Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Dog Run

My fear of dogs goes way back. I blame Mutt Mutt. Or, rather, Mutt Mutt’s owner.

My great grandmother (absolutely *mother* not *ma*) loved her decidedly mangy version of Benji. The yappy beige dog clicked his nails all around the wood and cement floors of Grandmother Lottie’s old house. Mutt Mutt wasn’t particularly friendly to anyone other than Grandmother, least of all me.

When we would visit (which seemed very often), Mutt Mutt would bark at me and chase me and try to nip at me. He was a small dog and I was a small 8 year old. Apparently Mutt Mutt was simply trying to play with me. Grandmother thought my terror was very amusing. I hated that dog but I hated the laughter and lack of protection more.

And so I don’t like dogs much. Wasn’t much of a fan of Grandmother either.

Years later, my Dog Phobia took on a new dimension when Rob and I were walking on a trail along the ocean. I was grateful to be outside on a scenic leisurely walk after being cooped up in the house for so many months following my first back surgery.

I was rather tentative but feeling sturdy in my clamshell back brace that doubled as enormous plastic corset. No bra for months! Is that more than you needed to know?

Suddenly, a large dog of the Doberman variety started running towards us. Dogs were supposed to be on a leash but this one had no human attached to it. Terrified, I froze. Rob tried to intervene and managed to get the dog to slow down but he wasn’t able to prevent the dog from jumping up on me, muddy front paws on my shoulders, dog breath and spittle and teeth in my face.

The owner came running over and apologized. I think I waited until she was gone before I burst into fear-filled tears while trying to wipe the mud off my sweater. If I hadn’t been wearing my brace, my unforeseen second back surgery would have happened a lot sooner.

And so, yeah, I reaaaally don’t like dogs much. Particularly the untrained, unleashed type.

I have determined that I can handle tiny dogs (think slipper sized) and old, arthritic, drooling dogs. The little ones I can flick away. The old ones move slower than I do so I can out maneuver them. But any other size or age of dog and you can usually find me casually cowering behind Rob.

Except when I am by myself. Like on my very therapeutic and greedily guarded walks alone.

My walks heal me. They help my back feel better and they restore my spirit. I often find God on my walks, whether in music or scenery or thoughts. My walks by myself are a somewhat sacred time for me.

Recently, because of a knee issue that will hopefully be fixed soon, I have been doing my easiest walk: our neighborhood. Two mostly flat laps on a nicely paved road lined by trees and a creek and neighbors who wave.

Last week, though, someone insisted on joining me. Toby. A neighbor’s free range and largely untrained dog. I hadn’t seen him in a long time so I had sort of assumed…with a guilty tinge of hope…that his wild ways had finally caught up with him.

You see, Toby is black lab mix who doesn’t wear a reflective collar. He LOVES to chase and attack cars on our private road. I have lost track how many times I have slammed on brakes or swerved or honked out of deference to Toby.

But a few days ago, there Toby was again. And with amazing energy and agility, that large 10-year-old black damp dog was charging me and trying to jump on me.

Prickly with fear, I yelled NO and DOWN and GO HOME with increasing desperation. I did all sorts of ill-advised pirouettes to avoid Toby literally getting in my face. My good knee wriggled a tiny bit. Thank God I was wearing my knee brace on the bad one.

Determined not to have my walk hijacked by a dog, I continued on my path. Infuriatingly, my second lap was pretty much a repeat of yelling and dancing with Toby. Adamant and defiant, I marched up to the neighbor’s house and knocked loudly on the door. Nobody answered. I cried all the way home.

Today, armed with a more confident Alpha Dog voice and posture, I tried my walk again. About half way to Toby’s house, he appeared in the street and then trotted back to his house. Hoping maybe his owner had called him back home, I optimistically continued towards his house. And then…there he was again, charging down the street at me at startling speed.

I did my most convincing yelling and pointing. Although Toby didn’t put a paw on me, he sure wanted to. I looked at him and boomed (mostly to me), “THAT’S IT!”

I marched up to the house again and again knocked with purpose. This time someone answered.

I vaguely remember meeting Marla when she was in high school. She is now a nurse of some sort (judging from her scrubs) and has a young daughter (judging from her clingy leg accessory). Marla and I had never really chatted much before today.

I am proud to say I was polite and friendly and non-accusatory. At least outwardly. We had a very pleasant conversation and I learned that “SIT” sometimes works on Toby. Marla demonstrated and Toby complied…and then didn’t…proving Marla right.

Wondering about Toby’s unnatural energy, I asked with that same tinge of guilty hope how old he is.

“Oh, he’s about a year and a half, I think.”

I stared at her dumbfounded, recalling the decade of screeching tires and that time about 8 years ago when I bought one of those ultrasonic dog deterrent remote control thingys only to have Toby be mesmerized by it and follow me and the noise all the way home to our garage.

A few more questions and it was revealed that Marla’s family has had several black dogs over the years. All looking about the same. All similarly managed and trained. All named Toby.

The guilty balloon of hope popped.

I then asked about the possibility of one of those invisible fence things that all the other neighbors have for their dogs. Nope. And seemingly no plans for one. Fantastic.

“Do you let him out at any specific time?” I asked hopefully. “I have been walking along here quite a bit recently and I hadn’t seen him until last week.” Maybe if she saw how cooperative I was willing to be, Marla would keep her scary dog in the house or contained in the yard more often.

“Well, we have been trying to let him out more because some neighbors,” Marla’s hand waved in a general direction over there, “complained that we were leaving him on the chain too long.”

And in that moment, my anger and offense and they-better-do-something-about-this-and-now attitude soften. In their place were unexpected sympathy and perspective and new understanding. Suddenly a bright light was shining on Marla’s struggle instead of my own.

“You just can’t win either way, huh?”

Marla gave me a weary smile saturated with relief while she shook her head.

We chatted a little more, we shook hands, and parted as friendly neighbors. Before I got to the next house, I got to practice my “SIT” command on Toby. It worked beautifully until I complimented him by saying “Good dog.” He was so excited by the praise, he tried to hug me.

I am still nervous and I still fear Toby’s exuberance might harm me. I now have another ultrasonic dog deterrent thingy on its way from Amazon. (I threw the other one away not realizing I had a revolving door of other Tobys it might work on.)

But now, instead of being indignant that I can’t even walk in my own neighborhood without fear of a damn dog… and instead of being filled with righteous anger that the neighbors really need to better train and care for their pets… and instead of letting fear consume and paralyze me… I am now more at peace with the idea of figuring out how Toby and I might co-exist without fear or yelling or jumping or dancing.

Like I said, I often find God on my walks.

Friday, January 22, 2016

The sneaky path of assimilation

My hubby grew up in Southern California. We hang out there at least a few times every year so we can visit large portions of his rather large family (and I mean quantity, not girth. To the contrary, I often feel like I gain 10 pounds down there just by comparison. Ugh.). Although SoCal has never felt like home to me, it does feel very familiar after 25 years of visits.

It usually takes me a day or so to adjust to the warm glowing orb thing in the sky and all the brown and cement and retail opportunities (we have one mall in our entire county…one). But then I eventually settle into the familiarity of who sits where in the family room and stories about my father-in-law’s days in the world of ketchup and cooking oil and pudding cups. I focus on the family time and chats and (hopefully) my mother-in-law’s lasagna. For at least a little while, my life and world at Woodhaven fades into the background.

And this is exactly as it was during our most recent visit. Until my two worlds collided with the simple reading of a newspaper.

When we first moved to Woodhaven over 11 years ago, it wasn’t long before I was heeing and hawing at our free weekly local newspaper. The editing was so bad and the letters to the editor so deliciously small town, I quickly took to calling it The Local Rag. There were stories about horses and taxidermy and ATVs. Topics completely unfamiliar to me, serving to highlight every week how very not-from-these-parts we were in our new home.

But then the paper was sold and a new editor was brought in. The spelling mistakes disappeared as did the lengthy Corrections section apologizing for the prior week’s multitude of reporting errors. The letters to the editor no longer railed against too many stop lights on Main Street or the unsightly trash collecting in a local park. Instead the letters took on a less provincial tone with concerns about politics and the economy and such. In other words, the paper became much more professional and thus much less entertaining. It lost the quirky, small-town, rural, decidedly not-the-SF-Bay-Area feel it once had.

Or so I thought.

On one of our last nights in LA a few weeks ago, I decided to read the latest issue of The Local Rag that I had tucked in our suitcase.

As the pages fluttered in the conditioned air (in January!), I read the news with new eyes. Or rather, old eyes of 11 years ago. Having immersed myself in the trendy suburban Californianess of Orange County for nearly a week, I had unknowingly distanced myself from Woodhaven just enough to discover my newspaper hasn’t actually changed much.

My Local Rag hasn’t lost its quirky, cowtown appeal at all. It is me that has changed. Me that no longer thinks twice about seeing a story about concealed pistol license applications being on the rise, or a 12 year old in camo proudly showing his first elk from a recent hunting trip, or a rather sizeable paid ad titled “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.”

11 years ago, I would have gasped at the publication of such a picture
These days, I see much more graphic hunting pix in my Facebook newsfeed
(Yes, I'm referring to you, Kayleigh)

All of those stories are expected, typical stories to me now. They no longer scream how big a change we made when we left the San Francisco area for a new adventure. It no longer strikes me as amusing or confusing to find a story about a local Mounted Shooting Junior Champion. Sure, I still need to Google “mounted shooting” but I no longer get all itchy and twitchy about the celebration and intention of riding horses while shooting at stuff.

I just realized I have been writing this blog while wearing a pink camo shirt. A shirt I bought about five years ago because it’s warm and looks cute with my jeans. Don't worry, though, the jeans aren't Wranglers.


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Too Much New Year

I am not one to typically make New Year’s Resolutions. I’m more of the philosophy that if I need to make a change, I should just make it and not wait for a new wall calendar. All dates are sort of arbitrary, so April 21 is as good a time to make a course correction as January 1 is.

So it’s not because it’s the beginning of the year that so many new things have populated my life recently. It’s more because sales were good or we finally had time that we’ve been replacing and upgrading and inviting in so much new.

We replaced our roof two summers ago, about a year before we were told we should start getting bids. Having watched two neighbors recently attach blue tarps to their roofs after a huge wind storm and then try to replace so many shingles in the rain, I felt vindicated in my dedication to replacing things just slightly too early.

It is therefore totally within character that a year ago we decided that sometime in 2015 we would replace some major appliances. Yes, I’m a planner. And no, there is no spreadsheet involved (but, fine, there is a Word document tracking annual goals and such. I am so predictable.).

Thanks to some great Christmas sales and a slow drip of research throughout 2015, we jumped pretty quickly on a well-priced washer, dryer, and dishwasher a couple of weeks ago. Super easy purchases in store and online, delivery, set-up, rebates, haul-away. All Eazy McSqueezy as my dad would say.

Except it wasn’t.

The washer and dryer delivery was fine but the dryer didn’t work. We ran out and bought a new circuit breaker, hoping that was the problem. I congratulated myself for marrying a handy engineer as I watched Rob install the new breaker. Exasperatingly, the dryer still tripped it within 5 seconds. An early morning phone call to the Big Box Store that we purchased it from resulted in assurances that they would be happy to exchange it…except none of their stores in the Portland metro had that model. Of course.

The nice delivery guys came back, hauled away the sparkling new but dead dryer, and refunded my credit card. Happily, a different Big Box Store had what we needed for 99 cents more. Seemed like a bargain, especially since this dryer hasn’t tripped the new circuit at all. Five loads of laundry later, I’m starting to trust my new machines even though I’m still confused by all the songs the dryer keeps playing at different intervals. The owner’s manual is of no help; I’ve scoured it. Google is probably next.

That adventure behind us (I'm leaving out the part about finding someone on a community Facebook page who wanted our old set and watching a mom and her gangly 14-year-old son smush both machines into a Suburban), Rob dove into installing the dishwasher. Surely that would be simple, right? I mean, 11 years ago he installed the one we were replacing and it was Eazy McSqueezy all the way. At least as I remember it, having mostly stood there with my hands on my hips offering cold beverages and lighting.

Sadly, though, this installation came to a dramatic halt on Saturday when we realized that the lip of our kitchen counters is about 1/8” too long. We had the counters replaced a couple of years after we got that other dishwasher, so we had no idea that the long lip was basically trapping our appliance in the cabinetry. Go us!

Rob managed to wriggle out the old one (mostly since we didn't care about scratches or operability) but there is no way the new one is going in. As I type, I am waiting for a guy from the granite place to come do something with tools and dust and noise to shave off 1/8” to allow our new dishwasher the freedom to move about the cabinets. The guy was supposed to come yesterday but there was an ice storm and nobody was going anywhere. Because Portland. And because that's just how things are rolling at the moment.

In other newness:

We’ve also replaced Rob’s cell phone which naturally necessitated upgrading iTunes. Which naturally messed up all of the birthdays in my phone for some inexplicable but widely discussed and loathed reason. And those so-called Geniuses? Yeah, not so much. So unimpressed, although they do have pretty cool glasses and tattoos. I got it all working again despite the Geniuses; I only had to create about 20 new contacts and leave out the birthday info. Eh, that’s what ice storms are for, right?

I thankfully stopped short of upgrading the operating system on my cell phone to match Rob's. A cooler head and snail-paced DSL prevailed in making me realize my year-old operating system is working just fine, despite what the musthavethelastestthingNOW Apple culture would have me think. Really, why bring on the inevitable headaches (see birthday mess) to simply have more little yellow faces to express emotions I am encouraged not to take the words or time to express?

Last week, after many phone calls and much smooth jazz hold music, we finally found a solution to make our internet go faster (and cheaper?!?). However, I have resisted making the switch calls to customer service in India until our chocolate supply is replenished. Things would be so much easier if we weren't so darned sentimental about an old email address (truly, it's vintage at over 20 years old; so many memories).

Realizing that our favorite airline doesn’t fly direct anymore to the places we most often want to go, we decided a few weeks ago to switch loyalties on our primary credit cards. Twenty minutes yesterday with customer service (in Pasadena!) and I think I have opted out of all the in-house, third-party, non-affiliates, joint-marketing shenanigans Bank of America would love to offer me. We'll find out soon enough.

And lastly, yesterday, finally thawed out enough to tackle the rural roads around Woodhaven, I got my hair cut about 2 weeks past schedule due to my haircutter’s holiday travel. I was certain I would be camped out in front of her salon with scissors in my hand, desperate to lose the 7 extra pounds I was carrying on my head. But much to my surprise, I have sort of enjoyed seeing some waves again. I have been wearing my hair short enough, everything was more straight and less wavy. Just like I had wished back in 1979.

But well, I had unknowingly missed the waves. So one more change to add to the new year – my hair is purposely longer than it has been in several years. I am pretty sure I caught Rob doing a Snoopy Happy Dance out of the corner of my eye yesterday (like pretty much every man alive, he prefers long hair. A testament to his love given my pixie cuts since forever, right?). We'll see how long my longer locks last. My hair stylist expects a desperation call in about 2 weeks.

So it’s been a lot of new and change here recently. All our decisions, all with intent, but I don’t think I realized how disconcerting it would be to make so many little changes all at the same time. My whole world feels a little unfamiliar and off center, with owner’s manuals and calls to customer service and so much Googling.

I know all this newness will morph into status quo soon and I will hardly remember this nagging desire to have my old comfy stuff back. But for now, I am grateful I’m not also trying to make some major January 1st life change like reducing the amount of Tabasco I consume or how much stuff sporting llamas I need beautifying my world. Changes like that would require more chocolate than Hershey or Moonstruck can make.

Monday, December 21, 2015

More officially a 12th Man!

If you’ve been following Woodhaven Ramblings for a spell, you might remember that benchmark day back in January 2014. Just days before the NFC Championship game, I dumbfounded my mother by officially abandoning the 49er Faithful for the blue and green 12th Man bandwagon of the Seattle Seahawks. It was a well-considered decision, I promise.

Free duster mitts that are much better used as pom poms

I’m grateful my Bay Area friends are still speaking to me despite our differences. On the heels of yesterday’s reportedly unwatchable performance by the Niners, one stalwart friend and fan rebuffed my invitation to join me in my support of the Seahawks with this retort: "Um, no. I think I'd become a fan of professional cricket before that happens. But, thanks for the offer." Yep, Faithful indeed. I like that.

Yesterday’s Seahawks game, on the other hand, was completely and utterly watchable. Like from some pretty awesome seats near the 20-yard line at CenturyLink Field. Yes, it’s true: Rob took me to a Seattle Seahawks game!!! Live and in person!! With hot dogs and everything!!

We decided to make a weekend of it, it serving as the very best Christmas and Birthday gift combo pack EVER. We took a very relaxing, nap-infused train ride about three hours north on Saturday afternoon. We mastered Seattle’s public transit system to get to our hotel and then had a fabulous dinner with one of my most favorite people, Zeke. The restaurant was a bit crowded so our yelling conversation was a good warm-up for yesterday’s required chatting volume in the noisiest stadium in the country.

Prior to yesterday, I had only been to two professional football games in my life, both featuring the aforementioned Gold Miner people. The second game almost doesn’t count because it was a pre-season game populated with players I had never heard of. Parking was a snap, though.

The first game was in the early ‘90s in December. As we left our Bay Area apartment complex that morning, we noted that the decorative fountain outside the office was frozen. With our seats in the top deck of Candlestick – a venue that required parkas for summer baseball games – I really don’t remember much about that 49ers game other than my being a frozen stick with arms that moved up and down to deliver hot chocolate to my mouth. I also remember my team lost to the New Orleans Saints. I still don’t like them. Yes, I can carry a grudge.

Yesterday we came a little more prepared. We had many layers of clothing, a rain poncho, baseball hats to shield the rain, a towel to wipe off wet seats, and dry clothes to change into so the 3 hour train ride home would be a bit warmer and less cranky.

Much to our surprise, rain drops were minimal and our dry clothes stayed tucked inside our suitcase (yay for baggage storage at the train station!). Although we did get a bit chilly, the 69,000 other fans around us served as nice wind blocks. And the excitement kept us warm, too.  No hot chocolate needed this time!

Yes, Rob's hat is epic.  And warm.  He says it was very warm
and pretty much the only way I was able to convince him to wear it.

See?  Epic.

Wanting to get the Full NFL Experience, we arrived at the stadium about 2.5 hours early. It made going through the bag check process super easy – no waiting! I had done my homework and had my official post 9-11 Era NFL sanctioned plastic bag with dimensions no greater than 12” x 6” x 12” visibly toting all the essentials (camera, phone, Kleenex, credit card, Chapstick, ear plugs).

Toting my regulation bag like a pro
Later, a super nice security person showed me how to fold and display the bar codes on our tickets inside our bag to make the scanning even easier. With her tip, I felt like a season ticket holder instead of some interloper squatting in the Balmers' seats for the day (we don’t know them, we just thank them for going to Mexico and wanting to sell their tickets. Relatedly, people, lock down your Facebook profiles. Honestly.).

We meandered all around the stadium and then went into the connected Event Center which basically looked like a convention of Seahawks fans. It was awesome!!

As we entered about 2 hours prior to game time.

There were lots of photo ops and booths handing out free goodies. There were several sports talk radio shows broadcasting live from the venue. Several areas had large TVs for watching other teams in action. There were games and face painting and contests and cell phone charging lounges and Seahawks Swag booths. The only thing missing was some Tempur-Pedic beds.

Almost like being on a cruise ship!

Richard's not as tall as I imagined

Making sure Richard behaves himself

As we wandered around, I truly felt like I was a member of a culture, a community, a tribe. Every direction I looked was slathered in blue and green. Although I didn’t break out of my introverted shell, I know I could have struck up a conversation with any person there and we would have had at least one love in common.

My Seahawks Swag was pretty mainstream compared to these SuperFans

It wasn’t just the attendees either. The love and Seahawk Spirit extended to the security staff, the souvenir vendors, the food booth folks. “GO HAWKS!” ended most interactions. Much more fun than “Have a nice day.”

Done exploring and eating and shopping, we found our seats in time to get situated for warm-ups. Players and trainers from both teams littered the field. Without pads or jerseys, it was hard to tell at first if I was watching any names I knew.

Then Michael “Ooops, Another Penalty” Bennett jogged past us in navy track gear and enormous gold-plated headphones. If it weren’t for that Sony-NFL sponsorship deal thing, it would have been a great Beats by Dre commercial.

Then we saw Pete Carroll, the head coach. I know people have definite opinions about him from his days at a certain southern California college, but I have something of an affinity for Pete. I remember when he was on the coaching staff of the Niners back in the mid-‘90s. He also went to my high school (though long before I did), so somehow I feel like Pete and I are buds.

Did you have Mr. Bachelder for math, too, Pete?

Rob then pointed out a young kid throwing the football around. He was short and small compared to everyone else on the field. “Maybe he’s somebody’s son who gets to play on the field with the big guys,” I thought.

Asking for the largely unused binoculars, Rob confirmed his suspicions. “Yep, that’s Russell Wilson.”

Russell Wilson!?! The quarterback?!? That little kid out there in baggy sweatpants running around with the adults was WILSON, arguably one of the best quarterbacks playing in the NFL?!?

Yep, the more I watched him and then saw his face, it was indeed him. Teeny tiny Russell. I had no idea how much weight and bulk those pads add. Note to self: never ever wear football pads.

The warm-ups took about an hour. I kept looking around, wondering where all the fans were. The stadium looked pretty empty. Maybe since the Seahawks were favored to trounce the Cleveland Browns people weren’t planning to show up? Hard to believe, but then again that’s how we managed to get great seats without having to mortgage our house.

At least he didn't leave surprised

And then, much like the Katy Perry concert I dragged Rob to last year, the people came. 69,002 in total (Rob and I are claiming the 2). And nearly every last one of them sporting some sort of fan gear. Truly, I think I might have seen maybe six unspirited fans not paying their Official NFL Merchandise tithe.  Sinners.

Full house!

We had been warned that CenturyLink Field would be loud. And it was. But we never did put in our earplugs. While we both had good hats protecting our ears, we never felt like the decibels were getting dangerous.


Chatting later with a season ticket holder at the train station, he offered that the crowd was a bit subdued compared to many games. No seismic readings this time. So that is why our ears aren’t ringing today. Nevertheless, it was absolutely the noisiest sporting event I have ever attended.

The game lasted a little over three hours. No need for overtime. The first touchdown was by the Browns. The stadium was very quiet.

But all the rest of the TDs (3 more) were courtesy of the Seahawks. YAY!!!! Lots of cheers, screams, high-fives with strangers, fireworks off the top of the stadium. Minus the scampering cats, not all that different from our celebrations at Woodhaven really.

As much as I had worried about the back-friendliness of our seats, it ended up being wasted worry (like so much worry actually). The only time I actually sat down was during time outs and commercial breaks. Otherwise I was on my feet clapping and yelling. So really, we didn’t so much pay for the Balmers’ seats as the concrete in front of them.

I absolutely loved watching the game in person. I loved the energy of the crowd and the shared experience of many thousands of rabid fans. It was surreal to see my favorite players in person, life-sized, right in front of me. Rob is skeptical but I have no doubt that my favorite Richard Sherman looked at me and smiled.

This is right before he smiled at me and waved back

I even enjoyed the slurring swaying entertainment of the drunk guy in front of us. Wasted on IPAs instead of Bud, he was a Pacific Northwesterner through and through. Yes, the Full Football Experience.

There were a few downsides to the live, untelevised action, though.

For example, I couldn’t follow the ball nearly as well on my own without the TV camera crew guiding me. That Wilson is quite an accomplished faker.

I also missed the TV commentary to help me understand the game better. Rob knows football very well and he always answers my questions with depth and clarity. However, I realized yesterday that the TV commentators often answer questions I don’t know I have so I end up learning more.

I was also surprised by how much rest the players actually get between plays. It never really occurred to me at home that during commercials the players might just be standing around, relaxing, sipping water, laughing, discussing the next play, agreeing that candlesticks make nice wedding gifts, etc. Don’t get me wrong – these guys are all extraordinary athletes. I just didn’t realize they had a few more opportunities to catch their breath than what is presented on TV.

Richard behaving himself and chatting nicely with a ref during a commercial

I think the thing I missed most, though, was seeing what was going on on the sidelines. Our seats were on the visitors’ side and I really didn’t care about what the Brown were doing when they weren’t on the field. On the other side of the field, it was hard to see what Pete and the boys were doing…especially since they were all dressed in dark blue and sort of mushed together.

I missed seeing the facial expressions of players as calls or plays were made. I missed seeing Pete Carroll smile and “atta boy” Wilson after touchdowns. And I especially missed seeing my favorite cheerleader, Richard Sherman, pumping up the offense and giving props to his fellow defensives when due. One of the reasons I like Sherman so much is his passion. Although I could see it on the field, I missed seeing it on full display on the sidelines, too.

As we chugged our way home on the train, dry and happy and still glowing from a 30-13 win, Rob and I agreed that would we love to try to make this an annual thing. Maybe not a full weekend, but at least a full day of train and game and all things Seahawks.

Attending a game in person made me feel just a little more part of the family, a little more of a fan, a little more of a true 12 despite my years rooting for a different team.

Sorry again, Mom.

Almost as amazing as seeing the players in person was seeing
this Elton John impersonator that I always see on TV
True 12 all the way

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Color my world

With new shelves finally attached to the walls and decorated with sentimentality, the Great Woodhaven Home Office Make-Over of 2015 is FINISHED!! Christmas came early!

Normally our projects don’t take this long; I’m a gal who likes to get things done and cross things off her To Do list. But we have been gone more than we’ve been at home the past six weeks. Once the walls were painted and the 830lbs of IKEAness assembled, our project took on a much more hodge-podgy pace while we toured our suitcases around four states and two countries. Not to mention a new computer that needed to be set up with 9 days’ worth of cloud-based file transfers. Yes, 9 days. We’re seriously considering ditching our boonies-based 1 Mbps DSL for something involving satellites.

Decorating was the last make-over task so I’ve actually been using our new office set-up for a few weeks now. Rob is probably tired of me saying thank you and explaining yet again how much easier my bill paying duties for our church are now that I have copious flat surfaces to spread out all my binders and folders and receipts. With our old set up, I was using a chair and the floor as my primary work surfaces. I’m embarrassed it took me so long to realize how ridiculous…and painful…that was.

I absolutely love how everything turned out. I will admit I have found myself just sitting in our new office admiring things. I am especially pleased with the lighting – it is very warm and soothing.

I am also relieved the Silverado purple walls turned out just as I imagined. My visionary skills are somewhat limited so this is quite an accomplishment. I wanted a color that helped me relax and focus. My gut told me that a dark color would make me feel cozy and secure and would help me keep my attention on task. With a few weeks surrounded in Silverado I can say my gut was on point.

I’m actually quite proud of myself for finally having the nerve to put so much boldness on all four walls of a room. Although much of Woodhaven’s walls have color, the bravest ones had been saved for accent walls. And even that’s quite a departure from Life Before Here.

As a kid, I never had anything but white walls in my bedroom. Some of that was due to us living in rentals, other due to my not wanting anything to clash with my Superman, Miss Piggy, or kitten posters.

As an adult, Rob and I lived in our Ode to Ecru house in California for at least five years before we mustered up the courage to paint anything. We high-fived our boldness when our guest room walls finally changed from white to whitish yellow. Unless the lighting was just right, it was pretty much impossible to detect we had changed anything. But we were proud. Baby steps.

Later, when my back pain ramped up and I was spending a lot of time in the bath tub, Rob painted our tiny bathroom a serene sky blue so I could pretend I was bathed in sunlight instead of Epsom salts. We really thought we were living on the edge with that sky blue bathroom. And relieved we could easily close the door when all the color got overwhelming.

Somehow, though, when we moved to Woodhaven, we got really gutsy. Many of the walls in our new home were slathered in Old Lady Floral wallpaper. That was scraped off and walls were painted before the furniture arrived. Since we had to paint our bedroom, two bathrooms, a dining room, and a kitchen nook anyway, we decided to fully embrace all the changes we were already making. Why not add colored walls to the list?

We’ve slowly been painting room by room, some by ourselves and some with our checkbook. Only one bedroom remains the drab white with pinkish undertones that greeted us 11 years ago. The other walls around Woodhaven are pale yellow, sunny yellow, tan, sky blue, Wedgewood blue, sage green, mint green, neon green, burgundy, and now dark purple. As psychedelic as that combo sounds, it really does work. When we embrace change, we embrace change!

I’m not sure when we will paint the remaining bedroom, nor what previously unthinkable color its walls will be. But I am sure that I will get that itchy feeling to breathe life and energy and mood into that room at some point. And then all I will be left with to paint is closets. People paint closets, right? Hmmm.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

A Wedding Story

It’s probably a little unusual, but when I was growing up I never really thought about getting or being married. The closest I got is that I figured somewhere in my early 30s I would get married to some sort of professional guy who had dark hair and dark eyes (aside from a few brief exceptions, that was definitely my type).

So imagine my surprise when at the barely pretending to be an adult age of 22, I met the man I wanted to grow up and grow old with.

Rob and I had our first date on his 24th birthday. The story of how that came to be is a good one. Perhaps I’ll tell it in a few years. Suffice it to say, we clicked right away and I was falling fast in love before the entrées arrived.

We were dating long-distance (about 400 miles separated us), but it wasn’t long before our phone conversations were not about if we were going to get married but when.

About 4 months later, Rob proposed. I was sitting on my bed at my parents’ house, busily tying my shoes, when Rob interrupted me and said he had a question for me. Expecting it to be something along the lines of where I wanted to have lunch, I was jaw-droppingly surprised when I saw Rob on his knee with a sparkly ring in a velvet box. I didn’t hesitate with my answer. And I suddenly understood why my mom had had that goofy grin on her face that morning.

Newly engaged.  Holy cow we were young...

Fast forward another 4 months. Rob had moved up to the San Francisco Bay Area from Los Angeles to be with me. We both had busy, professional jobs, and very few decisions about a wedding had yet been made.

Sure, we talked about it. But neither of us had any pre-conceived notions about what Our Wedding should be. I had never daydreamed about walking down an aisle or what my wedding dress would look like or what song would play for the father-daughter dance. When it came to my wedding day, my mind was a complete blank. Rob figured people would be there, and his future wife would walk towards him in a white dress, but that’s all he had to offer to the planning. So our discussions were a bit aimless.

Trying to nail down something…anything…I came to a few conclusions.

First, reflecting every bit of my screaming liberal arts education, I was NOT going to be walked down an aisle and given away like property. Nope, I would walk down the aisle by myself like the self-sufficient, independent, utterly capable woman I was. Take THAT, antiquated and misguided tradition.

Second, I look better in black than in white, so I decided a black wedding dress would be cool. Surely such a thing existed, right?

Third, I wasn’t sure who all I wanted standing by me during the ceremony but I was certain one of them had to be my very best friend from college. I hoped Zeke would accept and enjoy being my “Man of Honor.” And I was determined that Rob’s very conservative family would just have to deal with a gay man being their new daughter-in-law’s primary wedding attendant.

Yes, I was going to announce my entrance into Rob's family with gusto.

And that’s as far as I got. No date, no venue, no color scheme, no theme, no gift registry. And honestly no time to think about those things because my job in a political consulting firm in an election year was nothing short of insane. If I wasn’t stumbling into bed as soon as I got home from work, I was busy sobbing out tears of frustration and stress. Deciding what color napkins to have and what to engrave on them was beyond my capacity and interest.

Then the day I had been fantasizing about finally arrived: Election Day!

Yes, Election Day. Everything in my politically-based job hinged on November 6, 1990. As soon as that glorious day arrived, my life would return to normal. I could work only 50-60 hours per week and might even have time for fun on the weekends. And then…then…I could start seriously planning our wedding.

So that next weekend, Rob and I discussed our Big Day. And as we chatted, I realized that the few decisions I had made were really more about making some sort of political, cultural statement and being in-your-face different than it was about joining lives with my soulmate. The more we talked, the more I realized I just wanted to be married. The ceremony and celebration to get there didn’t really matter as much.

We looked at the calendar. We had both already arranged to take Monday, December 3 off because we were planning to go to Los Angeles to see the very last car race at the Ascot Raceway Park before it closed forever.

“Instead of going to the car race, we could get married,” Rob offered. More romantic words have never been spoken.

With only three weeks, we got busy making arrangements.

It helped that my mom was a legal secretary and knew judges. Our venue was quickly determined to be the Superior Courthouse in San Francisco with an acquaintance presiding.

My parents would be there as would Rob’s dad, stepmom, and his oldest younger brother. Besides the judge and the bailiff, that was the full extent of our wedding party.

No music, our own cameras for photos, and just one bouquet of some beautiful Fire and Ice roses. And no napkins.

Rob needed a new suit so he got one that doubled as his wedding outfit. My mom and I headed to the mall one evening and in the back of a store we found a cream-colored skirt, jacket, and veiled hat that fit me perfectly. Having spent countless agonizing hours in dressing rooms during my childhood, almost in tears because nothing ever fit, my mom and I immediately felt the Universe was endorsing my marriage with that fit-off-the-rack wedding suit.

Rob and I went to a jewelry store in a different mall and picked out a set of simple gold bands that happened to already be the perfect sizes. More approval from the Universe.

And so the morning arrived. Monday, December 3, 1990. Almost exactly nine months after our first date.

We all convened at the courthouse. I was dressed in sweatpants and a sweatshirt with full make-up and carrying a garment bag. Everyone else was dressed up and Mom was carrying my bouquet in a box.

We didn’t get very far; first we had to go through a metal detector. Because, well, the county jail was in the basement of the building. Don't most weddings involve a metal detector? No?

As the entourage lined up for the weapons screening, people congratulated me as it was obvious I was The Bride.

“Are you marrying someone in jail?” several asked.

“No, I’m marrying him,” I clarified through laughter as I pointed at Rob.

It was funny...the first time.

By the fourth or fifth time I was asked if I was marrying a jail bird, my mom’s mother bear instincts were in full gear and she very clearly made it known that her daughter was NOT marrying a criminal thankyouverymuch. She was adorably feisty.

I changed clothes in a yellow tiled public restroom down the hall from the court room. Not quite the standard Bridal Suite.

When I was ready, I emerged with perhaps a bit less the pomp and circumstance than when a groom typically first sees his bride. We all then stood around and waited for the judge to arrive.

My grand entrance

When he finally greeted us, I told the judge that Rob and I had a last-minute change. You see, initially Rob and I thought it would be fun to get married in the courtroom. I was going to be the plaintiff, he was going to be the defendant, and our family would sit in judgment in the jury box. We thought it would be hysterical!

But, well, my future mother-in-law spoke some very wise words to me the night before and convinced me otherwise. Rob agreed and so we instead asked to have the ceremony in the judge’s chambers.

Funny, right?  Yeah, my soon-to-be mother-in-law wasn't laughing.
And she was right.  Thank you again, Nancy!

A little bit of scrambling and nine of us were cozily in the judge’s office. Nervous but excited, Rob and I held hands as we recited the slightly edited vows we had agreed on (yeah, no obeying going on in this marriage!).

Right in the midst of us dedicating our lives to each other, the phone rang. In all the last-minute changeroos, the judge forgot to have his calls held. The bailiff quickly answered the phone and took a message. Now we know why we invited him to the wedding!

It’s amazing in subsequent years how many vows we have claimed the other agreed to at that moment. “What, don’t you remember that you said you would go to the County Fair with me every single day? Hmmm, it must have been when the phone rang.”

A few short minutes and signatures later and we were official. GO MARRIED US!

With big smiles, a marriage certificate, and a fluttering veil, we exited the courthouse. Our first official congratulations by a stranger was a very nice homeless guy camping outside the door. Looking back, I am especially impressed by my father-in-law’s amused composure at that moment. I am quite sure that was NOT what he envisioned for his oldest child’s wedding day.

Homeless guy just out of camera range

Instead of a reception, we all headed to lunch at the restaurant Rob and I went to our on first date. Ribs for a wedding lunch? Yes please!

I had a blast walking from the parking garage to the restaurant. It was lunchtime on a Monday in the business district of San Francisco. People were smiling and congratulating us the entire route. It wasn’t quite walking down an aisle but it was a hoot. I felt very loved and encouraged even though they were all strangers.

Rob’s most vivid memory of that walk was coming across a dead pigeon near where we stopped to pose for pictures. It was a rather bloated bird and we tried to make sure it didn’t appear in any photos. Again, so impressed by my father-in-law!

After lunch, we all said goodbye and then Rob drove me to our surprise honeymoon location: Yosemite. I got to see it for the very first time by moonlight on a clear full-moon night, with fresh snow on the ground. It was magical.

My boss’s wedding gift to us was an extra day off so we spent one night in Yosemite and explored the valley the next morning before heading home. Although we took a much longer and more involved trip about six months later that we said would be our official honeymoon, it never was. The one night in Yosemite was and will always be our honeymoon.

Over the past 25 years, I have often thought of our unconventional little wedding and pondered if I have any regrets. Both Rob and I agree that the only regret we ever have is that we didn’t have more people there to celebrate with us and share our most important moment. But we had the most critical people there and we most definitely had a wedding that reflected us: simple, meaningful, full of togetherness and laughter, and a touch quirky. Just the right recipe for our marriage, too.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

A Course for Adventure

We are on our last At Sea day and will be home tomorrow. I had thought about finally breaking out my swimming suit today and lounging around on the Sun Deck. But we woke up to really cool lightning and thunder. And by cool, I mean both fun to watch and the need to pull out some pants for the first time in a week.

It’s been very strange these past several days to be so dang hot and wearing all my summer clothes again while people make reference to The Holidays being just around the corner (so, you know, I should buy all sorts of souvenirs, they make me deal!).

In Puerto Vallarta, we docked near a shopping mall that had “Feliz Navidad” and pine wreaths and reindeer decorating the building. With 86 degree temps and high humidity, the image was just plain wrong.

I can tell I am finally relaxing. I have gotten lots of glorious and much-needed rest over the past week. Something about being rocked (mostly gently – I’m down 2 Dramamine) to sleep each night has induced much slumber.

I also got hit by a cold yesterday. Historically, my body seems to know when I am running on empty and it can finally let its guard down to give into the sniffles and sneezes. Yesterday was our last port before home and sure enough, just hours after returning to our cabin, I was pawing around in our medicine stash for Sudafed.

Today I am trying very hard to stay away from public spaces so as not to infect anyone else (yay for the highly unpopular Skywalkers Lounge!). I’m not thrilled about having a cold, but I am grateful it’s a head thing and not a tummy thing. Rob is actually pleased I am sick because he knows that means I finally stopped fighting. So in a very weird way, my sea of Kleenex wads is a sign of a vacation much-needed and well-done.

Our three ports this cruise were the main ones that The Love Boat typically visited. Occasionally they went to Ensenada and/or Acapulco, but the primary ones tended to be Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, and Cabo San Lucas. I am here to tell you, every one of them looks quite different now than in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Especially Cabo San Lucas. Yikes! The growth is mind-blowing!

When we booked the cruise, we fully anticipated never leaving the ship. Did I mention we don’t like Mexico? But as we perused the excursions offered by the cruise line, we decided that it might not be too awful if we stuck with a tour and were lead around like sheep by fully vetted and accredited tour guides. And thus we bravely got off the ship each day and tentatively explored a little of what each town had to offer.

Puerto Vallarta
Our tour was billed as a walking tour of the town’s newish boardwalk, a visit to a church (no shorts allowed, poor overheated Rob), a stop at a tile factory (in reality more gift shop than factory), and then a final stop at a tequila distillery about 45 minutes outside of town for lunch and learn-how-they-make-stuff instruction. Free samples were also promised. Ole!

The highlight of the walking tour was going into the City Hall and seeing a mural on the wall. David, our tour guide, was quite proud to show it to us.

As nice as the mural was, what made the visit memorable was that there was a reporter from the local newspaper there and she asked to take our group’s picture for a front-page tourism article for the next day’s paper. David was VERY excited.

Rob and I smiled at each other, silently remembering the trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico several years ago when we ended up on the front page of the newspaper watching a beautiful wildfire-induced sunset. It remains one of my favorite pictures of us. And it was our first brush with paparazzi.

Back in Puerto Vallarta’s City Hall, all us little tour ducklings lined up, with a few people shamelessly angling to be right next to David so that they would be front and center in the photo. Even though Rob and I ended up in the middle of the photo, it was mostly because we got bumped into that position.

With some anticipation, I finally got online this morning to search for the lengthy tourism article and the accompanying professional photo of our tour proudly in front of the mural. If you want to check it out yourself, here’s the link. Because I like to be a full-service blogger, though, here is the photo:

And here is the full and complete translation of the extensive article: “The national and international tourism, is very important for our city, because besides the economic benefit they generate, in the end each one of those visitors become promoters of our beautiful Puerto Vallarta.”

I hope David is still proud and excited. Me, I am highly amused.

The other highlight of the day was the visit to the tequila factory. It was quite a ways out of town, past the prison.

Once there, we had a fantastic beef taco lunch and the very best habanero salsa I have ever tasted. Tummies full, we then learned about how tequila is made and got to sample 6 different versions (Rob and I maturely split the shots. Yeah, we’re wimps. But sober ones!). Here’s what I learned:

-- Real tequila is made from 100% blue agave. If it is made from green agave, it is called mezcal. Mezcal is apparently sort of nasty and it is the stuff with the worm in it. So, worm = no bueno.

That pine cone thing is the heart of a blue agave plant.

-- The process of making tequila is more similar to making whiskey than making wine. Lots of distilling and high alcohol content. Nevertheless, Rob had a fascinating yet rather technical side conversation with the head tequila maker. The factory was family-run and the maker was the founder’s grandson. The family sent him to France to learn wine making and sort of earn some credibility. Interesting tactic that apparently was successful.

-- Much like champagne, tequila can only be legally called that if it is made in the Tequila region of Mexico.

-- The delicious limey citrus smell of a margarita is actually the tequila, not the mix. Having not had straight tequila since the bachelorette bar-hopping party my co-workers threw for me 25 years ago (I remember the first 5 shots – oy), I had no idea how wonderful tequila smells. This was dangerous insight.

-- The real way you are supposed to drink a margarita is without lime or salt. Mexicans started adding lime and salt to cover up bad tequila. Since I love salt, this information is unlikely to change the way I order my margaritas. Call me inauthentic.

-- Some people make flavored tequilas. We tried a peach one, an almond one, and a coffee one. Later, in a touristy market place, we sampled a mango one and a hibiscus one.

-- Relatedly, we now know the process for bringing hard alcohol on board a cruise ship. You have to check it in immediately and they stash it away until the last day of the cruise. Then you get it back, pack it, and take it home with you.

-- For a limited time only, free samples of peach and hibiscus flavored tequilas at Woodhaven!

Our tour was an “off-the-beaten-path” boat ride through an estuary to see birds and mangroves. Although neither of us is really into birds, Rob and I remembered having quite enjoyed seeing new-to-us wildlife on different trips. So this sounded like a relaxing, soothing, educational way to avoid the city of Mazatlan itself.

Instead, we got to experience Mexico tourism at its authentic best. Or worst? Either way, it was a decidedly we’re-not-in-the-US day. Some entertaining highlights:

As I stepped into the small boat we toured around in, I was alarmed and then amused that the boat’s floor was rather squishy. It was freshly painted, though, so at least it looked in operable condition.

Each seat sported an uninflatable faded orange life jacket. As I eyed mine, I surmised that the best it could do would be to indicate where I was flailing about in the water trying to stay afloat. No matter, though. Hugo, our tour guide, announced that it was too hot to wear the life jackets and assured us that Carlos the Driver would not capsize the boat. None of us felt very confident but none of us put on the life jackets either.

The bird watching wasn’t terribly exotic. We mostly saw buzzards, blue herons, and pelicans. We did get to see the pelicans up close though, thanks to some smelly fish Hugo brought on board for photo ops. He was adorably confused why nobody was volunteering to feed the pelicans the stinky treats.

After our boat ride, we were to be taken to a restaurant on the beach for lunch and then an hour of free time playing in the water. I assumed we would be transported via another tour bus lacking functional AC. Instead, we got to take what Hugo kept calling a “Mexican limo.”

The “limo” was a large rickety wooden cart with boards nailed across for benches. The cart had an awning, so at least it was shady. And it had lots of organic AC (yay for a breeze!). We entered the limo from the back by scrambling up two very high, rotted-wood steps.

Once inside, we had to hurdle over the benches to find a seat. Well, my knee wasn’t having any of that, so I snagged a seat in the far back that required no track and fielding. I was the youngest on the tour and by far not the only one with knee issues, so that back area filled up quickly.

Did I mention that the cart was pulled by a tractor? Oh, and Chester the Chihuahua rode along up front. It was quite hard not to notice that he was all boy.

Once we got going, the limo took us off-roading through the jungle and sand dunes for a good half-hour until we came to the beach. Then it drove us right along the water’s edge, running over a cormorant along the way (yeah, it squawked quite loudly, hobbled about afterwards, and quite upset a number of passengers. Rather unwise form to run over a bird with a vehicle carrying a bunch of bird-lovers. Oops.).  It was a very looooong 6 miles.

I took a few blurry pictures but decided a video tells the story best. Please note that my camera has a motion stabilizer and I was doing everything I could to keep my hands steady. And yes, my back was NOT happy with this adventure. And yes, I have passed along to people who should know that the tour’s description needs to be amended a bit.


Finally at the restaurant, we spent the next couple of hours commiserating with other sore tourists and fending off musicians and vendors selling beaded jewelry and iron wood turtles.

I had brought along my swimsuit to go play in the uncommonly warm water (it was reportedly about 84 degrees), but I just couldn’t muster the courage to change my clothes in the restaurant’s rustic bathroom. The fact that the ocean water was an icky brown didn’t help entice me either. I did go put my feet in it, though. And then killed the rest of the time trying to figure out how to clean them off.

Cabo San Lucas
Our tour in Cabo San Lucas was our favorite. It took us about an hour north of the increasingly large and touristy town to a little colonial village called Todos Santos.

Todos Santos has a beautiful mission founded by the Jesuits – that’s pretty much what started the town several centuries ago. More recently, The Eagles and Don Henley wrote a very famous song about a hotel there and fans often stop by as a sort of a pilgrimage.

Todos Santos got hit a bit hard by a hurricane a few years ago, so some of it is still being repaired while other parts are newly renovated. From the looks of things, Todos Santos aims to be the Carmel (California) or Cannon Beach (Oregon) of Baja. There were a number of artsy stores and studios, and the souvenirs were much more authentic and handcrafted than all the mass-produced pottery and beadwork and silver jewelry we saw in the other ports.

The town was named by the Mexican government as an historic place (officially called a Magic Town). As such, Todos Santos is getting some additional funding and is the first to get some improvements like a desalinization plant (adequate supplies of water are a big issue on this desert peninsula of Baja California).

Overall, the town just felt more real and less touristy that where we visited in Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan. It wasn’t crowded at all. In fact, our tour of 20 caused many locals to stare for a bit. This has a lot to do with why it was our favorite tour.

After walking around town and visiting the mission, we settled in for lunch at the cantina inside the Hotel California. Yep, THAT Hotel California. It was a very pleasant, comfortable, welcoming place. The food was delicious, the margarita was fantastic, and they were kind enough to play The Song twice while we were there.

As I listened to the song in the place that inspired it, I thought a lot about a friend of mine who traveled all over the world for about 3 years. Andi she said she heard “Hotel California” played at least once in every single country she visited – Germany, Jordan, China, you name it, they played it. I’m not sure if Andi has ever been to Todos Santos. If not, she definitely needs to add it to her travel list. They even have t-shirts for when she marks the occasion (yeah, touristy but still not as touristy as the other ports).


We still need to pack and I still have about a half-hour left of internet minutes I can use. Oh, right! This is my first official cruise with free wifi! Well, 150 minutes of free wifi. Which has been plenty to check email, get fantasy football teams situated, check in for our flights, and upload 13 photos and 2 videos to my blog. My loyalty to Princess has paid off! And rest assured, soon we’ll be making another run. Well, at least soonish.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Welcome Aboard, It’s Loooo-oooo-oove!

Rob and I have a favorite way to unwind from a busy day. Yes, it’s exactly what you are thinking. We watch old reruns of “The Love Boat.”

We started watching them on Netflix several years ago after returning home from a Princess cruise. We had had such a fantastic time, we basically wanted to relive it.

Recently, the POP cable channel started dedicating every Thursday to back-to-back-to-back episodes of the star-studded goofery of the classic ‘70s television show. We have quite a collection recorded and ready for end-of-the-day mind-candy. I can tell you that in Season 1, they didn’t have the guest star’s pictures in the wheel icon. After Season 2, Captain Stubing stops saluting you. During Season 4, Vicky joins the crew. Yep, lots of unwinding going on at Woodhaven.

Over the summer, several months into our rather prolonged reconstruction from our Water Leak Mold Issue, Rob and I got a little punchy and decided we needed to go on a Love Boat cruise. Not just a Princess cruise, a Princess cruise to Mexico.

This was quite a surprising decision since neither of us particularly like Mexico. To point, Rob refused to join me and my mom at my grandparents’ time share in Mazatlan 20 years ago. And 15 years later, we both literally ran back to the safety and familiarity of our Panama Canal cruise ship when we stopped in Acapulco along the way, we hated it so much. We agreed that day, while enjoying free cookies on the Lido Deck and gazing out over the total ick that was Acapulco, that we would never ever return to it – nor likely Mexico – again.

But, well, television is magical. And we watch a lot of “The Love Boat.” So for the past week, we have been on the Ruby Princess cruising the Mexican Riviera. Ole!

We (ok, mostly I but Rob has graciously indulged my goofiness) have worked very hard to create our very own Love Boat Experience.

As we arrived at the Port terminal in San Pedro, I got very excited to discover that the parking lot and drop-off area is largely unchanged from the opening scenes of the ‘70s. I was sort of bummed, though, that we were arriving on a shuttle bus instead of a ‘50s style yellow checkered taxi like in the show. It would have been even better if Jimmy JJ Walker had been our driver.

We approached the gangway to board the ship and I started heading to the “priority boarding” shorter line that had a modern-day switch-back ramp. Rob grabbed me by the shoulder and pointed at the longer line. It was using the same metal submarine-ship-like archway that is used in the show. OMG!!

“Even though you have that special card, do you want to wait in line to go through the arch?” Rob asked fully knowing the answer.

About 10 minutes later, I got to confuse everyone except Rob by taking this picture.

Finding our way to our cabin on the Caribe Deck (Deck 10), my iPod announced our arrival with several repeated plays of “The Love Boat” theme song. I tried not to sing along too loudly. Oddly, none of the crew members we passed seemed fazed by our musical accompaniment. Perhaps that song fills the hallways more often than I think?

We got settled, started unpacking, and noted how the port looks totally different now than in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Tons more cranes and container ships and general busy-ness in the enormous port now.

An announcement was made that we were about to set sail. It didn’t work exactly like I was planning (they are a lot harder to throw than I expected), but I nevertheless surprised Rob by throwing some confetti streamers at him on our balcony. In my head, he was going to be covered in streamers like Silly String by the time we pulled out into the ocean. Sadly, not so much.

Instead, we decided to tie a few of the streamers to our railing in an effort to be festive. Soon after, some Canadians below us deemed us “party people.” I’m pretty sure they are relieved that our partying began and ended with railing streamers at the departure from each of our four ports.

Several “Love Boat” episodes refer to Puerto Vallarta as having “the best margaritas.” I gave my best effort to confirm this. We even went to a tequila factory! (I’m very dedicated.) However, I must report that the best margarita I had in Mexico was in Todos Santos (about an hour north of Cabo San Lucas). More on that in a blog to come.

I did, however, quite enjoy a signature drink on board our ship. Personally invented by Ted Lange to commemorate 2015 being Princess’s 50th birthday, “The Isaac” is white rum, lime juice, 7-Up, and grenadine to make it red like his bartender jacket. According to the very effective “commercial” showing on our in-cabin TV, the bartender was supposed to serve “The Isaac” to me properly by doing the double-fingered double pointy thing. He didn’t. So I did it instead.

We also spent some of our At Sea days in search of iconic locations around the ship, fully aware that the ship we are actually sailing on is much larger and much younger than the original Pacific Princess. In fact, the original vessel star of the show no longer exists. Yes, I almost cried when I learned that. All that groovy wood paneling and nubby upholstery, wasted.

Anyway, with that in mind, I give you The Couch at The Window on which many difficult conversations happen. You know, like when that guy had to tell his girlfriend that he was falling in love with her mother? Or when that other guy had to tell his new love interest that he was actually hired by her suspicious husband to trap her for divorce court? Yeah, that couch. This couch.

We also found The Railing at The Back of the Ship By the Flag Pole where many moonlight conversations and first kisses happen. I am happy to report that much like the show, nobody was anywhere around when we hung out there for a spell. Love – life’s sweetest reward.

Sadly, we could only go so far to have the Total Love Boat Experience. I think you have to be some sort of really fancy person – or pay lots extra – to get to sit at The Captain’s Table. And actually, I’m not sure where his table is cuz I never saw it. But he must eat, somewhere.

We also stopped short of buying a piñata to bring home or carrying around an enormous sombrero. However, the nice people at the ship’s gift shop were very kind to let us use their inventory for props, so at least we have this. If you are on our Christmas card list, you will very likely see this photo again in a month or so.

Stayed tuned for one more report of Rob and Toni’s Mexico Adventures! Hint: tequila, The Eagles, and a “Mexican limo” are involved.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Some assembly required

Yesterday it dawned on me that our Total Home Office Make-Over project has entered a new realm: I found myself asking a dear group of church ladies to pray for us. Thanks a lot, IKEA.

Later, it was with a touch of resignation, defeat, and wistfulness in his voice that Rob peered behind sweat-streaked glasses and proclaimed, “I managed to live 49 years without ever having to build IKEA furniture.” I don’t think this was an answer to the prayers.

The words came while standing in our freshly painted home office amongst so much cardboard and wordless instruction sheets and tiny little metal crowbar screwdriver thingys. Rob was knee-deep in a 16 cubbied Kallax shelving unit that apparently only weighs about 160lbs. Me, I was observing from the comfort of the futon I had just cleaned of all the cat fuzz. I’m doing my part, by request.

Photo taken from the futon

You see, the day before I had tried so very hard to help. We had a 4 cubbied shelving unit that I was certain I could master all on my own while Rob busied himself dominating two desks. I now view my naively optimistic undertaking as an admirable effort to understand and appreciate Rob’s pain and agony. With some time and distance and a cold beverage, he eventually thanked me.

It really did look tantalizingly easy, the small shelving unit assembly. The instructions were all of 4 pages and were filled with large drawings of arrows and hands. Because IKEA sells their fine Swedish pressed board all over the world, they save a lot of time, paper, and clarity by not including any words with their instructions. It’s basically a DIY Pictionary game.

On Step 1 I managed to strip some screws and Rob had to rescue me.

On Step 3, I first realized the Pictionary drawings are very precise and one must pay close attention to the location of all the tiny dots representing screw holes. The dots aren’t just there for decoration, people. I was screwed. Rob had to rescue me.

Later on Step 3, it was confirmed that I do not do arms at the gym. Rob and his manly strength came to my rescue.

This was also the step at which I learned that a palm does not a good hammer make. At least my palm. My left one is now sporting a purple bruise with blue undertones (much like our new walls) from where I pounded it against the support piece to get the shelf pieces to slide into place. The little tool summary didn’t include a hammer so I recklessly assumed I didn’t need one. I should have used a hammer. Instead, I used Rob. He’s very handy.

He looks so happy because he still believes this is all he will need

On Step 6, I learned that size matters in those drawings. Little screw hole dots are very different than little screw hole zeroes. So much unscrewing.

On Step 8, I discovered that I had made a fatal error back on Step 2 and needed to rotate a board. More unscrewing. And a few choice words. Rob wisely abandoned his file cabinet assembly and hovered lovingly as I insisted I am a smart person and could do this.

There were only 8 steps. I had only managed to get half of them right the first time. I pride myself on being very detail oriented and an accomplished puzzle-put-er-together-er. Yet in 4 easy steps IKEA managed to crush my ego and spirit of Badass Instruction Follower.

I tried to look at the finished shelves with pride of a job well-done, but the truth is that Rob put it together. I was the toddler who insisted on “I DO IT!” and instead created a wake of work and fixes for the grown-up following behind me. Rob is an incredibly patient man. Have I mentioned that?

The shelving unit "I" built.  Please note the crowbar tool collection on the futon armrest.
Also please note that Rob added the drawer inserts for me.  I know better...now.

I spent the rest of the assembly project doing laundry, making dinner, toting cardboard to the recycling bin, and otherwise admiring Rob’s engineering studliness from the futon. Because, thankfully, Rob and I managed to have a very open, honest, loving conversation in which he safely told me that my “helping” was making things worse and he’d really rather play Pictionary all by himself.

I am very proud of us, actually, especially in light of the wise words of an IKEA-savvy friend, Eileen, who mused, “IKEA should sell supplemental insurance for divorces caused by their furniture. Always a challenge.” Oddly, that makes me feel better.

As do these words of experience from Byron: "Once you figure it out, the instructions make perfect sense. Unfortunately, that is invariably too late."

I have decided that IKEA stands for "I Know Everything Afterwards."

I suddenly felt like I was officially a member of a vex-filled club when one friend immediately identified my new Facebook profile picture as being from the IKEA Pictionary Playbook.  Others chimed in to commiserate and wish us luck. Apparently the frustration and challenge of Swedish Pressboard Assembly is well-known amongst those who have dared to try.

Wait a minute!  He has a hammer!  No fair!  Cheater McCheaterpants!
Wait, he doesn't have pants. No wonder he's confused.

As of this morning, I have two shelving units, two desks, and three filing cabinets all assembled and ready to go. Rob is an IKEA STUD!

I am especially impressed by the filing cabinets. Although I was there when we bought them in heavy flat boxes, it didn’t occur to me until yesterday that I didn’t really know you could assemble a file cabinet. I thought you just bought them. You know, all in one piece already. IKEA continues to take what I thought I knew and turn it upside down and around with arrows and disembodied hands.

See?  Heavy.

Because we are apparently masochists, Rob and I are heading back to IKEA today for more punishment. We need to return a couple of items and buy one more little shelving unit which I am quite certain I am not smart enough to assemble. I shall instead make brownies. Because that's safer. And given my history of kitchen disasters, that's saying something.