The Overlooked Expert: A terrific guide for anyone looking to build a successful consulting business… (Prairie Book Review)
In a highly readable work that makes a convincing case to develop a client service business, Gerdes leads the overlooked experts together through a proven approach to realize their future. Drawing from her own experience and featuring several highly successful real-life consultants, Gerdes outlines why all overlooked experts, especially middle managers should consider the idea of freelance consulting a viable option. Gerdes began her own consulting firm, Business Marketing Group (BMG), in San Francisco after realizing she was stuck in the same position for quite a time and went on to consult not only for start-ups and Fortune 500 clients but also for the governments of Britain and Ireland.
Separated into ten sections, Gerdes covers everything from the initial discovery of an overlook skillset, determining if the skill had a value in open market, starting a business for little or no cost and realizing immediate income to expanding one’s business. Gerdes has an engaging, uplifting viewpoint and infectious spirit that should be appealing to middle managers stuck in uninspired jobs for too long or consultants burdened with uncertainty of today’s job market. She includes strategic insights, business rules to follow, compelling facts (a list of over 100 consulting vocations) and helpful tactics (how to pitch and negotiate fair deals with clients, how to recognize downturns patterns and prepare your firm) to make this book a master-class in how one can transform their skills into revenue. This is a fun, easy to read, and well worth the time invested.
What do you title a blog about encountering a person who lacks a nose? It’s hard. To wit, you notice I just avoided it altogether.
There I am, standing in line at Kohl’s, one of the few shopping experiences around here where one can go in, grab and go without the hassle of a line. Let’s not get pissy about stores okay? Kohl’s became a fav when my butt expanded with my time here in Idaho and I discovered Jennifer Lopez’ line of curve-hugging-yet-flattering pants, perfect for those of us with small waists and ahem-gracious derrieres’. Kohl’s also has fantastic (and I do mean fantastic) deals on appliances (Euro brands + Kitchenaids etc) and Xmas items at prices so far less than Macy’s it’s really wrong (as if Macy’s weren’t struggling enough.
But I digress. The buzzer rings, I step off my personal round space used for distancing, say hello to the register worker and answer the basic questions. Yes, I found everything, yes, I’m having a good day. Because I’m old school and believe in making eye-contact, I don’t immediately notice the missing section between her eyes and her mouth. Normally, a point lifts the mask off the nose. Furthermore, here in Idaho, the mask mandate has been eliminated, although many wear a mask but pull it down just below the nose.
This woman, I realized, had no nose. It was gone.
We are talking about the essentials of life; the upcoming holiday season, the best deals and delight that waiting lines no longer exist because consumers are shopping on line. I ask if she’s worried about her job and she just scoffs.
“I’d been through a divorce, and my house burned down because of an electrical issue,” she tells me, all the while scanning my items. “My own smoking caused this,” she says, pointing to her nose, then shrugs.
“You think I even care about COVID? It’s the flu. Try having your life wiped out by a fire and your nose being sliced off. Then come talk to me.”
Whew. What do you say to that? (I know you’re wondering what I said. It was “no kidding,” reinforced with a head nod.
Walking out the door, I remove my own mask and take a long inhale of 10 degree air through the nose, a sensation I’d always taken for granted and never thought about twice. I do now.
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
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 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 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.
“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.
“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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
“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”
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
In order of priority
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.
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.
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.
Have mixed fuel tanks, diesel and gas. You never know what you/your neighbors will need. Be over prepared.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Use and replace. Canned food has an expiration date. Cycle through and use product so they don’t get old.
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).
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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
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.
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
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?”
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.
“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
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.
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.
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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 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.
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.
The town of Czesky Krumlov taken from the castle above
Action adventure and money making; a strange but wonderful combination
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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:)
Three weeks ago today, I got cut hip to hip, and out popped
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
“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.
When Rog told me we weren’t going to make it to Poland after all, due to changes in our schedule, the girls and I were seriously disappointed, so he wanted to cheer us up by offering Aquaworld. After three days walking all over Budapest, and having previously visited Legoland, Tripsdrill, and multiple water-oriented destinations in the last four weeks, my first reaction to Aquaworld was nope. Not interested, especially when my visual was me chasing the kids all over the park when relaxing was more on my agenda.
“Come in,” he encouraged. “It will be fun, and if you want, I’ll run around with the girls and you can relax.” Huh. Didn’t sound so bad after all.
Multiple pools indoor and out, for adults only and families. Lots of grass, umbrellas and bars so no one goes without.
Close and convenient
Aquaworld has several locations around Hungary, one just ten minutes outside Budapest central. Since we couldn’t extend our stay at the apartment downtown, Rog took advantage of the package for a stay in a suite, plus four passes to the waterpark, buffet breakfast included (not continental, but full breakfast) for 235 Euro, we were in.
Massive and amazing
Straight and a few rights took us to Aquaworld, the passes are magnetized wristbands that resemble a round Applewatch. It grants access to the areas- which include the full children’s playground and child care (you must register separately but no additional fee) the waterslides, multiple indoor and outdoor pools–in fact, Aquaworld planned for all seasons, because the designers replicated every feature indoor as available outdoor, including the jungle-like high walkways.
Dome covered indoor area guarantees you don’t get sunburned in the summer and stay toasty in the winter
Indoor waterball (we call them garble balls) are in the wave pool, the Aztec designed theme an interesting yet fun choice. Separate adult-only areas exist both indoor and out, and the full-service Spa, hair salon and gym are located one floor above, with a stairway connecting to the lower area for easy access. Towels, robes and slippers are provided for the whole family. To top it off, the bar opens promptly at 8 a.m., so for those early risers who just want to get going, the bar makes smoothies and sells pastries as well as adult concoctions.
My pictures don’t do the food service justice. I missed taking the shot of the bread bar, where baskets or stacked chest high, to encourage families to load up and take as many as required! Where does that happen in the US? Another full bar was all for pastries, yet another for eggs, another for meats–about twenty different kinds. Hungarians love their pork, and I’m pretty sure an unwritten rule exists about how many must be offered to be considered legit.
Regardless, I couldn’t eat anything except liquid on this particular day, so I can only say the hot chocolate was thick and divine.
What I liked best and least
This was one easy. I liked it all. Nothing to “not like.” I even found a superior bathing suit at the gift shop–designer quality, fabric and style for 40 Euro. What more could I have asked for?
Starting from our apartment, it’s five minutes to the main square. Instead of giving you the blow by blow, this is my blog through pics.
Historical buildings surround a block-wide park with Ferris wheel- a bit hot during the middle of the day because they are enclosed, but fun and a great way to see the center of town.
Past the Cathedral, the Four Seasons, Sofitel and right in front of the Intercontinental where Rog first stayed 20 yrs ago. He reunited with his best friend–this is right on the waterfront, the railroad right in front of all the waterboards below.
Two views of the bridge- to the left is looking back into the city and the right is up at the Parliament building.
The bridge is a five minute walk max, a center turnabout and then the tram which one can take you straight up to the Parliament. We walked (of course) but the switch back is easy–another 10 minutes. The steps to the main landing (UR), and a quick turn around to look at the bridge.
The prominent statue in front of Parliament, a big part of which is not a gallery open to the public. Behind the building (which is open but deserted) shows a different face–one that’s deteriorated, not painted, but where the government workers have offices. The view to the city this time of day is glorious.
Beautiful from every angle–no wonder we saw three different wedding couples taking pictures on the grounds.
While most visitors stay up top in the newer part of the Hungarian Parliament building, we explored the back, original parts which were far more interesting, and offer views to the hills and “other” side of the city. The herb gardens had thyme pushes my height, along with lavender and rosemary spread to the size of cars.
This is the back part of Parliament. It’s not closed off, nor do they hide the wires strung outside, haven’t cleaned/washed the walls in decades, lawns aren’t cared for, plants are overgrown, but it’s majestic, authentic and interesting. In fact, a stone deck stretches around the entire backside, and you can walk it!
An original tower and entrance that’s not even visible from the town, river or current front entrance.
From the Parliament building is this stone castle, the next rise over (about 1 mile between the two hilltops)
One of several panoramic views from the top of Parliament in Budapest, Hungary