Thursday, January 31, 2008


Guess how I'm writing this blog entry?

That's right, sitting on my couch with my laptop on my lap. Yeeeehaw! I paid, I brought home, I started up, and aside from having to reset the clock, it's as though my transgression never transgressed.


Hip Update

I finally managed to track down my surgeon today to ask him some follow-up questions about my surgical options.

Here is a brief (as I can get) rundown:

He believes, and a consensus at a recent Canadian meeting of orthopedic surgeons confirmed for him, that debridement (actually treating the impingement) cannot be completely and effectively achieved through arthroscopy. A medical study I found online seems to confirm this. His opinion is that the jury is out about the total effectiveness of arthroscopy with regard to debridement; it has been done but the feeling is that it is physically impossible to ensure complete and thorough debridement without an open surgical procedure where the surgeon actually has a full and unobstructed visual of and access to the joint.

I asked him if he would be willing to try and perform the debridement arthroscopically, given that some surgeons are at least trying to do this without open surgery. His response was that, if he performed arthroscopic surgery it would be just to address the labral tear, not the impingement through debridement. However, given my impingement is slight, he said there was still a possibility that this would alleviate my problems.

I did, of course, mention 'e' of The Gerli Life's experience with the same diagnosis and the fact that her surgeon didn't even present open surgery as an option for treatment. As I predicted, it's impossible for a doctor to comment on another patient's situation when they know nothing about that patient's medical history. His supposition was that her surgeon chose to offer the least invasive surgery without informing her of it's limitaitons in regard to other options. (Sorry, Gerli, I'm just quoting here.)

Since I had pretty much decided not to do open surgery at this point in my life, I explained to him that my decision at this point was more about how much of my problem could be treated arthroscopically. If there is a possibility of addressing some or all of the impingement arthroscopically to, as much as possible, decrease my chance of future problems without open surgery, I want to explore that first.

Despite the fact that I was concerned that my pushing this issue would cause him to be defensive (we all know the stereotype of the egotistical surgeon), he was actually very altruistic in his response. He said that he would make some calls to some other hip specialists in Northern California to get some other opinions about athroscopic debridement. He even said he would be willing to refer me to another surgeon, if that seemed to make the most sense for me. The good thing was that he was very specific in articulating that he was not taking this as questioning his expertise, which I really appreciated. The last thing I need is to sour the relationship with him, especially if he is to help me gather some additional information and/or ends up doing my surgery.

We left it that he would call me back on or around next Wednesday with the results of his findings. Of course, I expect to have to call him to follow-up, although I'd like to be pleasantly surprised.

I also had my regular doctor's appointment today. Did I mention I LOVE LOVE LOVE my PCP? She is absolutely the best doctor I have ever been to. Great personality, takes time to listen to you, never makes you feel rushed, never leaves you waiting, understands the system and works it to your advantage... in short awesome. I picked her based upon a gut instinct, reading her profile online and looking at her photo. She had an honest smile that extended to her eyes and she turned out to be exactly as I had painted her in my imagination. I'm so lucky; I hope I never have to change.

Anyway, the point of mentioning this visit in my post is that she actually went through the results of my appointment with the ortho surgeon on Monday with me. I won't play-for-play our conversation but, suffice to say, she pretty much backed-up what I have said above. In that I trust her, this has really helped me to pull my thoughts together.

In other news...

My laptop is fixed! I heard its dolcet tones upon startup as the technician started it for the first time with it's new motherboard. All that's left to do is to fork over the other $200 and pick it up. Yay! Sort of...

It's flippin' stormin' again! Can you believe it? Tuesday was like being in the middle of a Kansas twister, with my Cypress trees dangerously leaning toward death. Yesterday was a beautiful, crisp, sunny day with barely a breeze to ruffle your feathers. Today? It's like Wednesday never happened. The Cypress trees are back to kamikaze levels, the wind is howling around the house, and the rain lapping at the windows. I'm the first one to like the odd, refreshing storm, but I am so over this see-saw weather, particularly because my dogs have cabin fever. Without exercise they demand more one-on-one attention and are whining and growling downstairs in the family room as I write this. Bye bye rain, come again another day, I say!

A pink fit

I had one. Last night, seemingly out of nowhere.

I was trying to tidy up around the house and everywhere I went was just... "stuff". Piles of stuff. Stuff we had no idea what to do with. Stuff with no place to put it. And, since Christmas, the piles have been growing as the mere thought of tackling the core problem seemed too depressing to bear. When you can barely walk around in an empty/spare room because of the amount of homeless stuff, then it's easy to just add the pile with a ton of stuff that does have a home but that (a) you can't get to because the homeless stuff is in the way or (b) used to have a home but now is occupied by newer stuff.

Unfortunately, Hubbie got the brunt of my frustration - 50% of which was somewhat merited and 50% of which was entirely OOO.

Of all the wonderful things my hubby is, tidy is not one of them. He's the kind of guy who gets home and empties the remnants of his day onto the kitchen countertop - change, candy-wrappers, business cards, receipts, paper-clips, tooth-picks, zip-ties, pad, manilla files, mail, cell phone, bluetooth headset... you name it. He then changes immediately into his pyjamas (a quality I find endearing, I might add) but in the process throws some or his clothes in a pile somewhere on the floor, shoes usually a few steps in front. When he goes to bed at night his pyjamas and socks go in another screwed-up pile next to the bed - the pyjamas to be worn again the next night, the socks to accumulate in that spot for a few days.

(Sorry honey, I love you to death and I am by no means perfect, but it's true.)

After a long day, I totally get this. There are days when I just can't be bothered to clean up after myself right there and then. All I want is a cup of tea and to veg-out on the couch watching repeats of Everybody Loves Raymond. I'm not a slave-driver or a neat freak (based upon my experience of what a neat freak is and, believe me, if you met my Grandmother, you'd know I know.) The problem comes when this habit is sustained day-after-day, with one day's pile of 'stuff' accumulating on top of the other. It becomes like a landfill and unfortunately we don't have one of those handy bulldozers to crush it all down into a manageable, vacuum-packed heap. (Although, thinking about it, that might not be a bad idea.)

When you add together the 'homeless stuff', the stuff with a home that no longer fits into it's home, the week's laundry that needs to be put away, the stuff that has a home that has been tossed onto a pile each day, and you times this by 7 days (or more if a week goes by without it being addressed) it can get overwhelming, cluttered, and maddening. Or at least it does for me.

This is all further exacerbated by the fact that our two-car garage is chock-a-block with other 'homeless stuff'. There really no room to remove the offensive homeless items from our spare bedrooms into the garage, which would usually at least put the mess 'out of sight out of mind'. We can't fit a car in the garage (we can barely fit a person in it) and the only way to condense it is for both Hubbie and I to take a whole day to pull it all out, sort it out, and put it back in (or throw out). Even then, this would probably only achieve enough room for one out of two cars (if we're lucky). Unfortunately, the weather has not been particularly cooperative of late and so the result is gridlock.

Gridlock. Can you believe it?!? We added 500 more square feet to our living space AND a garage last year and somehow we seem to be out of space already. Quite honestly this induces a feeling of utter panic in me. You may think I'm being hystrionic but that's what clutter does to me. I feel like I'm drowing in it. It feels impossible to ever get the house tidy and every weekend seems to be spent just keeping your head above water vs. ever actually making an impact on the bigger problem. And all of this without even having a kid yet. Can you imagine the chaos that will ensue when we add a little Vixen? I'm coming out in cold sweats just thinking about it.

The problem last night was that I'd been looking at this accumulated mess (some of which was Hubbie's, some of which, as I've stated is just the stuff of life (and my Mother, God bless her) we have no idea what to do with) for a few weeks now and trying not to complain about it. Hubbie has been working incredibly hard lately and I'm so pleased to see him finally get the fruits of his many years of labor in the real estate industry. The last thing I've wanted to do is whine and nag him about this. Instead, of course, all I've been doing is bottling it up (which I think explains my crappy moods in the past few days that I haven't been able to put my finger on.) At some point the lid has to blow as I'm not the kind of girl who can keep it down.

So last night, I fizzed my lid right off.

In the process of trying to wade my way through the stuff in one of our two spare rooms (yes, we have two spare rooms and still have this problem) and attempting to put away ten sweaters that have been laying on the floor in front of Hubbie's closet for 3 weeks, the pile of sweaters began to unravel and fall on the floor.

BUBBLE BUBBLE! Frustration, anger, resentment all boiled to the top and then over the edge. I screamed and threw the sweaters in the air, leaving them to fall around the room.

Poor Hubbie came running - probably thinking I'd fallen on my hip and disclocated it or something - and before he could even get to the top of the stairs I released my vitriol on him.

I immediately felt bad for yelling, especially since it was probably so "out of the blue" for him (just 5 minutes before we were chummy and putting pretty new sheets on our bed together) but I was just too mad to apologize right away.

The result was that all that stuff got cleaned up but resentfully and in anger. Way to go with marital diplomacy.

Part of the problem, I recognize in thinking more, is that Hubbie does have limited closet space and doesn't really have a spot to put the contents of his pockets at the end of the day.

The closet space I have no idea how to tackle. I know that I have the lion's share of the closets but what am I supposed to do? Throw out perfectly good stuff? I already have some things in boxes in the garage (which as we've established can't take any more) and routinely donate 3-4 big black bags of clothing twice a year plus sell another 3-4 bags once a year at a garage sale. (This is no exaggeration.) I suppose I could purchase an armoire or something but where would it go? The guest room is an option, I guess. The other spare room is reserved for a potential Baby Vixen and although could be a short-term solution, would only leave us with the problem of where to put said armoire if and when BV arrives. Plus, I'm loathe to throw money at the problem. Heck, our house is 50% bigger and our mortgage is 3x what it was and we're still trying to pay our way out of this mess!? Where does it end?

As for the space for Hubbie to rest his misc. paraphinalia at the end of the day... I think we seriously need to think about that. Valets, boxes, baskets... none of those things have worked in the past. I just have to accept that there is this 'stuff', it's here to stay, it can't be put away or categorized, and it's always going to be a messy pile. The question is, where can I put it so that it's not in our faces or in our way? My office is not an option as it's a working space I'm in 8+ hours a day, the kitchen countertop is not working, and quite honestly anything in plain 'guest' view just drives me nuts. This is obviously a discussion that needs to be calmly had with Hubbie.

All in all, I feel bad about the way things went down last night but I did finaly realize what has been bothering me so much since we moved into this house. Yes, there's been something underlying that has been niggling at me since the day we moved in and this is it. I love the house, I love the space, I adore our yard, I love our neighbors... but already we're wall-to-wall packed-in. It seems we made this big financial and square-foot leap and we're no better off than we were before. Something has to give and it can't be the house - obviously; I'm pretty sure the walls are fixed.

What is needed is a brutal review, organize, throw-out or donate session where everything is up-for-grabs. We need to reclaim our 1900 sq ft of living space before we suffocate.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Random Wednesday Stuff

Yesterday was snow and today is so warm and sunny I ate my lunch on my deck - go figure! And some people still claim climate change is a myth. Sheesh.

I called the surgeon's office today to ask him to call me to answer some additional questions about the surgeries he was advocating yesterday (see yesterday's long post.) He hasn't called me back yet which is frustrating because I would have liked to have got his answers before I request a 2nd referral from my PCP at a scheduled appointment tomorrow morning. Well, I guess it doesn't hurt to get that ball rolling either way. More than anything I'm biting at the bit to get this thing taken care of soon.

Spent some time talking to a news reporter for NBC's Nightline today. She’s doing a real estate related story and will be shooting some footage of the President of my company, who is also the CEO of a big real estate brokerage here in town. Hopefully my company will get some national airtime exposure out of it. I don’t expect any personal glory, however, so don’t tune-in expecting to see me quoted or anything.

Time to cast my absentee ballot for the Presidential Primary. I guess it's no secret who I'm voting for, although I don't hold out an awful lot of hope for my ideal outcome. Yesterday, after the President's State of the Union address, Barack Obama's response was the most watched video on You Tube. I think that tells you a lot right there. It was a beautifully orated response, granted and, as those of you who have been reading my blog for sometime already know, I have a lot of admiration for Obama and certainly see him as having great potential... I just don't know if he's ready yet. His optimism and preacher-like chattering about "hope" make him sound just a little naive to me. I wish it was 8 years from now, with Hillary giving her last State of the Union and Barack waiting in the wings to clinch the next 8 years for the Dems. When this whole primary process started like 100 years ago, I said to my sister-in-law: "I think it will be easier to get a black man elected than a white (or any other race) woman." I guess we'll see how right I was very soon!

Finally, an update on my battered laptop. They still don't have the motherboard yet, so news on when she'll be coming home. They think they can turn it around the same day once it gets in. Hopefully that includes making sure the thing actually starts up and doesn't produce a bunch of error screens.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Hip, Hip.... Hooray? Or...?

As many of you know by now, I have been battling some issues with my right hip since late 2005. Today I met with (who I am told is) one of the country's most talented orthopedic surgeons and have finally reached a decision point about my treatment. But oh what a roller-coaster ride it was.

First, a little history for those of you who don't already know it:

After several months of my hip popping in and out of joint and some intensive physically therapy, in mid 2006 I was diagnosed with a labral tear and my orthopedic surgeon at the time recommended surgery. Unfortunately, in 2006 I was heading into two plannned foreign vacations and a wedding, so I decided to postpone surgery until the following January. Except in January 2007 I changed jobs. Then my boss went on maternity leave for six weeks. Then I had to travel for work. And then more vacations loomed. All of which left little time (yes, somewhat by choice) for a surgery with a 2-month recovery period.

In my defense, part of me felt that, just maybe, if I kept up with the physical therapy the problem would sort itself out. Certainly my surgeon at the time didn't seem to think there was any rush nor any long-term impact to delaying the surgery.

Then, in August of 2007, Hubbie and I moved to a new house. The moving process, as we all know, involves much bending and lifting and pushing and pulling - all of which placed a big, bright spotlight on the problems with my hip. I can't squat, I can't lunge, I can't bend over with pressure on my affected leg, and it became plain as day that, through a slow process of compensation, I've lost stability and strength in the muscles surrounding the joint.

I decided: I have to bite the bullet and get this thing taken care of because it obviously isn't solving itself any time soon.

During this period I also changed doctors and medical groups. As those of us in the U.S. know, this isn't just as simple as registering with a new person. This means, essentially, starting all over again, especially with something like my hip problem. While my medical records were shared with my new doctor, x-rays and MRIs were mysteriously absent. In addition, the othopedic surgeon I had last seen wasn't even part of the same group, so my PCP (Primary Care Physician) couldn't even refer me back out to him. So, late last year I had to be referred to another orthopedist who, of course, wanted more x-rays.

The new orthopedist also guessed that I had a labral tear and this time found an anomoly on my x-ray that wasn't there before (although he didn't have the old x-rays he did have a narrative in my file describing them) probably the result of some kind of impingement. He also diagnosed a problem with my IT (iliotibial) band and recommended more physical therapy - most of which, it turns out, I was doing anyway. He didn't refer me out to a surgeon at the time because he wanted me to see a surgeon he had worked with at Kaiser Permanente (another medical group) and who was moving over to my medical group in early 2008.

Last week I had my follow-up appointment with this same orthopedist and it went something like this.

Him: "Well, I think you have two different things going on. One is a possible labral tear that is causing the pain in your inner groin and the other is a tight IT band that is causing the pain in your side and your knee. I think that if you can take care of the pain in your IT band, then a lot of your discomfort might be eased."

Me: "Ok, but isn't the tight IT band a result of what's going on with the labral tear?"

Him: "Well, maybe but I think you'll get significant relief from taking care of the IT band. If I refer you out to a surgeon, he'll just recommend surgery and this isn't just a small surgery we're talking about here, it's pretty painful."

So, basically what you're telling me is that you (as a sports medicine/orthopedist) are going to advocate physical therapy whereas the orthopedic surgeon is going to advocate surgery, just because that's each of your specialties? Hang on here: who's advocating for the best thing for me, the patient!?

Understandably I was a bit miffed but made the appointment with the orthopedic surgeon for this morning anyway.

Now to today's roller-coaster ride...

The surgeon's first-guess diagnosis was Hip Dysplasia (Aka: the climb to the first and highest drop on the ride. )

Of course, my eyes crossed at the term - I had no idea what it was but it didn't sound good - so I asked him to explain. He pulled out his pen and began to draw a hip joint on the paper liner next to me on the bed. Basically what he showed me was that an abnormality in the way that the femoral head sits in your hip socket (either that has been dormant since birth or that has developed over time), causes degeneration of the connective tissue, cartlidge, and eventually bone over time. So, for instance, dysplacia can cause something like a labral tear.

In many cases, orthopedic surgeons go as far as diagnosing the labral tear but don't search for the underlying cause - what caused the patient's labrum to tear? Aparently, it's usually pretty hard to tear your labram through regular wear-or-tear or even injury - only high-level athletes or people who have had a fairly traumatic injury (like falling off a horse or something) manage to do it with one catastrophic event. Usually, labral tissue tears because it has been worn away over time due to some other underlying, structural issue with the hip joint. Makes sense so far.

In short, we moved from a tiny bit of torn connective tissue to a structural abnormality in a major joint in my body within about 5 minutes of him walking into the room. While I was making light of everything with the doctor in an attempt to "bond", I have to say my heart was racing and my blood pumping in my ears, especially as I asked the question: "So, what's the treatment for that then?"

As I feared, dysplacia is not treatable through an arthroscopic surgery. In the surgeon's own words, this type of surgery is about "as big as they come for othopedics." For a start it's open surgery (meaning slice-and-dice-and-cross-stitch-you-up) and involves all sorts of joint dislocation, tendon stretching, bone twisting, and other manipulation which brings me out in a cold sweat just thinking about it. And the recovery time? 4+ months! That's without even taking into account the 3-4 month wait period posted on a bright yellow piece of papaer on every door throughout the place. (I might also add that, not only could I try for a family during this time, it was completely inadvisable to get pregnant at all if I had dysplacia.)

The thought of the surgery and the post-op pain was one thing but the idea of being out of action for 4 months had me hyperventilating. I'm not the sort of person who has the patience for that amount of recovery time. All the joys in my life revolve around independence, travel, movement... having me be dependent on others and encumbered in movement for a significant amount of time is like caging a wild lion in a 5x5 public storage space.

But still, wasn't this a bit of a jump? I asked him. I mean, my pain's not unbearable and I just woke up one day with this, it's not like it came on over a period of time. Still, in his experience he told me, most women my age who present with symptoms of labral tear actually have dysplacia.


So, we set to prove/disprove his theory by taking yet more x-rays (because of course the day my x-rays were taken by the other orthopedist, the computer system was down and so they're not in the system.)

Well, you know how this goes: the surgeon leaves the room to order the x-ray and now you're sitting in a stark white room for 30 minutes with nothing to distract you, not even a People Magazine. This was just enough time to start the tears streaming down my face. I wanted to call Hubbie and panic down the phone but I'd left my cell in the car, so all I was left with was my own fears and thoughts, going over-and-over what this meant for my life, for my plans for the year, for my long-term health...

One hour later we're staring at the x-ray. It's not dysplacia. (Aka: The relief at reaching the bottom of the first drop on the ride.)

But hang on...don't go all giddy on me yet! It's not just a labral tear either. (Remember: labral tears - according to my new surgeon - are caused by something.) My something is a Femoroacetubular Impingement of the Cam Type. (FI for short hereafter). (Aka: Wheeeee, up and over another bump on the ride we go!)

My relief was now instantly mixed with further uncertainty - this was something he hadn't mentioned it could be.

In terms of where this registered on the richter-scale of surgical severity, if the dysplacia was a '10' and a simple labral tear a '3', FI is around a '5-7' depending on the extent of the impingement. My impingement, fortunately, is at the lower end of the scale.

What all this means is that, if you think of your femoral head (the ball at the top of your leg that sits in your hip socket) as a round door-knob, the neck of my 'door-knob' is slightly less concave on one side than on the other, meaning that it could have been rubbing against my hip socket and caused or resulted over time in the labral tear. The abnormality is slight but seems to have been enough to cause a small peanut-sized impingement on the joint, whivh however, could also could be a result of the labral tear setting my hip-socket in a weird position.

All of this leaves me with two choices:

1) Simply treat the labral tear with an out-patient arthroscopic procedure which repairs the labrum and cleans out any other 'stuff' that might be getting in the way of my joint sitting properly. Recovery time: 2 months. This could eliminate 99% of my problem because my FI is only minor. Or it could just be a temporary band-aid and the FI will either leave me with some remaining pain in my hip and/or cause further problems down the line, which may lead me to option #2 anyway.


2) Open surgical hip dislocation involving an incision (approximately 6 to 10 inches), bone cutting of the upper thigh bone, and dislocation of the ball from the socket exposing all parts of the joint. Also during the procedure some metal pins are inserted into my femor. Recovery time: 4 months. This could be more surgery than I need but it would also prevent the possibility of further deteriation of the hip socket down the line.

The surgeon said I'm borderline for either procedure, since my FI is so slight. His feeling is that, if we do #1, I'll probably be back for #2 at some point anyway. Again, this was a gut feeling, not a medically inevitable result.

At this point, I don't know what exactly I'm going to do. My sense of impatience leads me to lean toward #1. It'll be less surgery and I'll be recovered faster plus that could be all I need - and who wants to have more surgery than they actually need?

However, if the FI still continues to be a problem I'll only add to that process later with a second, open surgery and a further 4 months of recovery. I'm also worried about degeneration of the hip joint and the future implications for arthritis and a possible future hip replacement.

I need to think some more...


Edited to add: Just spoke to my friend from The Gerli Life who had a labral tear surgery arthroscopically about 2 weeks ago. Turns out she also had FI also (which I didn't know) and her surgeon said this can be effectively treated (the full 100% solution with the bone removal and all that jazz, not just the band-aid) arthroscopically. She thinks I need a second opinion. Dear God... 3 years on and here we still are. Can this just be over!!???

Monday, January 28, 2008

Am grumpy

Just am. No reason I can think of. Not PMSing. Everyone and everything is getting on my last nerve, particularly Maggie (my puppy) who seems to think my posessions are chew toys and our couch a jungle jim. Don't comment - I may bite.

Happy Monday!

Just a little political humor to welcome in a new week.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Another one bites the dust

Another one of my friends is pregnant. See new link to Le Babe on this site.

Hubbie and I just did a finger-count and that's 7 friends and 10 babies in 2 years (one of my friends had quads.) That's one family for each day of the week. We should open a baby-sitting business!

Yes, it literally took me less than one blink to evaluate and dismiss that idea!

There's definitely something in the Sacramento water. Good job I'm not all that keen on water. Now, if they'd put it in some Apple Pucka I'd be in trouble!

What has been interesting, however, is watching how different the experience is for each family: easy pregnancies and nightmare pregnancies; walk-it births and heave-it births; babies who sleep through the night on day one and babies who cry constantly; gurgly babies and silent babies; bouncy babies and thoughtful babies... you name it. In those 7 families seems to have been a fairly decent gamut of experiences.

So, what have learned from all these friends to put in my back pocket for when my time comes? That whatever your expectations of the experience for yourself, they're probably inaccurate and that there are no two experiences alike (even from pregnancy to pregancy with the same couple, I've discovered.) And that's it. Aside from a very good lesson on securing a diaper to ensure no leakage (thanks to my Sister-in-Law) and a vomit experience that reminded me that babies are not bottomless pits for milk, I think that's about as best as anyone can prepare themself.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Election Frenzy

Watching the local news tonight I was astonished to see a party-like atmosphere in downtown Sacramento. Yes, sadly, it is astonishing to see jubilation in our fair city but that's not the reason for my astonishment: the hulabaloo was, in fact, due to a drive-thru voter registration drive outside the Sacramento Convention Center which lasts thorugh midnight tonight (the deadline to register for the Presidential Primary in California.)

Booths draped in patriotic colors, balloons flying in the wind and rain, horns beeping...Hold on, I thought, this is America, right? The same America where about only 50% of the electorate even bother to get off their butts for the actual Presidential election?

It sure is.

I don't care how grating it can be to see our news dominated by political squabbling, or how ridiculous it is that we're on about the thousandth debate before we've even got official candidates... Americans are engaged! Wouldn't you believe it? People on the street are talking about politics, policies, and what matters to them as if they were..... shock ... horror..... Europeans!!!!

I love it. It's heartening to know that it's in this country to be engaged in the political process in an enthusiastic and passionate way. Republican (boo!) or Democrat (yay!), this has to be a good thing for this typically apathetic nation.


I know the expression is usually "Oh Brother!" but in this case 'mother' is more apt.

I finally got a diagnosis on my poor, battered, laptop and (as I feared) it is the motherboard. Total damage: $430. Ouch.

Calling myself to the carpet

I'm a firm believer that it's never too late to create resolutions, whether they be for the year, for the month, for the week, or for the day. With that in mind and even though it's already 22 days into 2008, I wanted to enforce accountability for my New Year's Resolutions by posting them here on my blog. From time-to-time, I'll let you know how I'm doing on each.

So, in no particular order:

  1. Only drink alcohol on weekends. Ok, nobody panic, I'm not sitting on the couch with a wine-bottle in a brown paper bag, swigging myself into oblivion every night - because, to clarify, I don't.
  2. File bills regularly. Since it took me 3 hours yesterday to sort through filing from 2006 and 2007, as well as set-up some sort of system for 2008, this is something I really need to get better at!
  3. Lose 15lbs and/or fit into my size 6-8 clothes again. Who doesn't want to lose 15lbs, right? For me it's the recent fat I've put on since the wedding and (more recently than that) Christmas and new Year. I just want to fit into the lovely stuff in my wardrobe - given that I lift weights, that could be 8lbs, it could be 15lbs... I'll measure by fit vs. weight because I think that's more healthy.
  4. Attend a photography class. My love of my new DSLR is no secret. Now I just need to learn how to use the darn thing to it's full capabilities.
  5. Take a vacation alone. Yes, I'm still planning it. I may mix #4 with this one and go on a photography course abroad or something. Or, I've even been looking into a travel-writing course in France. Another option is a volunteer vacation in a Brazillian orphanage. Selfish or selfless... I haven't decided yet!

Short and sweet. Although there's many more things I'd like to do, I think 5 is realistic and achievable, plus if you list too many things your focus can get scattered and you can end up achieving nothing.

  • What are your NY resolutions?
  • What were your 2007 resolutions and did you achieve any of them?

Do share!

I am a star!

For ONCE one of these tests spits out something that doesn't tell me I'm an evil dictator or suffering from a psychotic personality disorder. Phew! What a motivating way to start a work day.

You are The Star

Hope, expectation, Bright promises.

The Star is one of the great cards of faith, dreams realised

The Star is a card that looks to the future. It does not predict any immediate or powerful change, but it does predict hope and healing. This card suggests clarity of vision, spiritual insight. And, most importantly, that unexpected help will be coming, with water to quench your thirst, with a guiding light to the future. They might say you're a dreamer, but you're not the only one.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

Thank you to The Gerli Life for the link. Let me know which Tarot Card you are!

Friday, January 18, 2008

It's my birthday -- my own personal Thanksgiving

I've let go of yesterday. Whatever I've done to my poor laptop (my birthday gift to myself 3 years ago) is now done. No use crying over spilt milk. Aside from some maddening technical issues with the phone this morning (again letting that go too), I've managed to have a good morning... exactly what I wanted and planned: a cup of coffe, a good book, and the sun streaming in through the front window of my living room.

I love my house. I had this moment of extreme gratitude walking through it just now. It's not exactly how we want it yet but I love the spaces: the view into the back yard, the way the sun bears down on the front of the house and makes my office sun-soaked, my living room gently touched by it's rays filtered the trees in front.

I'm also feeling grateful for being so loved. Reading my book I was interrupted by the doorbell: on the other side of the door a little Asian man smiling and delivering a beautiful flower display from my Mum and Dad in the sunniest yellow, smiley-faced vase, and with yellow and white daisies. How perfect! So yellow. So me.

Then, I realize I have voicemails: from my mother-in-law, from my Mum singing, and from my friend CJ singing. I answered the phone just now to hear my ex-husband get in on the act - singing Happy Birthday just as he has every year for the last 13 years (can't believe it's been that long!) despite the fact we've been divorced for 8 of them. I also have e-cards - people from people at work, my Mum, my friend Joy - and yesterday I was delivered-up a yummy cake accompanied by singing, plus a $50 spa gift certificate from the people I work with. I even got a card from my uncle in France who, throughout my whole lifetime, really just doesn't "do" cards. (Sadly, it shamed me because I hadn't got one for him for the first time in many years - it's his birthday too today!)

Let's not also forget, last but not least, my husband who (despite me ruining his carefully planned evening with my temper tantrum last night) had decorated the house with balloons and flowers, and this morning appeared with a foot-stool for my Ikea chair I have in my office. Looking at it, I immediately knew that he had experienced hassle getting it - he had no way to know that the picking process was a la carte, with 4 different wood colors and 5 different color cushions. I knew he had sped-off to Ikea yesterday (about 25 miles away) to purchase the foot-stool that matched my chair, expecting it to be a one-and-done process. Lo-and-behold, I was right. He ended up changing his wood selection 3x before he got to the right color combination. Poor guy.

So, in short, I feel very lucky to have so many people around me who love and care for me and who take the time to remember and/or celebrate me on my birthday. It's these thoughts that elevate my mood as I look toward the rest of my day and the opportunity to please myself, unabashedly, and without aplogy, for an entire 24 hours.

Thanks family and friends! I'm so lucky to have you in my life.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A lesson in not letting your temper get the better of you

Today was my "in office" day and tomorrow is my birthday. When I came home from work Hubbie had begun a lavish dinner and decorated the house with lovely balloons and flowers. Awwww....

I had one document to scan to send to my boss and so I set about getting that taken care of quickly before joining Hubbie for dinner. Of course, nothing ever goes that smoothly...

The scanner wouldn't work. The computer was connected to the network, the scanner said it was connected to the network. The computer was "seeing"the scanner and the scanner was "seeing" the computer. All of which should add up to a recipe for swift-scanning success. Except none of this meant anything to the scanning process.

I'll fax it instead to my e-fax, I thought, and foward it from there. Except the fax couldn't find a line out although everything was seemingly connected just fine.

Ok, so back to the scanner. Nope... the process would start on the scanner and then just stop and go back to the menu screen. The scanner said it couldn't find a host computer (although it was "seeing" it in the settings) and that it needed a host computer with HP software to set-up scanning to that computer. Trying to initiate the process from the HP software in the computer wasn't working either. So, I decided to fall back on the basics: uninstall and reinstall in the hopes that the scanner and the computer would find one another again. Stellar plan.

Two hours and a missed-dinner later, the uninstall/reinstall process is finally complete. But did it make a blind but of difference? Of course not.

So, instead I tried another way to scan. Lo-and-behold I got it to scan one page at a time (no document feeder however) and got ready to shoot the email to my boss and recalibrate my mood for the evening. Phew.

Just as I was trying to attach the scanned images to an email, a thousand Outlook "reminders" pop up and freeze the system. And this was the straw that broke the camel's back. My narrowly maintained grip on my temper was lost and I smacked the top of the computer three times in anger and frustration.

The screen went instantly blank. And not just blank as in static or frozen - blank as in black. The on/off button does nothing. It's dead as a doornail.

Of course, my super-duper Dell Warranty and Extended Support, which has saved me numerous times in the last 3 years, expired just 10 days ago and I didn't bother renewing it. We call that "Sods Law" in England. I think it's known as "Murphy's Law" in the U.S. but in this instance I think "Sods" is much more fitting.

And therein lies the lesson: Because I couldn't hold my temper and/or walk away and punch something cheap like a cushion, my $3,000 laptop is now non-functional. So now, on my birthday, I have to fork over $58 to the guys at the Geek Squad for them to pass on some undoubtedly dastardly news about how much it's going to cost me to get this thing back up and running again.

Fortunately I still have my work laptop, which is how I'm managing to confess my shameful sin to all of you. I just hate it when my misfortune is nothing but my own fault. I can handle any kind of upset, problem, or set-back and usually move forward without losing much sleep or giving something a second thought, but when it comes to doom of my own making, I stew on it, internally kick my own ass on a moment-to-moment basis, and generally provide lots of scornfull "self-talk" that will undoubtedly plague me for days and weeks to come. (The last time I did this to myself was the day after my wedding when I realized I had let the temperamental photographer rush us through group shots - I still have nights where I'll wake up kicking myself for not taking control of the situaiton vs. letting it control me.)

In this case, I guess, the apropos response is: "Serves you right, TV!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


It's a condition that means you've lost all sense of smell.

I heard about it on the news this evening and was horrified - I had no idea that something like this even existed! Aparently something as seemingly common and innocent as a sinus infection can wipe out all your smelly senses. Oh no!

The case-study they presented on the tv was of a 50-something woman who, since losing her sense of smell, no longer enjoyed food and lost 20lbs. This could explain why:

Tasting is actually smelling. It is commonly thought that the flavour of food is experienced by the 'tastebuds' on the tongue; in fact, the mouth distinguishes only rudimentary information on sweetness, saltiness, sourness and bitterness. Odour molecules from food rise to the olfactory epithelium and supplement the information from the tongue with much more sophisticated data. That's why food tastes bland when you have a head cold; the olfactory epithelium is clogged with mucus and can't function properly.

Fortunately ansomnia can be temporary since your smelling nerves can actually regenerate over time. Even so, "temporary" can mean years!

As someone who experiences the world through smell -who smells the faintest whiff of anything foul at 100 yards, and can dig-up a 30 year-old memory after experiencing smell deja-vu - I can't think of anything worse.

Moral of the story: if you blow out green snot, go to the doctor. You could have a sinus infection and it could wipe out your smelly nerves!

Public Health Announcement Over. Take care of your nose, people!

It's the shits for the Brits

Or more specifically for my poor parents. A run of bad luck and misery seems to have greeted them since they returned to the UK.

In a phone conversation today, the following "good" news was discussed:
  1. Asbestos was found in the laundromat we own. Nothing dangerous they assure me and items that are fixable with some fairly remedial work. Except...
  2. The buyers have pulled out after 4 months and just 30 days before closing. They say it was the asbestos but we think they were using this as an excuse because they were having trouble getting a mortgage. Unfortunately, due to an archaic real estate system that is stacked against sellers, they (my parents) have no recourse. The buyers hadn't put a single dime on the line, didn't have to prove they had a loan at any time, and weren't under any obligation to meet any timelines. People, there is a reason for all those damn California Real Estate forms and seemingly artificial timelines... just talk to a Brit and those 45 page agreements and offers won't seem so bad after all.
  3. Now, due to 1, although they have another offer on the table already, they have to disclose the asbestos. Hopefully the new buyers won't freak out and run away.
  4. Due to #2, we're potentially 4 months away from closing again. And don't tell me they should place conditions on the buyers to get things done earlier, or prove this-and-that. It's pointless. It's raging against the machine. They'll just walk away (again they have nothing "at stake" until a couple of weeks before closing, so why wouldn't they?). This is how things "work" out there. It sucks and you have to just suck it up.
  5. Mum's work has turned into a high-school nightmare. People ignoring her, talking about her behind her back.... childish, petty behavior. She works for a thoroughly unprofessional company. She hates going to work. They're lucky I don't live back there because I have a particular venom reserved for petty bullies and some unresolved childhood issues I would love to take out on some unsuspecting Essex girl with a substantially smaller vocabulary than me. (Yes, I'll be a formiddable Mother someday if my kid ever gets confronted by a school bully. Feel my wrath!)
  6. Mum's one friend and ally in the company has had 3 amputations since Christmas. First they cut off a part of his leg below the knee, then they had to go up to the knee, now they're lopping it off all the way from the hip. Poor guy. Why couldn't this happen to one of the mean bullies? Life can be so unfair.
  7. The house, which is on the market, has only had two showings in as many months. The "Real Estate Agent" (I use that term loosely since they don't do even 10% of what even a worthless Realtor does out here) seems oblivious to a potential downturn in the UK real estate market and has no plan to strategically price or position their property for a successful sale. Maybe they could go to a different broker but the reality is they're all just as useless, so there's no point.
  8. All of which has resulted in my Mum getting sciatica. When I spoke to her today she was flat on the floor, attempting to breath through the pain enough to have a conversation.

And you wonder why they want to move to the U.S.

People, it's not just about the grandkids. There's just some bad mojo about life back there sometimes. Things are much harder, more bureaucratic, and generally frustrating. While I miss "home" so acutely sometimes I could spontaneously burst into tears, episodes like this remind me of how it actually was to live back there sometimes - everything seemed to be going wrong all the time and there was nothing but bad news. I know life is like that everywhere at some point (Lord knows Hubbie and I have had a few rough years thrown-in for good measure) but for some reason it sometimes seems to be an ongoing, up-hill onslaught back home.

I just want them to get out here, retire, and enjoy life for once. They so deserve it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Catching you up

About 4 days ago I gave you the negative run-down on our New Year vacation in Mexico. In that post I promised a more balanced summary of our week away and so here it begins...

Puerto Vallarta Vacation Highlights - Part Uno

Los Verranos Canopy Tour

It was the one thing I was determined to do while away. I've been sky-diving, paraseiling, pot-holing (caving), abseiling (rapelling), and snorkeling (which is a big thing for me given my fear of water and fish) and this was absolutely next on my list. Of course, I was somewhat spurred-on by my travel heroine, Samantha Brown, the perky, pixie-haired presenter of the Travel Channel's "Passport to Europe" and the more recent "Passport to Latin America." Samantha had already inspired last year's visit to Stockholm and so, when I saw her zip-lining across a tropical abyss in PV, I knew I just had to do it too. (Which brings to mind the parental retort: "So, if Samantha Brown jumped off a cliff, would you follow?" Sadly, the answer is most probably... yep!)

I would have been quite happy to zip along on my own if nobody else would dare to do it with me but Hubbie and Mummy said they wanted to go too. Cool - a 60 year old Brit and a husband with vertigo. This was going to be fun!

I should probably clarify here that want may have been too strong a word for Hubbie, who I think was determined not to be out-adventured by me but was nonetheless keen to just 'get it done' to say he did it, rather than for the joy of the experience itself.

Eager not to get stage-fright, we head over to the tour office in the hotel on our first day and inquired about the various canopy tours available and the varying skill/fitness levels required to participate. Based upon the description of the participants, our tour person, Moses, picked a fairly local tour at Los Verranos. We booked it for the next day.

The following afternoon we were bumping along in an open-topped truck, freezing to death and hurtling towards our unknown fate. (Did I mention it was the coldest winter in 20 years?) It was a beautiful ride, along the Pacific coastline, passing expensive beach-side resorts and gaining momentary gilmpses of spectacular rock formations rising out of the ocean.

Los Verranos was located at the end of a dirt road, seemingly only wide enough for a European hatch-back yet attacked by our truck-driver with the speed limit of a German Autobahn. We got out and immediately encountered our first hitch - the kind of hitch I am quite literally incapable of getting through or around: a ten foot python.

What? There's not sufficient adventure in sliding along a metal rope 500ft in the air that you need to add dangerous reptiles to the mix!?

Anyone who knows anything about me, knows that I have an unreasonably violent, paranoid reaction to snakes. I have absolutely no idea where this fear came from - it's not like you have pythons or rattlesnakes in your yard in suburban London - or what it's rooted in. All I know is that, for the longest time, I haven't even been able to look at a picture of a snake. I kid you not: if there's a picture of a snake in a magazine, I'll scream, throw the magazine across the room and wait for someone else to rip the page out of the magazine before I can even pick it up again. Given that this is my reaction to a piece of paper, you can imagine my sheer and utter paralyzing panic at seeing the real thing not five feet in front of me, wrapped around the neck of a Mexican tour guide. God Bless Mum, she stood betwen me and it while I ran, face turned away, into the main tour complex and away from the scary slinky thing. (I'm getting cold and sweaty just thinking about it)

After that, the zip-lining seemed like no big deal. Well, at least to me. Thankfully for Joss - who has arachnaphobia - they kept the tarantulas in the animal house and brought them out only by special request from visitors who wanted to have their photo taken with the spider crawling on their face. We did not personally witness this (thank God) but saw photos to prove people really are this nuts.

Our tour guides and care-takers for the day were awesome: a bunch of 20 or so late-teen/early twenties, good-looking Mexican dudes who were as much actors as anything else. Suiting up in our harness and getting our safety tutorial was an opportunity to enact some well practised comedy-skits for the boys; their high-jinks almost successful at making us feel like we were about to head onto something as innocuous as the It's a Small World ride at Disneyland. The problem with all the frivolity was that there really was some very serious information being imparted in it's midst - and there was a lot of it! The speed at which the guys zipped (if you pardon the pun) through the safety instructions even left me feeling as though I was going to freeze-up and forget everything they'd just told me. Essentially, however, we needed to remember all of the following:

  1. To get hooked-up on the zip-line, give the "sexy leg" to your guide at the platform. (I could describe but it's more fun for you to imagine.)

  2. For the first line, lay back with legs crossed, arms bent. Look out at the platform through your right arm and smile - this was your photo op.

  3. For all other lines, lay back with legs bent (sort of like a suspended foetal position) but with hands grasping the pulley and arms straight.

  4. If you're going too fast the guide at the platform you're approaching will rapidly perform a punching motion in the air in front of him. This is not his attempt to buffer himself from your impending arrival but your cue to quickly wiggle your pulley from side to side, creating friction with the line. But be sure to do it laterally, not vertically because the latter would not be good. Yikes.

  5. When the guide waves his arms across his chest, stop braking.

  6. Don't brake unless told to do so. This could result in you stopping before your platform. In which case, see 7.

  7. If you stop before the platform, you need to turn yourself around to pull yourself in by your hands. Let go of the pulley with one arm (um right!) and grasp the zip-line in front of you, turning yourself parallel to the line. Then let go of the pulley with the other hand and put it behind the other on the line, turning you around so your back is to the incoming platform. Now, use your arms to pull yourself back the rest of the way to the platform. Remember: You're doing all this while being suspended 500ft in the air, attached to a metal rope by no more than a harness and two caribenas.

  8. Trust your guides to know the speed at which you should be coming into the platform.
All of this vital life-or-death information was imparted to us in probably less than 5 minutes - and that includes time for clowning around!

And so, as we head off to platform number one, you saw people repeating back to one another what they thought they just saw and heard (Mum and I among them) in an attempt to (a) obtain validation that you didn't just swap right from left or lateral for vertical in your head and (b) commit the info to something more than short-short term memory.

The adventure started at the stairs up to the first platform. Circular, metal, wobbly, totally transparent, a little narrow, and with not much between you and a thirty-foot drop, I have to say even I wasn't digging it. Stuck behind a line of other people, you were often left with six inches of step and for moments at a time before you could progress; time to re-assess your decision to continue.
Checking back in with Hubbie, I could tell things were not going well. When Joss is scared or worried, he takes on the persona of being pissed. My extremely considerate, diplomatic, sensitive husband turns into a short, sharp, leave-me-alone-or-I'll-jump-all-over-your-ass ,rageaholic. "How's it going, Hun?" is met with a grunt. "Everything ok?" gets a sharp "What do you think!?" and "You can do it!" is the last straw, greeted by some sarcastic **ck off comment.

As I reached the top of the platform and looked back, I saw that poor Hubbie was paralyzed about 6 steps down, almost bent in half with determined concentration. I honestly didn't think he'd make it to platform one. But somehow, in the moment that I turned my back and left him to his own devices (because it was almost my time to get hooked-up) he pushed himself up those stairs and arrived at the top. I don't know how he did it because if I was 6 steps down and the python was at the top, I would have turned without a second thought and raced down screaming and crying like a baby.

Finally, it was time to go. The first line was short and, somehow, I managed to channel the guide's photo-op advice amongst all the 'how-not-to-die' advice and put on my best smile for the camera. Arriving at the other side, I actually had a moment of: This is going to be easy! And you know what? It was! With a couple of notable exceptions...
  • Mum's attempt to brake at one specific platform didn't go as-planned and she came zooming in at an alarming speed, swinging violently back-and-forth, side-to-side as she was 'caught' by the guide. I had just arrived in and was waiting for her; for one moment I thought she was going to fly clean off the other side of the platform and/or wrap herself around the zip-line in much the same way you would if you went too high on a swing. Cripes.
  • Joss got stuck a couple of times right before the platform... thankfully not 1/2 way across the gorge.
  • The hike up to a couple of the platforms involved covering some fairly decent elevations, revealing that Mum seriously needed to get back to the gym. At one point she was so out of breath and so red in the face, Joss tried to use her as an excuse to cut his adventure short to accompany her down the hill.
The lines got progressively longer and the drops beneath you deeper, meaning you started off flying through the trees like a modern-day Tarzan and yet 1/2 way through found yourself emerging over a tropical valley, a river hundreds of feet below, and nothing but you and the zipline in sight. At one point, daring to look around me, I was totally awestruck at the wonder of where I was and what I was doing and let out a giddy "Whoeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!" To be so high, with so little holding you up, alone, without the noise of a motor or engine, was absolutely magical - and we got to do it 14 times! Many canopy tours are 5-7 zip-lines but ours was a value-for-money 14. Awesome.

Unfortunately, the adventure didn't stop at platform 14. Hungry and thirsty, we decided to celebrate being alive by grabbing a drink and a quesadilla at the on-site restaurant. Halfway through our cheesy triangles, Hubbie turns to me and says: "Look at that house, Shell." I followed his gaze to stare at a house on the other side of the river. I looked at it and I looked at it but couldn't find anything out-of-the-ordinary to hold my attention. "What am I supposed to be looking at?" I asked him. "Just look at the house!" he urged, which I did obediently but again couldn't see anything. I'm getting pissed now but then I see the look in my mother's eyes. "Don't turn around," she says, which is right about when I realize that the man with the ten foot python is heading in my direction - how close exactly I don't know.

I'll 100% cop to it - I fell apart. Tears, cold-sweats, screaming "Don't let them bring it over here! Make him go away!" Pleading with Hubbie and Mummy "Make them take it away Mum! Nooooo! Pleeeeeeease!"

It was a visceral reaction. Sheer, utter, unreasoned panic, so strong it outweighed my need to not appear like a complete lunatic in front of a room full of strangers. At first they said the guy seemed to think it a little amusing that he was getting a reaction out of me but, as my hysteria grew, he thankfully backed off - only to position himself somewhere between me and my exit out of the restaurant. Leaving the restaurant involved Mum and Hubbie standing between me and the snake, making a visual barrier to enable me to pass-by it and flee up the stairs to safety.

Snakes aside, it's hang-gliding next methinks

Here's me, adventure traveler extraordinaire!

Mexico 2007_LosVeranos 002

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Parent Petition

No, it's not a petition by or against my parents. In fact quite the opposite - it's a petition for them. Today I filed an I-130 with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to apply for my parents to move to the U.S.

Well, I say I filed it with them, I mean I put it in the mail. What with the 6-month backlog they're claiming to have, it may be June before it actually becomes a "file". Then, of course, there's the beaurocratic paper-shuffle, where they're bound to lose something I already sent to them, thus requiring me to re-send it, then taking them 3-months to acknowledge the receipt thereof.

In short, we're at "Step One" of a long process. The Gerli Life just finalized the same process with her parents and it took a little over 3 years. Although her parent's circumstances were a little more complex than mine (being as her parents have lived in like 4 countries and my parents haven't even made it around 4 counties), I'm estimating at least 2 years before our dreams become reality.

I'll keep you informed as we navigate the red-tape at the newly-formed DHS...

Heard on radio while in line at Post Office

"Having trouble figuring out the paternity of your child? Now xyz
service offers a cost-effective and affordable way to identify your baby's
father, using DNA testing..."

This is such a sad commentary on where we've come to socially and morally: that this should be on a regular radio station, playing next to ads for Folsom Auto Mall and Surewest Wireless.

Not that I'm little miss innocent or anything, but seriously... the fact that there are so many women out there who have this problem that this company deemed it worthwhile to spend money advertising on mainstream radio, just came as a bit of a shock to me.

I'm an Infomaniac with Password Fatigue

Or so say the Ozzies.

Aparently, there is now such a thing as Australish - Australian English Slang.

The Macquarie Dictionary, Australia's National Dictionary, has an online competition for the Australish word of the year to add to their new edition. Nominations include such fabulous linguistic configurations as:

  • Advergaming
  • Credit Card Tart
  • Floordrobe (something Hubbie should be very familiar with)
  • Manscaping
  • Arse Antlers
  • Boomeritis
  • Chindia

and my personal favorite Slummy Mummy. (For which I nominate Britney Spears.)

To find out what on earth those Australians are blabbering about and to vote for your favourite (yes, with a "u" becoz Australians do speak better English than Americans after all) Australish words, click here.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The trouble with great vacations...

... is that they leave you spoiled for every trip thereafter.

In December 2005 we went to Couples Resort in Negril, Jamaica. It was one of those places that delivered the perfect storm: Hubbie and I had just got engaged and it was a romantic adults only resort; it was a to-die-for location with warm aquamarine seas and a long, clean sandy beach; the weather was beautiful (not too hot or humid, gentle breezes); the food - even in the buffet - was excellent; they had a good schedule of daytime activities (yoga, couples massage classes); the evening entertainment was top-quality with talented singers and bands (including a Reggae singer who became a friend); the resort had the world's most friendly and up-beat staff; and they threw a New Year's Eve party that would be difficult to top in even the world's most famous cities.

With all the positives it was almost possible to forget the shower that leaked and flooded the room, the 3rd world villages that presented little in the way of cultural immersion, and the bumpy 4-hour mini-van trip to Ocho Rios and Dunns River falls where the driver played non-stop Sean Paul and Dad sliced his legs and arms open while trying to climb up the face of a waterfall.

Whenever we think of Jamaica, it's the good things that come up. My enduring memory is of floating up and down the width of the resort in the bath-water-warm Carribbean sea for hours on end. I'm sure Hubbie's would be sitting on the beach at 2am on New Year's Day with Jeff, the reggae singer, just shooting the breeze. My Dad would probably point to the evening entertainment and my Mum the early morning river cruise we took on a hand-made raft for two. In short, it did what few vacations can do - please four people in two different generations and with four different ideas of what constitutes the ideal break.

The trouble with the perfect storm is that it only comes along once in a rare while and it's almost impossible to recreate - no matter how much money or will-power you throw at it!

As a result, you can visit some absolutely stunning places, stay in some wonderful resorts, and spend your entire vacation nit-picking and comparing them to that one week in time when everything came magically together.

This is the problem that we've had since Jamaica.

Admitedly, as I've already said, we are four people who have close-to four differing ideas of what goes into the recipe for the perfect vacation. So it's a given that, as a group, we are not easy to please.

Case in point was Malta, in September of 2006. We stayed in an absolutely beautiful, brand spanking new hotel in probably one of the nicest rooms I've ever slept in (a one-bedroom suite with a fantastic cliff-top view.) We bitched about the lack of evening entertainment, the non-stop piped music outside our balcony that looped hourly, the reserved staff (which, in hindsight, was more a function of the Maltese culture than any lack of effort on their behalf), the fact there was no poolside drink service, the minimal opening hours of the restautants, and the shortage of outside bars to sit and relax at during the day. So pissed were we that we actually complained to the manager and got free wine, grapes, and cheese in response. (Not quite what we were hoping for, but still.)

And so it was for Puerto Vallarta this past December. A 5-star all-inclusive hotel, located on it's own secluded beach, flanked by hills covered with tropical foliage, beach and pool-side drink service, three pools, three bars, five restaurants all with great food, and a spa that performed massages under a linen-covered canopy on a private veranda overlooking the beach. (Of course, we partook in the latter... more later.)

Ok, so the entertainment was lackluster at best.

Our first night we witnessed a "fire acrobatics" show where the acrobatics were performed by a couple who looked as though they'd been practicing in their living room in front of a Cirque du Soleil DVD, and the fire was provided by a high-school gymnast who twizzled in circles for a while and then dropped her flame-ended baton.

Then there was the Comedy Night, held downstairs in a basement sports bar, and hosted by four gay Mexicans dressed as nuns trying desperately to get audience participation from the 20 baffled and unimpressed people in the room.

And who could forget the Rock-and-Roll Party on the beach, where ten of us stood 2 feet from a raging bonfire and 30 feet from the beach-side stage, to listen to the resort band (headed by a gravely-voiced rastafarian and further ruined by an overly ambitious lead guitarist) hack their way through Jimmy Hendricks and other classic rock numbers? Classic indeed.

Then there was some kinks in the service.

Our first-floor patio door didn't have a lock when we arrived and it took us several phone-calls and trips to the front desk over three days, just to get them to address it.

More importantly the "Chief Concierge", who can quite often make-or-break a vacation experience, was quite possibly the worst concierge in the history of hotels. You name the negative adjectives for the antithesis of the ideal concierge and he met them. Unfriendly, unhelpful, dismissive, and rude: you could literally be standing in front of him and he would fail to acknowledge you until you said something to him first. A conversation with the anti-concierge went something like this:

ME: "Hello, we'd like to head into town to do some shopping."

HIM: Silence and an icy stare.

ME: "So, is there a hotel shuttle or something?"

HIM: "No."

ME: "Ok, so.... do we just get a taxi?"

HIM: "Yes."

ME: "Ok, so how much should that cost?"

HIM: "About 40 pesos."

ME: "Great. And what about a map or something of the town?"

HIM: "Yes." Turns around, fumbles under a pile of crap and pulls out a map.
Hands it to me wordlessly.

ME: "Um... ok. Er, thanks."

HIM: Says nothing, looks down and returns to shuffling papers on his desk.

I am not exaggerating here!

Then, as with any place, there were little things here and there that could have been better. But the killer was the New Year's Eve party. And let's be honest here, it was doomed to disappoint. 2005's New Year was spent in Jamaica on the "perfect storm vacation" and 2006's New Year was celebrated on a party barge under Big Ben on the River Thames in London. The bar was set pretty high. The place really didn't stand a chance.

But of course, we still pinned all our hopes on the resort pulling itself out of our interpretation of mediocrity and elevating our experience at the 11th hour.

On first glance things looked promising. It looked like the Couples set-up - tables set-up around the pool, a stage erected in front of the beach, and an all-out buffet feast extravaganza. But there the similarities ended. Since it was a buffet dinner, they failed to recognize that people would come and eat at different times. Expecting them to linger after desert and watch the entertainment, they made three big mistakes.

(1) They forgot it was the coldest winter in 20 years, with temperatures in the low 60s by the pool.

(2) They packed the tables and chairs in the available space, making everyone feel crowded and eliminating any dance space in front of the stage. (Some chairs were no more than 12 inches from the edge of the pool!)

(3) They turned off all the lights and relied on the small decorative candles on each table to light the entire pool area.

So, the result was everyone got up after dinner and either went to their room or headed-up to the bar. I mean, who wants to sit at a 1/2 empty 10-top table crammed between 100 other empty 10-top tables, lit so dimly by a single candle that you could barely see your lonely companions, freezing your ass off, and without a space to dance in? To top it all off, they had one band for the evening who seemed really keen on their tequila breaks and left the stage for 30 minutes at a time, bringing the New Year buzz down to a lazy humm as piped-in music played in their absence.

Like many others (who weren't in bed already) we headed up to the bar where we had a birds-eye view on this sad debacle and started to pound the tequila. I give us credit for making lemonade out of lemons, however. When it got to 11:00pm and it didn't look like the situaiton "on the ground" was going to improve, we stood up and danced in the space around our bar table. Heck, it was New Year and we didn't care!

So, that was the bad. Honestly, I make it sound horrific, but that's only through the "Couples Lens" and to illustrate my point that, at some stage, you need to relegate the "great vacation" to a fond memory and start taking each new vacation experience on it's own merits.

With that in mind and with my "ranting" out of the way, my next post will provide the usual vacation highlights...

Right now it's 9am on Saturday morning and I'm surrounded by Christmas decorations that are still not down and piles of laundry (I kid you not) 3 feet high.


FOOTNOTE: After re-reading this post, it occurs to me that I sound incredibly spoiled, whiney and ungrateful. I mean, here I was in paradise for New Year and all I seem to be able to do is bitch about it. Please allow me to (a) agree, because that was the purpose of this post. I'm admitting it and it's got to stop. We're all (me, Hubbie, Mum, and Dad) spoiled and spoiling our own vacations with this constant comparison. And (b) defend myself by saying that the good stuff is coming in a later post. I will redeem myself I promise!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Bryan Kest kicked my butt

I don't know if it's because I haven't worked out for two weeks or because I've been doing Kundalini yoga (a more soothing practice that focuses on breath) but this yoga workout video I did yesterday kicked my butt!

I had heard about the Bryan Kest Power Yoga videos and added it to my Christmas wishlist, so yesterday was the first time I was able to try it out. Let me tell you, this guy may look like something off a romance-novel cover, but his yoga workouts are no joke. I'm sore in places I'd forgotten even existed and I only did the Beginner workout. I should have realized I'd pay the next day after I was forced to lunge sideways, form a triangle with the floor, then bring one hand under and through my knee and another around my waist to meet it. I was actually quite impressed one hand even found the other.

It's going to be a couple of months before my body is ready to contort into the intermediate workout poses, let alone the advanced!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Two weeks of excess

Ugghhh. I ate so much in the final two weeks of 2007 that, now I'm back to reality, my stomach is convinced it wants roast potatoes and apple pie a la mode 24/7. Uncharacteristically I just downed a dinner from Del Taco's drive-thru, mainly because I haven't had time to get to the store and buy anything to make at home (at least that's my story and I'm sticking to it.)

My holiday vacation ended this past Sunday when my parents got on a plane back to England. As always, it was an emotional affair, watching them walk away beyond the security check at SFO, stretching my neck to catch the last glimpse of them before they dissapeared into the sea of travelers. It's always hardest to see them go after Christmas and New Year because it not only means the end of their visit but the end of my favorite season. I'm never happier than when it's cold outside, the fire's on, my house is decorated for Christmas, the carols are playing non-stop, and I'm baking Christmas cookies. This year it was extra special because this was the first year in our new home and the first time my Dad had even seen the house - hubbie and I were so excited to show off our new digs to the folks!

Now it's January and back to reality. But before I let go of the holiday season for the next 11 months, I thought I'd allow myself the indulgence of recapping the festivities here on my blog.


Christmas began for me on December 23rd with a festive brunch for my sister-in-law, her husband, her 14 month old daughter, as well as my friend, Kim, her husband and new son (aka: Santa Baby).

I got to make my favorite breakfast dish - a frittata made with eggs, oodles of cheese, spinach, bacon, and challah bread. Hubbie made his coconut pancakes with pear and cardamon sauce and, of course, manned the griddle for hash browns.

But the stars of the show weren't on the menu; they were the kids opening their gifts. In true childhood fashion, the hit of the morning was the box the Tonka truck came in. Santa Baby used it to practice his developing walking skills then, all worn out, fell asleep in my arms. The perfect end to the perfect day! See more photos from Christmas Brunch here.

Christmas Eve: we were all pumped-up to eat at Austin's Steak House in Thunder Valley Casino. As you can see from the pics, we dressed ourselves up to the nines and readied ourselves for a red-meat fest.

Unfortunately we had the waiter from hell. When my Dad ordered after Hubbie he asked for "the same" but the waiter heard "the salmon". An honest enough mistake you might think but the halpless waiter continued to chip further away at his tip by leaving all our meals on the table while he ran away to beg the chef to put another Filet on the grill. Of course we weren't going to begin chowing down while my Dad had no food, so our food got cold while we waited for his Filet to be cooked. The chef butterflied the steak to speed up the process, thus ruining it, but even so all the sides were cold by the time it arrived on the table. Then, when we requested new sides, we got uncooked potatoes and broccoli. Yes, a total disaster. Needless to say that waiter turned a potentially great tip into an iddie-biddie one. Such a shame.

Christmas Day: Where does one start? Too many gifts? Too much food? Gift-receiving highlights include a pretty new bike (see pic), a sewing machine, spa gift certificates, a macro lens and tripod for my DSLR, and lots of DVDs from my wishlist. Gift-giving highlights included my Mum tearing up when she opened the framed photo of my grandad that I personally restored and retouched for her, Mum and Dad's delight at getting Jersey Boys tickets, and Hubbie's wide-eyed look when he realized he'd got a laptop. Despite fighting a crappy electric oven and range which burned a first-round batch of stuffing, Mum's Christmas dinner was absolutely delicious as always.

Unexpected fun came from a Planet Earth DVD which had everyone glued to the TV while Mum and I cooked dinner. If you haven't seen or heard of this DVD, it's a compilation of BBC specials that cover the wonders of our planet in vivid film. Narrated by Richard Attenborough, the production has an unlimited budget (God bless the British TV licensing system) and so is really something special. Some of the angles the film-makers got on mountain ranges were truly spectaular. Keep your Survivors and American Idols: this is good reality TV. If it were all this good, the writers would be permanently out of work.

Then with full stomachs full-to-bursting and bags-upon-bags of gifts we had no time to put away, we set-to packing for warmer climates...

Until the next post...!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

My blog... reinvented for 2008


Well, I've been on a break for a while but have decided to start blogging again in 2008. However, I'm going to be changing the focus of this site. This year I'm going to focus more on sharing personal events and stories than "ranting" about whatever takes my fancy. Not to say that there won't be "rants" (I'm a Brit after all and we're famously good complainers!) but less politics and more personal (and yes, I'm aware the personal is political, sociology majors!) Hopefully, without all the moaning and groaning about the state of the world on my side, this will just be a nice way to stay in touch with friends and family who I don't see as often as I would like.

So, I'm not promising daily updates. In fact, I'm not "promising" anything really. So, pressure off for me and you. No stressing about not having posted for weeks for me and no worrying about not having visited my blog recently for you. Sound good? Perhaps the best way would be to sign-up for the email updates and you'll get an alert whenever I post something. Plus, it's good to know who's reading, you know? Nobody likes posting without an audience!

To launch the "new" Random Rants, I've implented a new, fresh look. Waddayathink?


It's been a busy couple of months since my last update. There have been the usual end-of-year events - Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year - and as usual I milked them for all they were worth. I just LOVE the last quarter of the year.

So, coming soon will be my 2007 recap, including links to my photos from Christmas and New Year vacation to Puerto Vallarta as well as some little anecdotes from each.

Until then, thanks for checking back in with "Random Rants" and hope you enjoy what's to come in 2008!

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