The 3 D’s of Success

There I am, lying on my back, the ceiling spinning, sweat dripping from every pore and I’m having an out of body experience, willing my soul far from the oppressively hot room. The hot hatha yoga class is nearly over, the final Shivasna meditation pose supposed to one of relaxation, where the body absorbs all the pain and punishment it has endured in a room of 110 degrees and 60 percent humidity. It’s the hardest part for me, because all I can think about is getting out of the room, into the cool air and slurping down ice cold water–which of course, is  the worst thing I can do.

“The 5:30 a.m. class is my favorite,” says the teacher, her voice calm and sincere. “It’s because the students here embody the three D’s: decision, discipline and determination.” I snap back to the present, the mantra reminding me of a keynote speech on success and entrepreneurialism more than yoga.

I sucked my soul back from its hovering position above me and refocused on her words.

“The people in this room made the decision to be here. Then you had the discipline to get up at four or thereabouts, eat and come here. Once in the room, you had the determination to put your entire effort into every one of the twenty-six poses.”

She’s absolutely right, I thought, breathing shallow, telling myself I can last another few minutes. Her Three D’s can be applied to pretty much anyone who’s achieved success by any measure. “We” make the Decision to go to college/run a marathon/write a book etc. Then we have the Discipline to study/train for a year/fail for a few novels and through Determination do we get persevere through the downs and ups, blisters and callouses and rejections on the long, hard and oftentimes bumpy road to our goal—the decision we made in the first place.

As Mimi, the morning instructor talks through the last five minutes of meditation, I continue ruminating on the notion, considering the application of the three D’s, reflecting how I’ve defined much of my adult life by determination, but neither decision or discipline. In fact, my oft-repeated joke has always been that God didn’t give me any natural skills or talents except one: Determination. My husband lovingly calls me his goat, but not in the Michael Jordan-type greatest-of-all-time. Rog means it literally. He often says I will “chew my way through a wall to get what I want.”

I take that as a compliment by the way. I just simply say: that’s what I want and keep going until I get it. Of course I’m realistic, no WNBA or President of the United States for me. But I do tend to focus, ignoring every bit of distracting, external noise in my path. As my yoga instructor implied, it’s a personal decision, a personal level of discipline and personal determination that got each and every one of us to yoga in the first place. No one else got us up, dressed us, stood for us or wiped the sweat off our faces when it was all over.

The after effects of that wonderful morning yoga session was I have added the other two D’s to the one I’d always considered the absolute. Perhaps that’s also given a conference seeker another topic.

Gift card scamming

The server scam

Gift cards are wonderful things. Easy, convenient, and during these strange times, helpful when things can be delivered directly to your doorstep, including food. Yet I realized many of you might be unaware of the latest in gift card scamming that I’ve actually experienced firsthand.

It goes like this. You give or receive a gift card for $200, the amount I provided my parents last year for their anniversary. This happened to be for the Cheesecake Factory. Upon presentation of the bill, and their providing the gift card, the server returned stating that the gift card was only for $50. Well, that wasn’t the case, but my parents, without the receipt showing the authorization, were unable to argue otherwise. The bill was over $100, and their card—as told by the server—was only for $50.

My parents—bless their hearts—didn’t tell me this for over a month, because they assumed I was the one who actually misspoke (or being totally cheap). I was incensed. I dug through my receipts, found the activation code, called the gift card number and verified that yes, it was activated for $200. Armed with this info, I then called up the General Manager in the Reno location of said restaurant. To spare you the minutiae, what he ultimately found was that the server had taken the bill, uses the entire amount of the gift card, applying only a portion of the gift card, thereby pocketing the rest. It’s quite ingenious and might appear in one of my books at some point.

Problem solved and lesson learned, I thought. Although it’s classless, I began including the activation receipt along with the gift card. In my line of work (author/advisor) I get a ton of gift cards myself, and happily use them. As it happens, I received one for PF Chang, a wonderful chain serving fantastic food. The card is for $150, but I was not given the activation receipt. However, I’ve learned a lesson. Prior to going in, I went on line, used the website on the back to confirm activation and amount. Sure enough, $150. Imagine my surprise when the server told me that only $75 was on the card. I disputed the facts with the server, identifying the activation and amount, even the General Manager came over, but to no avail. I didn’t have the hard copy, activation receipt. In short, I was out the $25.00.

The last example—because third times a charm, right? This time it involves Red Robin. In this instance, a relative had given me the gift card, again, no receipt. Once again, I verified the card amount on line as being $50. What I did different was upon arrival, I requested the hostess to do a quick check of the amount on the gift card. In less than 15 seconds, she assured me it was in fact, $50.

Now I had a witness.

When the bill for $42 including a tip was presented, the server told me that $15 had already been used on the card. Hmm. I rather pleasantly called over the host. She was unaware of the what had transpired, and affirmed the amount on the card. I politely told the server she must be mistaken, as did the hostess. She stumbled and fumbled, but I received a revised bill and statement. Whatever she did in the background to rectify the situation was never revealed.

Three restaurants, three versions of the same scam. No need to make a big scene, because I get it; people are well…people. Not everyone is going to operate the same way, and as a well-known Hollywood producer once told me, “Everyone is broken in one way or another. If we (producers) don’t work around their issues, nothing in Hollywood would ever get done.”

So the work around is have the receipt if possible, and if not, check the balance on line (look on the back of the card). When you arrive at the establishment, ask the hostess or manager to double check the amount so you don’t run into issues. Lastly, at the beginning of the meal, prior to ordering, tell your server that you have a card and the amount has just been verified by the manager/host. That removes any possibility for fraud to occur.

After that, enjoy a great meal!

Getting to the CEO

Breaking through the email barrier

There has never been a better time for email outreach, the stay-at-home economy requiring workers to be tethered to their devices more than ever. A few weeks back, the CEO of Intel told NPR this was the first time he’s been home in 30 years, his email, video conferencing and phone becoming the life-blood of business. That means you, the business development, sales or PR person, are presented with the best opportunity to get in front of the right person for your pitch.

Yet you it’s not always as easy as connecting through Linked In, especially when you want to reach executive staff. Emails are switched up and around, purposefully confusing the outsider. Because I’ve spent several decades breaking through the email barrier, “cold-emailing” and getting responses from the executive levels at the largest retail, technology, banking and manufacturing companies in the world, I’m going to share a few tried and proven tricks.

Conventions

A convention is technology-industry-speak for a format used by the company. These are pretty simple and vary depending on the size of the company. When it was small, it was bill@microsoft.com – which of course, was for Bill Gates. It remained so until he formally left his position. All other bills had a convention using numbers. As the company grew, it modified the names in a combination of first and last names, letters and so on. A great example of this is Steve Ballmer. His email was steveb@microsoft.com. Because so many Steve’s had the last name b, he was referred to internally as steveb–when in conversation. “Steveb said this…” “that’s what Steveb wants.” For years, I was known as Sarahg within that same organization (thus proving we can morph into our email names).

Most commonly used conventions

  • First name, last initial: sarahg@
  • First name only: sarah@
  • First initial, last name: sgerdes@
  • First and last: sarahgerdes@

If the company is a mid-size (250 or above), you will have the same names. In this context, they usually modify the first or last only slightly, but adding the second, then third letter, or also adding a number.

  • First name, last initial: sarahge@
  • First name only: sarah1@ or sarah01@
  • First initial, last name: sagerdes@
  • First and last: sarahgerdes01

It’s rather amazing how uncreative those assigning names are, and how easy it is to penetrate a firm using a combination of the above.

Conventions aren’t limited to just the first and last names. It also applies to the company name. For instance, for Benjamin News Group, a Washington-based firm that’s presently being acquired by another entity, the address ends with @bngspkn.com. It was the first three letters of the company name, then the city where the firm is headquartered. Now, this is different than the URL designation on the main website, so how did I attain that email and correct ending? I called the main number, gave the pitch and was given the name of the general manager. He was out, and what I really wanted was his email. Trying the mail URL didn’t work. It was only later that I learned that the abbreviation his particular city was included in the address line. This shows two things: it is possible to get past the first line of defense (the receptionist and attain the name), the second is that I learned a new convention, even after all these years.

Getting creative

These aren’t always going to work, so you need to dig deeper. Looking up the CEOs name for the largest property holder in the country was done through a search on legal filings! It turns out that families get in spats, and when emails are filed with the court of law as a part of the proceedings, these documents are made public. Along with the full content, so are the emails. Can you believe that people don’t go back and change their emails? I’ve contacts who haven’t changed their emails for two decades, and in fact, I’ve not changed my BMG email in that long. That said, I have disabled it because I’m not taking on new clients at the moment, and if a person wants to get a hold of me, they can get creative themselves.

Another creative way…. social media

This isn’t perfect for a long pitch, but I’ve had executives, fans and parents track me down on Instagram and Facebook (see above comment on creativity). Several of these have been busines oriented, but most have been of a personal nature, seeking additional clarity on a topic I’ve written about. Because I don’t have a service or personal assistant, I eventually get to these items myself. It might take me a while, and I sometimes skip over or neglect my accounts for a while, but I do eventually get there.

Forwarding emails

This is another little trick that I’ve used myself. I’ve always wanted to make sure that variations of my name are taken, whether or not I use the various instantiations. To have one dashboard (or view) of all my accounts, I have them forwarded to my central account.

Executives do the same, using not just one, but multiple accounts, all being aggregated into a single view. My only caution to you, the sales/biz dev/executive, is to beware of hitting multiple accounts without waiting a reasonable period of time for a response (a week). Don’t hit all of them at once, as much as you want to get after it—the recipient will only become annoyed. It might take a month or so, but be patient.

The list of DON’Ts

On one hand, it’s wonderful to know that it is possible to reach the CEOs of the largest firms in the world. By the same token, your email MUST be free of a few things that will catch it up in spam.

No links. This is the first spam filter applied to any email. Don’t link to your website, home page, or product listing. You will never recover.

No links in your signature. My email signature (at the bottom, name/title/phone etc.) included the link from my name to my author page. This was causing my emails to go into junk. It was surprising for me to learn that even recipients who’d authorized me (my attorney in this case) had the filters set so high that all my correspondence was going in to junk. I had to remove the link from my signature in order for him to receive it, even though I was specifically authorized by him.

No attachments. This also gets caught in the first line of defense. When writing the first pitch email, it should be so inspiring it gets a response. Attachments can be sent thereafter.

Don’t copy another person. If you have the CEO and a VP, you need to make a choice. The rates of a non-response skyrocket when you have two or more copied. Why? First, no one is required to respond—the buck gets passed or the dropped entirely. Common thought is that the person on the To line will respond, and those CC’d will just observe.

That’s the wrong way to go about it. If you are confident in your pitch (and your product/service warrants it), make it to the CEO, who will in turn, provide it to the executive in charge of that area. Otherwise send it to the VP in the appropriate area. This strategy also provides you options in case you don’t receive a response (ergo, send to the CEO when the vp doesn’t respond or vice versa).

Bouncing or received?

How do you know if an email is incorrect? The email will immediately bounce as undeliverable. You know it’s working when the email doesn’t bounce, but you don’t receive a response. This indicates it’s likely gone into a “holding folder” where an assistant is assigned to look at it.

One such case was when I sent my first email to Steve Ballmer when he was at Microsoft. In that instance, I new I had the right email as I was a vendor. After three days, I received a response providing direction on the opportunity at hand, and when I inquired, learned that he had three assistants monitoring his email. He’d respond personally after a first review of the incoming mails were culled.

When to send

There’s an adage I heard a million years ago when I was starting out. My vice president of marketing told me “the higher the title, the earlier they will be up.” I’d been sending emails between the standard workday, thinking if I sent at 8 am (their time, not mine) I’d be the at the top of the in-box. Sure, I might have been, but by that time, the day was off and running, and the email wouldn’t even be opened until the afternoon. Conversely, if I sent the email in the afternoon (thinking people were winding down the day) I’d get more mindshare. Negative on that. Tired, grumpy and overwhelmed tended to be the emotions I’d experience when I placed a follow up call.

Sending early, as in 6 a.m. Yep, I wrote that. A CEO has thinking about the business 24×7, rising early to get a jump on the day. Delegation is one key to success, so the email is read and forwarded to the right person. If that means you are on the west coast, you get up at 3:30 a.m. and send that baby off (unless your system can schedule it for you), but beware. If you receive an immediate response and don’t answer, it’s clear that it’s a bot on your end.  

In a recent example, I sent an email to the CEO of a $26B firm last week. He responded in 1 hr 22 seconds, forwarding the inquiry pitch to two vice presidents, one being the primary contact.

Sending Sunday night. Until recently, this has been my favorite time to send an email, because I constantly found that CEOs weren’t/aren’t waiting until Monday morning. Many get online Sunday night to plan for the week ahead. Last month I sent off a pitch to a Canadian investor originally from Hong Kong on Sunday, because he’d specifically told me he likes to receive items Sunday night. Within an hour I had my response to the proposal and next steps.

I say “until recently” because I’m personally trying to not work on Sunday for any reason, not even cracking my computer open to write or work. As I’ve aged, I’ve gotten more focused on family than business, especially on Sunday. If you don’t share this perspective, then by all means use this as a tool—and sometimes, others will require it.

Now go forth, write and send—oh wait, it’s Thursday afternoon. Not yet!

Resilience & rubber bands

“During these Covid times,” being flexible and strong, never breaking and always protecting like those elastic gems is a must

March 17 was the invention date of the rubber band, a wonderful, magical tool that I couldn’t live without. Had British inventor and businessman Stephen Perry not been fooling around with vulcanized rubber, papers, products and hair and other mishmash items would scatter around willy-nilly.

Stephen Perry

“During these Covid times” as my ten-year old has been saying for two months now (the precursor to suggesting or doing something that’s normally not acceptable) I’ve been thinking about the rubber bands of life.

Bodies expand and contract like those wonderful elastic vulcanized rubber thingy-ma-jigs. Financial lives have been stretched to the breaking point, pulling and hurting in equal amounts, momentarily contracting then pulled again. Our emotional and mental states have also expanded beyond points we were prepared to endure. For a few, the rubber band has snapped. A front-line doctor took her life, horrific crimes have been committed against fellow human beings.

Yet this time hasn’t been entirely bad.  Bike sales have spiked during Covid, the joys of family together melded with the very real need to get out of the house. And prior to that, games, puzzles and ebook/traditional sales dramatically increased. I’ve not experienced or seen bad temperaments of in-store fighting or wars of words. On the contrary, here in Idaho, it’s been politeness and sharing, the six-foot distance doing no more than stretching our boundaries, the visual rubber band at work. The elasticity of the human spirit has been wonderfully at work.

The rubber band family

Those of us Idaho-imports moved here had no idea that stocking up for potential snow storms would help against a completely unexpected virus. And when you do live in rural area, you make must have a level of self-reliance stock up because you have to. Town is thirty minutes away, the nearest gas station fifteen, so if the unexpected happens, the bread (and toilet paper) will be long gone before you can get to town.

For yourself or your family, coming out of the “these Covid times,” doesn’t mean spending wildly on fun stuff, although it would be nice if you can. It means preparing for the next unexpected wave. Doing so gives me safety of mind, which is akin to ensuring my personal rubber band around my family is in good shape, protecting it and holding it together.

What about the fires in Florida which happened this month along with the flooding in the Carolinas? If Covid weren’t enough, you have strife-inducing events caused by nature. Out here in Idaho, most goods come in (via truck) from the coast. One year, a strange snow melt covered the singular pass between Seattle and this region, shutting down the artery for two weeks. We had tires on a semi which was stuck, along with lettuce, clothing and every other item it takes to live. So while it wasn’t a fire, flood or pandemic, it was a simple snow melt that brought this region to its knees.

This all gets me to wondering, how can we be more like that beautifully simple product created and patented by Stephen Perry, expanding and contracting when the challenging times come again? It’s simple, just like the rubber band. Stock up on essentials well before it’s necessary; be it clothing for the kids (buy one of present size, then one size larger) that extra can of food, the additional box of detergent and of course, toilet paper and water. It’s not sexy and won’t gain you followers like that photo of being in Greece, but it will keep you alive and help you sleep at night, and that comfort is priceless.

Start today, sleep tomorrow

Money: always have $500 in small bills if possible. Start today with a ten here, a twenty there. Save it/don’t touch it.

Food: Buy an extra can of anything you pick up. Buy-one/save one is a good motto to follow. You’ll have two weeks of short/long term food storage and paper products in no time.

Clothing: buy an extra size when it’s on sale, for yourself or kids. My weight went up twenty and nothing fit. While some wore pajamas and sweats for comfort, I wore them out of necessity. NO BUENO!

Gas or other essentials. We were down to a few gas tanks, but seeing how the coasts were hit, we had a month lead time until restrictions hit us. We were lucky that way, because we had time to purchase and save. Now that the shelves are being restocked, do so now.

These are at home items, but the Go Bag, which I’ve often referred to, and have for each of our cars, has essentials that can all fit in a waterproof backpack. I go through it about every 4-6 months just to be on the safe side. Fires are the big thing around here, and I’m telling you what: if you can’t get it and go in under thirty, life is not good. The Go Bag is my mobile rubber band that keeps my family together at a basic level.

Fires are the big thing around here, and I’m telling you what: if you can’t get it and go in under thirty, life is not good. The Go Bag is my mobile rubber band that keeps my family together at a basic level. We have for each of our cars, has essentials that can all fit in a waterproof backpack. I go through it about every 4-6 months just to be on the safe side.

Staying Above Ground

romantic suspense title coming June 2020

A week ago, I learned my amazing designer had six months worth of projects cancelled due to Covid. He had created massive trade show pieces, web design, software application front ends–all shut down mid-stream. Most of the clients were unable to pay for the work he’d done, let alone pay for the aspects remaining. Now, I love this guy in a purely platonic, he’s an-incredibly-talented type of way. He’s created the covers for my last 15 books and a myriad of social media, in-store retail and odds-and-ends I’ve required. His question: Do you have any upcoming books that I can work on now. My answer: YES!!

The backstory is my stuff usually gets slotted in months in advance and let’s face it: author covers/design are pretty much at the bottom of the priority list due to the time it takes and the money. It’s simple math, and I’ve never had a problem with it. That said, the unfortunate circumstances have allowed me to skip to the front of the big-boy line.

Passing on the love

Download a free ebook and enter to win a free, signed copy of Above Ground

This novel is similar in genre to Global Deadline. A suspense genre set in Las Vegas. It goes to the editor in three weeks, which means it will be out June if I’m lucky. And since I’m thrilled to keep my designer at work on my projects, I gave him the green light to work on Chambers 3.

Want to be an advance reader? Let me know on my Facebook page, Instagram or direct. Also, you can download a free book and enter to win a signed copy as well as get alerts for new promotions when I have a title that’s included in group-author promos.


Back of Book

Far beneath the bright lights of the Vegas strip lies a thriving subtropolis, nearly 300 miles of it. It’s dark. It’s real. And it awaits those who can’t make it in one of the most competitive cities in the world.

Born to a single mother and former showgirl, Shay Wilson was determined to succeed in her hometown of Las Vegas, not on stage but in the courtroom. After paying her way through school as a bartender, Shay is hired by one of the most prestigious law firms in town, yet quickly realizes she’ll never make partner unless she finds clients of her own. With that goal in mind, she returns to her former night job to serve drinks and pitch potential clients. But with these new clients comes trouble. Shay expected to fight crime in the courtroom, not on the streets.

Discovering her new clients are linked to a national fencing ring of stolen goods puts both her personal and professional lives in jeopardy. And the two men Shay turns to for help add to the danger. One is an undercover cop tasked with exposing the organized crime, and the other is an executive intent on discovering who in his organization has betrayed him.
To survive, Shay takes refuge in the dark underworld below the city, a shelter to criminals and innocents alike. Uncertain of how to navigate this new landscape, Shay must figure out who to trust, who to fear and how she will make it out alive…

Chambers 3: The Sphinx Princess

Not quite ready to share the back of book on this one, but here’s the cover. I love it, and hope you do too.

As with all the historical-fiction/time travel Chambers series books, this third installment is based in and around the facts of a particular time in Egypt. The pharaohs built tunnels connected the pyramids to the Nile in order to escape or simply relax. Mia, pictured above, is believed to be a reincarnated Princess, who in real life died in her early 20’s. Won’t say anymore for now… looked for specials on my authorpage or other social media. Books 1 and 2 are up and available if you want to catch up now.

Want to be an advance reader for either? Let me know on my Facebook page, Instagram or direct. Remember to download a free book and enter to win a signed copy.

Suspenseful and tense…a page turner

The Cube Master…. “Gerdes has created another winner. YA as well as mature readers of techno thrillers will be rewarded.”

Always a joy (and relief) to get a good review. In case you missed it in the wave of news, bookmark this for your reading list. A tip: signing up for my newsletter at BookCave. allows you to download your book of choice. Scroll along the top and you can find authors, books, deals and offers. Incarnation is presently running under a promo which allows you to read book 1 of the series for free, and a few others. It ends at the last day of April. In the meantime, here’s the taste for book 2 in the series which is available at all the major print and the major ebook outlets, plus Amazon .

Me and Bonnie, long lost relatives

A wonderful, weird outcome of this stay-at-home period has been the ancestry efforts conducted on Family Search, Family Tree and whatnot, lines and lineage all strung together like the vines on netting, where one branch ends, another begins.

My own discovery has been a bit odd, starting with a round, chunk of grey which, like Star Trek, no grey had gone before. Visualize your face as a clock, then find 11, approximately the upper left diagonal of your eye. Trace the line with your fingertip, starting at the brow, ending at the hairline. Then, because you have nothing better to do at home, make a circle about the size of a quarter. Just for fun, extend that to a silver dollar.

Bonnie as a teenager

Now imagine that circumference all grey, as in, you took a white marker and painted it grey. That’s how I came to find my heritage with Bonnie Raitt, for she too, has a grey circle at the top left of her hair. Who knew that all it would take is Covid-19 to connect my grey circle with hers?

Why now? Why this time?

As so famously said by the illustrious law student Elle Woods whilst attending Harvard law, when asking the question of a man discarding previous sperm “donor” attempts, but not “this time?” In my case, I’m asking myself, why now? Why this time?

middle-age Bonnie

Easy. No hair coloring available, and having learned from past attempts at being my own stylist, coloring is not a skill set in my bullseye. It’s better to go grey than go green (sorry, no images but it’s alive in my memory). The last time my hair was natural was eleven years ago, and before than, fourteen years, both aligning with pregnancies and breast feeding when I went au natural across the board, from eating to dying to fixing, pricking and plumping. The good news for me was I was younger then and I didn’t have grey. The bad news was I couldn’t even recall my natural hair color, but I certainly do now.

Poor Bonnie however. You can see she had “the spot” as I now refer to it when in high school! Youza. I think it’s like a birthmark–one needs to embrace it, just like Cindy Crawford and “the mole,” which somehow got morphed into a beauty mark. If that was on me, my brothers would haven’t called it for what it was: a curse. But in our new-age day and way, what do we do? Love it. Hug it. Embrace it. Let it shine. Don’t cover it up, slice it off or otherwise diminish it’s greatness. Bring it to life! I say.

Rog says not

My dearest husband is not about embracing, loving or cultivating “my spot,” like a fertile plot of soil. He is about shading it with an eye pencil, and when that doesn’t work, he’s not above recommending a permanent marker. When I balk, he offered up one of the girls non-soluable paints from IKEA. I tried to compare myself to Cindy and the mole, which didn’t go far. She had the body to match. Not I.

Present day Bonnie- still the boss

The real problem with my body’s attempt to become like Bonnie is that it’s on my part line–just like hers! Couldn’t my body have chosen to be original? Or self-identify as a back-of-head spot of above-the-ear-spot? Why on my part line?

Further, could it not have been born a part of me, like Cindy and her “beauty mark?” It was a part of her being from the get-go and her parents were probably too cheap to spend the money on a six-year-old. They had no choice but to call it pretty. By the time she was a teenager and making more money than her parents, she too, was convinced it was pretty. Compare that to my ugly mark, because let’s be honest. When you get a sun spot, it’s from age, not from God. My grey blob at 11 o’clock is a curse of aging, not a beauty gift from the almighty, like a snake in waiting, hoping for the sun of Covid to shine on us all, thereby revealing our true nature.

As I’ve become more reconciled to my relationship with Bonnie, I’m pointing out our similarities: we both have blue-ish glasses. we both insist on having long hair and wearing long earrings, but tragically, the comparisons end there, but I’m certainly not slingling the guitar like a boss as Bonnie.

Three men, three mantras and three very different lives

A tale of three men began with a former boss and continued as I interviewed two-dozen individuals for a book on success. In this time when we are all contemplating our lives, a few gems deserve to be shared.


“You want to guarantee a job gets done? Find the busiest person in the company and give it to him/her.”

As always, one must consider the source to determine if the wisdom is worth anything. You be the judge.

Mantra one is from a Duke engineering and accounting graduate (with honors and masters), pilot and also certified flight instructor who went to Microsoft for a stint as a technology architect (designing the systems). He jumped ship after a couple of years for a start-up, parting ways with the chief technology officer after eighteen months, eventually landed in the consulting world and found his calling. He was making a pittance at Microsoft compared to project consulting fees. Within the first two years, he was making a million a year. By year five, this had jumped three-fold. On average, he was personally taking home three-four million a year for about eight years.

He traded up from his 1,200 foot home in an old part of Seattle to a primary residence of 10,000 square feet in the affluent Seattle suburb of Woodenville. He added a second home in the San Juan islands where his wife installed not one, but seven, count them seven, Gaggenau ovens. His journey from his home in Seattle was made easy thanks to his twin-screw vessel which he insisted on piloting once he earned his credentials.

What isn’t sexy about this?

But why stop there? This busy man didn’t know how or when to stop either work or his personal expenditures. Ergo, he had not one, but three planes, all covered by the business. One, a twin-prop Piper Malibu, $2M King Air with seating for eight and a Mooney, a quarter million dollar aircraft built for speed.

All of this afforded by his work ethic and smarts. He believed in the mantra he espoused because it was in part what had made him successful. His over-busy manager or counterpart would give him a task in desperation which he’d take, complete and ultimately receive the accolades. Sometimes, he’d receive the promotion instead of the other person.


“Spend eight hours doing the job you were hired to do, and another two doing the job you want.”

This was said to me by the senior vice president of mergers and acquisitions who worked for the world’s largest consulting firm at the time. He attributed his success to applying this phrase to every job he’d taken since college, the phrase initially coming from one of his professors at BYU. This man had two undergraduate degrees and his masters in business administration, but said those credentials were insignificant compared to the working on the job.

“More knowledge comes from what you learn at your job than you will ever learn in the classroom,” he believed. Then he went on to give examples of how applying the concepts gets you fifty percent of the way. “The rest is what you learn and how you apply it.” But even then, he argued, that’s only enough to fulfill what’s expected of you. “You will never really stand out unless you put in more effort, more work and show more determination than the person sitting next to you.”

In other words, leadership is always looking for the next manager, the next stand out sales person. Not everyone needs a college degree, or two graduate degrees to be financially successful.

Live to work or work to live

This man chose a very different life path than the first. His primary (and only) residence was a 3,400 square foot home in a nice, but older neighborhood in less trendy part of Seattle. His wife drove a minivan and he had a Prius. No boats, planes or exotic cars. When he did spend money, it was on travel with his family. It was his one indulgence. When I interviewed him, he’d racked up nearly twenty African trips, Safari’s being his favorite, and he’d often take his grown children. Eventually, he retired to give of his time to an educational institution, desiring to spend his days with his family while he was in good health.

The first professional I mentioned, who is approximately the same age, has chosen to continue live to work. He used his home in the islands a handful of times a summer, his packed schedule not conducive for the long boat ride up. He used his planes not for weekend family getaways, because his wife has always hated small aircrafts. Instead, his flight time has been used to generate revenue, not deepen relationships. In fact, leisure travel and activities wasn’t a part of his life, because it took too much time out of his work schedule and billable hours.

What’s the point of having things when your life is empty of friends or loved ones?

Comparing the two men, the difference in lifestyle are stark. One had all the material possession attainable yet were rarely used because…well, he was working so much. (I forgot to mention man one also owned a Rolls, driven by his wife to and from Seattle Prep where their children attended, a Bentley which he drove and an Escalade). On the other hand, professional number two kept his life and lifestyle simple, investing his discretionary time on experiences, not things. What’s ironic is that this second man (who drove the Prius while having an executive title with one of the world’s foremost companies) earned multiples of millions of man number one who showed it all off. This proved one of my own mantras: “Those with the most don’t show it.”

“Those with the most don’t show it”

It’s now been six years since I’ve spoken with either man, but from what I’ve seen on-line and heard, the path of one has changed dramatically, the other hasn’t. The boat, planes, homes and children of the first have all but disappeared, the burnout as emotional as it was financial. Specifically, bad choices led to the collapse of the consulting firm, the personal overhead unsustainable. It’s all gone. Alternatively, the former SVP has lived his life as he constructed; spending his workdays with an academic institution and his free time with his family. He still drives his Prius but his wife finally upgraded to a used Lexus SUV to haul around the grandchildren.

One lived to work, his surroundings and lifestyle reflecting that, his own mantra serving him very well. The second worked to live, his close family and sound financial decisions evidence of his conviction. Having heard these experiences and witnessing the eventual outcome, I do wonder if there was a middle ground to be walked, perhaps the peaks wouldn’t have been so high but the valleys not so low.

A third mantra from a former boss

When I was twenty-four working at my second start-up outside Silicon Valley, the once-divorced CEO, a thirty-nine year-old who’d already taken one company public, often said he “lost” his first wife and children in the drive to accomplish his goals. He found and married a hot thirty-year old who was step-mother to his two sons, and during our press tours, he’d talk candidly about what he’d done wrong, taking full ownership of the demise of his marriage, vowing to change his ways. During the five years I spent at the company, we grew from eight to two hundred and went public. I continually observed this CEO, wondering if history would repeat itself.

It didn’t. He left work at five p.m. No. Matter. What. He took vacations, two times a year, without fail. He wouldn’t respond to emails on Saturday, but wait until Sunday night at seven p.m. when his boys were in bed. He was ruthless about his protected family time. Yes, the cynical will say: “Well, he already had a few million in the bank and was the CEO, he could afford to do that.” I agree. Yet he still had a choice, as many do, to carve out and maintain a semblance of balance, and it was his actions that gave the rest of us permission to have a life. We could leave at six or seven and the world wasn’t going to shut down, neither was the company. We didn’t have to be on email at eleven at night to impress the boss, because the boss was with his family.

Although I was a senior manager at the time, I felt compelled to work late and come in on the weekends. One morning, I’d arrived at 6 a.m. and he appeared, asking me why I was in the office. I responded it was to deal with the east coast press, who were up and alive at nine a.m.

“My boss told me something I never forgot,” he said, one hand on my cubicle wall. “Things are never as good or as bad as they seem. Remember that. It puts everything in perspective.”

It took another decade to really embed that philosophy in my DNA, but it’s a phrase I often repeat to Rog, my close circle and myself. It keeps the highs and lows in check, our emotions and efforts a bit more stable.



“Things are never as good or bad as they seem

Modesty doesn’t equal a lack of means

I still think and apply the two other phrases quite frequently. When a person complains or a tasks isn’t being done at the office, I ask who is busiest? The owner/manager invariably responds in an instant. “Give it to that person!” I suggest, telling them the mantra. When a person wants to get ahead, I offer up mantra number two; “Work eight hours at the existing job and another two at the job you want.” That works like a charm. And for the life/balance situations, which happen on a weekly (daily?) basis, we have mantra number three, perfect for not just times of staying at home during a pandemic, but at all times, because as Jeff said: “Things are never as good or bad as it seems.” Endurable words of wisdom for all of us to remember.

Anonymous, generous and classy

Winter of 2020 has united us in the way Lady Justice might have applauded; Covid-19 doesn’t recognize race or religion, color or culture. It’s been the great equalizer, putting doctors and bartenders, construction workers and attorneys out of work. I know all of the above who have been laid off and seen their client work evaporate. One law firm employing 12 in two locations lost four hundred thousand in a single day. One client owed them $200K, and instead of paying, declared bankruptcy. Within twenty-four hours, two other clients owing a hundred grand each who’d received the work, stated they weren’t paying because they no longer had the money, their own businesses going down the drain. Rog and I are friends with small business owners lay off their staff, seeing the “trickle-down effect” of their own customers not walking through the door or spending on take-out. The trickle wasn’t that a slow dropping of water but a tsunami, destroying all in its path, livelihoods and now relationships as family tensions rise.

And yet, during this time of distress and sorry, I’ve seen bits of hope for those who are calm because they’ve prepared and saved money, food and supplies. I’ve also witnessed absurd insensitivities by those with gross amounts of financial resources, ego or delusion.

Just today I saw Geffen and his yacht, wishing us all safety as he cruises the islands in his $590M vessel. Then we have the wife of a former NFL player justifiably upset that she keeps purchasing sunglasses but can’t show them off anywhere so must resort to Instagram. On the upside, she discovered Super Glue for her one-inch nail which had broken, and in her highlight story, thanked the Lord because that’s how we shall make it through these tough times.

Really.

For these souls and people who just need to give a shout out to the world that they can’t get their custom Louboutin’s shipped, I pray hard. Much harder in fact, than the prayers that go out to those who are putting groceries on credit cards and laying off employees. Grossly blessed and highly uninsightful, they lack the characteristics of modesty, grace and class, things that are actually free, but rather hard to come by.

When we think of Tom Hanks, Oprah, Ellen or JK Rowling, we know they are worth more money individually than we will ever be combined. We guess, or have seen, their multiple homes, cars and vacations. As Americans in the land that invented capitalism, they represent all that our culture has deemed valuable for decades: status + money = success. Okay, we get that. Yet to focus on those four, none of them are really rubbing it in our faces, highlighting the fact that they are probably flying around in private jets to some exotic location or self-isolating in their fifty-thousand square foot home in Montecito. Somehow, it doesn’t seem so obscene because we aren’t having to look at the images.

A different way of living and giving

When Drew Brees and his wife made headlines a few days ago, he didn’t do it by posting a Tik Tok video with his wife. It was through a $5M donation to a city in need. Ralph Lauren didn’t share an image riding a thoroughbred on his 3,000 acre farm outside Ouray, Colorado. He gave $10M to help the Covid-19 efforts but wasn’t pictured in his expansion mansion. Both of these individuals clearly have the means to travel, purchase and live a life of luxury regardless of what goes on around them, but they’re not putting it front and center.

My mother has always advocated that the best giving is done quietly, anonymously and without a press release. That was old school and elegant, and I’m sure this is happening every day, but we don’t hear or read about it. The donations could be made from your next door neighbor, mom or friend or yourself, done without telling a soul, and it’s probably the culmination of these acts that will truly make a difference.

Saving the Precious: your family

Two weeks after we moved in to our first home outside Seattle, Washington, the worst ice storm to hit the Northwest in twenty years pounded us. Eighteen inches of heavy snow received three inches of ice. It was heavy, hard and unmmovable.

This doesn’t sound like much, but for an area used to rain, it was nearly catastrophic. We were completely unprepared for our situation. Our home was on a plateau, 800 feet up from sea-level, the paved road steep, the area wooded and shaded. Ironically, we were only a quarter-mile from the main road, but it was enough to strand us and the other fifteen home-owners for two weeks. No way to get down (who owned snow removal equipment? No one) nearly all of us caught off guard, with little food, supplies, gas or heating. We literally had no way to make the half-mile trek down to the main road until the ice and snow thawed.

how we felt: empty handed and not-prepared

When Rog finally could make it down the hill, he found every gas station down to Tacoma was dry (about two hours south of us), and it was consuming all his gas just to drive around. The few of us who had small generators had long-since run out of gas. It was the crash course lesson in homeownership, self-preparation and common sense rolled into one very stressful two-week period.

The lessons learned

1) get a bigger generator that didn’t consume five gallons of fuel for every two hours

2) upgrade said generator to include an automatic “on” switch for power outages.

3) improve the food on hand from random canned goods capable of sustaining life for about a week or two to actual “food storage” which could keep us healthy and alive for months.

4)  have alternate forms of heating for the home. Electric is great until the main grid goes down, which it did within five hours of this storm. A fireplace is also wonderful, except when you’ve never used it and don’t have dried wood stored about.

Growing pains: from theory to reality

At that point in our young marriage, (two years) we thought “holy crap, we’re never going to survive,” what life is going to throw us. So we made a priority list. While this article may come too late for some of you, it’s never too late to make an assessment of where you’re at and what you can do to keep your family safe, well-fed and secure, even if you’re “family” is only you.

Your family and home assessment
In order of priority
  1. 500 dollars in small bills (10/5/1s). Reasoning: all the electronics systems can go down. No credit/debit cards and no checks accepted. Further, when/if this happens, very few have change. If Rog went to a place and offered a 20, they’d happily take it, but couldn’t offer change. If you fill a car with $60 and need groceries, $100 or $200 doesn’t go far.
  2. Extra gas. Reasoning: Small generators and nearly all home equipment require gas. Rog ran into this immediately when trying to leave our home during this storm. The ice caused branches and a few huge trees to block the road. Only one of our two chainsaws worked (another problem), and neither had much gas. The old-timers in the community had extra gas, but it was limited.
    1. How much? Ten gallons minimum. Additional item: when he went to purchase these, the stores were out. It wasn’t until much later we would actually find/buy and fill them.
    2. Have mixed fuel tanks, diesel and gas. You never know what you/your neighbors will need. Be over prepared.
  3. Food & water. Reasoning: living is good. We didn’t believe going in debt to have food storage was smart, so we budgeted $100 per month for the two of us, our dog and two cats.
    1. Our goal: build up to one-year food supply, but start with 3 days, 2 weeks, 1 month, 3 months and just continue until we reached that point. Honestly, we never did reach one year while we lived there, capping out at about eight months, and it was a blend of 20 year, 2 year, 3 months, the spread between dehydrated, freeze dried. While I started out being scientific (order or purchasing by item etc.) that shortly gave way to pragmatism. I went with what I could find, but followed a few guidelines.
      1. Purchase 1 extra of whatever I was buying, either water, a can of food, tampons or lighters. When I reached my “goal” of an item and quantity, I stopped. It didn’t take too long to reach cans of tuna, soup, water and the like.
      2. Have a balance of short, medium and long term food and types. 1 20 year can of soup ($14.00) which gives 40 servings, or roughly enough lunches for a month for a family of two. We have three types of long-term food storage, mid-term (think freeze-dried found at Dicks and elsewhere) and short based on preferences.
      3. Use and replace. Canned food has an expiration date. Cycle through and use product so they don’t get old.
      4. Long term food. This is most commonly found in 10 lb cans. As of today, one of the brands we use, Auguson Farms, has paused orders and are 2 months back ordered, but many outdoor and supply stores still have it in stock).
  4. Alternative/back-up heat. Reasoning: gas runs out. Wood doesn’t.
    We went with a Quadafire wood burning stove for the main floor and a pellet stove for downstairs. Yes, we had to purchase dry wood in the summer, storing it under the deck, but the $250 one-time annual cost saved us $450 per month! Plus it was faster to heat the home and longer lasting, as it heated the floors, walls and multi-story lava rock fireplace.
  5. To-Go bags. When I left for college, my mother gifted me a backpack for the car, one which included the essentials for survival. While the items inside have been upgraded or replaced over time, the bag has never left my car. Ever. What do I have?
    1. Water, water purifier, first aid kit, metallic blanket, storage food, essential toiletries, cold and warm weather essentials (e.g. snake bite kit for warm weather), lighter, mini scriptures). If you don’t have the money or can’t find a purifier, you can get the tablets, commonly found in any camping or outdoor store.
    2. Necessary documents. I’m going to devote another blog to this at some point, but what you must have, either in writing or electronic to take on the go include: family photos, passport, birth certificates-either images/numbers, asset insurance paperwork (home, car, life) medical history – e.g. for your kids/relatives for school or other required materials. You can put this on a solid state storage device like a USB or smart card. I prefer a multi-use USB- it’s versatile.
my preferred USB

Home preparation is like that starting a marathon; at first it seems overwhelming, and you can’t imagine you’ll ever finish, but yet you are do, and are satisfied you made the effort. Wherever you’re at, just start. Take it one item, one shopping trip and one day at a time. And along the way, make it fun and remember the little things such as closing the drapes/blinds when it’s cold because it saves heat, or close the doors to unused rooms and make a tent bedroom in the living room. You’ll save heat, have family bonding time and sleep well knowing you are doing all you can for your family.

Interestingly, when we moved to Idaho, we had to start all over. No generator nor gas tanks, and even now, four years later, we still haven’t bit the bullet to convert our gas fireplace to a dual wood/gas. That means we still have improvements to make, and are hoping to get a few vital things buttoned up. It’s probably the rare person or family who has every element of their preparedness taken care of, but I’d hypothesize that they sleep the best of all.


Enter the jungle: the Spa at the Villa Del Palmar Cancun

An unforgettable experience at the one-of-a-kind Destination day spa

Within the heart of the Villa del Palmar resort in Cancun resides an untouched jungle of magic, Mayan and modern, soothing yet sophisticated, the Spa at the VDP is unlike any other spa I’ve experienced anywhere. In Kyoto Japan, the lines are clean, wood pristine, services and treatments quiet and inspiring. In the hills of Ireland, the experience is rough and real, deep and pressure-filled, but satisfying, like the food and the people. Every culture and experience is unique and unforgettable, but in 32 countries and multiple more resorts just in Mexico, the VDP Spa should be considered a destination of its own, even if you aren’t staying at the resort.

5 star & my top 10

When I love, I mean truly l.o.v.e. a place or experience, I’ll create a short vid. This is my own concoction from materials, and if it looks like a marketing piece, I guess it is, because the place is a destination not to be missed. More on the resort and surrounding areas in future pieces.
The jungle

Looking down from a top floor room (or any other balcony in the U-shaped resort) a jungle is visible below, but the activity within is shrouded in secrecy. If you weren’t told what lies beneath and within, you’d never know. Never before have I descended into a jungle, the sounds, sights and distractions of the surrounding buildings and boisterous activities evaporating within the silent darkness. I didn’t need to think Zen, it happened without me knowing it. I haven’t personally traveled to the Amazon jungle, but gained an immediate appreciation for the noise-proofing of the arm-length leaves from towering trees, or the short, thick pedals intertwined  among the indigenous wood treatment rooms. The check-in reception area is welcoming and gives a sense of privacy, even though it doesn’t have doors or windows. It is literally one with the jungle, as if the designer intended the visitor to begin the transition from the outside, real world to one where indigenous life began.

That pathway from the rest of the resort is just off a main trail. If you don’t look for it, you’ll miss the entrance entirely.
Let the pampering begin

It starts when you sit in the reception area. Well, actually just prior, because a personal attendant walks you to the chair, offers you several options for cleansing/refreshing drinks, places a towel on your head, essentially takes your cell phone (I hid mine, bad me) and lifts my feet to an ottoman. Whether this five-minute respite was to get me into my Zen zone or not, it worked. As much as I wanted to capture pictures and record every step of the experience, removing my device in a clandestine-type of way seemed to defeat the point of relaxation. But I wasn’t ready to disconnect—not yet.

Keep in mind that my photos were clandestine, taken from my cell phone. Any lack of clarity is due to my pics not the place. The reception area.

After two cleansing glasses (of different tastes and consistencies) I was led to the changing area. Replacing my (hotel provided) robe was another, softer version and upon exit, my assistant awaited, leading me to one of several secluded, garden and waterfront areas. It’s special in size and feel; only a few tartan recliners with plush cushions were positioned in front of three different soaking pools, each one different in temperature and design. Beyond these, and to either side is the wall of jungle, the cozy treatment buildings—which are more like luxury huts—were to be seen.

At this point, I was given a face mask of my choosing (lavender with some herb mix) then my assistant placed head and neck herb sacks in position, lifted my feet and proceeded to give each area a bliss-filled rubbing (see the foot sacks in photo above). I was extremely disturbed about five minutes into this when a woman with a thick, southern accent had no such compunction about talking on her cell phone, and it was impossible to tell the attendant to ask her to stop talking in front of her. I endured it, but mentioned this later. Her constant yapping killed my desire to be there a moment longer or use any of the soaking pools. It was a total kill-joy and hopefully the spa becomes militant about a no-cell phone rule.

Moving on

The good news is the moment I indicated I was ready to leave, we did. My attendant walked me through the jungle on the wooden lanes, the canopies above continuing to block out both the visual and noise of the surrounding hotel. Had I not known where I was, it would have been impossible to tell we had a thousand guests within a quarter mile radius. Each luxury cabanas offer unique services, and I was led to one at the end, the significance made clear. I’d asked for the most “traditional” holistic-Mayan treatment, and this particular cabana was designed for just that. I was introduced to Leticia, a small, warm-skinned woman who smiled broadly, offering that she is in fact, Mayan, and this is a special, sacred experience. I was prepared—or so I thought.

Cabanas (service/treatment rooms) line the walkway, marked by small signs and thatch huts.

We didn’t go in immediately. She asked me to stand still and close my eyes. Other Mayan rituals I’d been a part of require a smoke cleansing. In this case, Leticia softly brushed different parts of my body with specific sand/herb mixtures, chanting/repeating words I couldn’t understand but felt her emotions as she did so. Arms, legs, face, belly…I personally love the smell of indigenous smoke, having been born in Costa Rica and living in Honduras, so it felt familiar and comforting.

I asked to see where the pedicure services were done, and got a peek into this treatment cabana. It was as private and cozy as the others.
Phase 1

At this point, I took a few final photos and put the phone away for good. It was spiritually and emotional at odds with the intent of the spa. It was also required, because we proceeded inside where I laid down and Leticia proceeded the first phase of the treatment. She ran her fingers over my body, feeling the bones and tissues as a good specialists will do, seeking to understand injuries or issues I might have.

The traditional smoke and herbs awaiting for me outside the “Fire” room

At this point, she touched my belly, and it hurt, but not overly so. Leticia mumbled something, but I said it was fine, and she continued (I’m a woman after, and women-things happen. That was all). After this was the scrubbing and cleansing treatment not unlike those in other countries; this difference was this version was local, Mayan soaps and sands, the textures and smells unique to this spa alone. As an aside, I was given a disposable pair of panties and wrap around bra, both easily discarded during the washing stage.

Just one angle of the large interior of the Fire room. Incense was already burning when I arrived, the bed warm and my anticipation high.

The scrub-down was a complete massage in itself, the abrasive texture perfect. Each section was subsequently wrapped so I was kept warm as Leticia transitioned to the next area. When it was complete, she conducted yet another body-pressing exercise, and then a period of quiet silence ensued. It felt like the products were seeping into my skin, my pours and my muscles. I actually thought the massage was going to end there, but no, there was more!

Phase 2

At this point, we were about forty minutes in, and I was on the verge of stressing out because I didn’t want it to end. Leticia didn’t give me time to go worry as she led me to the cabana’s shower where I rinsed off, then resumed my position on the table. If I thought I was on my way to heaven before, when Leticia resumed touching my body, I was sure I’d arrived in Paradise.

The private relaxation area for my cabana, perfect for individuals or couples.

The herbs and oils, lotions and smoke were a blur, because I didn’t want to keep asking her questions. Muscle from bone, my body gave way under her skilled fingertips, the thirty minutes of expertise divine. Only when she turned me over did I experience pain, and that again between my pelvic area.

“Something is not right,” she said, her accent thick, but tone concerned enough I cracked open an eye. I’m a woman, I thought, nothing is ever really right. “This is swollen. It should not be here.” Now, as much as I admire and think highly of trained experts, I’ve always been a healthy woman, no uncommon issues plaguing my life, so as politely as I could, I thanked her, but dismissed her concern. I wanted to get back to the massage.

“You are tied up,” she said in somewhat broken English. “Knots and stress,” she said. I almost started laughing.

“Oh, no,” I said, “I’m not stressed out. I just exercise a lot.” Well, then I had to bite my inner lip on the comment. Recently I’d gained weight around my waist and hadn’t thought much of it. More writing, less working out, a tummy roll will happen, but I certainly wasn’t concerned.

Yet Laticia wasn’t letting this go. She pressed again and I squirmed, asking her not to touch it further. “This is not good,” she reiterated, lips downturned.

After that, I promptly forgot about the incident, falling right back into the bliss of the moment, enjoying the final sacred aspects of the treatment, the smoke and candles, her chanting and then my final moments of silence. The attendant appeared like a ghost when I was ready to leave, escorting me back to the changing cabana. The checkout still kept the Zen feeling alive, the area dark and quiet until I reached nearly the top of the ramp, where the wood meets concrete, and I was reminded that yes, I was in a resort, but a special one at that.

It’s easy to forget that five minutes away is the beach, where you relax in front of the beach that’s made the Gold Coast famous.
The after effects

Another piece details what occurred three months later. I was in Europe for a six+ week vacation with my husband and two daughters, my stomach feeling progressively tighter, or sort of upset. Going back to my prior comment with Leticia, I just thought “I’m a woman, this too shall pass.” My husband noticed I was eating less, but I attributed this to my monthly cycle. Three weeks in, I was barely eating a thing, and we’d made it through Switzerland and Germany, spending a week in Lake Como as well. As we left for Verona, the pain became crippling, and by the time we arrived in our villa I was seeing spots. As my husband frantically called the doctors, I went fully blind. To keep it short, I ended up being diagnosed with massive tumors, along with a rabid infection. The tumors had been inside me in April, but were much smaller—so much so I didn’t even realize they existed. In Italy, they were the size of an egg and avocado respectively. Six weeks later, when they were removed in the US, one was the size of a cantaloupe, the other a grapefruit. At the spa, I’d simply looked overweight around the middle. At then end, I looked seven months pregnant!

No more of that now, as you can read it elsewhere. The message is this: if you are under the care of an observant, skilled, trained professional, and he or she indicates something is not quite right, don’t be dismissive as I was. The surgery was invasive, the removal producing massive trauma, and while I wasn’t going to have children again, I now no longer have that option, and several vital organs were so damaged due to the severity of my condition, my health will never be the same. Let my experience be a lesson to you, while at the same time, acknowledging the power insightful people could (should?) have on your life.

Two different views of the resort: The pier on the left is where a.m. yoga is held (glorious and free), the right is the many shades of blue. More photos of the resort itself in other articles.
The details

My massage is called the HEALING RITUAL / TULUM , and you already know Leticia was my therapist. Others came highly recommended as well, but she was the only person working at my requested evening appointment (about 5:30 p.m.).

The cabana is called the FUEGO / FIRE / K´AAK´

Cost: $295 USD. Group discounts are available, and 15% off service specials of $50 dollars are more. For special events, two days advance reservations are recommended as the spa will often create unique give-aways.

What to bring: your best zen-like attitude

A view from one of the upper rooms over the near-invisible spa below. Beyond is a cooler pool with bridge, a dedicated children’s pool and play area. To the left is a secluded, adults-only pool area, and in the center, and to either side, a main, multi-aspect general pool. That’s where the swim-up bars, games and aquatics are held. Beach front cabanas and infinity pools both in private (members-only) and public areas stretch the entire length of the resort.
Recommendation

This is the kind of spa experience I’d recommend to individuals, couples, special occasions (showers, birthdays or other celebrations). Consider it a destination and one-of-a-kind experience on its own and make the effort, even if you are staying at another hotel along the Gold coast in Cancun.  I can guarantee you that none other than I’ve experience or heard of even comes close.

Authors note

As a professional novelist and experienced traveler, I write about places I’ve experienced because I choose to do so, not for hire or payment. My content, visual and written, are independently produced and copyrighted. For info on my books or articles visit sarahgerdes.com, or my author page on amazon.com.

Coba, Mexico & the relationship pyramid

My theme for the first week of January is the relationship pyramid, because really, isn’t it the perfect metaphor for a long-term relationship? It’s hard. It makes you sweat. Starting out, you’re on even ground, optimistic and know with certainty the view from the top is going to be beautiful. A little bit into the journey, your lungs burn, eyes dry out, muscles seize up, and quite honestly, those around you are jostling and cranky; the external influences on your perfect couple-dom diminishing the moment. Yet you think—anything that’s worth it is hard. It’s the mantra preached by every therapist and parent around. You keep going…up and up, and finally, you arrive.

There you are, relationship nirvana is the top of the pyramid. The view is…glorious. For about one minute. The heat is overwhelming, the water bottle has run dry, the noise from others is really loud and you look down, because like love, what goes up inevitably…you know. Goes down.

Coba intro

Life imitating pyramid

Little did I know this creative visual would spring to life on a trip to the Coba Pyramid in the Tulum Ruin region of Cancun. Located about two hours drive south of Central, Coba is one of the few remaining pyramids which are open to climbers. Chitzen Itza and all the others were placed off limits several back, and once there, it’s easy to see why. Beyond the steep incline, the rock is worn down from thousands of visitors. It’s steep. It’s slippery, and even after a great picture taking experience, the journey down is far more treacherous than the climb up ever thought of being.

To give a bit of detail, the road to Coba has long, desolate stretches, yet dotted with a few interesting bits–the trees and local towns unique, even if not inspiring enough for a closer look.

Past Tulum and into the area of Coba is the parking lot, which is close to the entrance, but the pyramid is a couple miles into the jungle. Its dry and arid, unlike Chitzen Itza which is hot and moist. One can cheat and rent a bike (and actually peddle) or rent a taxi, wherein you can sit while someone else peddles. The third option is you walk…all the way in.

Door number three is what Rog chose, because as you well know from our travels, the motto is: why take the easy route when we can get exercise? Now before you slay me with comments about being lazy, you need the context (if you have forgotten). I have walked, climbed, hiked and sometimes been on my knees around Gods-green-and-lovely-Earth with this man. And for once, just once, I wanted the easy way. We’d arrived late (3) which meant we had an hour to walk in, climb and get out. There was no way. I begged for the 4 bucks US—this still required us to do our own peddling, not be “full-lazy” as Rog described.

Of course, we were walking as we argued, moving further inland and away from the actual rental zone, all a part of Rog’s evil plan to get us there and make it a moot argument. A third of a mile in, I just went silent, knowing I’d lost the argument. This made Rog go quiet.

We kept walking. Nice trees. Cool ant formations and birds all around us. Trails and paths aside from the main soft-dirt road provided a few options and variety. Yet none of this mattered, by the time, we were half-way in, Rog gave me the silent treatment right back, found a rock and sat down. He refused to budge, and I looked at the time. He wanted to turn around (as I mentioned in the video) and I was having none of that. I told him he could sit and spin if he wanted, but I was taking the girls and going on without him.

To the pyramid

We arrived at the base, being warned by security we had limited time. They clearly underestimated the Gerdes girls. Up we went, scurrying like the termites we probably resembled. It didn’t take ten minutes, mostly because it wasn’t busy at all. Word to the possible visitor: if you go during rush hour, 10 a.m.- 2 p.m. it’s so busy you don’t even have the option to hold on to the thick rope in the center, which makes the climb rather dangerous. Definitely come right at opening or at the end of the day so you can have room to climb, the ability to hold the room if required, and lastly, take pictures at the top without the risk of being pushed off. (Note: no bathroom, water or anything else and the platform area is quite small).

Instead of enjoying the moment, we look around and see what’s missing. Rog. Dad. Husband. Partner in all things good and bad. It was like winning the argument and losing the relationship, how one can feel victorious after the heat of battle but getting so badly burned you should have thrown the white flag.

At the moment, we realized it was worth nothing, because the three of us wouldn’t ever be able to talk about the “remember when we climbed Coba?” since Rog wasn’t a part of the memory. The heat. The steps. The rude visitors. We all agreed we had but one choice—race down as fast as safely possible, run/jog back to where he was an convince him to come with us.

Relationship–round two (que Rocky theme)

My IG handle is laughterwithasideofchocolate because laughing gets one so much further in most circumstances that yelling. So that’s what the girls and I decided to use as a relationship strategy. To laugh about the fact he was still sitting on the rock; laugh about not having water and climbing the x9!* pyramid not once, but twice, laughing about how funny it would be to laugh about this around Christmas time as we create our annual card. Everyone was laughing, except Rog.

For five minutes. When he realized he could sit and regret the decision to dig in his heels, or appreciate the fact that we could in fact, make it without the assistance of a bike or rider, he stood. But he started walking the wrong way. We stood there and—laughed. We were going back to the pyramid, and by gosh, he was going to come with us.

Now isn’t that just typical of a marriage or serious relationship? The moment you think you’re back on an even playing field—the fun isn’t quite over yet. You go along for a bit (which is hard because your still annoyed), then it hits. Up the pyramid you go. Forgiveness is hard. Admitting you’re wrong is equally hard. In fact, it’s quite possible you may say: weren’t we already here once before?

So it was with Coba. But strangely, it was sweeter the second time around. The pyramid only had a handful of people, the sun was going down, and the view was amazing. Most of all, we were a family, having gone through the fits and starts which are so typical of daily life. The smiles were genuine, the forgiveness real, and the memories all that we predicted. We laugh about the rock, recall how we thought we were going to die of heat stroke, how slippery and rather dangerous the slick rocks had become over time.

The top of the pyramid has a small (but closed off) building

But like working through all relationship issues, we were glad we lived through the burn, pushed as hard as we could and endured. And if you choose to go to Coba, you too will be glad you did. Heck, you might even want to do it twice, just for the fun of it.

We made it–as a family, the way it’s supposed to be.

Tips:

  • Arrive early or go late
  • Bring a water bottle with a spray if possible. Water is sold at the entrance and at one other station midway.
  • Double check on the latest time to start your walk/climb so you don’t arrive overly late

Nylons and Nails

A Christmas wish and a father’s advice

On that fateful day when I called Dad, I was sobbing. Seeking marriage advice, I expected empathy with a bit of Don Corleon protectionism that would border my fragile emotional state. It sort of went like this:

“…and I do all the work around the house, the meals…all the school activities…and now this?” I exclaim with exasperation. “Dad, it’s totally ridiculous and I just don’t see why on top of everything else, I have to do it.”

A moment of silence follows which almost makes my heart burst with love. Dad’s experiencing my pain, sharing in my suffering. I can almost feel his beefy arms around me, holding me tight.

“Baby doll,” Dad began rather paternally. “He just asked you to wear nylons. Is it so hard?”

My dad actually resembles “the Don”…imagine him thinking what he’s going to tell me

BOOM! My brain just about exploded like the zit on the back of a football player in an Alabama afternoon. With curse words not fit for print, I channeled my unmet expectations into tears of frustration.

“But Dad—”

“No but’s,” he interrupted rather rudely. “What’s an extra sixty seconds in your already busy life? If that’s all he’s asking before you go into the bedroom, then what’s the problem?”

Breath deep, I counseled myself, hearing perhaps a little of his own forty-years of requests to my mother in his voice (no, I didn’t go there and ask). Time to do some self-reflection.

Was the extra sixty seconds that big of deal, or was I just annoyed that I wasn’t enough without requested nylons. Both questions I kept to myself of course, fearing my father’s answer.

“We done then?” Dad finished, ever the efficient businessman, even with his daughter on the edge.

“I guess, thanks.”

Christmas wish 2019…the year of the Nails

Here we are, about ten years later, and lest you forget, I’m an author, just wrapping up my 20th novel. I also play the piano. Do you know what that means? I have short fingernails, not the bitten-to-the-quick type sported by professional violinists, but rather the unkempt type which signifies to the world that anything past my knuckles serve no other purpose than to hold my rings in check.

“Please, for Christmas this year, I just want one thing,” Rog says about a month ago.

“Really?” I ask, delighted. The man buys what he needs, which at this point in life, isn’t much. I’m forever getting one more Atlanta Blackhawks hockey cap or gloves, and those slippers hockey players use going to and from the rink are so awful I just hand him a gift card.

“Yes. For Christmas, I would like you to get nails, in red please.”

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEeeeee I mentally scream, first thinking about the trip downtown, the time it will take and most of all, how it’s going to kill my typing speed just as I’m at the tail end of writing my present novel. I can’t take the peel off the apple, get food unstuck from my tooth or button my pants very well. These are critical items, all which make me annoyed in a pico-second, but what I give him is the perfect therapist-like response.

“That would really make you happy, wouldn’t it?” I ask. He nods and I’m feeling victorious, having both validated his request without actually giving him an answer.

In the thirty days since, did I make a date at the salon? Not at all, and I had no intention to do so, right up until yesterday, when I was rooting through my nylon drawer. I’ve thrown half of them away, because I simply don’t wear them while riding a motorcycle, on the ATV or skiing. My social engagements are few and far between, which leaves Sundays and “date nights.”


“He nods and I’m feeling victorious, having both validated his request without actually giving him an answer.”

Nonetheless, as I’m considering my reality, Rog’s request haunts me, and not just because it will take an hour and $45. It’s because I’m the one who has often coached Rog on the relationship bonus points to be had when the partners’ simple requests are met. Take for example making the bed. It’s small, but is important to me because it just leaves the house put together. Annoying to Rog? Sure, but once I made the request and guess what? He makes the bed, no matter how rushed. For. Ten. Years.

Then I think back to dear old Dad. There’s a reason he’s been married nearly 60 years, and it’s because he’s always doing the little things for Mom. And when he rhetorically asked me: “Is it so hard?” he wasn’t talking just about uncomfortable leg wrappings. It was about the bigger picture of life. The little things aren’t so hard…they are just…time consuming, annoying, uncomfortable, perhaps cost money or all of the above.

My father: have I you learned nothing I’ve taught you?

I briefly thought of calling Dad about the nails just to get a response. He’d probably coo and talk about getting a scalp massage or having his back tickled, which is precisely what Rog adores, but never gets because my author-stubs (aka fingertips) never reach through his thick head of hair. Alternatively, maybe just once, he’d like my fingers not to resemble my father’s stubby cow milking hands and something more glamorous and appealing.

At 6:50 p.m. last night, ten minutes before the salon closes, I get an appointment for my nails. “A full set in red,” I add, knowing that statistics show if one says a commitment out loud, it has a higher chance of being fulfilled.

Thus it was that this morning, Christmas Eve, I watch as Jenny uses glue and acrylic to form the base of what she ultimately covers with blood red gel. Just because I’m a rebel, I add silver to my fourth nails. Since I’m going all in, I might as well attempt to be trendy.

Jump to the present, approximately 2 p.m. We have been invited to attend Christmas Eve dinner with friends and as I type this—well, I can’t type. My fingernails are slipping, causing about every other word to be deleted then retyped, yet I keep going back to Dads sage words of wisdom.

“Nylons and nails,” I think to myself. “Was it so hard?” Finger slippage and sausage casings are not big things. I just want to exercise my free will. Putting my needs/wants/desires are ultimately just excuses for not thinking of someone else’s desires are important, like making the bed.

So, to answer the question, no, neither were hard. It’s in hindsight, I’m feeling selfishly Grinch-like for not doing such simple things that give my partner-in-life such joy. Today, Christmas came early for Rog, and as the saying goes, the joy of gift giving isn’t limited to a single day, it’s year-round.

I tried to skimp on the request, doing my home-grown version of red. As the saying goes, putting lipstick on a pig didn’t really help things and had to turn it over to a professional.

The value of used

No one espouses the value of used more than my husband Rog, who was heavily influenced by his grandfather, a depression-era kid who served in World War II. The man never experienced a broken item he couldn’t fix, or a new item he couldn’t get used.

“Why spend when you can save?” he drilled into Roger’s head. The man did his job well. This is a question Rog started asking me once we were married. It was annoying and produced a dozen years of arguing, but the truth can’t be denied: used items are functional, sometimes looking perfectly new and one doesn’t pay the premium.

The Shame Game

In the world of women, most, if not all I know take pride in using the word new. It’s means: I can afford it and I’m happy to say I paid full price. Men are the opposite. They will typically volunteer: I picked it up used, with an associated caveat (low miles, barely used). They mean: I’m smart, got a good deal, and therefore saved a ton of money (which means I’m really smart).

The philosophical divide between the sexes is Grand Canyon in size. I can’t recall a time when I heard a woman say with pride: yeah! I got it used. Not a purse, jacket, jewelry or car. It’s just not done. I was recently at a dinner party where one woman noticed another driving a different car.

“Is it new?” she asked with a tinge of envy. “I’ve always wanted one.” The car in question was an Audi A7 which retails new for about 70K.

The respondent half-grimaced, half-smiled and answered, “It’s new to me.” (If you’ve never heard this phrase, you are saying, ‘no, it’s not new, but it is new to me.’)

“Oh,” the woman responded, as though she wanted to retract her original statement.

“Yeah, it’s a couple of years old,” explained the owner of the car, the luster of the new purchase fading. “My husband found it for me.”

In our modern-day world of putting the word shaming before or after anything, we might just call this Used-Shaming. It may not be intentional, but it happens ever so subtly. Having been there myself, I throw the drowning woman a lifeline.

 “That’s awesome!” I said enthusiastically. “What year is it?”

She looks at me, uncertain. I can see she wants to lie but can’t. “2017” she answers.

“Great!” I continue, nodding. “You have the same body style and your husband probably saved, what, 15-20 grand?” She agrees with a bit more enthusiasm. “And he probably got the extended warranty, right?” Another nod, her light that had dimmed growing brighter. “Just think, you can take that 15K and go to Europe for a few weeks, or Bali! How awesome is that? Good for you!”

At this point, the woman is absolutely beaming, the implied criticism of the used car turned to a positive. How did I know to do that? Easy. I’ve had my own discomfort during the transition of only buying new items to purchasing used wherever I can, the notion of saving to spend elsewhere—or simply to save—a hard (and long) learned lesson which I want to share with others. My message is this: stand up, say it out loud and with pride, not shame. In other words, own it like a man. They are proud when they save money. Why should we as women any different?

Growing up poor

Humility and shame are sisters who share the same bed, but depending on what side you roll off of is what you’ll feel. One reason I argued with Rog so much is because of how I was raised. My father always insisted on new versus old. It wasn’t necessarily a warranty or quality thing. It was a point of pride that he could purchase the new version. He’d worked hard, and by darn, he deserved it and was going to spend it however he wanted.

For context, he grew upon a farm in Canada where the combine was worth far more than the modest farmhouse. He’d started milking cows as soon as he could grip and carry buckets, the 4 a.m. routing of waking continuing to this very day at 83. Dad’s entire aim in life was to save enough to get off the farm and into a better life. When he did so, he took great pride in the ability to purchase a new car, shoes or whatever he desired.

This was passed along to us, the kids. Not once do I recall my father purchasing a used item until I left for home (or after). Cars, clothes, goods—it didn’t matter. In hindsight, the undercurrent value set was that used wasn’t good enough, and this is what I carried with me. As a consequence, I was never taught to even think about purchasing at consignment or entering a used car lot. It simply never occurred to me.

Enter the man

So it was that when Rog and I hooked up, our philosophies didn’t match. Black and white, oil and water were silly comparisons. How about match and kerosene? Nuclear explosions and black rain? While Rog contended that my pride and ego overruled common sense, I argued that I’d worked hard and had the money, so why not?

The first decade of our marriage was combustible; any purchase over fifty bucks would light the flame then BOOM! Was it ever a wonder we waited until year seven to consider having children? We could barely justify the good times because the bad were so rocky. We both won and lost a few arguments, and after a while, we settled into a livable pattern. Home appliances were always purchased new, but machinery and some other items, used.

One sticking point was always cars. I’d always purchased new cars for the warranty (and I like new cars, I’ll admit), and he’d purchase used trucks. A perfect compromise. A decade later, we did an assessment, not unlike what we’d conduct at business. My cars would invariably break down after the warranty ended, requiring we continually flip the cars right before the warranty expired, incurring new costs. Compare this to Rog’s used trucks which ran almost flawlessly forever, warranty or not. At the end of a decade, we looked at the bottom line: what we’d wasted (me) vs what we could have saved or used elsewhere (Rog).

It was ugly.

I grumped. Pouted. Gnashed my teeth like Gollum but nothing changed the reality that he’d been raised one way, me another and I was either going to grow up in our relationship or I was going to grow out of it.

As I seriously ruminated about how I could still get my way, I had a visual of my future state. How was I going to justify the divorce to my family? It would go something like this: “Sorry, I just wasn’t willing to save money where it made sense. Yeah, I liked him too. Oh well.”

 Yeah. You could see who’s side they’d take on that one.

So, since my sister always says: “Give examples,” here are just a few of the recent ones because this blog has already become an epistle.

The snowblower. Needing one not long after we moved here, Rog gets on line, vomits at the four hundred price tag, but at my insistence, buys it new “because of the warranty,” I tell him. Sound advice, I contend. Just after the warranty goes out, it breaks. We go to fix it, learning that to do so will cost nearly as much as the original. He’s livid.

“Now we do it my way,” Rog states. Given the amount of snow we receive, Rog decides to upgrade to the 3K version. He calls the dealer then heads straight for Craigslist, finding one for less than half retail. He drives to an “old man’s home” an hour away. It’s shiny. It’s red. It’s hardly been used. He tests it in the snow, pays the man and comes home with it. We’ve had it for three years, and it’s worked perfectly.

The home gym. When we downsized, the area for gym equipment was half of the previous room. Rog did his research, finding the only set that would work in our home is a Bio Force, which is $2800 new. (As an aside, why do all home products seem to have a price point of about 3 grand? Do the product marketers have data supporting the notion that home owners think 5K is too high, but 2K is too low, thus equating to cheap quality and no value? Or they just say: let’s split the difference and call it good. But I digress).

Once again, Rog goes for Craigslist. Finds one in Montana owned by an older couple who apparently used it a few times then called it quits. Four hours and $1,200 later, it’s downstairs. Is it as robust and useful as the last gym set we had? Nope, but it’s a third the size and 1/5 the price of the last one as well, so a great deal.

The UTV. Back to the snow. After three years of slogging it out on the push behind snow blower, Rog had upgraded to an ATV with a plow (also purchased used, about half the price/perfect condition, and yes, off Craigslist). As he toiled away on the ATV at 5 a.m. or at midnight in his goggles and snow gear, I alternated between pride and guilt, thinking he should at least be warm.

Enter the UTV with a “deck.” This is snow parlance for a big cab, upon which one can put “trax” on, stay warm and also manage a 60-inch snow blower in the front. New, the UTV (utility terrain vehicle) is $15K. For a visual, think a 4-door wherein the windows are modifiable (can be removed/come with soft sides, the doors and roof as well (e.g. also be removed). I consider it an upgraded 70’s like dune buggy but a lot more useful. (see the video clip…going alongside used car!)

Anyway, he finds one…where else? Craigslist. Once again, an older man had used it for a year or two, placed it on-line but no takers. Rog showed up, purchased it for $8 grand, and once he washed it, found it didn’t have a single scratch. He’s convinced it didn’t sell because the man hadn’t bothered to wash it. The deck (the 60” blade) he did have to purchase new with the warranty, and I’m glad because it broke on the third use due to a manufacture issue. We’ve had the replacement for two years and it’s run perfectly.

Oh, and just so we’re clear, it’s not just “useful” items we purchase used. My road bike was picked up at the dealer because the notion of paying sticker for a two-wheel vehicle I’m going to use only during the summer made me want to vomit! I have no guilt (or shame) about riding around on an 8-year old bike, and don’t really care when someone gives me that snide look when I tell them the year. I know their remark and how it’s said reveals their outlook on life, which is fine. It’s just one I no longer share.

The truck. My daughter threw down the negatory on inheriting my car when she turns 15 (welcome to Idaho. The driving age is 15), and so we figured we’d find a used Subaru which can handle the snow. Then we went to my parents for Thanksgiving, and Rog noticed the parked truck in the driveway. It hadn’t moved since we’d arrived. Rog inquires, and Dad tells him it hasn’t been licensed or insured for six months. They don’t have a need. Rog casts me an eye, I subtly nod, and he brings it up to my daughter.

“That would be awesome!” she says. It’s used, unassuming and useful, all three items which fit the needs of where we live (American cars are definitely preferred over foreign). It also requires a new hood as the current one has rusted areas, new tires and inside carpet. Rog will likely add a few items to the outside to make it a bit more durable for this area (what self-respecting truck doesn’t have a tow-hitch, I ask you?), but even with the additions, it’s a fraction of a new truck or even a used Subaru.

What we have sold

Baby room set. As our (my) thinking evolved, so did our ability to share with others. I’d insisted on a brand-new baby room set. It was gorgeous, well-made and spendy. After daughter number two outgrew the crib, we put the crib, credenza/desk and bookshelf on Craigslist. A wonderful young couple came to the house, overjoyed with tears and gratitude they would get the entire set for a quarter of the cost. It was their first child and money was tight. On a funny note, we’d loaded the furniture in their truck only to learn they’d been locked out. Their little dog had gotten crazy in the front cab, pushing its paws on the lock. They were out of money. They couldn’t get in their car and the pregnant wife was near a meltdown. It was traumatically funny in one of those this-only-happens-to-us moments. We paid for a locksmith to come and help them out, money they surely could not have spent.  

The sink/stand. When we upgraded a bathroom, we had a perfectly good trendy, beautiful and expensive single unit. Where’d we list it? You guessed it, Craigslist. It cost us $2K, and we listed it for $200. It was gone in an hour (as was the bedroom set mentioned above).

The oven. When we moved to our current home, we replaced the all-in-one cooktop/oven. It was a commercial Electrolux, retail for about $3K (the previous homeowner is an architect from Switzerland and he’d had it imported). We sold it for $350 and it was picked up the same day it was listed.

Additionally, we have listed jet skis, a boat and other equipment—sports and household—on craigslist and always sold an item within a day. The tip and rule is this: if the item is competitively priced and in good condition, it will get multiple offers and sell within a day or two. If it’s priced too high (or is just plain odd) it won’t sell.

The transition for me wasn’t easy or fun, but it was financially sound. Once I removed my personal pride/ego and perspective from the equation, the process turned transaction. It’s a thing, I want said thing at the best price. Instead of thinking: I want it new, I began thinking of all the things I can do with the money I saved, like going on a trip. B.R. (Before Roger) I just did both. Roger was never and still isn’t a “do-both” type of guy. He’s always been: it’s one or the other. His familial DNA included creating priorities and making choices. Never once did the “having-it-all” phrase enter his vocabulary.

A country in on the financial edge

According multiple sources, 41% of adults in the US have less than $500 in savings. That means living paycheck to paycheck. Another statistic I hear constantly on Bloomberg is that the average household purchase for less than $5,000 is put on a credit card. Consumer debt is not 7% above where it was in 2007, just before the crash. All that means a balance sheet which encourages us all to spend less and save more wherever we can.

Not everyone lives or spends like the Kardashians with Bentley’s and twenty-foot trees that take four helpers to put up. And in fact, if you could, would you really do that? Wouldn’t it be more fun to put up your own tree and create memories with your family and not have to worry about getting car-jacked as you drive down the street, and heaven forbid, get a ding while grocery shopping? (Oh wait, you may not buy your own groceries if you have that kind of coin).

I have long since stopped caring what others thing of what I spend and how I spend it. The biggest example of this was moving. We consciously made the decision to downsize when we didn’t have to. We sold our old home for one price and paid cash for one half the size in a state with very low taxes, with the cost of school tuition less than half, and of course the most important factor for me, the price of chocolate dropped from $4.83 to $2.75. Now that’s good living.

The tables have turned Rog as well. Now I’m the one showing him how I waited until five days before Christmas to get a great deal, and just last night, I tell him I decided to wait another two weeks to get my hair done between coloring because that’s another $1,200 in the bank on an annualized basis. I’m rightly proud, expecting him to applaud my thought process and maturity.

“No, it’s not,” he retorted, staring hard at me. “I know what you’re thinking.”

 “You’re right,” I smirked, knowing I’d been caught. “That’s another week in Europe.”

For all my intentions and efforts, I too have a trade-off equation I apply to nearly every decision involving money. This-for-that. Sometimes it’s savings. Sometimes is spending. But at least I’m thinking of it consciously, and with intent, which is not something I was taught, but had to learn over. And over. And over. Now I’m a believer in financial frugality that Dave Ramsey followers seem to have; a zeal that encourages me to stand up be one of the few who proudly state used is good, savings are better and travel is the best. I guess I still have a little room to grow.

The Marital Contract

Let’s face it. I met and married a guy I did business with for a year. We negotiated. We debated. We eventually stopped talking contracts and had a first date. At the end of it, Rog predicted we’d get married within a year. He was wrong. It took six months.

With this as the background and insight into our history together, is it any wonder that the foundational rules for marriage resembled business rules reflecting our thinking?  One of the first non-negotiables was this: we will not make any stupid financial decisions. Within a month, this was tested. Do we buy the house? Yes, if we can afford it on one salary (the fine print we’d not placed in the contract). It was a point of debate. Eventually, after many lively discussions (aka vigorous negotiations back and forth), we decided to abide by the original terms of our agreement. We purchased the home applying newly added fine print, (affording a home on one salary). It was a decision made without regard to neighbors, property value, potential schools for as yet unborn children.

The only picture we have from our wedding on
the top of the ampitheatre in Ouray, Colorado,
squeezed in on a 3 day weekend then back to work

After a couple of years, the rather generally defined marital contract became refined. The T & C’s extended to how and where we spent our time. We debated whether or not an activity had a good relationship ROI, and if it didn’t, we’d no longer engage in said activity. For those of you who know Rog, you are nodding your head, saying: Yeah, this totally sounds like him.

Case in point: when we married, Rog owned a boat with a friend and co-worker. We enjoyed taking it out on the Puget Sound, but it meant two hours through the locks, perhaps four on the water, another two back into the slip, then two cleaning it up. The eight hours devoted to one activity meant our entire day of relaxation was over before one or both of us took a flight out Sunday. After a year of this, I suggested the activity of boating a high opportunity cost, and it wasn’t financial (moorage fees back then were $250). It was the opportunity cost of doing things with friends, family or nothing—sitting at home watching a game.

At first, Rog balked at me wanting to renegotiate our marital contract. He reminded me the verbal fine print had included me a) knowing he had a boat, b) I fully supported him continuing to own the boat and c) wouldn’t complain about the money or hours. Yep, I had to admit, I’d been on board totally and completely. But who could have foreseen or anticipated the actual commitment to the activity?

Sound familiar? Unanticipated events, the economy, acts of God or simple execution are the downfall of many a contract, marital or business. That begat the first serious renegotiation of what had been a completely sound contract, but it certainly wasn’t the last.

Rog’s contract point: “I’ll never dress up. Ever.” Year 3: he’s King Tut
The new-new marital contract

This experience gave us a taste of things to come, and we started referring to any change in the line items we’d based our marriage upon as elements of the New Deal. The original had been fine, based on sound premises, but those were gone. Times and experiences change and the rules of engagement, even the very definitions, must change along with it.

An instance of an experience changing a contract occurred when Roger’s former boss, a 41-year old hard-driving guy, died on a lunchtime bike ride around Marymoor Park. There he was, peddling along on a clear, blue sky day and fallen over right there on the concrete path, his heart having given out.

Rog was shaken to his core. “He was the more high-stress guy I knew,” Rog kept mumbling in the days leading up to the funeral. Yet I pointed out to Rog that their lifestyles were the same: long hours during a week which never ended. You didn’t get ahead if you weren’t fully in the game.

A week after the funeral, Rog abruptly announced it was time for him to leave the company and take over my business. Keep in mind that when we met, Rog was an executive at Microsoft, I ran my consulting business, splitting my time between Seattle and San Francisco. Those roles had been so clear for so long, they might could have been listed as line items in the Definitions section of a contract.

Our fine print has also included “no street bikes.” Thx to Dad, I’d grown up riding dirt bikes, but street bikes were definitely in the deal-breaker clauses. Year 15, I inserted the footnote “street bikes now allowed.” Left: age 24 in Ouray with Rog, Right: 42 in Idaho.

I balked. I might have sworn once or twice. Him, running my company? He was out of his mind.

“No, you don’t get it,” he said emphatically. “We are not going to keep living our lives like we have tomorrow, because life isn’t an entitlement. My former boss thought it was. Well, it’s not.”

He had a point. We had to live each day as though it were our last—albeit responsibly. Hesitantly, I asked him running my company fit in.

At this, he smiled, and took my hand. “You are going to take twelve months and write that book you have talked about for the last three years. I’ll run your business, so you won’t have any pressure. But here’s the deal.” He paused for effect. “Then it’s my turn.”

I learned his dream was to become a private pilot, must as mine had been to write a book.

“That was not in the fine print of our marital contract,” I pointed out. He shrugged, as if it was no more than a missing clause on product returns.  

I was nervous. I was excited, and ultimately, I agreed. A year for a year, marital contract V2.

These photos are the contractual pictorals of evolution, each one representing a change from whence we started to where we are now. Rog said absolutely no dogs or kids, period. One home break-in at year 4= Penelope the pitbull. Year 7, began daughter number one. The pic of her in the plane means we had her flying early on, her daddy making good on his pilots license.
The good old days of the paper napkin contract

Back in the day, my father did a lot of business on the back of napkins, usually in diners in whatever country he was at. The points would be written down, signatures of both party’s initials and that was it. The rest of it just happened, million-dollar deals with products from different countries transacted based on nothing more than trust and commitment. Even today, at age 83, Dad still does business this way, but only with men of his generation: men of their word who do what they say they’d do, they don’t believe in suing because they share the same values. One by one, as these men die, the values seem to die with it.

Rog has watched this play out for two decades, and me long before that. We have probably subconsciously applied some of it to our relationship. Do we need to write everything down, or can we trust the other person will do the right thing when the hard decision needs to be made? Can we assume the other person tried their best, just as one would do in a business partnership, extending some grace that ‘something must have come up?’

Ironically, applying certain ‘business rules’ to our marriage worked in the beginning; we knew how to negotiate and win, with others and then ourselves. It’s what drove us. But over time, we learned that an emotional win on the other hand, is really losing. The greater the stakes, the higher the passion, increasing what the ‘loser’ has left on the table if you will. And what’s been left on the table is a little bit of the love, respect and sometimes the trust of the other person. It’s not worth the emotional win, and in the end, we have no thought, time or energy to go back and even try to recall what was in the original marital contract, let alone each instantiation following.

Contracts continually change, just like marriages

Our partnership went through several more iterations as he abandoned the corporate world for retirement at 42. The first three years were rough; being together non-stop about killed me (I was used to my domain), but the last five have been great. I have had my best friend around when he’s available and I’m not on a project deadline. Now, present day, we are getting ready for yet another change of lifestyles. It doesn’t come at a great time, just when snow season is hitting.

“Snow removal at five-thirty in the morning was not in the marital contract,” I mutter, completely serious, annoyed, and I’ll admit, a little fearful of becoming a snowbeast in the dead of winter.

“Yeah, but neither were having kids, chickens or a dog, and not in that order,” he countered. This was followed up by him telling me I’m more than capable of firing up a fully enclosed UTV with a front-attached 60-inch deck. Another well-made point by my partner in all things of this life.

One could argue contracts are made to be broken. Case in point: Rog is afraid of heights and swore he’d never climb a pyramid. Year 15, he did. Then after we broke the rule on no animals, the clause “Never on couches” was set in stone. Uh-huh. So here we have a Xmas pic snapped with both dog AND child on couch. Multiple breaches of contract right there.

What’s become clear is that the refinements to our now-unrecognizable marital contract has been simplified to the essence of us. We try to do our best. We give the benefit of the doubt. We extend a bit of grace when it’s not easy or even necessarily wanted. It’s our own verbal and emotional contract to the other person, and it’s invisible to everyone but ourselves.

21 years later, who would have thought? Certainly not us, but that’s growth, change, experiences, bringing us to a place we never, EVER, thought we’d be, and we couldn’t be happier for it.

The Perfect Stranger

Readers have observed I post more pictures of strangers I meet on trips than my family. It’s true. I love my perfect strangers, because that’s what they are: perfect. When one is on the shores of Scarborough asking for local insights from the owner of the pub, or sitting on the boardwalk of Bellagio, chatting with a Russian transplant about the best gelato for the cheapest price I get the happy, helpful, always-answer-with-a-smile person. Beyond the effervescent personality, it’s the attitude of: I’m living where I want, doing what I want, and here you are, interested in everything I have to say, hanging on every comment I have to share.

In other words, we are having a short, mutual and very strong love-fest. It’s fleeting, as by definition, all love-fests should be, ending before we delve into topics sure to end our affair: politics, race, religion, the standard three, but oh, so many more exist. (How many tourists are too many? Do certain demographics spend more or less? Should (and can) the world support any more children? Messy topics sure to destroy the honeymoon stage of a new acquaintance).

During this last trip, I met so many more people that I neglected to snap photos, mostly because I was so wrapped up in the conversation we kissed cheeks and parted…and like the forlorn lover, I was left waving, my lips agape….. “Wait! I need a phot—” then Rog would stop me and mutter. “Oh, for heaven’s sakes, let it go, already.”

The world represented

I have Svetlana from St. Petersburg, Russia, who was spending three months with her art gallery manager boyfriend. She will be remembered for her amazing skin, bright smile, and our mutual agreement on the all the purveyors of gelato, as in: who sold the most, and the best for the least. Hence, why we were both in line at one particular shop.

Then we have Neal, owner of the Candy Confectionary store on the corner (it’s such an establishment it doesn’t need a name other than Candy Confectionary) at what must be the best, prime real estate on the entire Boardwalk. While we chatted him up, his wife (she with the longest nails ever) and his daughter were in and around, stocking the shelves, deciding what to order on the next go-around at the marketplace, he gave us the history of York, (founded by the Romans in 71 AD), also known as the Chocolate City (true story, look it up) conveying we absolutely, positively, must visit.

In between, he must have discerned we were homeowners, because the conversation digressed into what he’d paid for his place, what he could sell if for and how much he’d lose moving to York due to the inflated prices. “But oh,” he groaned, “I would so love to move there!” He was, and is, a big, bear of a man I just wanted to hug—which I did!

At the base of Schloss Hohenswangau and Neuschwanstein sits a little town, and in it, we met, a Tony, a software engineer from China, employed by Dell, and based in New York. Talk about a roundabout way to end up in the Bavaria region of Germany.

He was joined by his wife and son, spoke better English than many of my friends, and we got to chatting because he didn’t know German (perhaps the one thing he didn’t know). We helped him out and over plates of schnitzel we discussed his love of all things American.

In Hungary, we walked around th block from our apartment and found Robert Maar (the store) and had no idea we were actually talking to THE Robert Maar. We felt so uncomfortable and were going to leave but then he told us what a “custom” garment in Hungary means (versus New York or Paris). What started with a simple, wonderful conversation about food ended up in a new wardrobe for Roger and two pieces for me. Only after we’d been in Budapest a week did we learn Robert is famous around Europe for his designer clothes that dress the celebrities in most of the countries. Blind luck on our part, and completely fantastic, more so because Robert was kind, gracious and ever so patient with us, the completely ignorant Americans. Love him.

Outside Verona, we happened by a three-story bed and breakfast of Locanda di Capitelli located at the base of Castle Suave, overlooking a valley of vineyards (can you already picture a scene in a book? I know I can). Once Rog was assured we were welcome no matter how casually we were dressed, the gracious hostess Julia sat us by the fireplace, and over the next two hours, go to know her, her mother and grandmother, all owners of the venue, a local winery and foodstuffs.

By the end of it, she was trying to convince Roger to invest in a new US-based restaurant that she could conveniently run. Her mother squished us with hugs and smothered us with kisses as grandma retired upstairs to bed (thus dodging the photo opp).

Outside Prague, at Czesky Krumlov (the town and castle) we dined with Tai, the chef of our favorite waterside restaurant, ordering not one, but two crepe deserts because we didn’t want to have a mortal stabbing fight with forks. What better compliment can be bestowed on food than that?

Perhaps the favorite meeting of strangers were a gaggle of girls preparing for wedding festivities on the shores of Lake Cuomo. We’d arrived early at the ferry line, and as Rog was flying his drone above and to the island of Bellagio 2 miles away, I watched as a dozen gals took turns taking pictures—invariably leaving one of them out. Porsche nudged me. “Mom, go take pictures. Help them out.” Me, she of the shameless and helpful, promptly stood and offered to snap group photos. Thirty minutes later, they have become the adopted, older, Indian sisters my girls have never had. They insisted on taking pictures of with my girls and me—thereby requiring Rog to come over and become lead photographer.

Different and Divine

Indian, Russian, English, Czech, Italian, German and Chinese…and so many more. I sorry I didn’t immortalize the helpful German man who saw we were stranded on the platform in Stuttgart, about to miss a train—may he get his angel wings for that alone, otherwise we would have been stuck for an entire day in the record-breaking heat with nowhere to go.

I regret not capturing the Philippino woman at the car rental location, who knew of one of my books (the Sue Kim authorized biography) and treated me like a Rockstar (a rare moment, and it took me going to Germany to get this—but then, now I can say me and David Hasselhoff have something in common. We are nobodies in the US, but HUGE in a foreign country).

And David (another, different David: this young man in his mid-twenties gave our family the best our of a castle during our 6-week trip. An engineering student, he doubled as a historian because of his vast knowledge of wars, rulers and cultures. So much so, that while I neglected to take a picture of him, we invited David to come over when he decides to visit the US. And guess what? Instead of going to New York, which had been his priority destination, David is coming to visit and stay with us in April.

We are thrilled, and this gets back to my Perfect Stranger theory. We have many family members who have not once come to visit, for one reason or another, and yet we have a perfect stranger flying in from Germany to stay with us. Our continued correspondence and the deepening of a relationship has been bereft of drama, issues or altercations—just fun, interest and a true appreciation. Doesn’t that say it all?

Yet even with all that, while the perfect stranger remains so, these unique, wonderful strangers aren’t present to dry the tears, listen and help resolve the issue, or show up when the car breaks down. For those life events, it does tend to be family, or good friends, those who show up when it’s inconvenient and give until they have nothing left. In that regard, I don’t need the perfect stranger, I need the perfect friend. And perhaps at some point, the intersection of stranger, friend and loved one may meet, becoming one in the same. Now that would be both strange and perfect.

Feature image

The town of Czesky Krumlov taken from the castle above

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It was fun imaging (my version) of the Emperor’s Palace in 14th century Nanjing. I took history and embellished it…just a bit:)

Insides Out

Tumors, faith and what’s meant to be

Three weeks ago today, I got cut hip to hip, and out popped two fibroid myomas (otherwise known as tumors), hence my online absence. With healing comes pain, and pills address the majority of the discomfort, but not this big stretch of skin now hanging between my hips. It’s a wonderfully hideous ledge of flesh with a bubble-like quality, as if air has blown through the tube ending at either hip.

It’s fun to describe someone else’s angst in fiction, but so infinitely better when I turn the letters on myself. As my agent has often said about my life, “You can’t write that. No one would believe it.”

I beg to differ. Lots of my less-than-finer moments have found their way into my fiction.

A dream foretelling the demise of a marriage, and subsequently losing everything? That became a plotline for In a Moment, recounting a few of the gorier, but amazing moments of my life in San Francisco. Learning to break someone’s neck as a 5th section black belt. Yep, that’s the first chapter and scene in Global Deadline. And who can forget the intruder/robber that took place in A Convenient Date? The home described was the one I actually lived in, and the intruder? Yes, he actually did hack into the security through the remote heating/cooling. Terrifying, and resulted in us getting a dog, but I lived through it. And Meant to Be? It’s a philosophy I live by, so it was a fitting title for the final book in a romance series. Yet life as a writer became downright prophetic when I ended up in a hospital in a foreign land. All I got wrong was the country: in Made for Me, it was Switzerland. This was in Verona, Italy.

But I digress. This is really about “The Ledge,” as I now refer to it. This lip of excess skin was caused by the removal of Gary and Arnold, so named because my 9-year-old explained, “two growing things need a name.” Sure enough, by the time of extraction, one was the size of a cantaloupe and the other a grapefruit. Like having a baby, that kind of stretching leaves its mark. Since I’m dealing with the after-effects of an abdominal surgery with complications, I’m sharing both pics and details with the world because I don’t possess a lot of shame, or embarrassment, two qualities my mother, she-of-all-that-is-proper, believe are important. Me? Not so much. I’m all about information, which is what you should have.

This was the day we left for the hospital- two tumors about the size of avacados, along with what turned out to be a nasty infection
Complications

First off, two surgeons spent nearly three hours detaching my bladder and other major organs from my uterus before they could perform the primary task of removing my uterus and tumors therein. Scar tissue and a rare form of endometriosis had wreaked havoc on my insides, which required the cervix to remain (the bladder wasn’t letting go, and no one’s happy with a punctured bladder).

The upside, as my surgeon said, “The sex will be a lot better with the cervix in.” Good news, assuming my body (and ledge) will at some point, allow this activity again. The downside is my body is trying to figure out who it’s going to be when it heals. Anything I eat or drink causes excruciating pain. Is this due to the trauma of separating the major organs, my uterus missing or what? No one knows, the opinions of the OBGYN, surgeon and my primary care doctors are in disagreement, and the vault of all wisdom (the Internet) is void of people with my experience. Here’s reality.

  1. Inflammation is a real by-product of an abdominal hysterectomy. I don’t care (nor should you) that the Dr.’s say the Ibuprofen will reduce the swelling. If the internals are traumatized, your bladder (and routes) seal up line a drum; nothing can release. I experienced this when my sutures started to rip (internally) from an overfull bladder. Sexy, I know. It wasn’t until I was about screaming in pain that the on-call nurse performed a scan, called the doctor, and together forcefully inserted a catheter (super fun!). Out drained nearly 1,300 ML of fluid. That’s a full bag and third of those IV drip bags of liquid. No wonder I was dying inside.
  2. Inflammation persists. I believed what I was told: “It will go down after a few days.” Nope. Not with me. It’s now day 21, and while I can relieve myself (more TMI, I know, but someone out there needs it), if I don’t take at least one prescription-grade Ibuprofen with codeine, it hurts.
  3. Migraines. These started about 2 years ago, and for a previously non-headache girl, I’d ignorantly subscribed to the notion that migraines were literally, nothing more than a bad headache. As Lindsey says, “We mock that which we don’t understand, and then we get to experience it ourselves.” Yep. That holds true. These eye-darkening, vomiting-producing, in-bed-for-two-days experiences finally led me to the doctor 12 months ago. All I can say is Sorry to all those I doubted and Thank Heaven for the Maxal generic, Rizatriptan made by Aurobindo Pharma USA. The reason I bring this up now is because a) spasms are triggering a migraine a day and b) not all Maxal generic- Rizatriptan brands are the same! With Aurobindo, it’s chewable, fast acting and powerful. Post surgery, I was prescribed Rizatriptan by Unichem Pharmaceutical and it can’t be chewed, hence is slower acting, and not as strong. E.g. I have to take 2 for every 1 made by Aurobindo. I told my pharmacist and he pointed me back to the original prescription. Yet another bit of learning all you migraine-fellow-sufferers must know!
  4. Spasms. Why didn’t anyone tell me. Imagine getting punched between your hips, then having the fingers dig and twist for about 90 seconds or more. That’s what I’ve been enduring about 6-8 times a day for two weeks. Right around the time my suture closed up, these spasms became pronounced. In hindsight, I’d gone off the major pain pills (around day 8) and day 10, had reduced the Ibuprofen to about 1 a day. Some amount of bowel transition is to be expected (e.g. constipation to diarrhea) as it’s figuring out what its own version of authentic self really is. Still. As my primary Dr. said yesterday, “This isn’t’ normal.”
But then, what is in my life?

When I was in the hospital in Verona, Italy, the physicians were quite sure I had cancer in several areas, and while curable, my life would be forever different. I’d have a poop bag attached to my hip, my life of activity and physical relations with my husband altered, and we weren’t sure our relationship would survive. (Imagine the stories I was considering. Real life, sure? But an interesting read? Not so much).

Growing, growing…I’m looking five-ish weeks pregnant, just one week later

Yet the second aspect of this scenario, talking to our daughters about the possibility of death was easier to have. It went like this: “I’ve had a good run, you will move beyond this and eventually, your dad will remarry. I hope he finds a good one.” If that sounds callous, trust me, it was anything but. What you might not know is that after facing major health issues with my daughter, and dealing with her potential mortality from age six to nine, death and dying conversations weren’t new, or horrifying to us as a family. (Thus proving that one truly has no idea what is going on behind closed doors).

Just three weeks later, when we’d arrived home. Can you believe how the stomach had exploded? I’d purchased this maternity top in shop because nothing else I had fit. It became my uniform- and in most of my pictures I’m hiding, turning or somehow camouflaging my belly like a pregnant actress trying not to get immortalized on film.
This is one week before the surgery. Left is after drinking 1/2 cup of water, and the right is in the morning–no food/water. The distension turned out to be caused by a rare form of endometriosis.
Attitude is everything

Do you hate reading that line when you are going through hardships? My mother does, because, as a shrink, it’s all about validation with her. Do you feel angry? Yes!! That’s empathy and compassion, sure, but with me, I actually do believe that attitude is—well, everything.

You see, as I type, I’ve had to push my computer further away on my legs to get it away from The Ledge. It’s getting in the way of my palms, screwing up my writing groove. I could be annoyed, or I can contemplate The Ledge holding a sandwich, making for an easy grab. I don’t wonder if it’s going to go away, I just work around it.

Four hours of surgery later, hip to hip, and I was fortunate another vertical cut wasn’t required. The tumors grew so rapidly in that last month–who would have known?

That brings me to another of my life-themes. When my close family or friends talk to me about Present-day trials (spasms, always knowing the nearest, public bathroom on any street, popping migraine pills like candy), I’m the one saying life is great.

“I don’t have MS, cancer, diabetes, chronic back pain or a poop bag…” I always begin, before I end with “if the worst I have it is taking a pill a day and using the bathroom two times an hour, I’m good!”

At present, pants hurt and skirts show this lovely, thick ledge ringing my midsection like a muffin top gone south, three inches lower than it should be. It’s rigid, too. My arms have flabbed out as I had to stop lifting back in July. Yep, my life’s sexy right now, but it’s real life, and I’m sure that even the batwings may find themselves in a book—well, at least a sentence and most likely on a beloved grandma.

A sting and a prayer

Lest I forget, the day I returned home must be shared. After ten, painful minutes, I’d finally descended into the chair. I lean back, carefully lifting a cup of fresh watermelon juice Rog has made. Immediately I scream, shooting the liquid straight out, a scene perfect for a B-movie. A wasp was on the edge of the cup, and I’d never seen it. My tongue started to swell, I’m laughing and crying, the kids run to get me ice as Rog gives me a Benadryl. I’ve had plenty of bee stings without an issue, but this time, not so. Within minutes, my arms are covered in red bumps, my tongue is expanding and I start speaking like the guy in the original Mummy, when Emotep extracts both tongue and eyes.

“My tongue!” I yelp, barely making out the words. Rog and the girls are laughing and worried. Soon, both ears started to close in, and having had a burst eardrum, I knew the signs. My eyes were nearly shut and breathing was becoming short–the space for air narrowing. Rog calls the Dr at the ER, who asks how long it would take to get to in.

“Twenty-five minutes.”

“You’re not going to make it,” he told Roger, and when I heard this, agreed. My throat would be closed. The Bendadryl was doing not-a-thing, and so I did what any girl of faith would do.

“I’m going to pray,” I told Rog and the girls. “If God wants me healed, he’ll stop this and take care of me. And if it’s my time, then so be it. Rog,” I paused, barely able to see him, “My insurance is current and you’ll find love and get married again. Just find a good one.” It was a variant of my words a month prior, as though the message needed to be said once again to get through.

I fully recognize these photos are horribly hilarious–but it’s real life. Check out that tongue–as it was swelling, I had to have Rog catalogue it–wasps-be-gone.

With that, I said a prayer that ended with “Thy will be done.” To be safe, Rog inserted a straw down my throat.

Within moments, the tightening around the straw ceased and the red bumps on my arms started to burn, then itch, then stop all altogether. It was like going through an hours-long, three-stage healing process in minutes. Over the next hour, my ears unplugged, and my eyes, though still shut, stopped burning. My head, which had felt fuzzy, started to clear, enabling me to see and think. Usually, after Benadryl, I feel hit like a mack-truck, tired and grumpy. Contrast that with spry energy; enough to want to make dinner- despite my incision and inability to walk. Of course, I looked like the female version of the Stay-puff-marshmellow-man, but I was going to be fine–especially since Rog quarantined me to bed.

What my husband called mind-over-matter and Benadryl, I call an answer to prayer and faith.

Five days post surgery and two post wasp sting.

Now, three weeks later, I’ve thought about the events: pain, blindness, collapsing in Italy, making it through three weeks on serious pain drugs as we finished our trip, then the home coming, surgery, sting and recovery. Layers of blessings accompanied each new challenge, and the way things have turned out, I know it’s all meant to be-this time for my learning. If I can help someone by sharing this, then it’s been worth it.

At home. At peace.



The Ugly Sweater

When what you’ve asked for doesn’t arrive as expected

It used to be that the morning after Thanksgiving, families across the country would get dressed up and go downtown to look at the store decorations. In the windows along the streets, works of art, mechanical and sometimes with real people or animals, the displays would draw thousands inside the store. There, the consumer would be wowed with an even bigger surprise. The purpose was for the store owners to express their gratitude for the support for the previous eleven months. Feeling appreciate, the consumers made even more purchases, the act an expression and receipt of gratitude.

This reciprocity between retailer and consumer was so successful, that the Friday after Thanksgiving became known as black Friday, because retail stores operated for eleven months of the year at a loss, or being “in the red,” then on one day, the store finally made a profit, or went into the black.

Sadly, this tradition of showing thanks has lessened, gratitude replaced with expectation, the expression and receipt of gratitude gone.

Theologian Thomas S. Monson said that “feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”

Ugly sweaters and gratitude

At times, it’s hard to feel gratitude if what we have sought through sincere prayer doesn’t match what the Lord has delivered. It’s like asking for a sweater you expect to be soft, beautiful and well-made. When the big day comes, the wrapping is wrinkled, the bow not tied properly, and within, is a sweater, yes, but it’s doesn’t fit, the material is coarse and doesn’t fit quiet right. It’s an ugly sweater.

Looking back on my life, I’ve had plenty of gifts I’ve hated, real or figurative, but it wasn’t until the last ten years or so that I started to look beyond the delivery method and my disappointment to focus on the positive aspects of what I’d received. Roger, my husband of nearly 21 years, has often coached me (scolded? demanded?) to be grateful for the gift, regardless of whether or not we like it. Easy in principle, harder in application.

In a recent example of this, I’ll refer to my family. Over the years, our strong personalities and life decisions were like a lake gone dry. Without the replenishment of understand, the land grew cracked, then scorched, many spots barren. My parents prayed for reconciliation, certainly without asking or expecting additional heartache for each child, but that’s what occurred. Within six months, challenging issues with a teenage or adult children arose of a severe nature. The package of the sweater was awful and the garment inside horrid.

But then the miracles occurred. Previously unresolvable issues with siblings and in-laws were set aside, pride and ego associate submerged as the parents came together and held a fast for these precious children. We were united in heartache and strengthened in faith, ultimately incredibly grateful for the hard circumstances that finally brought us together in the spirit of Christ. The Lord, in His wisdom, knew that these challenges brought us together when nothing else could.

We all learned that an ugly sweater can still keep you warm.

Over the years, I’ve found three principles are consistently associated with gratitude. The are trusting in the Lord, keeping perspective and practicing remembrance of our blessings.

Trust in the Lord

Dieter H Uchtorff said that: “True gratitude comes from acknowledging that we do not always understand the trials of life, but trusting that one day we will.”

Trust was required when not long after I was married, my husband decided he didn’t want children. He enjoyed the financial freedom we had, and didn’t want to be tethered to the home for any reason, including a pet. Years passed, and when I was thirty-two, I’d passed through periods of anger, hopeless, apathy, and then resignation. I loved him, and not having children wasn’t going to change that. One night, while I was praying, I recall turning it over to the Lord, asking him to fill the void I was feeling. I distinctly thought the words: “Thy will be done,” hoping to find contentment in my situation.

The nights were warm, and our home was without air conditioning. Rog was awake and working but I was tired and went to the basement where it was cooler, falling asleep quickly. I woke up to a figure at the end of my bed. Assuming it was Rog, I mumbled something, turned over and went back to sleep. Sometime later, I woke again, and this time, the person was very close, leaning over me, wearing all black. I sat straight up, tried to scream but was voiceless with fear. By the time I could yell, he was out the door. When the police sat with us, they said intruders hate lights and dogs. The very next day, we got a dog, my husband’s prior proclamation about no pets in the house long forgotten.

“Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things,” is a phrase often repeated.

All things means just that: good things, difficult things—not just some things.

While I was unspeakably grateful for my safety (and to finally get a dog), it took me a while to see that this event was the first step in many the Lord had to orchestrate in our lives. The second step was more gradual in nature, but far more devastating. At the time, I owned a business with a dozen employees that had been thriving for a decade. For some inexplicable reason, our projects were drying up, some naturally concluding while new ones were stalled or cancelled. Having never been through an economic down cycle, I didn’t realize we were on the leading edge of the 07/08 recession. My stress level rose as one employee after another was recruited by clients who could offer more long-term stability. One day, Rog looked at me with a bit of pity.

“You are trying to put out the deck chairs on the Titanic,” he began. Seeing I wasn’t getting the reference, he continued. “You’re the religious one, not me,” he pointed out. “But I don’t think God wants you to be in business anymore.” Rog then joked something to the effect of: “We haven’t killed the dog, and have to be home with her anyway, so maybe you should go to the doctor to get checked out.”

Could it possibly be that through the ugly sweater of first, the intruder and then the business winding down were to result in what I’d been wanting for…praying for seven years would happen? No, the sweater wasn’t pretty, but it certainly was warm.

Keep perspective

A Christian philosopher said: “The Lord’s hand in our lives is often clearest in hindsight.”

Within the year of Rog telling me to “get checked out,” I was in high risk pregnancy. Yet I still tried to conduct business with a few remaining clients I could handle myself. One day, the doctor told me I was “A zebra in the Serengeti, being chased by lions.” He said I was pushing my body to the limits, even by working from home. He warned that if I did not stop all activity, save going to the restroom, I would lose the baby.

Now, for those of you who know me, I’m not really the type to sit still, let alone lay bone straight, in bed, for months. Yet, in hindsight, the Lord knew I needed to have a long period of time alone and without distraction as a transitionary period to prepare me for the life-altering situation of motherhood, and to be grateful for the gift of staying at home.

Dieter Uchtdorf  said that: “Being grateful in times of distress does not mean that we are pleased with our circumstances. It does mean that through the eyes of faith we look beyond our present-day challenges.”

The rule of Threes

This was highlighted when I was nine months pregnant, and was finally allowed to drive. It was a clear, blue and happy day in Seattle, which is a rare and wonderful occasion. Although the recession was in full-swing, I felt all the gratitude that eight years of praying to have a child and receiving an answer could bring. In other words, I was now wearing the warm sweater, but was I wearing it with pride? No, not yet. In fact, I was going to get another ugly top.

Cruising along that sunny day, I received a call on my cell phone, and the first words my husband said to me was that he was out of a job.

At that moment, I purposefully lifted my foot from the gas pedal. It was not possible. The company he founded was profitable, employed many employees and growing. The board however, decided they wanted an older, more experienced person to take it to the next phase in its life. Rog was devastated and I was worried sick.

In an April 2014 talk on gratitude, Uchtorff counseled us “To be thankful in our circumstances…not to keep score by counting the number of things to be grateful FOR.” He was talking about the overall spirit of gratitude.

Practice remembrance

In an October 2007 talk, Henry B. Eyring said the key to gratitude is remembrance and specifically, the hand of God in our lives. He related a time in his life when he was discouraged. An associate counseled him to write a recall and write few lines for those things he was grateful for—every day. Eyring said he  specifically asked himself: “Have I seen the hand of God reaching out to touch us or our children or our family today?”

If we do this, “Gratitude will grow in your heart as it did in mine,” Erying promised.

In that moment of driving on the freeway, knowing neither of us had a source of income, telling myself to breath, I remembered the hard experiences that had brought us to that point, for what I counted must have been the fiftieth time.

The break-in of my home had led to a dog. My company had effectively shut down, but I became pregnant. Bad had been followed by good; what had occurred was orchestrated in the Lords way and in his timing. I had to purposefully set aside temporary fear, the journey, have gratitude for all we had and importantly, continue the faith. As Eyring has promised, remembrance of the blessings truly grew the gratitude grew in my heart.

Within a few months, Rog started a new business, allowing our family to grow and prosper. He also had a newfound empathy and compassion for others; that very hard trial evolved him from a good man to a great one.

Still waiting for the pretty sweater, and I got what…another ugly one that doesn’t fit!

If you’ve been following my summer journeys, you know I landed in the ER in Verona, Italy, tumors were discovered, an infection controlled and lots of pain was to be endured. Upon my return, I’ve spent the days seeing different specialists; the tumors have grown, I have a different (and yuckier) issue, the hysterectomy and tumors removed but the “yuckier” issue will be with me perhaps permanently for-the-rest-of-my-life. Really?? At times like this, denial is a good thing, but it’s temporary. As my 13-year-old daughter pointed out: “We were praying for change. Don’t you think this is the Lord’s way of answering our prayers?”

“Yes,” I replied, “I do.”

That’s where the faith and trust comes in to play. These two items create the cement of faith that dries, and I rely upon it every day as I put one foot in front of the other, trusting in the Lords plan . It’s what I lie upon when the tears come because I must decline being active with my family due to pain. Downtimes come, I acknowledge the emotions, take a break, then get right back up and get going. Time, health and money are not entitlements; they are a privilege. That too, is another mantra.

I am grateful for my challenges and wouldn’t take them back, because each one has led me and my family to a better place. And in truth, if the only way I can better understand the gospel of Jesus Christ and become more like Him is to get knocked around mentally, physically or financially, then this will likely continue.

My newsletter comes out once a month (when life is normal) and you can sign up at the main page on my website, and comment on my Facebook page at sarahgerdes_author on Instagram.

Feature image: the Italian Alps, which seems appropriate when talkin about the cliffs of life; you are either staring up, scaling them or falling off.

August Reading Promos live!

Two beach going books: romance and dystopian, both ebooks free

Nothing’s better than arriving home to a sparkling pool, green grass and clean sheets. On the downside, one chicken died (out of 20), another turned cannibal (we caught her eating three eggs just after they’d been laid) , one bee hive (out of four) is infested with mites.

Welcome to my crazy, sexy, author life. In the midst of burying said dead hen, laying mite strips and figuring out if Hannibella-the-hen can be reformed, I realized today kicks off two end-of-summer promotions! Both are free, and each include books from several dozen authors as well as enter-to-win gift cards.

Your next boyfriend romance

Ratings are mild to adult (mybookcave rating system is much like the movie rating….swearing, sex, etc), and it’s listed on the page. The enter to win is on the right side, so don’t miss that. My title, A Convenient Date, is listed in this promotion. In case you missed it, this title follows a woman who’s husband died of a heart attack and she’s finally getting her life together when she’s hit with a lawsuit. Her husband has been living a secret life, which threatens to bring her company down–not to mention leaving her destitute. In the middle of it all, she meets a handsome transplant from San Francisco (the book is set in Seattle). They are both single, uninterested in dating but need companions for business events. That is the start of their Convenient Dates.

The backstory to this should surprise no one. I was single For-ev-er in San Francisco. I daydreamed about a hot, intelligent and purely platonic man who I could partner up with in order to avoid sitting by horribly boring people at the multiple events one must attend while in the corporate world. This daydream including the man being dark haired (although quite honestly, I wouldn’t have been very picky), wealthy and unattached. I mean, I was dreaming, right? Why not throw it all in the mix? Of course, nothing is perfect, and so Rick Santos has an unruly son from a previous marriage…which adds a challenging twist.

Post apocalyptic Dystopian

The second free group promo includes my latest book Incarnation. I always go with the reviews and the back of book copy. This is the latest review up on Amazon. Make sure to enter to win the $25.

The genesis of this story was all the plastic surgery going around–and this was years ago. Not that I haven’t succumbed to my share of botox (which I then had to stop because my husband told me I was looking like a freak and he was going to divorce me–as subtle as always)…I then thought about a future world where the occupants would look back and say… “Can you believe, there was a time when people changed their faces on purpose?” Lots of research later, this is the book, and I must say, I love it. Fast, unique in the take on DNA and realistic. It’s also clean, and the underlying romance is one I wish I’d had. Enjoy and write a review. Me and other readers will thank you.