Monday, February 20, 2017

Fifty Shades of (Blue) Gray (Paint)

We've been busy, which is why I'm not so much chronicling my day as reconstructing my Costa Rica trip from my notes. It's suddenly unseasonably warm here, in the 60s the last few days and my allergies have gone nuts. I wake up coughing and sneezing and it continues all day long.

The great getting of estimates and hiring of contractors to ready the house for rent continues apace. One of the bigger home improvement companies we went to insisted we see their in-house interior designer since we're doing a semi-remodel. I was annoyed at first, not really sure that having the place painted, recarpeting the bedrooms and installing a new kitchen countertop falls under interior design, but I'm glad they did.

Turns out the lady is someone I have helped when I worked at the art studio pull together some decorator pieces for a place she was working on and some custom fabrics for other jobs. I know her, she knows me and she knows my tastes even if she admitted I don't need an interior decorator for a paint/carpet/counter top job.

The real estate agent wants us to paint the walls eggshell or off white or some other extremely light neutral with beige or light brown carpeting, but I haven' exactly been feeling that. After consulting with this lady I've decided instead of beige walls and beige carpeting I'm going with a very light blue gray with white woodwork and pewter carpeting. The real estate agent can just shove all that beige where the sun doesn't shine. I have blue tile work in the baths, very nice tiles and an antique blue and white Delft tiling around the fireplace. None of that would look good with beige at all.

The other consideration is what happens if I decide after a couple of months or a year even that I hate living in Costa Rica, dealing with tico time, dealing with the afternoon brownouts and lack of pizza and come home. This work needs to be something I can live with too. I could be happy enough with that color scheme in the house.

For the counter tops he was suggesting granite, but I am not in love with the stuff for a couple of big reasons. To me it looks dated now because so many folks have used it over the last twenty years. I've never thought it was attractive and when I recently house sat for someone that had a granite counter top it was hell to clean. It streaked up like mad. Found out from the interior decorator that if you do like I do because of my mrsa problems, and wipe everything down a few times a day with sterilizing wipes, like Lysol or Clorox Kitchen Wipes, it will strip off the coating very quickly and then it's streaky and hard to keep clean. Granite is off the table.

Because I'm fond of a hard scrub and those wipes the only way to go is with a solid counter top. The one I want is white with specks of blues in it, recycled seashells and glass, but as it was pointed out to me it's the most expensive one. My luck. Show me a rack of something and I usually will go right to the most expensive one. I wish I always went to the bargain.

So we've managed to find a counter top that is reasonably priced that I like that is a huge upgrade from what we have there already. It's medium gray with flecks of copper and blues, looks nice up against the copper back splash, the oak cabinetry and the blue-gray paint. Ordering a copper sink and fixtures to round it out perfectly.

Poor Jim, he's completely clueless and without an opinion on most of this so I've been the opposite of Miss Sweet Submissive, picking it out and deciding while he trails behind looking lost.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Costa Rica Day 4 - Please Do Not Feed The Crocodiles

Friday, January 27, 2017

Just looked at the other pages of me putting up my trip and I'm a full friggin' year behind! I'm still mentally in 2016. Fixed now.

This day could have also been called 'How I Broke My IPhone' or 'Jim Keeps Suzanne Out Of Jail By Refusing To Allow Her To Toss Monkey Poo At The Kardashians'

We got up that morning and my asthma was no better. I was still wheezing so much that the day was filled with me pushing in drugs and gulping down coffee and Coke Light (the closest thing to Diet Coke available there - it tastes a lot like that old soft drink Tab). I was a deranged caffeine addicted wheezing weasel for the day.

Right after a lot of coffee inhaling Jim and I went for a walk on Tamarindo Beach. Supposed to beone of the best beaches in the world. I wasn't impressed, dirty and small on that first morning. IWhen we emerged from the wooden walkway of death (lots of rotten boards, but there were piles of termite nests in the trees) onto the beach area it was by the river inlet. I decided to wade/swim through the lagoon area to get to the sand bar where the beach proper started, with breaking waves and loads of surfers rather than walking down another 100 yards or so to the main beach.

No sooner had I stepped into the shallow lagoon water, firmly clutching my Iphone  that was shooting video than a lady, an American lady, started shouting at me to 'Get out of the water NOW!' When I turned to look at her the sand under my feet gave way and I faceplanted right into the water dropping my phone into the water. I got out cursing, spitting and dripping only to be told that at sunrise the crocodiles come down the river to feed, sometimes on random surfers and tourists. Ouch!

Then this lady launched into a nasty bitter recital of how Costa Rica sucked so much that they were leaving for good after ten years of going back and forth from Syracuse, New York. Much later I discovered that she was wrong about the crocodiles. There's only been one attack on that beach and it occurred two years before. I think she's likely wrong about a lot of things she said because she was upset by the prices and how the locals were ripping her off. Well, she is the most expensive tourist area in the entire country, whatta you expect? Even foolish I knows better than that.

We immediately put my phone in a ziplock bag of rice to try and dry it out. Didn't work and now I'm back to a janky old phone that's been sitting my dresser for two years unused.

While in Tamarindo we avoided eating at most of the tourist traps, preferring instead to go to the places the locals eat. If you ever need a cheap meal in Costa Rica look for a Soda (road side cafe) or our other favorite, a Fruitas stand (fruit stand sometimes with a grill). We usually will always order 'Tipico Comida', which is the local version of rice, beans, fruits, grilled meat, cheese and bread. The other good place we scoped out quickly was the coffee shop at Witch's Rock hotel. Every day during our time in Tamarindo we would get freshly made banana bread and a big tub of cut up watermelon, guava and pineapple to eat back in the room. I loved their closed sign - it read 'Surfing Pillow Beach' with a drawing of a bed piled with pillows.

We also had Jim's Nutty Buddy bars for him, and we went out for a light dinner nightly, picking up things at the local grocery and getting grilled chicken skewers beach side. I wasn't feeling much like eating with the asthma so the fruit lunch was perfect.

Jim tracked down the American owner of a local bookstore and other American expats running businesses in Tamarindo and sort of picked their brains about his pile of ideas. All this was followed by a nap, falling into the lagoon was exhausting, at least until the afternoon brown out happened. You could almost count on the power failing around the same time in the late afternoon in Tamarindo. No electricity for an hour or so, driving us back out to the beaches for sunset.

That first night we went out to a much fancier place for Margaritas and salads. Nice hotel tricked out with everything in a Polynesian style. 

Oh gawd I've wasted a lot of words on food. I guess it's because there is nothing we're eating here that is processed or filled with chemicals. It's made from scratch, tastes so much better and is so much cheaper than anything in the States.

I finally figured out that to get hot water in the shower you needed to flip a switch on the side of the shower head to activate the bare electrical wires wrapped around the shower head on the theory that it would heat the water enough. I've heard of these 'Shower of Death' situations from friends on mission trips to Cuba and to third world villages overseas, but this was my first time seeing one up close. No thanks, I'll make do with the cold water!

While the beach is beautiful I am finding I am not liking Tamagringo...err.. Tamarindo very much. Before we came Jim had said that he thought living near Tamarindo was going to be our best option in Costa Rica, most beautiful beaches, large American expat community and less third world than other places. Tamarindo is extremely crowded, and it's very touristy in the same way as Panama City Beach, Florida and other places that host Spring Break. Definitely a 'Spring Break' vibe here. Last night we slept very little because of the booming music and partiers about.

After I found out from the local news and the excited talk of the locals that the Kardashian family of E! Network was just one beach over filming their television show I started teasing Jim that he would have to bring me there just so I could fling monkey poo or a giant termite nest at them. Of all the wonderful things we have to export from America the thing that ends up here in Costa Rica is Wal Mart, Burger King and the Kardashians. Haven't the locals suffered enough?

Since I dropped my Iphone into water that day I have very few photos of that day until I switched over at sunset to using my Ipad. Here are a few of sunset on the beach at Tamarindo.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Costa Rica Trip Day 3 - Please Do Not Feed The Monkeys?

Thursday, January 26th, 2017

Woke up to a stark reality everyone has warned us about in Costa Rica. No electricity. I was having a nightmare that I was dying, I could not breathe, and in my dream I fought to take a breath yet could not. I tried to scream, could not, pounding on the windows. Just as I was dying in my dream I woke up and discovered that my VPAP machine had stopped working because the power was out.

The vegan-pushing doctors are still here - 3 of which have already lectured me that giving up all dairy and meat would cure my asthma. Pshaw, asthma since birth is not curable, no matter what your diet is. Though I might try a month or two as a vegan if I thought it might help. Didn't the last few times I tried it.

Today is not the day for that to happen - had a delicious typical Tico breakfast - rice, beans, sausage, locally made cheese, fried plantains, 3 fried eggs, bread and 4 types of fresh fruit. Most important, plentiful Costa Rican coffee. I could not eat the entire meal!

We followed breakfast with a swim in the pool here nearly on top of the mountain, swimming long high up. Views from the pool deck.

After we said our goodbyes to our friends at the Green Lagoon we drove into nearby La Fortuna to a contact we made on our last trip. We bought some pretty crazy handmade pipes and wooden carvings that people loved. After all the feedback we got Jim decided we should start doing imports from Costa Rica into the US. We struck a deal with this wonderful artisan we met last time. Boy, did I buy a LOT of things!

Arenal Volcano seen driving away from La Fortuna.

Once we'd melted the credit card buying samples for Jim's new business idea we started out towards the beaches of Tamarindo, wending around on those winding roads along the shores of Lake Arenal. Some views of the lake.

We hadn't gone more than ten miles through the narrow rain forest road when we came to a very curious sign. It showed a human hand holding something handing it down to small figure of a monkey. The sign had the universal markings for 'Do Not', a circle with a slash through the picture. We laughed over the sign and asked each other if random monkey feeding was really a thing around here.

I kid you not, we had gone perhaps a few hundred feet past the sign around a curve and saw that all traffic was stopped, because, drum roll please, people were feeding begging monkeys by the said of the road. Sadly I had nothing to feed the monkeys because Jim would not share his smuggled in and rapidly melting Little Debbie Nutty Buddy bars with the monkeys.

Here's the stopped traffic being mugged by monkeys.

..and the monkeys.

ETA: that I realize after editing the photos that this one is actually a white nosed Coati not a monkey that was hanging on the side of the road by the monkey feeding spot. 

The rest of the drive was rather anti-climatic after seeing the monkeys. Shortly after we left the lake area we got on one of the few large modern major highways in Costa Rica and did the rest of the drive quickly. That is when the GPS was not giving us the wrong directions!

Once we hit Liberia before sunset Jim saw something he could not resist, to go with those Nutty Buddys of his - The Casa De Whopper - Burger King. Yes, we flew to Costa Rica and my husband had to have a Whopper. Burger King in the CR is identical to the ones in the US in most ways. Unnerving. Not my dinner choice but Jim could not resist!

Once we left Liberia it was up and down and winding around mountains all the way until we reached Huacas, not far from Tamarindo. I could not get GPS to recognize our hotel or the address so I programmed it to a nearby better known hotel.

The hotel looked acceptable in the photos on, but when we pulled into the parking lot we were in for a huge set of surprises. First, the hotel had a gully in front of the parking lot you must traverse to get there, I rammed the car bumper down in the gully and did about $250 bucks worth of damage the insurance didn't cover. Second, it was not a hotel, but a surfers hostel. Third, that deluxe room I booked with all the amenities and air conditioning? Nope, they said I had a reservation for the smallest room with no extras and no air. Fourth, and the most horrible/important - I went straight into a prolonged asthma attack the second we got out of the car.

We were able to upgrade the room to a larger one with air conditioning and a refrigerator, so that was good. I lay down and medicated while Jim brought all the bags in. The hostel was clean, but it was a very basic place, no hot water, you're issued a towel and a sliver of soap. But it turns out you really do not need hot water at the hot beach. Nothing has ever felt as good as the icy shower I took that night. Laying down in the cool of my air conditioned room trying to breathe was how we spent our first night at the beach.

Here's our room. Keep in mind it's the fanciest one in the entire place.

I guess any port in a storm. This is exactly the kind of cheap beach hostel I used to stay in my surfing days long ago. This place was filled with a pile of twenty something surfers. Oh to be young again! I went to bed, Jim went out to mini golf at a place owned by some Canadians he wanted to talk to.

The young man who manages the hostel, the attached surf shop and books the surf lessons was a nice smiling young man with long beautiful dreadlocks named Armando. He asked me about Trump and I explained I didn't vote for him and thought that many of my fellow citizens had lost their damn minds. Armando told me a long story about his one trip to America, he flew into Panama City Beach, Florida, a place I am oh so familiar with, before being picked up by customs. He didn't realize he was being set up to be a mule to carry 15K dollars into the country, he thought he was transporting a package for a friend. Real life crazy stories. I had to point out to him that there's now a reality television show on in the states that films busts of guys bringing cash or drugs in.

Costa Rica Trip Day 2 - Penises and Angels

We got up to clouds of volcanic ash looming over the mountains before trickling into the open windows, and had breakfast with Carlos and Marvin, again Tico food of beans, rice, plantains but with scrambled eggs and local sausage. The food everywhere here is amazing, so fresh without anything coming prepackaged or as a prepared food. The fruit! ahhhhhhhh.. but more on that later.

Jim and I had to get a move on because he had an early morning meeting at a school that teaches English in San Jose, a job interview. Unfortunately by this time we'd already decided that San Jose was off the table as a place to live because of the crazy traffic and how crowded the city is.

Just getting to the school, Idioma, was another driving and GPS nightmare. A quick word about GPS in Costa Rica. Sometimes it works right, and sometimes it runs you in circles, taking you to a very wrong place. It took us wrong. But it worked out because we found a public parking lot, parked and the kind man running the place hailed us a taxi.

It took three hair raising taxi rides costing about two bucks each before we got to Idioma and Jim did his interview, now 35 minutes late due to getting lost. The first cab driver took us to the wrong place. The second guy knew where it was and got us there. During that ride I got quite a laugh over graffiti of penises and angels on nearby walls. Such a weird juxtaposition!

But it was the third ride, back to where we'd parked the car that was typical let's rip off the tourist behavior. We told the guy where we wanted to go and he quoted the price of 2.50 American dollars. We didn't say no even as we knew this was more than the other guys charged. Typically he didn't turn on the meter. I guess if you're going to be taken advantage of as a foreigner by a taxi drive fifty cents is pretty paltry in the scheme of things.

Wish I could have gotten photos of the barrio near downtown San Jose. Tin shacks, dirty deep gutters and characters on the street. Saw one older gentleman with long dreadlocks and missing teeth and that wasn't the odd thing about him. He walked around the center of town wearing his cat around the back of his neck like Mrs. Drysdale of the 'Beverly Hillbillies' wore her mink stole. And the cat seemed perfectly content to be toted around like that!

We left for Arenal right after the interview, bidding the nice guy running the parking lot adieu, leaving him feeding the pigeons. Parking ended up costing something like 50 cents. The road between San Jose and Arenal can best be described as what my daddy used to term 'A drunk contractor following a snake through the woods.' Extreme 'S' turns around the hillsides, plenty of one lane bridges and our tiny economy Hyundai puffing up and down the steep grades.

You know it's never a good sign when your GPS warned you that the next 10 miles is unpaved roads.

The road to Arenal and the one lane bridges...

We got to the hotel - The Green Lagoon, just in time to discover the other guests are a doctors conference from the US. Doctors, hmmp, and their entitlement issues. I was not looking forward to interacting with them, me the ER runaway. To make it all worse they are all what one of our dear Tico friends termed 'Granola Lickers' - hard core militant Vegans.

I don't care what you eat, or what you don't eat, just please let me alone to make my own food choices no matter how foolish my choices might seem to you. Yes, the hotel actually fed us separately too. While I was there I overheard some of the Spanish speaking staff puzzling over the extreme diet of those doctors.

Shh, don't tell the doctors that Jim and I were drinking on the pool deck mango and rum!

 After checking in I went birdwatching. I saw and took video of many different birds, even saw a flock of toucans up close in the wild. The hotel puts out overripe fruit for the birds. Only got one shot of the birds still and it does not show many. I'll explain tomorrow what happened to the photos I was shooting.

We went to dinner at a local restaurant with a friend we'd made on our last trip down here. A nice Mediterranean place just past the bull fighting ring. After much pizza, salad and sangria I sat outside on the hotel terrace to watch the bats dive bomb bugs for their dinner. Going to bed now with the windows open to the raucous songs of the frogs in the rain forest just outside.

Our hotel room at the Green Lagoon. Nicest room of the whole trip.

My Costa Rica Trip Day 1

Warning: Long post ahead as I'm transcribing my notes in on my recent trip to Costa Rica. We were there from Tuesday January 24th until Thursday February 2nd of this year.

1-24-17 Day One

It's seven pm local time and I am as exhausted as if I'm ninety years old instead of a mere 56. Mostly because we could not sleep last night. Both Jim and I only managed about an hour, or maybe less, before the alarm clock sounded and we had that long drive to BWI airport.

When we got there we ended up taking much too long to find the Parkway Parking lot. Usually when I travel out of BWI I leave the car in long term parking at the airport. Not this time, went to the cheapest long term parking. Beware if you chose this option at BWI. Parkway does not have a sign up anywhere, is actually just the parking lot of a Comfort Inn in Linthicum, Maryland, a good ten minutes from the airport and you'll be waiting for the shuttle bus. We were cutting it very close for boarding times for the first flight. I was freaking out.

Jim is the lucky eternal optimist born with a lucky horseshoe up his butt. While I'm the cranky old broad grounded more in reality. It works for us. So imagine my surprise when I discovered that the gate agents at Spirit Airlines at BWI designated us 'TSA Pre Check'. Which meant instead of schlepping shoeless and coatless over the carpeting in the TSA security area after a long wait in line while having to divest of laptops, keys, cell phones and other electronic devices while going through the scanner we got to keep on our shoes and coats plus not unpack a darn thing. No scanner, no wanding, just being escorted in a security area with no line or being felt up. Sweet!

We slept from Baltimore to Fort Lauderdale, even had an empty set between us, unheard of on Spirit Airlines! I'm convinced it's Jim and Jim's luck rubbing on me.

But upon landing at Fort Lauderdale it was beyond crowded without enough seating for everyone. Once we were on the flight the airline told us that the flight was overbooked, making numerous appeals with perks to get at least ten people to give up their seats. They also pitched their own credit card three times on the flight. On this flight we sat next to a nice looking young guy. I tried to chat him up a couple of times but he could not be bothered to even pretend that he'd heard what I said. Very odd. Am I that scary?

If you fly into Costa Rica through San Jose be prepared to hurry up and wait while going first through passport control followed by customs. Once you're routed through the various checkpoints and luggage x-ray points you'll be besieged by the local cell phone companies, rental car agencies and money exchange agencies, all with one goal in mind - trying to separate the unsuspecting gringo traveler from their money at the worst possible rates. Don't fall for it. The competition for your business gets worse as you step outside the building and face the competition for taxis and rental cars.

There are better places to rent cars just off the airport, like the guys we always use -Adobe. They picked us up at the airport for the hair raising ride to their office and our rental car for the week. Cheapest rates for a car in country and they have offices everywhere. One word of warning, always get the supplemental insurance on the car. If you can afford it get the higher option. More on our car adventure later and the need for the best level of insurance you can afford.

Some other travel tips -

  • Never exchange money at the airport. The exchange rate is terrible! Any bank will allow you to exchange dollars for the local currency - colones - as long as you have a valid passport with you. The bigger banks offer the full exchange rate unlike the airport money exchanges.
  • Bring more money than you thought you would need. It's sort of a tax on tourists that the locals will try to make a little bit off you if they can. You'll go through the colones quicker than you think!
  • Most people and places will take dollars and credit cards too. Check with your credit card company on exchange rates. Many cards charge a money exchange fee for foreign transactions. Usually it's pretty low. 
  • If you take a taxi anywhere insist that the taxi driver run the meter. More on this tomorrow. 
  • It's not necessary to deal with the cell phone companies at the airport to use your cell in Costa Rica. One of the first things that happened when we arrived and switched on our Iphones our cell phone company, Verizon, pinged us with messages that they had a reciprocal agreement with Kolbi and Claro that allowed us to use our phones in country for a small fee.
  • Expect to haggle for many things you buy!

    Once we left the Adobe office we faced what has to be one of the most hair-raising experiences of our lives. Driving and riding in San Jose, Costa Rica. I've driven in Rome, driven the Ringstrasses in Munich, Germany and had some crazy taxi rides in Mexico City but neither prepared me for the chaos that is San Jose. Last time we picked up the car and fled the city for Manuel Antonio. This time we had to get across town to our hotel.

    The problems with driving in San Jose are these - bumper to bumper high speed traffic as in think L.A. or D.C. on the Autobahn, guys wandering between cars going fast speeds to sell bottled water, mango slices or bags of fried plantains. You seriously have to dodge these guys!

    The other problem with driving is that there are swarms of guys on tiny motorcyles zooming in and out of traffic without a care in the world. How they don't end up ground beneath the wheels of an 18 wheeler I don't know!

    GPS did not recognize our hotel so the poor guys at Adobe had to program in the judical courts right next door to the hotel to get us there. We drove through parts of the city that made me afraid, grinding poverty right out of a third world nation and through nice areas too. I guess any big city is a stew of various types of residents.

    Another big problem with driving in San Jose is the fact that the way the streets are numbered makes no sense at all. You might think that Calle 2 would come after Calle 1, but it might be Calle 2, the next block being Avienito 26 followed by Calle 90. No decipherable patterns at all. Same for the house numbers.

    We got to our hotel that first night, Casa Cambranes, before dark and made the acquaintance of our host Carlos, his wife Natalie and their completely charming and delightful cat Marvin. One of the first things out of his mouth when checked us in was asking us if we were running away from Donald Trump. He was the first of many Ticos I met who had no liking for the new president.

    Our gracious host Carlos with his mischievous feline Marvin.

    We checked in, grubby, hungry and exhausted but had to hike uphill to the nearest mall about four blocks away to exchange money at the Banc San Jose for that day's going exchange rate. One lovely and delicious meal later of typical Tico food of rice, black beans, salad and grilled chicken it was a short walk in the warm evening back to the lovely and quiet Casa Cambranes. There were many young people out and about during that walk and you could smell copious amounts of marajuana being smoked openly on the streets. We went to bed early, lulled to sleep by the sounds of the traffic, windows open to catch a deliciously cool breeze. Hard to believe we left bitter cold less than twenty four hours before.

    The view from our hotel room towards the active volcanoes nearby.

    Another quick note about Tico customs that is so important to know. Most places will not allow you to flush toilet paper, it has to go in a waste basket next to the toilet. Yep, it's a thing here.

    Friday, February 17, 2017

    The Piano

    I spent today sorting through and listing many things from my many long years on worship team. I have scads of sheet music going up on Ebay along with a metronome, microphones and assorted rhythm instruments. I gave my son my guitar some years back so that just leaves my piano.

    This day was coming, I knew it was for quite a long time, and I feared it, thinking it would be hard and I would be am emotional wreck. Today I listed my antique piano on Craigslist and a couple of antiques lists online. The piano represents my childhood to me and a whole lot of unpleasant back history. My mistrust in people.

    It's an upright grand, one of the first ones made, custom made for a 'gentlemen's club' in the Chicago of the 1800s. It's solid mahogany, filled with pretty insane amounts of ornamentation. Ostentatious actually. Even tiny things like the knobs holding parts of the sound board are all carved and gilded. It's an instrument that screams luxury.

    It came into my family's hands during World War II when my grandmother wanted her eldes daughter to learn to play the piano. During the war it was nigh on impossible to get a new piano and quite costly. My grandmother purchased this one from Wurlein's music on Canal St. in New Orleans.Wurlein's had purchased the piano from the lady that used to run the gentleman's club. She got religion in her older age, left Chicago for New Orleans and sold off her fancy possessions to start an orphanage in New Orleans that still exists to this day. I believe it's the same orphanage that my ex husband was placed as a small baby.

    Small, small world isn't it?

    The piano went from my grand parent's home to my parents home when I was about six years old. My older aunt never played more than a few years, and her younger sister now did play as a teen, but she had her heart set on a fancy new spinet for her 18th birthday. So the piano ended up in our home.

    I remember sitting on the cypress bench my great uncle made in his wood shop with cypress harvested from a nearby bayou, and running my fingers over the ivory keys, being amazed by the sounds it made, the cool weight of the keys pressed against my fingers, but not fully understanding the science behind the magic of the music.

    It was years later, when I was in the latter years of elementary school, that my mother insisted I take piano lessons from a nice man who taught undergrads during the week at LSU. I spent many a long Saturday morning at his home awkwardly cranking out simple tunes like 'Greensleeves' or 'A Taste of Honey' or the theme from 'Mash'. Not thrilling stuff.

    I wasn't in love with the lessons or practice, it didn't help that I turned into a spaz, freezing like a deer in the headlights at recitals and competitions. My preteen awkwardness was real and humiliating. Once I got into that giggly preteen stage the very last thing I wanted to do on Saturday morning was go to piano lessons because it cut into my social life with my friends. I couldn't spend Friday night at slumber parties, or go to the mall with friends because I had piano lessons. I wasn't that good, I didn't care enough to be better at it. It ws just one of those things I did because my mother decreed it would happen.

    When I was 13 I finally stood up to my mother, babbling out that I didn't want to go to piano lessons, I wanted to be able to spend the night with friends, go to the dances at our middle school and sleep in on Saturday morning. A battle royale of the wills. I won.

    But something strange happened. Now that I wasn't being forced to take the lessons or practice I found myself playing that piano more than before. I worked my way through the next couple of books in the series, finishing the entire series finally. Playing was enjoyable when it wasn't forced and I didn't have to deal with lessons, recitals or being trotted out to play every time my parents had friends over.

    The piano had always been a sore spot between my parents. It was huge, hulking and took up far too much room in the living room. It was seriously Victorian in design with carved curliques  and flowers and didn't fit with our decor at all. My mother had tasteful New England style decor and this thing did not blend with the tasteful beiges and reproduction furniture.

    During the time after I stopped all lessons my parents separated and my mother filed for divorce. The divorce was ugly, lots of brutal vocal fighting carried out loudly in the middle of the night with me cowering in my bedroom with my pillow over my head. I was a nervous kid to start with and the combat between my parents added to my worry. My father didn't want the divorce, he was in love with my mother.

    Side note: My parents decided to break the news to me about the divorce immediately following a family vacation to the newly opened Disney World park in Orlando, Florida. They told me on the drive home. Don't ever do things like that, it's a serious mind screw to do things like that to your kids. I know they thought that they were softening the blow, but it didn't. It just made the announcement feel just so much odder.

    Eventually the divorce fighting escalated to the point where my father forced my mother into selling our house. In retaliation my mother demanded my father remove each and every item from the house that his parents had purchased and gifted to them.

    As plans were made with the moving company to take our things to our new apartment I voiced my worry about the piano. We were having it moved, right? My mother told me yes, that the piano was coming with us. The Saturday before the move my father came out to our old house to remove his things with his parents and they told me that they were there to pick up the piano.

    I was devastated. I finally loved playing it, was assured we would be taking it with us only to find out that this was a lie. My father claimed my mother told him that he had to come get the piano because she was not paying to move it. My mother claimed that she's made arrangements, paying the movers to cart that piano with us, but my father and his family demanded the piano back.

    This situation did a real number on me. I didn't know who to believe, both of them were telling completely different stories about the piano. I decided right then that I could not trust either of them, or anyone else. The echos of that painful day have played out through the years, leading to me having a terrible time trusting in people, or believing anything anyone said. I date my slide into drugs and bad behavior to that time. It was a pivotal moment for me.

    I do remember going full tilt Captain Insano on my father and his parents, ranting so hard against everything they stood for and valued. It felt good to explode and tell them all what I thought. I know I shocked them all, but it was no more than the shock I myself had received.

    Many years later when I was recounting that day to my therapist and my difficulties with the issues of trust she asked me to talk to both of my parents and ask what the truth was. I did. My mother said she 'didn't remember' the details, and what she did remember wasn't the same as what she'd originally told me. My father said the same thing he'd been saying since that day, that my mother insisted that the piano go back to his family with the rest of the things. I still didn't know the truth, not for sure, but it gave me a good idea who the liar was.

    That Christmas I was down in South Louisiana visiting my parents when my father told me had a big surprise for me. It was my piano! He got my piano back as a Christmas present for me. He'd purchased back my piano from the family member who'd eventually ended up with it. I could not have been happier!

    It's lived in my not too large living room all these years now, 22 years now. I've played it. I taught my son how to read music and the rudimentary of playing of piano. My husband has played 'Moonlight Sonata' on it for me. During my worship team years I loved to play it in worship. My piano has been a deep part of my life. Getting it again brought me a measure of healing, allowing me to move past that parental betrayal I'd carried for years.

    Jim, he of the budget and being tight with a buck, didn't even object when I had my piano restrung and restored to concert upright grand tone, new hammers, new works nearly twenty years ago. He didn't complain over the large expense having it carted up to Virginia from south Louisiana.

    When we first started talking about the Costa Rican move I started to grief for all the things I was going to have to give up. One of those was my piano. It cannot stay in the house for the rental. Just getting it into this house involved removing the back French doors and five guys with a piano dolly.

    None of my kids want it. It's a huge old beast.

    Today I listed my precious piano on Craigslist and I'm feeling no mourning whatsoever. I haven't played in a long time now, and letting go feels more like another phase in healing, in letting go, than anything else. Feels like a piano-shaped weight has come off my chest. I don't know why that is, but it cannot be a bad thing, can it?

    I hope it finds a good home with a small child more excited to take piano lessons than I ever was. I hope it's loved and appreciated.

    Why do we hold on so tightly to the things of the past? I'm letting all of that go after too many years now.

    Tuesday, February 14, 2017

    Valentine's Day in Trigger Town

    Being Valentine's Day we've already celebrated. Jim and I started celebrating the holiday a day in advance. Why? Couple of reasons. Local restaurants here tend to jack up the prices and be ridiculously crowded on the actual day, plus in the last four or five years we've both had things that interfered with dinner on the actual day. So we started exchanging our gifts and going out to dinner on the 13th instead.

    I got another beautiful orchid to go with the others. I love them all.

    I bought Jim a couple of boxes of Little Debbie snack cakes. He loves them. He loves them so much that he recently smuggled a box of the peanut butter crunchy wafflely chocolate ones into Costa Rica in the pockets of his jacket. I teased him about that every time I saw him spirit one out of his pocket and eat it in some strange moment. I was tempted to give them all away to the monkeys begging by the side of the road on Lake Arenal.

    Good thing we celebrated yesterday because today I was finishing up our taxes after receiving the brokers statement late yesterday. It was the last thing I was waiting for. Everything else is done, right down to the yearly purchase of Roth IRAs to mitigate our tax burden. Went smoothly this year with zero screaming, tantrums or any foul mouthed rants against the IRS by either of us.

    The tantrums and cursing were only mental and only when we got treated to some extreme stupidity on the behalf of several people in the last few days, culminating into unacceptable levels today.

    The other factor that affected my mood today was when Mr. Steak from the other night decided to spam my husband's telephone with porn, hardcore, spread eagle, close up crotch shot porn. Yeah, The Enormous Creep reclaims his Creep Crown.

    Jim is ignoring Mr. Steak for now, but he had to tell this idiot to knock it off with the porn. This is what happens when you ignore your inner voice and decide that perhaps someone isn't so bad after all. Never! Again! Not me, I'm going with my gut.

    I have the sicko reblocked so he cannot spam me inappropriate messages on Facebook and Jim is blocking him now too. Some people never learn. He just about got in legal trouble with the cops this spring for sending around porn on his phone unsolicited and requesting photos of underage girls.

    At the same time Jim's former friend, Mr. Conman, the guy that tried to talk Jim into doing a furniture import business and a pile of other businesses where we would put up our life saving has already reappeared. Jim blocked him something like a year ago because Con kept posting inappropriate things and long ranting curses on Jim's Facebook wall.

    Jim decided at the first of the year to give everyone a second change, unblocking Mr. Steak, unblocking Mr. Conman and here we frigging are, second week in February, six weeks into the new year and both have gone to crazytown with the same shenanigans.

    Conman contacted Jim immediately after unblocking and started complaining to Jim that his wife had lost her mind, insisting that his death would bring about the second coming of Christ and usher in a new peaceful era. Con thinks his wife has tried to bump him off a couple of times. I have a hard time believing that because she's rather meek, mild and subservient. But Con is somewhat delusional sometimes.

    This last Friday night Jim was telling Conman some very Joel Osteen sort of advice. Jim loves Joel and his books. I don't like Joel, his theology is just some sort of feel good prosperity gospel in a simple form. Conman lost it and started spamming Jim constant insults, calling him names, accusing him of stupidity before adding in multiple links to the Amazing Atheist. I had to laugh at that because the Amazing Atheist has scrapped several times with some of the Patheos atheists and there have been insults and gauntlets throw. Several offered to debate the Amazing Atheist, but he slunk off to his mother's basement where he resides and refused to a debate. Cowardly weasel.

    So now Jim's being spammed links to the UnAmazing Atheist, as if that proves anything, until he blocked Conman again this afternoon.

    I keep trying to tell Jim that past behavior is usually a good indicator of future antics. I keep telilng myself to pay attention to my inner voice. This is the ridiculous crap that happens when I don't. Very triggering. I'm kicking myself I bothered to give Steakman the time of day, much less spend Saturday evening having dinner with him.

    Sunday, February 12, 2017

    White Middle Class Problems Versus Real Problems

    I bitch here. I bitch a lot. 20 minute wait for service in a restaurant, I'll gripe about it here. People in our small Southern town being confused by traffic circles? Yes, already complained copiously about it.

    This week was filled with me complaining in real life. Super cranky, I suspect it was more about my feeling like someone was hammering railroad spikes through my ears into my brain because of the several infections I'm dealing with. But some of it was just over the top. Jim even told me I was turning super negative.

    Been a lot of irksome stuff going on. After my last post we started talking to various contractors, getting estimates on the new carpeting, painting and a few upgrades I want to do on the house. We decided that we should go ahead and put a new roof on because ours is starting to miss a few shingles and is 27 years old on a roof only rated for 25 years.

    Here's what I've learned this week getting estimates. If the contractor comes out with props, samples fancy brochures and does a lengthy show and tell his estimate is going to be twice as much as everyone else. The guys that come out and quietly measure and give you an estimate tend to be cheaper and do the exact same job.

    At the same time I'm feeling like our President after watching a SNL parody of him I was also dealing with something else. Jim had a high school friend visiting Washington D.C. on Saturday night who was insisting I go with Jim to dinner with him and his girlfriend. I've talked here about this 'friend' before. He's the one that sent me very inappropriate private messages on Facebook and was stringing along a lady he met online and became engaged to while saying awful things in front of her at Jim's high school reunion. He's rather creepy. Here's what I said here three years ago about this guy

     I had a good time, with one exception. Jim has an old friend named T-Bone. T-Bone is sort of one of those guys that was extremely 'uncool' in high school and the years haven't improved him much. I've always felt sort of sorry for T-Bone, because he wasn't Mr. Personality or much to look at, so many of the women he attracted seemed to be more interested in his wallet than anything else. The last reunion I attended he brought this lady from his work (he works at the Sara Lee pie factory). His date, Delores, wasted no time telling us how she'd left her no count husband for T-Bone, all the while hammering down the booze and smoking. Between the things she said, did, wore and the way she looked I didn't want anything to do with her.

    Delores still lives with him, but in his basement. T-Bone didn't bring her to the reunion, he brought his new fiancee, who is my age and on disability for arthritis. Her name is Ethel. Shortly after introducing us to Ethel T-Bone invited us to his wedding in two weeks up in Altoona, Pa. He told us he really didn't want to get married for a third time but Ethel was insisting on it, so he decided she was okay enough for now, at least until something better came along.

     He said this IN FRONT OF ETHEL!?!?!... and then went on to say lots of other ugly things in front of Ethel. Ethel spent the evening downing beers like prohibition was looming and trying not to cry. By the end of the evening she was falling down drunk. Sadly enough, so were several others from the Class of 1969,

    Both Jim and I were shocked by T-Bones words and behavior and have agreed we're not going to the wedding because neither of us wants to give any appearance of approval. That's without taking into account the couple met online in late April, met face to face Memorial Day weekend and immediately moved in together and got engaged. It just seems like they're rushing it a bit. I'm afraid for Ethel because it's pretty obvious she's decided to ignore every red flag and rush in, while T-Bone is saying things that indicate this union is doomed from the start. Someone is going to get hurt.

    It's made me realize that T-Bone isn't the hapless victim I always thought he was. He uses his money (and he has quite a bit of inherited money) to manipulate and control the ladies in his life. Many guys with money use it to control their partners, that's a lesson I learned with the guy I dated before Jim. He was a millionaire owner of a oil field supply company, and he saw nothing wrong with attempting to control every aspect of my life. I dumped him quickly, to my mother's horror, because I wasn't prepared to be criticized by and have to kowcow to any man.
     Yeah, that guy. Since the last time I wrote about him he has become very obnoxious in insisting we come stay with him, or hang out with him, not taking no for an answer. He was also involved in what happened with Jim's part time job ending. Instrumental. Add in that he's a YUGE Trump fan and I didn't know if I could keep my mouth shut if I did go.

    See why I didn't want to go hang out with him? Jim took it badly, and I could see he also wasn't thrilled about spending the evening with a guy named after a steak. I ended up going out of being able to see that Jim needed my support more than I needed to avoid a creep. I went.

    I'm happy to say that I had horribly misjudged his companion Delores, who I'd met only once. She'd been monologuing out about her abusive husband and piles of tmi info to me the one time we met and I've been horribly triggered by her behavior. I think from spending a few hours with her that the problem was that she was really going through some stuff at the time I met her, and she couldnt help it. Too many times when we women leave toxic relationships we're seeking to understand what happened and sometimes are a bit bizarre in the ways it comes out. I liked her and I'm pretty ashamed that I judged her so harshly on a few hours acquaintance in what surely was a terrible time in her life.

    Steak guy was typical, but non-creepy for a change. We did verbally spar a bit over Trump. But it was mostly okay, not the hellish dinner I feared. Yes, he's still controlling and insisting on having things his way all the time.

    But during that evening I realized something strange. D.C. feels different. There's a very different vibe about the place. I haven't been back into the city since the new president took office and it seems to have changed. The smallest numbers of crowds that I've ever seen there, even the restaurant was a ghost town.

    After dinner we took Mr. Steak and Delores over to Union Station for dessert and I experienced how different things are feeling in a new ways. There are always panhandlers and homeless folks in D.C. You know how I feel about those kinds of folks - I love them. Always have since I started volunteering at the soup kitchen and homeless shelters here about twelve years ago. I always keep smaller bills in my wallet and gift cards to give out when I'm in the city. I look for them and they break my heart. I don't understand why we cannot do more for them, why they aren't a priority with our government and social programs. My years working with the poor have shown me that it can happen to anyone, a few bad breaks and unexpected bills and that could easily be you, with your decent, kind, normal self, begging for money. It's everyone, or the potential to be everyone.

    Usually they come up to you and ask for money. This time was different indeed. There were a few homeless asking for money in Union Station, but instead of simply asking they slid around the mall areas like whispering ghosts, not actively seeking money, but behaving like what they were doing was secretive and shameful. It was pretty heart-breaking to see the fear, which makes me think that with the new administration they are likely experiencing an increased pushback by those in power now. Furtive glances, whispered requests for money. Hunger in the middle of a string of food places.

    One man approached me as soon as we entered. There was just something about his voice that stopped me and I had to talk with him, give him what I could. He got to my heart. I stood there holding his hand, talking to him while everyone else in our group kept walking to the ice cream place. He told me he hadn't eaten in a day and a half. How can that happen in one of the richest nations in the world and in a city filled with the rich and powerful.

    One thing is coming out of my encounter with this man with kind eyes and the others whispering desperately. I can see part of my resistance to the new power structure in Washington is going to have to be going back to volunteering at the shelters and places that feed the homeless. I cannot stay home and pretend everything is alright and my stupid petty problems of not liking the guy named for steak or trying to decide between a granite counter top and one of recycled glass and seashells is important. It's not. People are.

    I also see I'm going to have to work on not judging people. Even people that annoy my puny sheltered sensitive self.

    Thursday, February 09, 2017

    Earache My Eye!

    It's been difficult and sort of stressful since we got back from Costa Rica. I just now finished up all the laundry we drug home because of the go-go and being felled by mrsa yet again.

    Friday we spent most of the day down in Charlottesville at UVA hospital outpatient. Jim finally had his MRI and other tests to look at his kidney to try and figure out why he was peeing blood for a week. I sat around reading and surfing the net on my Ipad, thankful I had it because it took most of the day to run the tests.

    Shouldn't have taken so long but Jim popped a high blood pressure and he had to stay until it went back down to normal ranges. So it was a great deal of waiting.

    Very cold Friday so I didn't want to even leave the waiting room to hit the nearest quilting store. It's just too much of a contrast, one day walking on the beach in Costa Rica in 90 degree weather, the next day shivering in the cold here in the states.

    The weekend was getting back into the swing of things, with some unfriendly discussions thrown in. Jim and I have started pricing out and getting estimates on what the house needs to be rented. I keep trying to tell him that the painting and replacing the carpeting in the bedrooms must happen after we've moved out. I'm that allergic and reactive to paints, even the VOC types and new carpeting gives off fumes that make me wheeze.

    And the rest of the time I've been suffering from the return of the mrsa and one hell of a sinus/er infection. By yesterday I was blubbering and crying in pain, scooting in and out of my various doctors offices, infectious disease and my ent, clutching prescriptions for more drugs. Great.

    The pain is warping my mind. I've cried about a dozen times in the last few days, sitting on the sofa clutching a heating pad over my left ear. I've cried for some pretty stupid reasons too. The planning of the move is unleashing some long buried resentment and distress I didn't even realize I held against Jim too. I've wept and confronted him on these issues and how it makes me feel. Only time will tell if he'll take in my words and make some changes in how he handles things. I hope so.

    But at the same time we did get some good news. The realtor came, looked at the house and said after replacing our ancient bedroom carpets and painting the rooms neutral colors we're looking at a rent of close to two thousand dollars a month. Our little Cape Cod will rent quickly he claims. I think some of the reason is that I've always upgraded every thing I've done through the years towards an improvement, upgraded appliances, using beautiful imported tiles in the bath to replace the no wax floor and hardwood floors everywhere but the bedrooms.

    Which is good. We're six months from paying off our mortgage completely and that is 1200 bucks more a month than our house payments.

    We've made some progress in the two new business ventures we're setting up to run in Costa Rica and had some very positive feedback along with bringing in a partner.

    Jim's tests are all completely normal. His bleeding must just be the shifting of his kidney stones. Trying to decipher my notes from the trip and will post a travel blog here shortly in bits with photographs.