doubt if the people Trump employed over the years who didn't get paid for their work would say he's a good businessman either.  Sure, he's made a lot of money, but I don't agree that that alone makes anyone a good businessman.  How you get things done matters.  And so does contributing to the betterment of society by paying your fair share in taxes, which he doesn't do either.  Especially when you're a billionaire, because that adds up to a lot of betterment to society.  In addition, being a good businessman doesn't necessarily make for a good politician.  After all, you have to serve all the people in the entire country, not just those that you like because they contribute to your own personal wealth.  ALL OF THEM. Even if they have a disability or are a different race, gender, religion or sexual orientation from you.  He's publicly ridiculed all of these groups of people, which constitutes the majority of Americans.

But lots of people must've voted for him because he won.  Just because America is a democracy doesn't mean people aren't apathetic and don't vote.  Over half of the population didn't get off their lazy asses to get to the polls, or even use a convenient mail-in ballot to vote from the comfort and privacy of their own homes, to exercise their right to vote.  Instead, they flushed the opportunity to help choose our next leader right down the toilet.  So, Trump got elected by a measly 19% of all  Americans.  N-I-N-E-T-E-E-N percent, I said!  And we had more than 10 candidates representing different political parties with vastly different views of the world to choose from.  Which is probably shocking to you, living in a communist country with only one political party, where you don't even have the privilege of voting directly for your own Prime Minister.  Because, I know it's shocking to me and it's my own countrymen we're talking about.

I think he's ok for Vietnam though.  I don't agree.  I don't think he's ok for Vietnam or the rest of the free world for that matter.  With the exception of maybe Russia, but only because Putin's deluded too.  But, I'm getting off topic here. Trump wants to bring back jobs to America. Jobs that got sent overseas to places like Vietnam by businessmen like him in the first place.  In order to make products for less cost with cheap sweatshop labor.  So people like Trump, whose ties are made in Vietnam for his very own clothing line, could sell those products for a huge profit. But, now that he's going to be president, and because he's a huge hypocrite, he wants to take those factory jobs from the Vietnamese and give them back to Americans, most of whom don't even want these kinds of excruciatingly labor intensive jobs.  At the same time, he'd like to raise the minimum wage for workers here in America which is great.  Except that products made by Americans with higher labor costs added in to the cost of products will make lots of products unaffordable to lots of Americans.  Especially, when he repeals Obamacare and makes medical care more unaffordable and gives more tax cuts to the rich, making the poor even poorer.  And trickle down economics won't solve anything, just like it didn't when Reagan was President.  But, don't worry, in the end, he's going to screw far more Americans than Vietnamese.

There you have it.
You've been Trumped.

ADDENDUM:  This was not one isolated incident of being asked about Trump. We were asked several times by people of all different nationalities we encountered while traveling in Vietnam.  The whole world is talking about Trump and waiting to see what he'll do.  

Monday, January 9, 2017

Maybe This is How I Die

The calm before the storm
(before we'd reached open water, when I was still thought it was fun.) 
There are moments in life when you stop to ponder your mortality.  And there are moments when you don't stop to ponder your mortality because your mortality is thrust upon you and you're too busy freaking out to stop and ponder.  We experienced a few of them in Vietnam.  From the cut on my foot that got infected walking through the mud and dirty streets in sandals, reminding me of the beginning of every episode of Monster Inside Me that I'd ever seen. To the little kayak excursion with my husband that turned into an open water paddle for our lives on the swells of the Gulf of Tonkin, which began cresting over and into the boat.  But, those weren't even the top two of our trip to Vietnam.  Although, the kayak experience comes in a close third and the intestinal parasite I contracted later in the trip ranks a very distant fourth.

Both of our near death experiences occurred in traffic.
And oddly, not on that 8 hour motorbike tour we took in the rain.

First, you need to understand traffic in Vietnam, where recently paved roads connecting the country helped to propel it into becoming a tourist destination.  Next, you need to realize that it's organized chaos.  Where you can commit a whole slew of traffic infractions if only you honk to warn other drivers you're coming up on their left.  Or their right.  Or right behind them.  If in doubt as to whether you need to honk or not, just honk anyway.  It safeguards you like an aspirin does to prevent blood clots (which is what we do for long flights.) 

Anyhow, it was on an early morning taxi ride on the way to the airport for a short flight from Na Trang to Da Nang before the sun came up, where I first questioned if this was how I die.  Our family of six was split between two cabs.  My husband, River and Ember in one.  Me, Sky and Jade in the other.  Sky, the only extrovert in our family, knows from our other travels to take front seat with the driver in case there is any chit chat to be had.  Which in this case there wasn't, because our driver didn't speak English.  The first half of the 50 minute ride from town to the airport was uneventful.

Then, the car started slowing down for no apparent reason.  And our driver pulled the car over, got out, opened the trunk and splashed water on his face.  Because he was falling asleep.  We formulated a plan.  We'd talk loudly in an effort to keep him awake and Sky was designated to be on high alert to take the wheel.  Thank god for my social anxiety and hiding in the back of the cab where I'm merely a lookout with a clear shot of the driver's eyes in the rear view mirror.  After much head bobbing from our driver, it happened; his eyes closed completely for a nanosecond.  And I barked my loudest bark and the driver's eyes thrust open. We had 10 more minutes until the airport and I've never been more religious in my life. Which is probably why we actually got to the airport, because I'm pretty sure Jesus took the wheel. But, that wasn't the worst maybe this is how I die moment.

The worst came on a three and a half hour van ride from Hue to the jungle of Phong Nha.  Our driver had a wicked, deep, throaty cough we thought might be from Tuberculosis.  But, who knew, it could also be SARS.  Then there was the seemingly random alarm that kept going off that the driver ignored.  What did it mean?  We found out later, it meant he was driving too fast. Which is no consolation when you're driving down the middle of a two lane road dodging one of countless mopeds overloaded with a family of four and two chickens riding on it.  That's when I saw headlights coming directly toward us from an oncoming truck passing a car.  This is definitely how we all die.  I didn't even have time or the inclination to bark.  Death seemed imminent.  There was nothing to do but succumb to it.  It was completely, eerily quiet when our driver hit the brakes and the truck somehow managed to nudge past the car it was passing before careening back into its own lane just in the nick of time.  

We'll live to see another adventure.
And ponder, maybe this is how I die, another day.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Monsoon Season

We arrived in Vietnam just in time for Monsoon season.  And everything we wanted to see and do was outside.  Hiking, waterfalls, spelunking caves, surfing waves and riding motor bikes.   Not to be deterred by my poor travel planning and lack of waterproof apparel, we forged on.  Through the mud.

Did I mention the motorbike ride was 8 hours long?
On the back of a motorbike?
In the rain?
With our luggage?

Even though we were provided with rain jackets, 8 hours of pelting rain on a bike still makes you wet.

Or that after we hiked through the jungle covered in mud, we swam inside the caves with bats flying over our heads?

And no, the water wasn't warm.  
Even though we were wet and cold a lot of the time, we still had fun.  But, what we didn't have was clean, dry laundry.   Because we pack light.  And in Vietnam, like most of Africa and some of Europe, they don't have dryers.  Which doesn't sound like a big deal.  Just hang the laundry up to dry, right?  But when the humidity is really high and the duration of your stay before you move on to the next destination is so short, your clothes never dry.  And forget your shoes.  Your shoes are a swamp.

Sure, we could go to the market and buy all kinds of name brand clothes replacements. Because nearly every article of clothing is made in Vietnam. Quick, go to your closet and check the labels, I'll wait.  So, you can go get yourself a cheap bootleg North Face jacket made of inferior fabrics by underpaid, over worked, oppressed factory worker on every corner.  That's how Communism works.  But, taking time out to shop, means taking time from actually doing things and we already missed 3 days being stuck in Seattle due to weather.  

After a futile attempt to dry our clothes and shoes out with the blow dryer in the hotel room, we did the only thing left to do. We shoved the wet clothes in plastic bags and packed them to bring them to our next destination.  And while the underdeveloped world may lack a lot of the luxuries of the developed world, like clean air and water, there is no shortage of plastic bags. Thank god. But, do you know what happens to wet clothes in a contained plastic bag?  They have a stench more noxious than a bag of rotten potatoes!  And you know people only pack their favorite clothes to go on vacation.  As if it's fashion week or something.  I mean, it's not like you're going to run into someone you know or anything.    

What's my point?  Photos never do justice to a story.  In part because they're not scratch and sniff.  Also, because you can't hear the fighting because everyone's wet, cold, exhausted with jet lag and thus, at their worst.  And because you can never capture the essence of a place on film.  Which is why you need to travel there in the first place to experience it first hand.  Just maybe not during monsoon season. Also, my other point is...I'm the worst travel planner ever!  

Monday, January 2, 2017


"If the flight attendant asks, just tell her you're 18", I said.  He was only days away from that not being a lie.  And in my quick surveillance of the other passengers also seated in the emergency exit row, he was the most capable of actually being able to open the aircraft door and handle an emergency situation.

The morning started with whiteout conditions on the hour and a half drive to the airport, which turned into two and a half hours.  The weather caused the cancellation of half of the flights leaving the airport, but not ours.  Ours was merely delayed by 3 hours, meaning we'd miss our connections for Taipei and on to our destination of Ho Chi Minh City.  What we didn't realize is that meant we'd be stuck in Seattle for 3 days in an airline administrative quagmire.  Neither Expedia, nor United, nor Eva, would book us on a flight out of the most depressing city in the US.  Which, as you might imagine, was really depressing.  The free sub-par wine paired with gummy bears at Happy Hour at the Embassy Suites near the airport was no consolation.

Our days were spent on hold with one of three companies: one of which had fulfilled their basic obligation to get us to Seattle, one was headquartered in Taiwan and didn't have 24 hour customer service and one offered cheap tickets, counterbalanced by cut-rate customer service. When we finally get through to them, all three explained that they weren't the problem, it was the other guy.  Which is exactly what all the politicians we were watching on CNN in the hotel room were also doing, assigning blame instead of working toward solutions. The kids were astounded no one would help us.  But, none more than my oldest, the idealistic one. The one about to be christened by adulthood.

We spend most of our childhoods longing to be an adult.  Only to realize once we get there that adulthood really sucks.  Adulthood isn't freedom, it's responsibility.  It's nagging, deadlines, insurance, mortgage payments and taxes.  It's being in a dank hotel room in a cold city with luggage filled with warm weather clothes listening to shitty music on hold for an hour before explaining your entire predicament all over again to someone new who won't help you. Welcome to the age of maturity, where nothing happens unless you make it happen.  And even then it might not actually happen.

The only thing left to do was to check out of the hotel and go back to the airport ticket counter to get in someone's face to either intimidate them or get them to take pity on us.  It didn't matter which.  Both are proven tactics adults use for daily survival, just watch CNN for verification of this.  And add on our own personal success story as further confirmation.  Because that night (or rather the next morning at 1am) we were on a flight headed west.  And by the time we arrived in Vietnam, our oldest had turned 18 somewhere over the Pacific with no fanfare whatsoever.  Which, when I think about it, is the most befitting welcome to adulting.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Winter Hazards

PC: Boston Globe

Winter is a frigid and hazardous time fraught with worry.  What if I or someone in my family gets into a car wreck on the icy roads?  How much would my insurance go up? What if a water pipe freezes and bursts inside my house? Would waterlogged recharger cords for our electronics still work or would we get electrocuted? What if I forgot to pay the utility bill and we didn't have any heat?  That one's easy.  We'd burn Christmas cards and letters in the fireplace to stay warm.  Before we set fire to all the furniture the kids and dogs have ruined.

But, what about the other hazards?

Like having bad hair for months on end.  Because dry air equals bad, frizzy hair.  Even if you do somehow manage to get out of the house while your hair looks good, it won't last long.  First, it'll get blown by arctic air when you're pumping gas.  Then, it will start snowing.  Why is your gas tank always on empty when it's snowing anyway?  When you get back into your nice warm car, then the snow melts, soaking your hair.  Revealing its true uncoiffed texture and that cowlick it took you 10 minutes and lots of expensive product to tame.  Sure, you could wear a hat, but that only makes matters worse.  'Tis the season for staticky hat hair!

You'll stock up on all kinds of comfort foods at the grocery store to give you solace during the dark, bitter cold nights you spend curled up on your couch watching House Hunters, the vacation home episodes.  But, when you get to the store, you'll run into that acquaintance, you know, the chatty one you don't know where you know her from, in the produce section.  You'll have snot running down your nose making a beeline for your mouth, because that's what happens when it's cold outside.  In the absence of a tissue, and in a moment of panic, you wipe it on your hand while making small talk with whats-her-face.  Then, after you finally say your goodbyes, you'll proceed to see whats-her-face in every other aisle.  

Everything's wet, including the roads and your beautiful hardwood floors you just washed yesterday.  Everything except your skin.  Your skin is ashy and flaky and your lips are so chapped it looks like you're wearing dark lipstick that's completely the wrong shade for you.  But, your hands are the worst.  They're so dehydrated they ache when you bend your fingers.  And slathering moisturizer on them makes them sting even more.  Plus, now you can't open doors, a jar or pole dance because your hands are too greasy and slippery.  

Wearing gloves doesn't solve anything.  In fact, gloves or no gloves, my fingertips will not thaw out until May.  And have you tried picking up dog poop with a plastic bag over your glove?  It's nearly impossible.  Plus, with gloves acting like an oven mitt, you don't even get to feel the warmth from the dog poop on your hands.  What a cruel joke.  But, gloves are a far superior option to wipe your snot on than on your hand.  

So there's that...

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Best Things in Life

You've heard the sayings.  The best things in life are free.  And the best things in life aren't things.  When I look at my life, I'd say the best things are my family and the travels we've been on together.  Not to mention our dogs and having a place I love to call home near the mountains with lots of great hiking.  But, none of these things are free.

The best things in life are a total pain in the ass.

Let me start by saying, my husband is wonderful.  However, there are lots of life's little annoyances (that can seem to grow with 20 plus years of marriage).  Like will he ever clean his stubble out of the sink after he shaves?  Why do I have to do this?  And I'm sure he'd like me to unclog my long hair from our shower drain.  Also, why is there more hair in my shower drain than on my head in my forties?  How is this even possible?   And when your husband gets you a foot spa for your birthday, it means he thinks your feet are gross right?  Also, I don't get mani-pedis and my feet are totally gross.  

Then, let me state the obvious: kids are not free.  I know this because I pay the car insurance for two teenage boys.  TWO TEENAGE BOYS, I SAID!  I also buy shoes for them to destroy over the course of a week and jackets for them to lose.   Not to mention food.  Even though I never have anything to eat in my house, somehow this costs me roughly about $300 a week at Costco and I have burrito and Cheez-It wrappers strewn all over my house.  My two girls aren't any cheaper.  The boys can survive on a mere two pairs of shoes, sneakers and flip flops.  The girls need a rainbow of Converse to match every outfit, separate basketball shoes, flip flops, flats, plus dress shoes for special occasions.  Luckily, boys don't have special occasions, being a boy is just one long, unspecial, casual occasion, as far as I can tell.  

The only time I feel special anymore is when I come home to my dogs.  The only people in my house who appreciate me.  And they aren't even people.  But, they cost almost as much as people.  Because I have a special needs dog who needs to be on the $80 bag of dog food I have buy from the vet.  We learned this the hard way after hundreds of dollars in vet bills after our wall-to-wall carpet was destroyed by wall-to-wall dog pee, vomit and diarrhea.  Then there was the time they ate raw pizza dough and had to go to the doggie ER to get their stomachs pumped so they didn't die from alcohol poisoning.  And now my special needs dog is on medication (he doesn't like the taste of and I have to entice him to eat wrapped in luncheon meat like pigs in a blanket) for his hip.   

At least I have mostly new floors in my house because of the kids and dogs.  But, we did all of the work ourselves.  And it totally looks like we did it ourselves.  But, what does it even matter?  Our house was built over a mine on volatile soil and the foundation started sinking about 5 years ago.  Now, we could jack the foundation up for $80,000 with no guarantee it won't settle again.   Or we could just ignore the problem and get new windows (installed on a slight slant so they look straight) that actually close.  Which is what we did.  And no, oddly, insurance doesn't cover your house sinking into the earth.  But, at least we have a clear view out of our very expensive windows to witness the demise. 

Which only encourages us to ignore our problems on the home front by traveling to exotic places to get away from it all.   Places with gorgeous vistas that we can explore by hiking, snorkeling, zip lining and getting food poisoning.  You know, the good things in life.   Trips that we painstakingly plan ourselves after extensive and exhausting research on our foreign destination.  So our kids can complain, "Why aren't we going to New Zealand?"   Not to mention the enormous expense to go off to experience the best things life has to offer.  Surprisingly, going to see the biggest cave in the world is not free.  In fact, touring the biggest cave in the world is ridiculously expensive, which is why we're going to explore like the 5th or 10th biggest cave in the world next month instead.  But, my kids would probably still rather be in New Zealand.

Bottom line:  The best things in life are a total pain in the ass.  
But, they're also, completely worth it.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Sagittarius Secrets

I'm Sagittarius.  Not that I read my horoscope or anything, but I do have a very Sagittarius personality.  Optimistic, adventurous, free-spirited and straightforward with a love of travel.  See,  it sounds like me doesn't it?  Me and Stalin,  who's also Sagittarius.  Which just proves this astrology stuff isn't 100% accurate.  Or maybe it's that I didn't get the opportunity to get to know the real happy-go-lucky Joseph Stalin underneath the tyrannical communist dictator exterior.  Either way, I find it fun to excogitate about how we define ourselves as individuals because I'm deep and intellectual like that.  Because my sign says I am and because I used the word excogitate. That's how I know it's true.

A couple of days ago, I got on-line to rate a book on Goodreads and yada, yada, yada...I ended up clicking on an article titled 21 Secrets of the Sagittarius Personality.  Sagittarians are also really curious, so I had no choice but to read it.  Because I had to know what these secrets were and whether or not they were true.  We're also really into brutal honesty.  So without further ado, here are 21 secrets about Sagittarians per and my brutally honest thoughts about them.

1.  Sagittarius is an optimist that dreams big.

I have four kids and I've traveled around the world with them.  First when they were toddlers and now as teens.  I'm either an unrealistic optimist who dreams big or clinically insane.

2.  Sagittarius is candid and honest.

If I say it, I mean it.  Or I will say nothing at all.  This might explain why I'm so quiet.  

3.  Sagittarius is witty and has a wicked sense of humor.

I tell my husband how witty I am all the time,  just ask him!  

4.  Sagittarius is independent and hates being told how to live.

I firmly believe that rules do not apply to me, especially the stupid ones.  I am the exception, dammit!

5.  Sagittarius can be restless and impatient..

I feel like it would be a huge waste of time to even comment on this.

6.  Sagittarius can read you like a book.

And I'm a really selective reader.  I like my books interesting, witty, intelligent and real, so be those things or GTFO. 

7.  Sagittarius is allergic to bullshit.

I was sneezing.  What did you say?

8.  Sagittarius can't stand selfish people or sore losers.

True.  And I'm adding whiny winners and every other one of Donald Trump's personality traits on to this.

9.  Sagittarius is hard to fool and is always thinking 10 steps ahead.

I don't know about 10, that's kind of a lot and I'm not that organized, but definitely at least two.  

10. Sagittarius seeks out freedom and is extremely hard to pin down.

I know this because I've wrestled in jello and no one pinned me down.  And I think everyone knows freedom is best symbolized by jello wrestling.  

11. Sagittarius can become ruthless when they feel they've been wronged.

Don't put a stupid flier underneath the windshield of my car in a parking lot or I swear I'll drive all over town with that thing until it finally blows off.  FEEL MY WRATH!

12. Sagittarius isn't afraid to take risks in life.

I got food poisoning eating from a floating food boat in Thailand and then got on a plane with restricted toilet access.  DON'T TELL ME ABOUT RISKS! 

13. Sagittarius are creative and extremely curious.

I'm a writer who pole dances and doesn't even earn a living.   How's that for creative?  And I'm extremely curious how much more money I'd earn if I was a stripper.

14. Sagittarius is spontaneous and just plain fun to be around.

If you think reading books on the couch with a glass of wine or watching a documentary on a Friday night is fun and spontaneous then...I AM SO DAMN FUN AND SPONTANEOUS!  

15. Sagittarius loves to prove people wrong.

Usually this is true, but with Trump, this is the first time in my life that I really hope I'm totally and completely wrong.  But, I don't think I am.

16. Sagittarius tries to avoid petty drama and instead focuses on what's important to them.

This is why I don't go to PTO meetings, watch The Bachelor and also why I'm not on Facebook much.  

17. Sagittarius is careful about who they give their heart to and takes time to commit.

I've been married for 24 years and I'm still not sure I'm fully committed.  Maybe I'll know in 24 more.

18.  When Sagittarius is hurting they can distance themselves from others and conceal their emotions.

 I distance myself from others all the time, not just when I'm hurt, because I'm a real introvert's introvert like that.  

19.  Sagittarius doesn't hold grudges and leaves the past in the past.

I really don't hold grudges, but that's really just because you're dead to me.

20. Sagittarius is always there for their loved ones when they need them most.

I'm not "there" for people as much as I'm "here" for them.  So I'd prefer you come over to my house where we can talk about your problems and you can see first hand that mine are actually bigger than yours.   

21. Sagittarius is adventurous and loves to explore new things.

Everything except eating organ meats, chicken feet and beaks, I've tried them and they're disgusting.  

Well, there you have it, 
all 21 of my deepest, darkest Sagittarius secrets revealed.


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